Farewell, Mr. Oberg
Peters Creek pioneer reared a family, created a home and shaped early history of Chugiak
DARRELL L. BREESE
Longtime Peters Creek resident Russell Oberg waved to the crowd during the Chugiak Fourth of July Parade. Oberg died Dec. 16. A memorial is 3 p.m. Saturday at Chugiak United Methodist Church.
Photo Courtesy of Oberg Family
Russell Oberg and his wife, Elsie, settled in the Peters Creek area long before statehood and shaped the development of the Chugiak-Eagle River area. A true Alaskan pioneer, Oberg died in his sleep Dec. 19, and family and friends will gather to remember him during a memorial service at the United Methodist Church of Chugiak at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Russell came to Alaska in 1950 to join his brothers Dallon and Clyde, who purchased 5-acre tracts of land in Peters Creek. In the summer of 1951, Russell's wife, Elsie and two daughters, Shirll and Vonda, moved to Alaska from Wyoming to join him.
An account of early life for the Oberg family in Peters Creek is told in a letter Elsie sent to family shortly after their arrival, and recorded by Marjorie Cochrane in her book "Between Two Rivers."
"Russ met us and we headed out to our new home, if you can call it that," Elsie wrote. "He had a trailer house out here and a canvas stretched up and all our stuff under it. 'Out Here' is about halfway between Anchorage and Palmer and three miles from the post office known as Chugiak. At Chugiak is a one-horse store. We aren't really crowded and have lots of room to expand."
In 1953, Russell and Elsie filed for an additional 80-acre homestead and built a new home. His brothers sold their land in Peters Creek and moved to farmland near Palmer.
The Oberg homestead became the home to a growing family, with the birth of daughters Diane, Valda and Jeanie, and son, Lyle.
During the early years in the area, Russell developed a reputation of being a prankster, having fun with his fellow pioneer Dolly Whaley.
Whaley sat with Oberg during the 60th birthday celebration for the naming of Chugiak in August 2007 recalling stories of the good old days.
"You know he once took our cow and locked it inside our homestead," Whaley said during the picnic held in 2007, as the pair shared a laugh. "He's good people. Everyone who lived in Chugiak back then was good people."
Oberg sits on his tractor with one of his many grandsons. He would drive the old tractor in the Chugiak Fourth of July Parade each year.
Photo Courtesy of Oberg Family
He also earned the reputation of being a hard worker.
"Russ was always working," said Jinny Kirk, who moved to the area in 1953. "Elsie was always involved in community groups, and Russ always worked hard to make a better life for his family."
The Oberg name is known in the community because of the family's generosity. Oberg Field, a baseball field in Peters Creek was established in the early 1960s, on a portion of the family's homestead.
Soccer fields, a basketball court and park were added in 1990 after Russell and the Oberg family donated land to the local Parks and Recreation Department.
Oberg Road borders what was once the Oberg homestead.
Lee Jordan, founder and former publisher of the Alaska Star, recalled a story of Russell's methods of maintaining the baseball field, and how it once disrupted a scheduled game.
"A team from Anchorage came out to play, but when they got here, they refused to take the field," Jordan said. "After mowing the grass Russell had spread some cow manure on the field and no one wanted to play on it."
Jordan also remembers buying milk from the cows Russell kept on his field.
"We used to get the milk right from his cows," he said. "You could see the cream rising to the tops of the bottles. That was until the (Greater Anchorage) Borough stopped him from selling it because it wasn't pasteurized."
Russell Oberg helped mayor Rick Mystrom unveil the sign at the soccer fields and playground in Peters Creek named in his honor.
The tractor he used to groom the baseball field was a fixture in the Chugiak Fourth of July parades.
"Russ was always in the parade with one of his kids or grandkids along for a ride on that old tractor," said Shirl Mauldin, who moved to the area in 1957. "Eventually he was the one along for the ride with his grand kids driving, but he always had a big smile on his face as they rode down the road."
Mauldin added that whenever the community had a need, that Russ was always willing to offer his assistance.
"Russ and Elsie were fixtures in the formative years of the area," she said. "It's safe to say that the place we all now call home would not be what it is without people like the Obergs. They made this place their home and a place others wanted to call home."
Jordan echoed Mauldin's opinion of the Oberg's contributions.
"Russell was one of the founding fathers of this community," he said. "He shaped and helped build the community from a bunch of birch trees into what it is today."
Reach the reporter at darrell.breese.@alaskastar.com.
This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, January 7, 2010.