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Early Alaska Orphanages



If you have additional information,
or corrections, please email me at:

[email protected]

This story is about El Nathan Children's Home (in Valdez), Lazy Mountain Children's Home (near Palmer) and Victory Bible Camp (at mile 94 Glenn Highway).  Little did I know, when I started this research, that all 3 of these Alaska institutions were historically linked to each other; not only by their founders, but by their shared missionaries and their nearly parallel timelines.

In 1934, Rev. Ken Hughes and his wife Vivian worked as missionaries (in Wrangell) with Salvation Army's Major Carruthers. That year, Ken and Vivian realized how much they enjoyed working with the Native population of Alaska; it was a vocation they would embrace for the rest of their lives.

In 1935, the young couple left Wrangell and moved to the Matanuska Valley where they lived in the tent city of Palmer and ministered to the Palmer Colonist's. Ken also found work as a finish carpenter for the ARRC Colony Project during the summer of 1935 through the winter of 1936.

In 1936, while on a trip to Seattle, Rev. Hughes stopped in Valdez where he met Blanche Nason, a missionary who had been counseling federal prisoners, in Valdez,  since the early 1930's. She also had a small orphanage that began in 1934 when the Valdez Marshal brought her a young (sick and abandoned) Native boy; it took her several months to nurse the child back to health.  Blanche named the orphanage El Nathan Children's Home and it was housed in the (donated) former home of Anthony J. Dimond. In 1936, she was caring for 12 orphans.

"Nana Nason", as she was affectionately known, died suddenly on 11/13/1936, just weeks after Rev. Hughes met her; she was 43 years old. The next spring, the El Nathan Children's Home was legally incorporated and Evelyn Komedal, of Seattle, was sent to temporarily oversee it.

In 1937, Louise Johnson, a missionary from Minnesota became the director of El Nathan and she sent a letter to Rev. Hughes asking for his help at the orphanage. Ken and Vivian liked the idea and moved their young family to Valdez in 1938. Rev. Hughes helped with various construction projects and general maintenance for the orphanage. He also conducted church services and worked with the older boys, teaching them the life skills that they would need as adults.

Ken and Vivian Hughes Family at Valdez in 1939
Photo shared by Ken and Vivian's granddaughter Yvonne Marty

The orphanage continued to expand; a 2nd house was donated and became the nursery; a 3rd house was donated by Dr. Charles E. Bunnell (Valdez lawyer and later the 1st president of the University of Alaska); two more houses were donated and they became a dispensary and a boys dormitory. The staff of El Nathan was growing as well. Louise Johnson, married Rev. Arthur H. Segerquist (a widower) and they adopted two children.

Children were placed in El Nathan for a variety of reasons; some came through the welfare system; some were orphaned when their parents became ill (or died) from tuberculosis and some children were simply dropped off when their families disintegrated due to hard times; all were welcome, regardless of financial support (or lack of it).


Jessie Jim age 18         Betty O'Brien age 11     Philip Bayou age 10     Patrick E. Paterson age 10
David Alex  age 10        Colleen O'Brien age 8    William O'Brien age 7   Evelyn Berestoff age 6
Eleanor O'Brien age 6     Marvin Nicholi age 5     Lora H. Mann  age 1     Nicholas Nickoli age 1
Jimmy Joe  age 4

This photo is from the Hughes Family Estate
Photo shared by Ken and Vivian Hughes granddaughter Yvonne Marty

On the back of the photo, Vivian Hughes wrote: "El Nathan Home in Valdez 1940,
Vossie and Kenny Hughes are in front left corner, we are in the back right side."

Note from Coleen: I have numbered the people in the photo;
if you know any names, please contact me.

Number on photo
Home Town
Identified By:


Susie Anna  Chernoff
b. 12/17/1927
Ellamar, AK

Twin of #4
Father: Coco Charlie Chernoff
Mother: Pauline Fedora Naumov
Brothers: Willlie b. 1920 and George b. 1934
Freida Katie
b. 12/17/1927
Ellamar, AK

Twin of #3
Father: Coco Charlie Chernoff
Mother: Pauline Fedora Naumov

Jessie Jim
b. 11/24/1920
Evelyn Berestoff Hart
(identified by Carl Hart)
Daughter of Charlie Jim



"Aunt Esther" Boursa
b. abt. 1893
Evelyn Berestoff Hart  
(identified by Carl Hart)
Worker at El Nathan



Harry Bendickson

Evelyn Berestoff Hart  
(identified by Carl Hart)

Patrick Earl Patterson
Bristol Bay
Star Patterson (daughter)


Elizabeth Jean
"Betty" Hart

Ken Tiedaman, her son
Daughter of Violet Hoover
Killed in Cordova, Alaska (6/10/1954) by George P. Ingels
(Information from her son Ken Tiedaman)
Bill O'Brien

Sherry Cole
(daughter of Colleen O'Brien)
See #20


Bill O'Brien

Evelyn Berestoff Hart  
(identified by Carl Hart)
See #17
Colleen Patricia

Evelyn Berestoff Hart  
(identified by Carl Hart)
Father: William O'Brien
Mother: Violet Hoover Fels



Vosella Hughes

Evelyn Berestoff Hart
(identified by Carl Hart)

Kenny Hughes

Evelyn Berestoff Hart
(identified by Carl Hart)

Eleanor O'Brien

Evelyn Berestoff Hart  
(identified by Carl Hart)

Evelyn May Berestoff
b. 1933
Evelyn Berestoff Hart  (identified by Carl Hart)




    By the fall of 1946, the population of El Nathan had grown to nearly 100. That winter, (February 2, 1947), the furnace in the Valdez Community Hospital (next door to the children's home) exploded and burned down the three story hospital building as well as the orphanage nursery and dispensary. A third El Nathan building (the boys dormitory) was leveled with dynamite by the fire department in order to create a firebreak due to the fierce winds that spread the  fire. One elderly man (Edward Edgerton), a hospital patient, perished in the fire as did a fireman (Jack Crawford) who died from a heart attack while fighting the flames.

After the fire, children were packed into El Nathan's two remaining buildings and the infants were settled into a small home donated (temporarily) by a Valdez bachelor; other children and staff were housed in a partially empty hotel and the older boys were housed in an empty garage owned by Anthony Dimond.

Rev. Hughes had long dreamed of starting another branch of El Nathan in a more rural farm setting; an idea he had discussed, at length, with Max Sherrod, a friend living in  Palmer.  In 1946, Mr. Sherrod donated 40 acres of land, (on Lazy Mountain) to the El Nathan Children's Home through Rev. Hughes.

The next spring, shortly after the devastating fire at El Nathan, Rev. Hughes took a few of the oldest El Nathan boys to the new Lazy Mountain property to put in a road and do some basic land clearing. The Fort Richardson Army Base heard about the ambitious project and offered them several quonset huts (if Rev. Hughes could come and get them). It took the group weeks to dismantle, transport and reassemble the quonset huts on the building site. Max Sherrod was so pleased with their progress that he donated an additional 20 acres to the project.

By July of 1947, a small house had been built on the land and the quonset huts were attached to it like wings. As soon as the structure was habitable, 36 of the older El Nathan children (and a group of workers to care for them) were transferred from El Nathan to Lazy Mountain to live. The Rural Electric Association installed electricity that December and a variety of chickens, pigs and a few cows joined the new farm in the spring of 1948. The orphanage, with a rural farm setting that Rev. Hughes had envisioned, was now a reality; he called it Lazy Mountain Children's Home.

Because of the fire tragedy at El Nathan, Rev. Hughes decided to build a fire proof dormitory at Lazy Mountain. In the summer of 1949, a water well was dug, a 90' x 50' concrete footing was poured and the first blocks laid. In 1951, a group of U.S.Army soldiers volunteered, every weekend, to build the new 2½ story (45 room) main building that housed a large dormitory, staff apartments, cafeteria and the homes electrical plant. The soldiers wives also held fund raisers and bake sales to raise money for the children's needs. The orphanage was licensed to house 53 children between the ages of 2 and 18.

The El Nathan and Lazy Mountain orphanages were funded by stateside churches as well as income from the Alaska welfare system and the B.I.A. The orphanage missionaries received no salaries, but were supported financially by their own hometown churches. Generous Alaskan's like
Florence Barnes, who owned the Copper Center Roadhouse, donated her entire estate to the El Nathan Children's Home in Valdez when she died in 1948. The proceeds from "Ma Barnes" estate was divided between the El Nathan Children's Home and the Lazy Mountain Children's Home. El Nathan used their half to build an addition on to one of their buildings and Lazy Mountain used their half to purchase concrete blocks.

Because funding for Lazy Mountain was unpredictable, most of the food that the orphanage used came from a subsistence life style. Each summer the staff and older children processed enough wild berries, salmon, moose meat (donated by the game warden) and summer vegetables (they had large gardens) to last the winter. Fish, berries and vegetables were canned and fresh produce was kept in a buried quonset hut that served as a root cellar. Cows provided milk for the children and
moose meat was frozen and kept in a commercial cold storage locker in Palmer.

1950 U.S. CENSUS  

Hughes, Kenneth R. 50 Superintendent
Hughes, Vivian 32 wife
Hughes, Vosella 14 daughter
Hughes, Kenneth L. 13 son
Phillips, Walter T. 35 Laborer
Phillips, Lillian E. 39 wife
Phillips, Walter T. 9 son
Phillips, Ruth 3 daughter
Hubbard, Eston 42 Laborer
Hubbard, Leetha M. 36 wife
Hubbard, Avis M. 15 daughter
Hubbard, Reta A. 12 daughter
McElhinney, Margaret 25 co-worker
Carbley, Vivian I. 31 co-worker
VanArsdalen, Gladys 57 co-worker
Boursa, Esther 63 - cook
Peterson, Esther 16
Peterson, Paul 14
Peterson, Carol 13
Peterson, Walter 11
Peterson, George 17
Carroll, Albert 17
Carroll, Helen 11
Carroll, Raymond 8
Carroll, Florence 7
Hobson, Alice 13
Hobson, Eleanor 10
Olin, Amy 15
Olin, Marjorie 13
Nicoli, Niga 14
Nicoli, Faye 11
Shaginoff, Bert 11
Shaginoff, Donald 10
Shaginoff, James 8
Shaginoff, Lloyd D. 6
Ring, Ella 10
Ring, Katherine 6
Jackson, Caroline 10
Jackson, Frances 8
DeWitt, Charles 17
DeWitt, Mary 12
Nudlash, Antone 16
Nickita, Danny 2
Bennett, Sophie 16
Galeshoff, Macar 12
Nickoli,  Nicky 12
Ezi, Sammy 9
Ezi, Damon 15
John Elizabeth 15
Olanna, Nancy 18
Wilson, Wendell 11
Wilson, Jesse 9

After his 1958 retirement from Lazy Mountain, Rev. and Mrs. Hughes moved to Big Lake where Ken flew airplanes for Arctic Missions Inc., ferrying whatever was needed to missionaries in remote parts of Alaska. Mrs. Hughes volunteered as a cook
at Victory Bible Camp.

The Lazy Mountain Children's Home burned down on 12/8/1960; only the block basement survived.
When the fire broke out, all but ten of the children were at school in Palmer; the nine pre-school children (and one older child that was home with the mumps) were rescued by orphanage staff.

Generous people immediately stepped up to help the orphanage. The children were housed in private homes at first, but later, the Civil Defense arranged for the them to stay at the Wasilla Youth Camp. Clothing, food, bedding and money was collected for the children by Anchorage fire stations, schools, gas stations and the Alaska Railroad.

Rev. Hughes returned to Lazy Mountain to help rebuild the orphanage on a smaller scale; they built a one story structure on top of the old basement and several small houses instead of one large dormitory.

About the same time as the Lazy Mountain fire, the El Nathan Children's Home in Valdez, began to  struggle. The number of children residing there was down because many of them had grown up and moved away. Additionally, new rules that were introduced when Alaska became a state, required the orphanage to hire a full time nurse and psychologist which was an expense the home could not afford. When El Nathan closed its doors in 1962, Louise Johnson Segerquist (orphanage director and now a widow) retired and moved to Lazy Mountain.

Lazy Mountain Children's Home closed in 1972. The few young children that were still living at the orphanage were taken into the private homes of the staff. That same year, the property was taken over by  the Arctic Bible Institute and Multi-Media Productions. Today, it is the Alaska headquarters for the Oregon based InterAct Ministries.


In 1947, a group of independent missionaries decided to build a remote Bible camp where children and missionaries from all over Alaska could join each other for annual conferences. The head of the group was Rev. John Gillespie (the pastor
of the Church of the Open Door in Anchorage). Another member of the group was Rev. Ken Hughes of the Lazy Mountain Children's Home (the 2 men had worked together at El Nathan's Children's Home in Valdez, in 1941).

John and Ken decided to build the Bible camp on a 40 acre parcel of land that overlooked Index Lake in the Talkeetna Mountains, 53 miles north of Palmer. The land was not immediately available for purchase because it was Federal land; so it literally took an Act of Congress to purchase it. On 7/11/1952, a bill (H.R. 1558 Private Law 840 Chapter 697) was passed by Congress to allow Victory Bible Camp Inc. to apply for a patent for the NW 1/4 of SW 1/4 of Section 23, Township 20N Range 8E Seward Meridian; the price was $10 per acre. It was the first of many parcels that Victory Bible Camp would purchase over the years.

Victory Bible Camp, which started out with one tiny log chapel and a few army tents grew over the years under the watchful eye of John and Nadine Gillespie and Arctic Missions Inc. It even had a christian boarding school from 1959 to 1982. Today, the camp is a multi-million dollar, 389 acre institution (owned by Victory Ministries of Alaska). It hosts missionary conferences and church camps for all ages, complete with riding stables, a shooting range and a 1,700' runway.

The Hughes legacy continued with Ken and Vivian's son, Ken Hughes Jr. He and his wife Jennetta built a small church in the Athabascan village of Grayling in 1966 and ministered there for many years. Later, they moved to Big Lake where Ken took over his fathers flying job with Arctic Missions, and Jennetta taught Bible studies. In 1977, they started a church in their home; today it is called Wasilla Bible Church and has 900 members. Ken Jr. and Jennetta retired in 2006 after 40 years of service.

Rev. Ken Hughes Sr. passed away in 1980 and his wife passed away in 2001; they are both buried at the Valley Memorial Park Cemetery at the Butte; their children Ken and Vosella still live in the Matanuska Valley.

Information Sources:

Spokane Daily chronicle 1937
Daily Sitka Sentinel 1947
Valdez News 1950
Matanuska Valley Record 1951
Anchorage Times 1961 and 2005
Valdez Cemetery
Billy Graham Archives
House Bill  H.R. 1558
A is for Teacher by Naomi Gaede-Penner
U.S. Census 1940
Vosella Hughes Heaton
Kenny Hughes
Keith Rupp
Barney Furman
Jim Fox
Mary Jane Phelps
Stefan and Yvonne Marty
Star Patterson
Evelyn Berestoff Hart
Carl Hart
Yvonne Marty
Sherry Cole
Shannongail Chernoff
nancy Sacco
do not re-post this information without
my written permission.
Thank you.

[email protected]


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