A Continuing Legacy in Kake

“For any disaster that happens in our community, The Salvation Army is always there providing food, clothing, whatever is needed.” by Lieutenant Arlene Dooley

Most have probably never heard of Kake, AK, but I’ve been wanting to visit this small native village since 1980. My parents, Majors Barry and Arlene Dooley, were stationed at Divisional Headquarters in Anchorage, AK, in 1979. The next year, the annual Southeast Alaska Congress was in Kake, a remote village on the shore of Kupreanof Island. My parents came home with tales of arriving by float plane, staying with Tommy and Mona Jackson, and the crowded, lively Congress meetings. After the official meetings were done for the day, the prayer meeting started at Tommy and Mona’s. People packed into the house, singing and praying until the wee hours of the morning, helping themselves to Mona’s clam chowder when they were hungry. Their stories ignited my imagination, but I never expected to see it for myself.

Thirty-seven years later, as a second-year cadet in The Salvation Army’s College for Officer’s Training, I was sent to Sitka, AK, for a Christmas Assignment. As it happened, Majors Joe and Flo Murray were the corps officers for both Sitka and Kake that year. Major Flo and I climbed aboard a small plane for the short flight to Kake for the weekend of the Home League Bazaar. At last, I was in the village I had heard so much about. But God had more in store for me as six months later my first appointment out of training was as corps officer of the Kake Corps. 

Since my parents’ first visit to Kake, this southeast Alaskan village has expanded in infrastructure but contracted in population, from close to 1,500 residents to less than 600. Most businesses have shut down, leaving no restaurants, little industry and a lot of empty buildings. Food and staples are available at one general store and the fuel station mini mart. Unemployment is high, but the people of Kake are resourceful and resilient. One source of income for many is food sales, sold by individual households. We all watch Facebook and the local bulletin board at the post office for notices of who is selling what food and when, and then start texting in our orders. 

The Salvation Army has a rich history in Kake, going back to the late 1800s when a Salvation Army missionary came through. The early 19th Century Kake Corps Band was exceptional and so well known, it was requested to play for President Warren Harding on his visit to Alaska. The bandmembers were dedicated to such a degree that when two of them were lost at sea, their instruments were left near a marker on White Island, where they remain today, slowly sinking into the ground. 

Kake boasts an inordinate number of achievements for a corps its size. Charles Newton, the first corps officer in Kake, was awarded the Order of the Founder in 1945, Corps Sergeant Major (CSM) Tommy Jackson received the Western Territory’s Soldier of the Year award in 1987, and the first Commissioner Sunbeam in Alaska was Edna Davis of Kake.

Today, people still talk about Kake’s band and songsters, timbral brigades, troops and corps cadets. The Salvation Army Kake Corps is kept going by a handful of faithful soldiers. There are still a few working instruments in the closet, but no one knows how to play them. Built in 1962 by soldiers and community members, the small corps building has seen better days. Situated a block from the beach in two directions, the outside of the building is extremely weather beaten while one side is slowly sinking into the waterlogged land underneath it, causing a noticeable slope in the floor inside.

Despite it all, The Salvation Army remains active in the community. Before COVID-19, the youth program was growing again, with the local school bus dropping kids off at the Corps on troop nights. The Family Thrift Store is the closest thing to a mall that the village has, and there are some Saturdays when it seems just as busy. The Salvation Army Kake Advisory Board has been resurrected and the local Home League is small but fearsome. 

The largest ministry of the Kake Corps is simply helping families and individuals in the community with whatever is needed, whenever possible. The Army’s small food bank serves 25-50 households each month with commodities from the USDA. In addition, this summer, we were blessed by the USDA’s Farmers to Families program. For eight weeks, our volunteers set up in the airport parking lot to distribute dairy and produce to 100 families as it arrived by small plane from Sitka. Grants for utilities are especially invaluable here as electricity is expensive, and many homes need diesel or propane as well for heat and hot water.

Even in a normal year, Christmas is a little different here than most Salvation Army locations. There is just one kettle at the general store, and nowhere to put an Angel Tree, so the local Christmas toy distribution is usually dependent on leftovers from other corps. Although the Kake Corps has never been left in need during Christmas, two years ago, the Corps was excited to receive a handful of gifts from Walmart’s Registry for Good. Last year, the corps was blessed by a much greater response to the Registry in addition to the digital Angel Tree. Eighty-six local Angels, children and elders signed up to receive gifts. Even in Kake, Christmas and The Salvation Army go hand in hand.

For a small village, Kake has seen a lot of tragedy in the last few years. Joel Jackson, president of the Organized Village of Kake, noted, “For any disaster that happens in our community, The Salvation Army is always there providing food, clothing, whatever is needed.” God willing, we will continue to be here for a long time to come.