Hometown, Alaska: The Mat-Su Colonists, 75 years later

The colonists used the train for eating and social events even after they had arrived and set up their tent city. Here they gather for a dance with local talent providing the music. Photo from MSB Sanbote Collection, courtesy of the Mat-Su Borough Cultural Resources Dept.

Some 200 families from the barren farmlands of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota chose FDR’s 1935 New Deal challenge to re-launch their lives in Alaska as farmers. They became the hope of a nation wracked by the Great Depression in what reporters called a “socialist experiment.”

What was it like to be a colonist? We’ll learn from Gerry Keeling, one of the first babies born to the newly staked farmers. She grew up in Palmer and attended K-12 at the Palmer Territorial School. She has stories of community, hardship and even heartbreak – but maintains an abiding belief in the resilient spirit of the colony pioneers.

Joining the program in the second half is Eileen Probasco, chief planner for the Mat-Su Borough. Eileen moved to the Valley at age 13. She remembers when Palmer was the big town and Wasilla just a wide spot in the road. Eileen’s own family experienced the rapid growth in the Valley. Today, she wrestles professionally with the challenge to meet the needs of Alaska’s fastest growing community.

Join host Kathleen McCoy for a look at Mat-Su’s unique history and how that foundation shapes the valley today on Hometown, Alaska Wednesday at 2:00 pm.



  • ‘The Frontier in Alaska and the Matanuska Colony,’ by Orlando Miller, a history professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks, copyright 1975
  • ‘Alaskan Group Settlement: The Matanuska Valley Colony,’ U.S. Dept. of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, 1950
  • ‘We Shall Be Remembered,’ Evangeline Atwood, 1966
  • ‘The Colorful Matanuska Valley,’ by Don Irwin, available for viewing at the Colony House Museum
  • ‘Matanuska Colony – Sixty Years: The colonists and their legacy,’ by Brigitte Lively, available for viewing at the Colony House Museum
  • ‘Matanuska Colony 75th Anniversary Scrap Book,” compiled by Lynette A. Lehn and Lorraine M. Kirker

Download Audio (MP3)

HOST: Kathleen McCoy, independent journalist


  • Gerry Keeling,  daughter of Mat-Su colonists
  • Eileen Probasco, chief of planning for Mat-Su Borough


  • Call 550-8433 (Anchorage) or 1-888-353-5752 (statewide) during the live broadcast (2:00 – 3:00pm)
  • Send e-mail to hometownalaska@kska.org before, during or after the live broadcast (e-mails may be read on air)
  • Post your comment or question below (comments may be read on air)

LIVE: Wed, July 21, 2010 at 2:00 p.m.

REPEAT: Wed, July 21, 2010 at 10:00 p.m.


  • Get Hometown, Alaska updates automatically by e-mail, RSS or podcast