Posts Tagged ‘Fr Ron’

Ruby, Alaska – Our Host is an Iditarod Champion 08/14-16/2009

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

We flew from Fairbanks to Ruby Alaska on the morning of Friday August 14th. The flight took about 2 hours.

Ruby is a small isolated village of 200 people located on the Yukon River about 250 miles west of Fairbanks. There are no roads leading to Ruby. Access is only by flying, boat in summer and dogsled/snowmobile the rest of the year. 

Our hosts in Ruby were Edna and Emmitt Peters. They were married in Ruby some 30 years ago by Fred’s Uncle,   Fr. Ron Dunfey. Their oldest Son, Sunny, was also baptized in Ruby by Fr.Ron.

Edna is an Eskimo from Nome. Her former name was Edna Ungudrukan. Edna went to college in Anchorage with Kristine Harder, who we met on the Alaska Ferry from Juneau to Haines. When Kristine met Fr. Ron in Juneau, she discovered that Fr. Ron knew Edna. This came as a shock, since she had thought of Edna’s move to Ruby was “to the end of the earth”. Kristine and Edna communicate often today by email. Kristine gave Fred Edna’s email address.

Fred emailed Edna a number of times. When Fred and Milly decided to go to Ruby to meet her and visit an isolated village, she offered to have us stay with them. Our plan was to fly in one day and leave the next. We ended up staying a second night when our return flight was cancelled due the inclement weather.

When we arrived in Ruby, we were met at the airport by our host Emmitt Peters, who works as the local agent for Warblows Air Ventures. He introduced us to Harold Esmailka who drove us to the Peter’s house from the airport.

When we settled into the Peter’s house, we found out that Emmitt Peters had won the 1975 Iditarod Race. He is known as the “Yukon Fox” all over over Alaska.

He won the race as a rookie and cut 6 days off the record time. His mushing methods changed the way the race was run. Google Emmitt Peters to learn more about his history. He is a member of Iditarold Hall of Fame and was recently inducted into American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame.

Emmitt Peters is an Athabaskan Indian who grew up in Ruby and has lived there all his life.

During our stay in Ruby, Emmitt regaled us with stories about the Iditarod, his travels as a professional musher, fish camps, moose hunting, his parents, etc. When Emmitt was busy, Edna filled us in on her experiences.

Edna has travelled over over the United States on various fellowships. She decided that to help avoid disappearance of native culture that natives should marry another native. She had read about the “Yukon Fox” and decided he was the kind of man she was looking to marry. Emmitt never had a chance!

Edna worked many years in Ruby as a health aid. She was the source of all medical help for all residents. It seems that she even performed minor surgury under the direction from a remote Doctor. 


Fr. Ron Dunfey and St. Peter’s Church

Harold Esmailka gave us a tour of Ruby. He took us to meet his Wife Florence in their home. They shared with us their life experiences and tragedies. Their daughter was the local postmaster who was murdered at work by a robber. Another Son was shot  dead when he stepped in front of gun pointed at a another man’s woman. Another Son died in a plane crash. They have adopted several of their children.

Harold is quite the entrepreneur. He was a pilot. He started an airline that serviced Ruby and owned the general store there. He is quite active in the community and beyond. Approaching 80, Harold is now planning to initiate a Gold Mining business a short distance from Ruby. He was adopted by the Esmailka family and is a cousin of Emmitt. 

Harold knew Fr. Ron Dunfey. He took us on a tour of the new St Peter’s Church built in 2005-6 time frame. The old church was attached to the new one to be  used as a gathering hall. He showed us the old priest’s room in the old church where Fr Ron stayed when he was in Ruby. Fr. Ron would come a stay a week at a time in Ruby. Fr. Ron travelled to Ruby periodically from Galena, which is further down the Yukon. Harold introduced us to other people who also knew Fr. Ron.

We attended Sunday Church services in the new church. We had rabbit stew and other munchies with the parishioners after the service in the gathering hall.

There is a painting over the alter in the new Church called “DENAAHUTO” – Athabaskan for “Our Father”. This painting was done by Jon Van Zyle inside the church. It was inspired by Harold. The story of this painting is a great story! I have a copy of the story and will will be put into a separate TAB – Ruby Gift in the the Blog when I get the chance.

We also got pictures of Fr. Ron marrying the Peters and baptizing their son, Sunny.


Life in Ruby Alaska

Our brief stay is Ruby gave us a wonderful glimpse into the current native life in an isolated Alaskan village. It is hard to describe and communicate what we learned and discerned. We don’t fully understand it all. We stayed two nights. When we were in their home, Edna and Emmitt talked to us almost non-stop about their lives. Harold and Florence Emailka also shared so much with us.

Tom Esmailka met us while we were walking the street of Ruby. He took us on an ATV trip of the surrounding area. He pointed out the canyons where he liked to hunt.

Life in Ruby is now much different than in the past. They have snowmobiles instead of sleds powered by sled dogs. They have Satilite Tv and DSL Internet Access. There are daily airplane flights to Ruby from Fairbanks that bring provisions and mail. They are more connected to the world but still isolated.

Their native corporation provides medical support and periodic dividends.

As in the past, everyone helps out their neighbor. They look after each other. They share facilities. There is a village saw mill that anyone can use to cut their wood – just pay a trained operator. There is a gas depot where almost everyone gets their gas and oil. There is a large assembly hall. 

Many natives still go to their fishing camps for as long a period as the regulations allow. They also go on hunting trips as they have for generations but now they have motors on their boats and use modern methods wherever it makes sense.

Many homes are still made of logs but many homes were constructed by HUD. The Peters’ home was made by HUD. It was a comfortable 3 bedroom home outfitted almost the same as found everywhere outside. “Outside” seems to be a term used to describe non-Alaska locations.

Winter gets quite cold here – minus 40 degrees is common.

We shared a salmon meal with Edna and Emmitt. Emmitt caught the salmon, half smoked it and froze it. He unfroze it and baked it. It had a wonderfully different taste.

Our visit to Ruby was a highlight of Alaska Journey.

We a very thankful that Edna and Emmitt invited us to stay with them. They were very gracious. As we left, we all hugged each other like lifelong friends.

Haines and “The Glacier Priest” 6/25-26/2009

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

The weather on the ferry from Juneau to Haines and our first day in Haines was damp and somewhat rainy. The view on entering Haines was spectacular. It seems the scenery keeps getting better and better. We don’t have many pictures yet due to weather and us forgetting the camera at various times.

When we got on the ferry, we took a tour of all the decks since we hadn’t been on this particular ferry before. We noticed a sign near purser’s office saying that satellite Internet wasn’t available as of 1/1/2009 since they were changing vendors. When we passed a room set up with cubicles for laptops with electric plugs, we noticed a woman sitting in one and went to ask here if she had Internet access. Then, we noticed she had a sowing machine and was making quilted squares. We started a conversation. About 15 minutes later, Fred mentioned that his uncle was a priest in Alaska and had a street ministry in Juneau. “There is no street ministry in Juneau, What was his name?”, When Fred told her his name, she exclaimed, “You have to be kidding, you are Fr. Ron Dunfey’s nephew!”. She went on the tell us that she was a good friend of Ron’s and that everyone on the Yukon knew Ron.

She went on to relate a number of stories of expereinces she had with Fr. Ron. She told us of common friends they had in Ruby. It seems she also stayed with the same friends on Douglas Island as Ron did when they were both in Juneau. She lived on Kodiak Island. She told us she understood why Ron would use the term street ministry to describe what he did.

We talked about land that Fr Ron had bought and where it might be. Fred mentioned to her that he was thinking of going to Ruby (a remote villiage on the Yukon). She told us that there were no places to stay there and we would have to stay in a tent. She told us of Ron’s friend Edna who resides in Ruby.

This woman is Kristine Harder and she designs and sells pewter. Her Website is

We exchanged email address. Kristine has plenty of photo’s on Ron which she plans to share with us.

She gave us the name of another man who knew Ron and lives in Haines, John Svenson. John Swenson has a design studio called “Extreme Dreams Gallery”.

kristine was not aware of Fr. Ron’s death 12 years ago. She also did not know that Fr. Ron was interviewed by Charles Karault on nationwide news on Mount McKinley (Denaili). I told her I had the video of that interview, parts of which were replayed on Saturday TV mornings under the title “Serenity”.

We got to Haines on the Ferry at 9:30 PM. We decided to go to Chilkat State Park about 8 miles south of town on the Chilkat Inlet.

When we got up in the morning, we located the Extreme Dreams Gallery advertisement in the Haines Vistor Guide. It turns our his studio is located at the entrance to the State Park in which we were staying.

When we showed up and introduced ourselves to John Svenson. He was shocked. He hadn’t met anyone in years who knew of Fr Ron and that past gone era.

He told us that Fr. Ron was known as “The Glacier Priest!”

It seems he was a legend. Mountain Hikers and climbing expeditions sought him out to bless them before their hikes.
All the mountain hikers knew him. He was a fixture in Telketna and other spots around Denali where hikers gathered. He often bought rounds of beer. It seems that Ron liked the company of these mountain climbers and they enjoyed his company. John told us that it was so odd for a Priest to be in such places. The subjects of religion and philosophy were often discussed with Fr. Ron always telling them what he really thought.

After meeting John, Milly just said to Fred, “Maybe Uncle Ron’s spirit is guiding us on this trip.”
According to John, we are camped in the best campground in  Haines. It  just happened to be  right next to Jim Seversons studio and we didn’t know it until we went to find him!

It seems that our Uncle Ron was the character that we knew. He was true to himself and the stories he told did reflect what he did. He was a faithful Christian servant of God. Some people loved him and some despised him.  He didn’t like authorities especially religious ones. It appears he made his mark in Alaska. He truly was an eccentric Alaskans eccentric.

We almost blew up or got asphyxiated

To reach our Chilkat State park and campground, we had to travel on a rough gravel road, down a steep winding grade. The road was a washboard. Unknown to us, our coleman grill was put away in rear storage compartment under our bed with the propane canister still attached.

When we set up, everything seemed okay. Our electric hitch was working off the trailer battery. We noticed a slight smell but assumed it was from residue grey water that had overflowed into the bathroom tub the prior day – Fred forgot to pull the grey water lever to have it empty into sewer drain and the grey water tank filled up. Then, we noticed that the lights didn’t turn on inside the trailer.

Fred checked for a blown fuse inside the trailer.All fuses looked okay. He went to the outside storage compartment to check the battery fuse. When he opened the door, you could hear noises like something was running. Fred realized the noise was propone gas coming from the grill. He pulled the grill out and turned off the gas. The grill had been jostled coming down to the campground and the gas was turned on.

After we oppned the windows for a while, the lights went on and we noticed the carbon monoxide/Propane alarm was blinking. The alarm must have shut the electricity off.

Close calls and learning experiences. We are still having them. Lesson: Don’t do stupid things!

 On inside passage,  if you want fresh vegetables, know when the barge comes in. In Haines,  the “Food barge from Seattle arrives each Tuesday”.

Here are pictures taken in our campground in Haines when the weather wasn’t very good.