National attention has been riveted on the presidential election these past two weeks. This preoccupation with politics reminded me that Kodiak Island, although not a campaign stop, has been visited by presidents or their staffers, as well as a presidential hopeful.
During the early days of World War II, a devout Orthodox Church lady, Nadia Hubley, received a letter of commendation from President Franklin Roosevelt for her part in making artificial flowers for the graves of fallen servicemen.
Roosevelt could have commended Nadia in person because he eventually came to the island on a troop inspection tour.
As Roosevelt’s caravan went through town, Nadia’s granddaughter, Rosabel Baldwin — a little girl at the time — stood by the street holding her month-old puppy.
When Roosevelt’s car “came abreast of me, he made it stop,” recalled Rosabel. “He leaned out the window and motioned me to come forward. He petted the puppy and told me how beautiful it was.”
Roosevelt was apparently lonesome for his pet dog, Rosabel surmised.
Even though Roosevelt was on the island because of business, he and his entourage were able to sneak away to Buskin Lake for trout fishing.
When President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn came to Kodiak, they went fly fishing for silver salmon at Uganik. By then, Carter had already served his term in the White House. Yet he was accompanied by Secret Servicemen.
The Carters were guided by Dick Rohrer, who also guided bear hunts.
After their fishing trip, the Carters were invited to the Rohrers for a crab lunch. The Secret Service officers surrounded the house. Impressive. But Dick was even more impressed that the former president of the United States sat in his living room, reading a book to his granddaughter.
When people asked the Rohrers what they talked about with the Carters, Dick told them, “We talked about fishing. That’s what they were there for.”
They did manage to discuss an issue that was dear to Carter’s heart while he resided in the White House: the Alaska D-2 legislation, which protected wilderness lands.
The cover on Carter’s book “Sharing the Good Times” featured a picture of him and Rosalyn at the river where Dick guided them. In fact, Dick took the photo. Ironically, one of the Carters’ favorite fishing spots was a meadow stream in Pennsylvania not far from the area where Dick grew up.
Future presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton had a different kind of fishing in mind when she and her college friend came to Kodiak in the summer of 1969. They were looking for jobs in a salmon processing plant. Hillary and her college friend (both were students at Wellesley College) knocked on the door of Rolland and Hazel Jones, wondering if they knew of a good place to camp.
At the time, Hazel and her sons, Jim and Brandon, were preparing to go to the family gillnet site at Uganik. Concerned that the girls might be prey to men who might not have good intentions, Hazel invited Hillary and her friend to stay at their house. Hazel took a special interest in Hillary because Hazel’s friend, Peggy Sutliff, had also been a student at Wellesley.
Apparently, the girls discussed politics with Hazel, who, at the time, was a Democrat. Hillary told her that her father was a Republican. Hazel’s father — Al Owen — was a Democratic state senator.
Eventually, Hillary and her friend stayed in the basement of the Kodiak Community Baptist Church and went to Ouzinkie to work at a salmon processing plant.
Hillary’s Alaska experience was brought up during her campaign for the 2016 presidency, when her husband, Bill Clinton, introduced her at the Democratic National Convention.
In an interview with late night talk show host David Letterman, Hillary described her experience working in a cannery. She said she wore rain gear and hip boots.
“My job was to grab (the salmon), and these are big fish, and to take a spoon and clean out the insides. It was the best preparation for being in Washington that you can possibly imagine,” Hillary said.
According to an article in Politico, Hillary was fired from the cannery job because, according to her, she asked too many questions.
President Bill Clinton never made it to Kodiak, but his secretary of the interior, Bruce Babbitt, did. He addressed concerns about preserving the pristine status of refuge lands. While on Kodiak Island, Babbitt traveled to the village of Old Harbor, where Emil Christiansen took him salmon fishing.
A staffer of President George Bush came to Kodiak one summer and, after visiting a Native culture camp, allotted funds for it.
President Barack Obama was in Alaska on at least two occasions but didn’t make it to the Emerald Isle. President Donald Trump, to my knowledge, didn’t come here either. However his attorney general, William Barr, visited villages in the interior, but Kodiak was not on the itinerary.