David and Joanne Witiak outside the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in downtown Kodiak.

Stranded by the ferry strike, two visitors chose to give back to the town of Kodiak. 

Since Thursday, David and Joanne Witiak of Anacortes, Washington, have been busy painting the fence around the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church in downtown Kodiak that dates back to 1945.

The Alaska Marine Highway strike, initiated on July 24 by the Inland Boatmen’s Union of the Pacific because of contract negotiations, ended on Friday. For the Witiak’s, the strike meant extending their vacation in Kodiak by more than a week. 

“We almost feel like we live here now,” David said while holding a tray of paint outside the church on Friday.

The Witiaks drove their RV from Washington to Alaska and arrived in Kodiak for a week-long vacation on July 17. During their first week, they covered many tourist highlights: a flightseeing tour to see bears at Frazer Lake, driving down Kodiak’s roads and visiting the town’s museums.

However, their scheduled departure on the M/V Tustumena on July 24 was derailed by the strike. Unlike some visitors, the Witiak’s weren’t in a big rush to leave the Emerald Isle. 

“Fortunately, we didn’t book anything else,” David said. Joanne mentioned that the only appointment she missed was a haircut back in her hometown, but she visited one of Kodiak’s salons instead. 

David and Joanne have filled their time doing water aerobics classes at the Kodiak pool and visiting the public library, all while calling Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park their homebase. 

“The rangers and camp hosts have been really good to us,” David said. “We know everyone in the ferry office.”

However, water aerobics and free WiFi access couldn’t keep them busy for long, and while passing the church on their frequent trips to the ferry terminal, they noticed it could use a paint job.

“We had nothing better to do,” David said with a smile.

A member of the Russian Orthodox Church, David decided to send an email to Father Innocent Dresdow of the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, offering his services.  Father Innocent responded within 10 minutes, inviting the Witiaks to paint the church fence. The couple bought all the paint and supplies necessary to complete the task.

Their timing is particularly fortuitous because of the upcoming pilgrimage to Spruce Island, which draws many Russian Orthodox clergymen and visitors to Kodiak every August to commemorate Father Herman, North America’s first canonized Orthodox saint.

The 49th Annual Pilgrimage to Saint Herman of Alaska is scheduled to take place in Kodiak between Aug. 7 and Aug. 9 in the presence of Metropolitan Tikhon, Primate of the Orthodoc Church in America.

Since David and Joanne have begun painting the church fence, Kodiak residents have stopped by to drop off water and meal tickets for lunch at the Kodiak Senior Center, as tokens of their gratitude. 

The Witiaks plan to leave on the Tusty’s next scheduled departure, but with the help of the church deacons and interns, they hope to finish repainting the fence by then. 

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