The homesteading Kilcher family, which has given the world three generations of multi-talented performing and visual artists, will host a fun and games day Aug. 2 at their original cabin home.
Ruth and Yule Kilcher, whose granddaughter Conni Vaz is organizing this year’s homestead games, carved a life in the wilderness toward the head of Kachemak Bay during the 1940s.
“What Would Yule/Ruth Do,” the motto on T-shirts being created for the third annual Homestead Games, could well be the catch phrase of the newest “living museum” in the area. Commemorating their parents’ lives, Kilcher children and friends formed a non-profit corporation recently and started developing plans for restoring the homestead and introducing the outside world to the joys of living the simple subsistence life.
Establishing a self-sufficient lifestyle when he settled here, Yule Kilcher, along with his wife Ruth, put into practice his belief that when the modern world blows itself up (or runs out of oil), those who live close to the land will be the survivors. In a 1981 interview, Yule is quoted as saying “… what will people do when the juice quits, when the big switch doesn’t work any more … if people have the insight to prepare for the future … and a respect for nature and are willing to work together they (will survive.)” If things really got bad he said he believed that people using the technology of the Middle Ages would have a better chance than those depending on modern conveniences.
The games adhere to this theme with activities related to survival skills on the last frontier.
Born in Switzerland in 1913, Yule left his homeland in the mid-1930s to explore the Alaska territory, with the idea of emigrating along with a few like-minded people. Then, according to legend, he returned here in 1940, catching a ride on a freighter to Seward, then walking over the Harding Ice Field to Homer where he had heard there was land to be homesteaded.
And homestead he did, subsequently buying additional land to increase his holdings. The Kilcher Homestead is a 613-acre private property, being held in a family trust and is also protected under a conservation easement via Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. Several of the eight second generation and 23 third generation Kilchers have settled on this land in homes overlooking the panorama of Kachemak Bay and the mountains beyond.
Becoming a U.S. citizen in 1940, Kilcher was a delegate to Alaska’s pre-statehood convention in 1955-56 and served in the state Senate from 1963 to 1967. He and Ruth Weber, also from Switzerland, married in 1941.
Ruth and Yule and their eight children lived in the small log cabin for years without the benefit of running water or electricity. It has been restored to its original state, including the sod roof.
The mission of the museum, as stated on their new Web site, www.kilcheronline.com, is to demonstrate living in partnership with the land through artistic, cultural and educational activities. The programs, exhibits and workshops held at the homestead reflect the simple, self-sufficient lifestyle in which the Kilcher family has thrived for three generations.
Reflecting the homemade fun of the olden days, the Aug. 2 event includes over 20 activities for the whole family like hay rides, egg toss, nail pounding, wood chopping and a race for coal. Although the Kilchers could easily provide all the musical entertainment for the games day, they are inviting other artists to perform.
Many early day residents, including the Kilchers, heated their homes and cooked with coal, conveniently deposited on the beaches from the veins jutting from the bluffs along the bay. Family coal-gathering excursions were a necessary chore in those days, so at the Aug. 2 Homestead Games it is being adapted as an historic fun game. For this event, competitors will start on the meadow adjacent to the cabin, race to the beach below, retrieve a bag of coal (already gathered) and race back to deposit the coal. “It’s about two kilometers,” Conni said, indicating the route with a wave of her arm.
One of 23 cousins, the children of Ruth and Yule’s eight offspring, Conni has moved back north from the Lower 48 to give her children the opportunities of family country living she enjoyed as a child growing up here. “I wanted my children to know what it’s like to live close to cousins and the land,” she said.
Vaz said the Aug. 2 activities will include chowder and berry pie “cook offs” with competitors invited to bring their best dishes from home.
The suggested donation of $5-$10 will go to cover game expenses, as well as to make improvements in the parking lot for visitors. For the future games, scholarship funds for music and the arts to honor Ruth and Yule’s creative legacy are being considered.
In keeping with Ruth and Yule’s philosophy of preparing people to live well without modern technology, the Kilchers welcome interns who learn by doing things the pioneer way. They live and work with the current family members, embracing the somewhat primitive and gloriously beautiful setting. Earning credits toward his college degree by helping coordinate activities for the Kilcher Living Museum, current intern Dale Maxon also gets some exercise and education doing such chores as gardening, sharpening axes and chopping wood for the cook stove. With a nod to modernization and a help in organizing events, a telephone and computer are close at hand in the recently added lower level of the cabin.
Although the Kilcher Homestead Living Museum was established three years ago, being totally off the regular visitor track, it has yet to catch the notice of many.
The summer calendar is laced with guided tours of the original cabin/museum, bird and nature walks, plant identifications and other outings. Visits can be scheduled for these tours year ’round by calling 235-8713.
“The main thing right now is getting people to see what we have to offer and the games help do that,” Conni said.
Yule Kilcher filmed many of the family adventures, now documented by the Smithsonian Institute as a video, called “Pioneer Family in Alaska,” which can be viewed and purchased at the Pratt Museum, as well as at the homestead. Additonally,“The Rich and Simple Life,” a video with remembrances of the hardships of homesteading from a woman’s perspective, reflects lives of many of the early women who helped settle the area. The story is told in videos and stills compiled by the Pratt Museum with the help of the Kilcher children and others.
In addition to emceeing the games Aug. 2, Atz Kilcher will be presenting a multi-media show, “My Story, My Roots,” which includes singing his original songs and a basket weaving demonstration Thursdays, July 24, 31 and Aug. 7 from 2 to 4 p.m at the Kilcher homestead. Cost is $25 per person and reservations and directions are available by calling 235-8713.
Although singer/songwriter Jewel may be the most widely known Kilcher, her father, Atz, has been establishing the Kilcher name on the international performing arts scene since before Jewel was a toddler, holding her father’s and mother’s hands and yodeling on stage.
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