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Bob Moore

Bob Moore spoke on April 27, 1996 at the Land's End Resort in Homer, Alaska for a Communities of Memory meeting where people told stories about life in Homer. In this recording, Bob talks about the Old Believers, his experiences teaching, community relations, cultural misunderstandings, and starting classes for some of the Russian Old Believers to become US citizens. 

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2012-19-01

Project: Homer Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Apr 27, 1996
Narrator(s): Bob Moore
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
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A boy's gift to a visitor from Russia symbolizing their cultural connections

Being the first teacher in the Old Believer community of Nikolaevsk

People coming together as a community and cultural misunderstandings

Concern about Russian's impact on jobs and the fishery

Teaching citizenship class

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BOB MOORE: , here in Homer and more specifically in Nikolaevsk.

When we started talking about community ties, it went through my mind, an experience that had happened at the village once.

It's hard to know where to start in storytelling. To know your audience to the degree of "Where do we begin?"

But a few years ago, there was a group of Russian journalists that came to this country.

They came to visit and they also brought a video crew and cameras and --

if any of you've had any experience with the Russian visitors, they often bring little trinkets, or little pins that they give out.

And at the village, this lady that was the director of the TV program came out and she gave trinkets to many of the kids and these little pins.

And one boy came up to me, and he said, "Mr. Moore, I need to go home. I need to go home."

And I said, "Why do you need to go home?"

He said, "This lady has given me a gift, and I need to give her something in return."

And so I said, "Sure, go ahead."

So he went home and was back in just -- just a few minutes he was back.

And he went to this lady, and he brought me along and he said, "Mr. Moore, I want you to be with me when I give her this."

So he came and he had his peissoch (ph), his belt.

And these, of course, are hand-woven in the village.

They're worn from the time a child is baptized at eight days of age until their death.

And they're often given at weddings and funerals and special occasions.

This was given to me at a retirement party.

So this child came up to this woman and he had this gift of great symbolic value.

And he said, "I would like to give this to you."

And he said, "Many people would look at us and say that we are Russian, and we're like this, we're like this end of the peissoch."

And he said, "You're Russian also, but you're like this end of the peissoch.

And we're in Alaska, and you're in Russia, and many people would say there is a world between us."

But, he says, "If you look this way, you'll see we're together."

And, of course, the lady wept and it was very, very exciting to be at that opportunity.

One of the things that ties our community together is the variety that Don is talking about and Ralph's talked about.

And one of the things that gives much color to this community is the Old Believers, the Russians that came here in 1969 and '70, and have been coming ever since.

It was my good fortune to go to Nikolaevsk as a first teacher in 1970.

I started teaching in a little trailer that was 8 feet by 28 feet.

I was supposed to start with 21 kids in grades one through eight, and I started with those 21.

The first day I went into school, there weren't any kids there, and I thought, "Man, this is different."

So I went next door and found a little boy that could speak English as well as Russian, and he and I went to every home in the village that day.

And he was my translator. And I would say, "My name is Bob Moore. I'm your new teacher.

I'm here to teach reading and writing and social studies and mathematics and history and language arts."

This little kid would translate, and all the people would say, "We will watch."

We will watch. And they watched, very carefully.

In the following days, I would have anywhere from one to a half a dozen people come into the classroom.

And as they would come into the classroom, they would bow.

And they may go and they'd whisper to the children, or they'd sit and watch and observe.

Then they would get up and they would bow, and out they would go.

And then a little bit later, someone else would show up.

In less than 60 days, our enrollment grew from 21 students to 40, grades one through eight.

The trailer held 14 desks, and had to reach -- I could reach from one side of the room to the other.

And so, because of the number of students, we had to take the kids and divide them up and make tutors out of the older ones.

And the little ones would come in the morning and the bigger ones in the afternoon.

But we just had a -- had a great time.

We had no books. We had no chalk. We had no pencils. We had no paper. We had no chalkboard.

So the first books and the first chalkboard and the first chalk I carried in from the Anchor Point school -- I carried in on my back to Nikolaevsk.

It was a mile and a half through the woods.

Took 40 minutes to walk.

Had to go down across the North Fork River and up the other side.

But things -- things progressed and the community grew and there were a lot of different experiences that we had.

And some of those anecdotal experiences, I'd like to share with you, that kind that tells the story of how community ties work and how this community is tied together.

In the early years in Nikolaevsk, when people started showing up, people in Anchor Point were of many different opinions.

Some of them were very receptive.

Some of them were less so.

Some of them believed that the gate should have been shut on the Kenai Peninsula when they came in, and then locked behind them.

I remember once a group of people from Anchor Point decided that they would go out and help these new residents that had just moved in.

There was a lot of warm feelings.

It was kind of like the programs that they have in the Lower 48 when you move into a community and they bring over coupons from McDonalds and flowers, and all these nice things, and directories for the hospital, etcetera.

Well they -- these men got together and they got their chain saws and they got their hammers, and their axes, and they walked into Nikolaevsk.

And they said, "We're here to help you build your house."

And it happened to be a weekend.

It happened to be a Saturday.

And the men from Nikolaevsk said, "We're sorry. We don't work today.

Today is the day we go to church. We're not working on our houses."

And this was quite offensive to a lot of people.

"You mean we walked a mile and a half through the woods.

We carried these chain saws and the gas and the hammers and the axes and our hammers and our tools, and all these things, and you don't work today."

So it was an affront. It was a problem.

Another time, about the same period of time, a lot of the women got together and they baked their most gorgeous recipes.

The ones that people in Anchor Point are famous for, like -- many of you may know about the black -- black-walnut pie.

That every time there's a fire social, the black-walnut pie will sell for $70 and then be donated again and be sold again for 70 bucks or 100 or 25.

They brought out their favorite recipes, and they said, "We want to welcome you to our community."

And the Old Believers said, "We're sorry, we can't eat your food. It's pagana for us.

It's unclean for us."

Of course, when your black-walnut pie goes for 70 bucks and somebody calls it unclean, you've got problems.

But this was the type of situation that was happening in 1970 and 1971 in our community.

There was a lot of concern about the Russian men coming into this community and the way they do things.

Many of them are very aggressive.

Many are very abrasive.

I remember a man coming to my house one night and talking for about, I don't know, six or eight hours and he was very concerned that the Russians were going to go into the fisheries.

That they were gonna go into the halibut fishery, and the salmon fishery, and the shrimp fishery, and the crab fishery, and etc., and that this was going to create problems for people that were already here and already established in the fisheries.

And he asked me if I thought that this was going to happen.

And I said, "Without a doubt. They're going to be in the fisheries."

Many of us can remember many years ago when there were -- when the shrimp fishery was here in the bay and it was very active.

And the cannery would say on a particular day, "Well, we can handle 2,000 pounds or 5,000 pounds of shrimp today."

And the usual procedure was for the shrimp fishermen to get up and go out and check their pots and bring them back, at basically running with the tide, whatever was convenient.

And then here, all of a sudden, was a group of Russian fishermen and when the cannery opened, here were 2,000 pounds of shrimp or 5,000 pounds of shrimp, and the market was saturated.

And so, even with these community ties, there have been times of conflict.

There have been times of close association.

One memory that I'd like to share with you is one day I was busy teaching and -- I can't remember, it was a class full of children.

And there were three men came into the school, and they said, "Mr. Moore, we'd like to talk to you."

And I said, "Sure." And when the time was available, they said, "We would like for you to teach us to be citizens of your country."

And this really made an impression on me, because the Old Believers had been people without a country,

and people without a citizenship, without civil rights, without property rights, for 330 years.

And all of a sudden, they are coming to me and they're saying, would you teach us to be citizens of your country.

And I thought, "Wow. This is pretty heavy."

So I thought about it, and told them that I would.

We decided we'd have classes, starting in October and running until April.

We'd have these classes two nights a week for three hours a night.

So we were gonna spend six hours a week for approximately five months, five and a half or six months, with this citizenship program.

The first night when I walked into the classroom, there were 65 people there, from the ages of 16 to 65, wanting to become citizens of this new country.

Well, to make a long story short, that program started and completed with 59 people becoming citizens of this country.

We've had since that time, three more programs, where almost 200 people have become citizens of the United States.

There are many things that these people contribute to this community to make it, to make it better, to make it more diversified.

And there are arguments about what they've contributed that would make it less attractive.

But all in all, they are people just like you and I, that love their kids, that like to have the good things around them,

cry when they hurt, laugh when they're happy.

But I spent 23 years with that community, and I don't know if -- how this fits in with the whole program that we have here today, but there's been some real knots tied.

Some real knots that have made this community and this peninsula a lot stronger. Thank you.