St. Mary’s of the Lake


The first cabins on Salchaket Lake were most likely built in the 1920’s.  President Harding visited Fairbanks in 1922, and it was at that time the name of the lake was changed to Harding Lake.  The pace of building cabins on the west and south sides of the lake picked up in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  It was in the 1950’s that the east side of the lake was developed.


Sometime in the 1940’s Catholic families at the lake began gathering for Mass, with a Father or Bishop coming from town to conduct the Mass.  Mass would be held in the cabins or on the decks of members such as Mike and Mathilda Stepovich, Gene and Bridie Immel, Pat and Hersh Harter and other members of the church.


In February of 1952, church member Mary Rogge donated the south portion of the lot across the road from her lake cabin to the Fairbanks Catholic Religious Society.  There was a stipulation in the deed that if a church were ever erected on the property, it must be called “St. Mary’s Church”.    In April of 1953, Jack and Juanita Boulet donated the full lot across the road from their cabin to the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska.  And in December of 1955, the Fairbanks Catholic Religious Society transferred the property given by Marry Rogge to the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska.  The two donated sites are adjacent to each other and form the current site for St. Mary’s of the Lake.


Rollie Livesley was a church member and resident of Harding Lake during the summers.  He served as Civil Defense Director for the City of Fairbanks and was also Director of Alaska Surplus Properties for the military at what was Ladd Air Field and is now Ft. Wainwright Army Base.  Rollie was able to procure (probably a loose term) a surplus Quonset hut and some chairs from the military.  And it was in August of 1959 that Rollie, his son George and others moved the Quonset to Harding Lake and placed the building where it now serves as “St. Mary’s of the Lake”.  The trip to the lake was not without excitement.  The moving rig with Quonset got stuck fording the Salcha River.  A small farm tractor from the nearby farm of Dr. John Weston was used to pull the moving rig and building on across the river.  Rollie and his wife, Janet, left Fairbanks in 1960 and have since passed away.  Their son George and their daughter Sue live in Eugene, Oregon.


It was in the summer of 1960 that the first services were held at St. Mary’s of the Lake.  Father Jim Kolb was the longest serving priest at St. Mary’s, conducting services from Memorial Day week-end through Labor Day week-end for nearly 25 years.  Father Jim is now in Portland, Oregon.  In his collection of memorabilia, he has the first sign for the church painted in 1959 by “Dutch” of the Fairbanks Sign Company.  The church has seen many improvements such as windows with screens, a new exterior covering, new flooring, new coats of paint and a solar panel for lights.  There is no water service in the building and no permanent heat or electric service for the building.  But there is a unique spirit for the services held at St. Mary’s of the Lake.  Nancy Cook Hanson, as a Lay Presider, has been conducting service at St. Mary’s for the past several years.


In June of 1993, Alaskan artist Barbara Lavalle attended a service at  St. Mary’s and later completed an original painting of the church commissioned for the 1994 HIPOW auction by Jeff and Sue Cook.  The original was purchased at HIPOW by a group of dentists who then gifted the original painting to Father Jim Kolb.  There were 350 limited edition prints made of the painting and they sold out immediately.  The second printing of 5,000 note cards continues to be sold.  The limited edition prints of St. Mary’s of the Lake continue to be in high demand.