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Don Ronda

Don Ronda 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, Don talks about some of the students he had over the years, life in Homer, the 1964 Earthquake, and some fun times he had as the principal.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2012-19-02

Project: Homer Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Apr 27, 1996
Narrator(s): Don Ronda
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
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Coming to Homer

Principal of the high school

Establishing the Kenai Peninsula Borough

1964 earthquake

Changes in Homer

Writing stories

Story about one of his students

Homer community

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DON RONDA: I've been at the two previous sessions and learned all kinds of things. My wife and I came to Homer a little bit differently than many of the people who we've heard so far.

Most came from the big city or from the South 48 and we had come to Alaska much ealier.

We were married, got in our car and headed for Alaska.

I still had a year of college to finish so, of course, we were only up here for that one summer, '56.

We came down to Homer. It was just a little small town, dusty, single street.

First person we met was Sam Pratt and got along famously with him.

Next person we met was Hazel Heath and I think those two people probably -- a major share of the people of our time and those were the two first people they met in Homer and they set the stage, I always say and we couldn't wait to get back.

I was a civil engineer, so when we came back the following year to Alaska, I worked in Anchorage.

Turned out that most of our friends were teachers.

My wife was a teacher. So it was back to Fairbanks.

We lived in Fairbanks for a year, while I went to school to get my teaching degree.

At that time, a major share of the teachers in Alaska were educated as missionaries.

And if you taught out in the Bush, I would guess that, oh, maybe six out of 10 had a missionary background.

Well, we ended up teaching in the Bush, at Naknek, and spent some time out there.

Lived there for a couple of years. Came back here in '62.

And I was hired as a principal of the school here.

Well, it was about two weeks before I arrived that I found out that I wasn't hired as a principal of the elementary school, I was hired as principal of the high school.

Last time I'd been in a high school was when I graduated from one.

So I came with a little bit of trepidation.

But right off the bat, I think the first person, the first kid, that I met in town was Atz Kilcher.

And I came in the building, there was a few days ahead of time, for registration, pre-registration.

And this kid in a Stetson, came down about to his ears, looked like a cowboy out of the wild west.

Came riding onto the school ground with his horse.

He tied it up to the railing of the elementary school building, came wandering up the steps.

"Howdy. I'm Atz Kilcher. I'm a going to school here."

Well, Atz turned out to be one of my very favorite students.

We had quite a number of involvements in different activities.

I found out right off the bat that the kids here were just great.

This was a territorial school at the time we came.

This was a Bush community -- one of the larger ones, but Bush nevertheless.

It wasn't until a couple of years later that they formed the boroughs.

We were in Fairbanks at the time of statehood being passed, and in the statehood act they had said that within a period of five years, all of the populated areas of Alaska would have to form an organized governmental district, which they called a borough.

And this was rather unique.

Here in Alaska, as you know now, we have the boroughs that take care of the educational program and the taxation, and the planning.

And back in the Lower 48, you'd have a city, you might have a township, you might have a county.

Each one would have their own political organization.

Each one would have their own taxation.

Each one would have their own police department, the sheriff, the county sheriff, the city police.

Each one would have their own school district or school personnel.

Here, we were trying to do away with that.

We had quite a battle here for a couple of years, trying to decide how this borough was going to be organized.

People wanted to have just this small area or that small area, or the other small area. And finally, five years was upon us, and we had to have something.

And that's when they came up with the idea that the entire Kenai Peninsula would be a borough.

All the others had been turned down.

So we got a chance to go through the organization of the school district here, and it, too, was quite interesting.

Now, I look back on this and I think I'm somewhat typical of some of the people that were here at that time.

We had a heck of a good time.

Where else would you get a chance to organize a city, a borough, a school district, a state school organization, a college -- all of these things, they all came about during the time we were here.

And this is what many people arriving today -- they do no different than what we did when we arrived, what we saw was the way it had always been.

What these people coming to town now see is what has always been.

They hate to see it changed. What they don't realize is that it's changed a heck of a lot just over the last few years.

Where we're sitting right now.

How many of you people realize that after the quake, this building -- not this particular room, necessarily, but this building here, was about six feet in the air?

They had to jack it up to get it out of the tide. All the ground and dirt you see here came out of that hole where the harbor now is.

There was no harbor in the middle of the spit.

That's the reason it's in the middle of the spit, is because we had to have some dirt to raise the spit up or we'd lose the whole doggone thing.

And we had high school kids at the time, after the quake, came out here and they filled groins -- big wire baskets -- with rocks and stones and parked them all along the outside beach here, underneath the building, to keep the spit from washing away.

The harbor. We had just dedicated the harbor, and along came the quake and wiped the whole thing out.

It took all of the floats from the harbor, knocked the pilings that they were tied to, knocked them every which direction.

And we were afraid we were gonna lose those floats.

So they cut them all off, took them over to Halibut Cove so that they'd be saved.

They're still over in Halibut Cove, because as soon as Halibut Cove got a hold of them, they drove the piling and built their city dock over there.

The Porpoise Room over here, for example. That had just been built at the time of the quake.

They had this grand opening on that weekend.

When we came out, and there were quite a number of other people in town came out for a big dinner, the doggone tide started coming in.

And the next thing you know, we were all informed, "If you wish to go back to the mainland, you'd better do it now, because it's gonna be six or eight hours before you can get there. The road's going under water."

Well, a bunch of people went back to town, a bunch of people stayed and had a good time.

Now that building that you see there for the Porpoise Room, which is the far side of the cannery now, that was on the main part of the spit.

The harbor itself if the breakwater coming into the harbor at this time.

That building was jacked up in the air, moved this direction probably several hundred feet, jacked up in the air again and a basement put underneath it.

What you don't realize is that one of the buildings over there on the cannery is actually a three story building.

You see it as a two-story building.

What you don't know is that there's a third story down underneath the spit, which at that time, when it was built, was built at ground level.

There've been a heck of a lot of changes.

As I said, I -- being able to participate in the school district, I had a wonderful time.

We had -- there were three sports her when I came.

We had cross-country in the fall, which was practice building up running and wind and so on and so forth for basketball, which then went to track in the spring.

Well, all the other sports and all the other activities have been changes that have come since that time.

And it was much to the benefit of the kids that went to school here and the people in the community, because it gave everybody something to do in the wintertime.

When it came time to increase the schools here, we didn't have any problem in raising money and having people begin improving the school.

Because the entire community used the school.

We had square dances, we had public meetings, we had all kinds of programs in the school.

And when we had a swimming pool, the public used the swimming pool. It's the same as it is today.

What happens is that when you say, well, we need a new school because we've got a lot of kids here and we can't handle them in the facilities we have, everybody says, well, that sounds like a pretty good idea, because we have seen how much we need these facilities, since we use them also.

And so when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, lo and behold, everybody votes to have the new facilities.

And so it's been here. We've had an excellent school system throughout this area.

I got involved a number of years ago, with a writing group.

And we end up writing stories about some of the things. The problem that you get into as you age, is your memory goes out the window.

For me, I have a very difficult time remembering people's names.

So this is one of the reasons I started writing.

And so I wrote up a whole bunch of different stories about activities at the school.

I won't read them -- it might take a little bit too much time.

But this was typical of the way the kids behaved there, and it was one of the things that -- one of the activities that I enjoyed.

We were in school in my office there, in what is now the long middle building, the middle school.

And, uh, we had a break between classes, and this girl came marching in through the door.

She marched up to the front desk and she plopped this paper down, turned around and walked out.

I looked at my secretary and she looked at me, and said "What the heck's going on. You know, something's fishy."

She walked over and got this paper and brought to me, and here's what it says.

"Dear Mr. Ronda: Mr. Johnson, a name with a lot of character, is thinking dirty thoughts in the presence of the students.

This may have a very bad effect on the students and lead them to believe that this type of action is condoned in the classroom.

We would appreciate immediate action be taken to prevent this.

Thank you. Love and kisses. The Dastardly Duo.

P.S. He's also talking on subjects of semi-undress.

P.S.S. He's keeping us captives in the classroom and won't let us bring petitions to the office."

Well, this is a pretty serious matter.

So, soon as we had a class break, I went down and talked to the English teacher who they were talking about, and I said, "What in the heck's going on here?"

He started laughing. He says, "So that's what they're up to."

He says, "Well, we're practicing the senior class play for Christmas."

And he said, "Yesterday we -- I had the whole class down there in the gym doing the practice" and he said the kids that were in the play itself were having a hard time working because the girls were on the sideline and they were just monkeying around.

So, he said, "Today I decided I'd settle that matter once and for all." And he said, "I told everybody the ones that were in the play were to go to the gym to practice; the others were to stay in the room and they had an assignment to do."

Well, of course, the girls were the ones that had to stay in the rooms, and they wanted to go to the gym.

So they started pleading about this. He said, "No, you've gotta stay in the room."

"Well, but we're needed." "No, you stay in the room."

They went through this a few times and finally they said, "Well, can we take an important missive to the office?"

And Bill saw through this right off the bat, and said, "No. You stay here and do the assignment."

Well, when they left the classroom they had told him as they went out the door, "You're gonna see about this."

So Bill knew something was coming.

Well, I told Bill, I said, "Well, tomorrow, when your class starts," I said, "don't get anything started." But I said, "Right after the bell, I want to come down and talk to the kids."

Bill didn't know what had happened on my part.

I went home, spent that evening and made myself a wooden sword, painted it all silver with a spray can.

Came into school early the following morning, went down to the cafeteria kitchen and got myself a garbage can lid, a tin pot.

I had a mask from my son's Halloween stuff.

Put that on, took a raincoat for a tarp -- for a cape.

And when class started the following day, I waited -- I put my stuff on, and my secretary was sitting there looking at me, wondering, "What in the dickens is he doing?"

When class started, just after the bell, I went down the hall.

Stood outside the door, and when Bill finished with his attendance, I slammed the door open and I -- my sword -- and I was waving my sword, yelling "Avast and belay you foul fiend!

Where are these beautiful maidens that are being kept in vile duress?"

Well, Bill had been dealing with his class and he backed up against the window, and the kids in the class -- their eyes bugged out.

The one girl of the two was in front row and she, "Oohh!" The other girl in the middle of the class goes, "Ooohhh!"

And of course, all the kids in the class are looking, "What the dickens is going on?"

Well I went on blathering and yelling and waving my thing -- I was gonna behead this dastardly devil.

Bill's down on his knees, praying that I spare him, laughing his head off behind his hands.

And about that time I'm emphasizing everything that I'm saying by banging on his desk, and my doggone sword breaks.

Well, I looked at the sword and I looked at Bill, and I told the maidens, I said, "I'm sorry, you're gonna have to get somebody else to save you." I said, "But my sword wasn't as strong as I thought it was. I'm sorry."

And I just apologized abjectly on my knees in front of this one girl.

And I got up and I swept my cape over my face and I went stumbling out in the hall.

Well, we could hear this deathly silence.

And then, "Yee haw haw!" And my gosh, old Bill had a hard time getting control over the class.

And that day, why -- I think it was at noon -- I happened to see Bill in the office and he says, "You know, I was really surprised when you came through that door!"

I says, "You know, Bill, it looked that way."

But, you know, those kids, they got as much kick out of it as anybody else. And I never had any more problems with that. And time and again, this sort of thing happened with the kids from this community.

I just enjoyed them, and I've got a dozen or more stories of the different things that I've written down for my kids now.

One of the things I think that's nice about this community is the way people pull together when it counts.

And either that or the other thing that I like so much about the community is that there's such a variety of people here.

I don't know anyplace else where I could have lived my life and been friends with veterinarians and artists and doctors and lawyers and laborers and carpenters and mechanics and plumbers and truck drivers, and so on and so forth.

Normally, when we live in most of the communities in the Lower 48, we tend to associate with people of our own lifestyle.

Here, we've got a wide variety, and we can associate with people from every kind of life.

And that's one of the things that I find that's really enjoyable about living in Homer, or in Alaska for that matter. I'll quit here.