Category Archives: Activities

COVID-19 Impacts

The Koponen families are sheltering in place at their various locations in Alaska and New England in defense of the COVID-19 virus. Joan will be 89 this month, still at the homestead house, so extra precautions need to be taken for prevention. It is possible to go out for walks in local areas, maintaining physical distancing. Internet for the Fairbanks family units are limited, but we’re limping along with as good a humour as can be maintained. Hope all is well with you all.

VERY interesting times.


Niilo would be proud

Niilo would be proud that his son-in-law Gary (that’s me) won his first election to the Golden Valley Electric Cooperative board of directors. This was a spirited campaign with a well known Fairbanks businessman who was a one term incumbent as competition.

I was not so much running against my competition (who is a friend of mine), but because I’d been involved as a co-op member for several decades, believe in the cooperative model and have both the expertise and time to devote to helping set policy and direction for this $250 million non-profit organization.

My mom, who died last year at the age of 94, would also have been proud as she raised me to get involved in making the world a better place. Thanks, Mom.

More info if you want to know:

Kids Gathered and Books

The 5 kids (now grown-ups) of Niilo and Joan gathered at the homestead for a couple weeks earlier in March to go over the 1000 or so books and journals that Niilo had collected over the years. They selected some each for themselves, Joan kept some for the house and most of the rest went to the Ester Library storage, to hopefully be constructed in the next few years. It was a daunting task.

They also completed the necessary work involved to settle Niilo’s estate, a mere 15 or so months since he died on Dec. 3, 2013. Chena has worked very hard during this time as the personal representative for the estate, but all siblings and Joan played a part. Also a daunting task.

Now as Niilo would have said, “Onward”.

Speaking of grandkids

Speaking of grandkids, I’ll speak to the ones I know about, of Chena and me: Max and Ben.

On Nov. 22, 2014, Max got married to his partner of 9 years Sophia Snyder in Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA. It was a lovely wedding. The families then spent a few days after in a house off Cape Cod. It was very relaxing, reading, game-playing, walking in the woods. Sophia works for HarvardX and Max continues to play contradance music around the U.S. and Canada as well as organizing dance weekends and helping the contradance community where he can.
Wedding party outside

Ben and his long time girlfriend Lauren were of course at the wedding and after. Ben is working for the State of Alaska Dept. of Transportation in Anchorage providing needed computer support for the department throughout Southcentral Alaska. Lauren has finishing her medical technology certification requirements and hopes to be working in the field shortly.


Niilo memorial Sun. Jan. 5, 2014 – 2 pm at Pioneer Park, Fairbanks

Just a reminder that we will be having a memorial for Niilo on Sun. Jan. 5, 2014 – 2 pm at the Pioneer Park Civic Center in Fairbanks. There will be a formal program in the theatre for the first hour with opportunity for attendees to offer their reminisces. Following this, the Exhibit Hall will have a display of memorabilia that the family has gathered, to represent some of the many activities and causes that Niilo was involved with on behalf of community over his many decades.

Most of Niilo’s far flung family (kids and grandkids) is coming to Fairbanks for this, as well as friends and colleagues from other parts of Alaska. This is an opportunity for sharing stories, re-making acquaintances, and being a part of the Fairbanks community of doers that we are.

All 5 ‘kids’ again!

It was great to have Niilo & Joan’s eldest children on the homestead this summer for 3 weeks each, with one week during which all 5 ‘kids’ were here together. [Not to be confused with goat kids, of which N & J had way too many during a period of their younger days. Joan is glad to have no more of those kids around!]

In addition to doing many and fun things with Mom, Nonni and Sanni helped with projects, so there is now lots more fire wood and a section of 60-year-old roof that had been damaged by squirrels, weather, wear, etc, has been re-insulated. We read that many roofs need repair every 15-20 years, so for this to have survived this long is credit to its builders: Niilo, Joan, and toddler Nonni, as documented in the wonderful old photo albums.

After a very late cold May, with some piles of snow left into June, it has been a wonderfully warm, dry -perhaps too dry – summer. The garden and berry bushes provide much satisfaction.

Joan, Heather, and Rob take Niilo outdoors for strolls around the Pioneers Home, listening to the rustling trees, feeling the sun and breeze, smelling the roses and spruce and labrador tea.

Savor these pleasant moments…

Visits with old friends are so wonderful!

What fun walking the trails, visiting over tea with honey and lemon as Joan has served it for more than half a century, and hearing stories events and everyday friendship from times stretching almost that far back….
Nat, who started the Equinox Marathon 50 years ago and got bicycle and pedestrian trails to be some of the best features of Anchorage, joined Chena, Gary, and Heather, and his own wife Caren in the below-zero-degree sunshine walking homestead trails, then visiting with Joan where she has hosted him over the decades. They shared stories and concerns and the hope for trails to remain part of the landscape into the future.


Nor’easter blows into Fairbanks

We had a fast-paced but fun visit from Max’s band Nor’easter the beginning of February, coming to Fairbanks for the Contra Borealis Dancer‘s Winter Dance Weekend.   Got all the siblings out to dance (Alex wins the stamina award) and Joan also joined for a concert at the College Coffeehouse.   The band and Brattleboro, VT caller Rebecca Lay returned to the Northeast just in time for a real Nor’easter.    You can listen to the band’s interview and music podcast on our public radio station KUAC’s website.  We took everyone dog mushing and on a trip to Chena Hot Springs for a surreal soak surrounded by snow and ice following the weekend.  Max managed to fit in time to visit with Grandma and Grandpa and take in Sunday sauna. Max’s brother Ben, now living and working in Anchorage for the Alaska Dept. of Transportation, got to host them for a couple of evening prior as a special contradance was arranged for the band and caller in Anchorage.  We heard they rocked the hall.  An awesome time was had by all.

Nor'easter with Chena and Gary