Kathryn Chichenoff was the Emily Post of church etiquette

Sonny and Kathryn Chichenoff are surrounded by their children at their 2007 Golden  Anniversary celebration. Back row, from left: Mike Chichenoff, Melodi Chichenoff, Robert Chichenoff and Selma McKee. Front row, from left: Tammy Grinaker and Lori Ogle. Not pictured: Keith Chichenoff.

Here’s a salute to all of the mothers out there, living and departed, who exemplified the qualities of motherhood.

This past year we’ve said final farewells to amazing Kodiak women who also were fantastic mothers. We’ve also had mothers who bid farewell to their children. The hardship and grief they suffered — realizing that their child would no longer call them “mom” — is a reflection of the deep love they had for their children. 

Kathryn Chichenoff, who died last winter, and her husband, the late Sonny Chichenoff, sadly said that final farewell to their daughter Lori Ogle several years ago.

Kathryn and Sonny were an inseparable couple, especially after Sonny retired from fishing. He was able to spend more time with his family. 

When Sonny died last summer, Kathryn lost a big part of her life.

I met the Chichenoffs in 1980 when I wrote an article in the Kadiak Times about Sonny’s new boat, the St. Kathryn (an appropriate name). 

I got to be friends with them and their friends and relatives. One Christmas, the Chichenoffs invited me to their home for a meal. They knew I was a long way from my family and offered a home-cooked meal and fellowship to somehow lessen the pain of being away from family. I saw a lot of that almost parental concern in many Kodiak people.

Kathryn Chichenoff cared not only for her own children but other people’s children as well.

I was blessed to meet Kathryn’s parents, Larry and Katie Ellanak, when the couple celebrated an anniversary in the summer of 1985. My friend Oleg Kobtzeff and I took a skiff over to Ouzinkie for the celebration. I was amazed by Larry’s youthful demeanor.

Kathryn honored her parents through her words and actions. 

When the Alutiiq language revitalization program was starting, Kathryn was instrumental in getting it off the ground, language teacher Susan Malutin said.

“She was always willing to help,” she said.

Kathryn often spoke Alutiiq with friends who also knew the language.

Kathryn was raised in Karluk. Her parents Larry and Katie had moved there from Afognak in the 1930s. Katie was from Cape Douglas on the Alaska Peninsula. When she was a girl, Katie moved with her family to Afognak because of the devastating 1912 Katmai eruption.

After the Ellanaks had lived in Afognak for a while, they moved to Karluk. In the 1950s they moved to Ouzinkie, where Larry was called to be a church reader in the Orthodox Church. 

Kathryn credited her father for teaching her the importance of going to church.

“We never knew what a priest was, but we always were going to church,” Kathryn said.

When Larry got paid for the work he did, he gave the money right back to the church. 

While living in Ouzinkie, Kathryn met a dashing young man from the neighboring village of Afognak. His name was Alexis Chichenoff Jr. (also called Sonny). 

Sonny grew up in the Russian Town section of Afognak, which was relocated to present-day Port Lions after the 1964 earthquake and tidal wave. Sonny’s father Alec Chichenoff served as a church reader. He and his wife Selma owned the dance hall by the beach. It was a popular gathering place for the villagers.

Sonny and Kathryn were married in 1957. They lived in Afognak for three years. 

The Chichenoffs moved to Kodiak in 1960, in plenty of time for the 1964 earthquake and tidal wave that ruined a beautiful Good Friday. 

Following the tidal wave and reconstruction, a lot of changes swept across Kodiak Island. Kathryn was saddened to see them.

“You couldn’t beat old Kodiak,” Kathryn said. “We didn’t lock our houses in those days. Now we lock everything.”

In her later years, Kathryn got involved in cultural preservation programs such as the Alutiiq revitalization program and Dig Afognak, a camp located on Afognak Island.

“I really love it out there, being around my kind of people. It’s a special place,” she reflected.

In 2007 the Chichenoffs celebrated their Golden Anniversary. Their children prepared a big surprise party for them at the Elks.The highlight of that night was when Kathryn and Sonny danced as they did during their courtship.

Although the anniversary took place on a Saturday night, the children planned the party for another night, since Saturday is the night that vespers is held in the Orthodox Church.

Attending church was a central part of Kathryn’s life. In how she dressed and conducted herself in church, in the polite way she communicated with her fellow parishioners, and in her reverence for holiness, Kathryn Chichenoff was the Emily Post of church etiquette. She will be remembered for that. 

Kathryn “was a good friend to me,” said Rosabel Baldwin, a longtime friend and former starosta of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral. 

“She helped me at church when nobody else would,” she said.

Noting that the Chichenoffs lived a few blocks away, Rosabel recalled Kathryn walking up to her house with a slice of cake or a pirok she had just baked.

“Going by her house now and knowing she’s not there is an empty feeling,” Rosabel said.

Kathryn’s daughter Selma McKee said it would take a lifetime for her to reflect on her mother’s presence, wit and unconditional love.

“She was all about church, family and car rides! What I appreciate the most about being blessed with my mother is the wisdom she shared and groomed me to raise my family with and the same values she raised myself and my siblings with,” Selma said. “She will always be our belle of the ball!”

When Selma asked her son what he misses about his gram, he responded that he appreciated “her comments, her names for whoever come by! It changed all the time! The simple joys of a grandmother’s love!”

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