The neighborhood on Mission Road has gone through some big changes since kids eagerly lined up to taste Doris Bacus’ chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls and pies.
“I could bake two batches of cookies and they’d be gone in about 20 minutes,” Doris remembered. Now she doesn’t have anyone to bake for.
In those post-World War II days, just about every mom unofficially “adopted” the kids on the block. No lines were drawn; no appointments were made for visits. “Come on in and eat lots.”
Like the ingredients Doris blended to produce marvelous cakes, pies, rolls and cookies, Doris melted into the neighborhood.
In her 93 years, Doris has traveled to England, Italy, New Zealand, Australia and the Caribbean, but she always enjoys returning to her Mission Road home.
“Never once have I felt like I wanted to leave Kodiak,” she said. “I feel comfortable here.”
Doris grew up in British Columbia. Her mother, Edith, died when Doris was 11.
Her father, Norman Wesley, was a descendant of the famous evangelists and Church reformers, John and Charles Wesley.
Norman was a house painter who also owned a little farm where an obnoxious goat made life hard for Doris. When she walked home from school, the goat met her at the top of the hill. “The goat would butt me and down I’d go. That darn goat never butted anybody but me.”
After high school, Doris considered going into nurses’ training. But the mother of her good friend had other plans for her. The friend’s daughter had decided to go into the Air Force and the mother wanted Doris to enlist so she could provide companionship for her daughter.
After meeting the recruitment officer, Doris was accepted into the Air Force and her friend was not.
Doris kept her enlistment a secret until the night she was to board the train for basic training in Calgary.
“The train left at midnight. About 11 o’clock I woke Dad up and said, ‘By the way, I’m leaving. I joined the Air Force.’ I thought he’d raise the roof because he had a temper.” But he said nothing. “He pretended he didn’t hear me.”
Carrying her suitcase, Doris walked to the railroad station, got on the train and traveled all night to Calgary.
In a letter, Doris told her sister, “Dad will never speak to me again.”
Her sister wrote back to tell her that her father was proud of her.
Doris served in the Air Force six years, spending part of her term in England as a clerk specialist. When she got out of the service she started nurses’ training. Once again, her plans changed. While riding on a Vancouver bus, she met a handsome man in uniform — Bill Bacus, another Canadian. “He was kind of lonely like I was,” Doris recalled.
Bill talked a lot about his military experiences.
While serving with the Seabees in the South Pacific, he had come down with malaria. After becoming sick, he was sent to Kodiak to recuperate. Bill talked a lot about Kodiak, Doris recalled.
Two weeks after Doris and Bill met, they got married in Vancouver.
After that, Doris took the steamship from Seattle to Kodiak. “It took two weeks to get here.”
“I was so seasick. I would have gotten off anywhere,” she said.
When they arrived in Kodiak, she and her husband were greeted by a friendly townsman, Neil Sargent. “He was the kindest person I had met. I thought, ‘If that’s what people are like in Alaska, I’m glad I came.’”
Bill, a carpenter, worked in a civil service position at the Navy base, and later, while he was employed with RCA, he moved the family to Woody Island at the FAA headquarters.
“We’d come to town once a week to get groceries in the skiff,” Doris recalled. The Bacuses lived on Woody five months then settled down on Mission Road, in the house where Doris still lives. Bill died four years ago.
The kids on Mission Road and the “Tagura Rats” on Tagura Road often played on the beach.
“If the boys got on the rock first, the girls couldn’t get on, and vice versa.”
Doris got so close to the kids that she volunteered to be the Cub Scout leader.
She and her band of seven-year-olds and eight-year-old boys followed a manual that taught lessons on wilderness survival. In one session they learned how to make a stretcher out of a coat. Once they assembled the makeshift stretcher, the boys suggested carrying one of the members home on it.
“When his mother saw them coming, she had a fit,” Doris said.
Besides taking care of her own children and the neighbors’, Doris volunteered at the library, which was in a quonset hut.
She worked for Dr. Bob Johnson and his father, A Holmes Johnson, and became a transcriptionist at Griffin Memorial Hospital, managed by the Grey Nuns.
The nuns “had some terrible drunks” to deal with, Doris said. “When the nuns couldn’t handle them, they called the mortician across the street to help. When (the drunks) woke up to see him grabbing them, they sobered up fast.”
Doris continued working for the hospital during the transition between different owners and locations. She retired in the mid-1980s.
Doris is an active member of the Senior Center, of which she was president, the Hospital Auxiliary and the Community Baptist Church. She was appointed to the Commission for the Aged by Governor Tony Knowles and recently she was awarded the Citizen Volunteer Award, signed by President Barack Obama.
The Bacus children — Caroline Venuti, Heather Bacus and Billy Bacus— said they are proud of their parents for being “industrious pioneers” and look upon their mother as a role model. Billy has his own business in Kodiak, and Heather works at the Senior Center.
Caroline, formerly a principal at Homer Public Schools and now an administrator at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kachemak Bay Campus, said her mother values education. Doris has the distinction of being one of the first students to receive her Associate of Arts degree at the new Kodiak College in the early 1970s.
Doris said the community has changed a lot since she and Bill moved here.
Many of her old friends are gone. “It’s no fun baking anymore if you can’t give it away,” she said.
Mike Rostad is a freelance writer and longtime Kodiakan who writes a weekly column examining the in-depth stories of Kodiak residents. You can read more about other Kodiak islanders in Rostad’s book, “Close to My Heart-Writing and Living Stories on Kodiak Island, Alaska.