Houses can be historic in many senses – for instance, in the history that families create. Recently, the owner of one house on a hill in Kodiak found a little of that family history while renovating.
Dave Wilmot and his girlfriend, Ella, live in the house with Ella’s sons, Leo and Zeke, and their cat, Stewart. It’s an old cat — the kind of old cat who can’t wait for an interview to end before demanding to be let outside, or else.
Wilmot says his girlfriend bought the house in 2012 and they began renovation in April 2016.
Wilmot, who’s a firefighter on the Coast Guard base, says he came home from his shift and their contractor had left a piece of drywall on a work bench.
It’d been cut from the wall behind a cabinet in the kitchen, and there was a letter on the yellow surface.
The words slant down to the left and although smudged, are still legible. The letter is dated to May 3, 1979. Here’s an excerpt:
If you are reading this bit of babble, I would venture to guess you are in the happy state of remodeling this old kitchen, and that I have long since gone to my maker. My prayers are that you and yours will love this home as it has been loved and lived in.
As with all homes, every inch is filled with much love, sweat, and tears. Two days ago, May 1, 1979, my life’s partner and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. For the first time we were away from the other on this special day. I have enjoyed 45 years on May 10 of this year.”
Those are the words of Phyllis Sundberg, who passed away in 2012 — a couple of years after her husband Gene.
Her close friend and neighbor, Ruth Dawson was in the kitchen that day in 1979, when the Sundbergs were replacing their cabinets with newer models.
“Phyllis gets out a marker and writes this beautiful story on the wall, and said, ‘Oh, won’t that be grand someday when new people in the house read this?’” Dawson recounted. “And I said, ‘Oh, we’re gonna always be here, you know.’ And she says, ‘No, this will be fun.’ Well, it was put there and we forgot about it and went on with life.”
And just as the letter started with Sundberg, the wall she wrote it on started with her family.
Dawson says Phyllis Sundberg was originally from Idaho and moved to Kodiak was she was a pre-teen and her stepfather, Eugene Lightfoot, built the house.
“Phyllis’s stepdad and her mother lived in the basement when they came here,” Dawson said. “They lived in the basement while he built the rest of the house, so that house meant a lot to her, and then she had the row named after him.”
Phyllis spent most of her life there, and it’s where she raised her three sons with her husband, Gene, who she met in high school.
Gene, who was born in Kodiak, held a few jobs throughout his lifetime, including land manager for the Koniag Regional Corporation and purchasing supervisor for Kodiak Island Borough School District. Phyllis worked in a bank and was a stay-at-home mom.
While their sons have since moved from the house, the Sundberg era has had an impact in the community’s history. Wilmot found as much, when speaking with contractors who might do their home renovation.
“I want to say just about every single one had a story about this house,” Wilmot said. “Like, they either played with the Sundberg kids, or they hung out in the neighborhood here. The old city reservoir is just up through the canyon there. They’d go swimming up there and come walking through the yard. So, everything reiterated the story of the house.”
Wilmot has since framed the drywall with the letter, and included a plaque with a quote by Charles Dickens.
“Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.”