Commentary: Cape Yakataga to Cordova with Rev. Kvasnikoff

Cordova, Alaska. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

By Norman Hoyt

For The Cordova Times

Early in the statehood of Alaska, a Cordova preacher by the name of Alex Kvasnikoff would fly out to small communities and have a church service, circling Cape Yakataga FAA Compound a few times at low altitude so people would see his red and white airplane. His transportation was a Piper Tri-Pacer with a name THE WINGS OF FAITH painted on the fuselage. He would land on the remote gravel airstrip between the Duktoth and Yakataga Rivers and taxi to the FAA Flight Service Station where an air traffic controller would get on the party line, crank the old oak box telephones and tell everyone a church service would be held that night.

Rev. Kvasnikoff would always stay at our house that had two bedrooms upstairs and my mother and father would always prepare a meal fit for a king. There was a building that people used for recreation and movies and we would set up folding chairs like pews. We would pass out hymn books and Rev. Kvasnikoff would sing three to five gospel songs, “The Old Rugged Cross” being my favorite. He preached using a King James version of the Bible and always had an invitation at the end of the service.

He was raised Russian Orthodox but changed to nondenominational after he gave his heart to Jesus. It was surprising how many people would show up, some from the oilfield camp, FAA families, trappers and old timers. He would always say, “Just come as you are.”

I woke the next morning with a huge tooth ache. The smell of coffee, slab bacon and sourdough pancakes filled the house. Rev. Kvasnikoff was sitting at the dining table sipping hot coffee. He smiled and said, “good morning”. There were five kids in our family, and we all sat down and gave thanks for our food. The sweetness of the Log Cabin syrup hurt my decayed tooth. Rev. Kvasnikoff said, “let me see,” and told my father he should fly me to Cordova to see a dentist. He had a great sense of humor and told me when I was in the dentist chair, to put my hand behind my neck and if I felt the Novocain needle poke through, tell the dentist that’s far enough. I was 10 years old and my father told me, “You’ll be fine and be on your best behavior.” We walked to the plane and I climbed aboard, headed to Cordova over 100 miles away.

I grew up around pilots and small aircraft and loved flying and getting that birds eye view. We flew past the Tsiu River where we would fish for salmon and trout. Rev. Kvasnikoff asked, “Do you want to fly the plane?” This was fantastic flying an airplane! I forgot about my tooth ache. Rev. Kvasnikoff took over the controls after my 15 minutes of plane and pointed out Katalla, a ghost town where old prospectors would get lamp oil as it bubbled from the ground. Cordova Airport was ahead, and we touched down with a perfect landing. We drove into Cordova to his home and his wife Percola greeted us at the door. She fixed a pallet bed for me in the family room. The next morning, we went down to the dental office.

Cordova was like a wild west town and had wooden boardwalks and store fronts. Being brave, I sat down in the chair. The dentist said I needed a Novocain shot and a filling in my molar. As I reclined in my chair, I put my hand behind my neck. The dentist asked if I had a sore neck and I said, “No, I just want to tell you if that needle pokes through.” The dentist and the Rev. Kvasnikoff got a big kick out of that.

My tooth was finished in about an hour. We walked down to C.T. Davis and Sons store and picked up some groceries and drove back to his house. Rev. Kvasnikoff then showed me “the little chapel” he had built, and as I walked through the door, I felt a special presence in the sanctuary. There was a front stage with pulpit and a large cross hung on the lighted wall behind, pews on each side with a center path to the front. This little chapel was filled with the Holy Spirit. We prayed for travel mercy and went to the airport to catch the afternoon flight on Cordova Airlines to Cape Yakataga. I thanked him and he handed me a 3 Musketeer candy bar and said, “For your flight home.” I went outside to board the DC3 and turned around on the top step and waved goodbye to Rev. Alex Kvasnikoff, a true spiritual leader.

Norman Hoyt of Cape Yakataga writes, “With all the sad news going on in this world, I wrote this recollection about a preacher from Cordova. Reverend Alex Kvasnikoff made a lasting impression on me with his kindness to help people out in the bush. I hope this story brightens your day.” Hoyt now resides in Jacksonville, Florida.