Kenneth Victor McGahan was born 23 Apr. 1914 in Troy Township, Newaygo, Michigan. Margaret Evelyn Orr was born 20 Apr. 1917 in Holland, Ottawa, Michigan. Ken and Margaret were married 16 Aug 1932 in St. Ignace, Mackinac, Michigan. Ken was 18 years old and Margaret was 15 years old.
Before their first born, Ila, was a year old (abt. 1934) Ken moved his family to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where they lived in the Newberry, Curtis and Germfask areas. In 1945 they moved to Cooks, Schoolcraft County, Michigan. Ken was a farmer and Margaret was a homemaker.
In the early 1950’s the government came to Ken (and other farmers) and told him to plow his crop of potatoes under or use them to feed the cows and pigs. If he used them as feed the potatoes had to be dipped in a purple dye so they could not be sold. The government would pay him for the crop and pay in the coming years NOT to plant & harvest. That did not sit well with him; Ken loved farming.
In the spring of 1954, Ken, with his brother Mazie ‘Mac’ and son-in-law Francis Davidson, drove to Alaska from Cooks, Michigan to check out job and homestead possibilities. The first dirt road from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula was constructed in 1951. They drove Ken’s 1952 Chrysler DeSoto automobile on unpaved, gravel and mud roads and made the roundtrip in 10 days, approximately 7,000 miles.
As told by Richard McGahan: “They drove right to Wildwood Army Station (established in 1953, transferred to US Air Force in 1965 and later became a correctional facility) the communications headquarters center for Canada, Mexico and the United States. They got a contract to work on the DEW line (Distant Early Warning) which was the radar system around Alaska from Palmer to Anchorage, Anchorage to Whittier, Seward, Soldotna and Homer. Once they got the contract they returned to Michigan. Dad asked at dinner one night how many of us kids (and mom) would like to go to Alaska? Well, after milking 53 cows a day and slopping 5 hogs, of course I said I do! And everybody did and mom also raised her hand which surprised me. But she was a go getter, she would try anything that dad wanted to try. So we all raised our hands and he was surprised but – "Okay we’re all gonna go to Alaska! In the spring we’ll have an auction.”
The summer of 1954 Ken and the boys dug a well at the farm in Cooks and then dug, by hand, the ditch for the water line. More than a quarter mile, it went across the South Road. Finally they got water into the house with a hand pump. Margaret didn’t even have it a full year before they left for Alaska! She started all over again with no running water…
She said it was the best thing they ever did. No more cows to milk, at least for a little while.
During the winter of 1955 Ken bought two new Chevrolet dump trucks and got a small 27’ travel trailer (previously owned by Norm & Lois McGahan). He already had a DeSoto automobile to use for the journey to Alaska. Mid-April, Ken, Margaret and nine of their eleven children left for Alaska up the Alcan Highway, they were part of a large caravan. The trip took 21 days. Jackie later totaled the DeSoto when he ran into a Doyle’s Fuel truck in 1956 or 57.
In April of 1955 Ken either sold or auctioned all the farm equipment, a horse, cows, pigs and chickens from the farm in Cooks, Michigan. Ken’s brother Henry “Hank” was there the day the family left for Alaska to take the remaining cows off the farm, as seen in the photo below.
Kenneth V. and Margaret Orr McGahan
Photo of the family leaving Cooks, Michigan headed to Alaska. L to R: Ken, Henry & Richard McGahan
The names of the children who traveled up the Alcan (Alaska Canadian Highway) with Ken and Margaret were: Richard (18), Jackie (17), Dale (15), William (14), Elaine (12), Sharon (10), Marvin (7), Carol (4) and Marjorie (3). Ila McGahan Davidson: age 22, (eldest of the 11 children) and her brother Norman McGahan, age 20, were already married so didn't travel with them at this time.
Norman and Lois (Osterhout) with their sons Randy (3) and Kenny (2) moved up in April 1958 and later homesteaded next to Ken’s homestead.
Ila and Francis Davidson with their children Wayne (9), Debra (7) and Colleen (3) moved up in February 1961. They did not homestead. Jackie and Betty (Karsten) with their sons Jackie Leigh (2) and Ricky (1) traveled to Alaska with the Davidsons.
In 1955 Ken and Margaret homesteaded at Mile 29 (mile 26 1/4 to 30) on the North Kenai Road. Their property was five miles beyond the end of the road that existed at the time. Ken borrowed a loader from his brother Mac and with his sons cut down trees and built a road to their property. Some of the wood was salvaged for firewood. Richard (18) helped drive the equipment and pushed the first road in from Mac’s property to Ken’s homestead. They got water from a spring creek that was on the homestead. The first summer in Alaska they lived in a tent and the travel trailer. This location was across the road (north side) from where the Lamplight Bar used to be, at the corner of Kenai Spur Highway and Holt-Lamplight Road now.
Over the years Ken used the dump trucks for many different road construction projects, like hauling gravel at Elmendorf Air Force Base and for hauling salmon from the fish sites on the beach of Cook Inlet to the cannery. Ken and his son Richard used the dump trucks in the construction of five DEW Line (Distant Early Warning – Radar stations) tower pads on the Kenai Peninsula. "Project Stretch Out" began in 1959 and finished in the mid-1960s. It was the extension of White Alice to the Alaska Peninsula, including the Aleutian DEW Line system. They also used the trucks in building a road through the Copper Creek area near Cooper Landing, AK.
The family returned to Michigan the fall of 1955-56 in one of the trucks. They put plywood against the side walls of the truck bed and put a military tent over the top. The kids bundled up to keep warm and rode in the back, except for the younger girls. They rode in the front with Margaret. They rented a house for the winter from the Matthews, which was just west of the farm on Davidson Road in Cooks, MI. They returned to Alaska in the spring of 1956 but Richard stayed in Michigan working for a while.
On the homestead they built a small home with a power generator. They bought a couple of cows for milk and butter and some chickens then started a garden. The boys liked to hunt and fish so they always had food. Margaret did a lot of canning to help get them through the winters. Ken got a job working for the Highway Department, running a road grader during the summer and a snowplow during the winter. He was one of the best snowplow and road grader drivers the area ever had.
Nearly all the roads were dirt and gravel for many years. In the spring the roads would be a mess as the weather warmed and the roads would be mud for miles. Ken and his family were always willing to help fellow homesteaders when they could. For example, he helped Jim and Nedra Evenson. They reminisced about their early trail and field that Ken cleared for them in 1957 and 58.
Kenai incorporated as a first class city May 1960.
Around 1963-64 Ken, with the help of family and friends, upgraded the old homestead and built a nice cedar home over a basement where they raised their family and created some wonderful memories. Norman and some of his brothers built the custom cabinets in Margaret’s kitchen.
In the early winter of 1963 Ken and Margaret took in Margaret’s niece Lois Ann (9) and nephews Timothy (7) and Calvin “Yogi” (5) Vincent and raised them as their own. Margaret’s sister Onilee Ilene Orr and her husband Dean Leonard Vincent were killed in a car accident 1 Sep 1963. They had five children; the two older ones Donna (15) and Danny (13) stayed in Michigan with other family members.
Ken sold the Cooks farm sometime in 1965; he went back to Michigan and traded the last of the land for a 1959 Pontiac Bonneville, title for title.
In 1965, offshore oil discoveries in Cook Inlet fueled a period of rapid growth. Kenai has been a growing center for oil exploration, production and services since that time.
After Ken retired in the late 1970's people would continue to say all the time - Ken was the ‘best’; he never left the end of the driveway plugged with a snow or mud berm.
In 1977, Ken built the F/V Sharlai for commercial fishing in Westport, Washington. His son Richard and Ken's nephew, Harry McGahan (Ben's son), went down and helped build it. Richard's family went alone and stayed for several months while the boat was being built. Then Richard, Ken and Margaret, along with Sharon, drove the boat to Alaska. Karen, Richard's wife, and their four children drove up the Alcan Highway; Karen's mother (Geri Boye) went along to help. Richard had his fishing boat, the F/V Lea Kay, built the year before.
Ken and Margaret donated property for a church to be built and next to it is the McGahan Cemetery. The cemetery has one large section for family and the rest is for neighbors and friends.
Birth order for Ken and Margaret's children:
1933 23 May Ila Evelyn - Walkerville, Oceana, Michigan
1935 30 Mar Norman Kenneth - Curtis, Mackinac, Michigan
1936 15 Nov Richard Cleo - Newberry, Luce, Michigan
1938 05 Aug Jackie Vincent - Germfask, Schoolcraft, Michigan
1940 13 May Dale Ronald - Germfask, Schoolcraft, Michigan
1941 25 Nov William Francis - Germfask, Schoolcraft, Michigan
1943 23 Mar Elaine Joyce - Germfask, Schoolcraft, Michigan
1945 20 Jan Sharon Faith - Germfask, Schoolcraft, Michigan
1948 05 Apr Marvin Merle - Manistique, Schoolcraft, Michigan - hospital
1951 01 Apr Carol Arlene - Manistique, Schoolcraft, Michigan - hospital
1952 25 Jun Marjorie Rosita - Manistique, Schoolcraft, Michigan - hospital
Ken had three brothers that also moved to the North Kenai Road area; they were; Henry “Hank” McGahan, Eckley “Tony” McGahan and Mazie “Mac” McGahan and their families. Mac was the first of the brothers who moved to Alaska. Mac lived in McMillan, MI prior to moving to Cooks, MI., where he farmed. Mac and his family moved to Alaska in 1952 and arrived in Valdez 11 May. He moved to North Kenai in 1953 and homesteaded 160 acres – the leader of the pack!
When Mac came back to Kenai in 1954 he pushed a cat trail a mile past the end of the present road and homesteaded his spot, in the area of where the Nikiski Post Office is today. In 1956 he received a patent on the land from the United States. He was a smart business man and realized he could make good money after he tried farming in Michigan. Mac became a land baron and wheeler and dealer, he did quite well. Later on Mac and Doris had a place in Southern Texas where they'd spend their winters. Their three children, Marie, Delores and Merrill, live in Alaska – all married with children.
Henry “Hank” was a farmer in Michigan, he and Aunt Erva moved to Alaska in 1961. He became a commercial fisherman and a carpenter. Hank lived in Germfask, MI until the late 50’s, then moved to Cooks, MI. His son Duane and his wife Helen with children, Elton and Gerald, also moved up then. Hank’s daughters, Lois, Eunice and Joan, were married and I’m not sure when they moved to Alaska.
Eckley “Tony” with his wife Wilma and step daughter Christina traveled to Alaska in 1958 and stayed for about 4 months before going back to Michigan. I’m not sure when they moved to Alaska to stay, sometime around 1959-61. He never homesteaded. I believe he bought some property from his brother Mac and built a home on it. He became a carpenter and commercial fisherman. Due to health, he was forced to retire.
Lois Osterhout McGahan wrote:
"The trailer that Ken pulled up to Alaska in 1955 was our first home; we had it in a park in Pontiac, Michigan, which was where Norm was working in road construction. We pulled it from Pontiac to the McGahan farm in Cooks. We stayed in it for a while and then we moved in with my folks while we built a house next door to my parents. Just got the house almost finished and we decided to go to Alaska.
"We were almost ready to leave and Randy, our oldest (2-1/2), got polio from the second polio vaccine. He recovered with some muscle damage but it was never noticeable. We left for Alaska April 10, 1958.
"It was quite an experience to travel the Alcan: mud, dust, rocks, rain, sleet and five flat tires and two boys (Randy and Kenny) that wanted out of that car. We arrived in Kenai after 5-1/2 days' nonstop driving. Dale, Norman’s brother, helped drive; we never stopped, just kept on going. I say we never stopped - only to stop for gas and to eat. I was not thrilled with Alaska. I was very homesick. So we left Alaska in August and went back to Michigan. In the meantime, our house we had built was sold, so again we stayed with my parents. The following October we went back to Kenai. We found a nice little house to rent for that winter. In March we moved onto our Homestead at mile 29 1/2 Spur Hwy. It was an experience, to begin with we had no water or electricity but we made it; again we lived in that 27 ft. trailer."
Richard always wanted to be a "family man". He loved his wife, children and grandchildren and always enjoyed family activities, whether work or fun. In our big family, he was just a phone call away for a solution to any problem. He was a power house, a fixer of all things, an amazing heavy equipment operator, and a commercial fisherman who knew Cook Inlet like the back of his hand. His sons fished with him on the Inlet, along with his deck hand of many years, Steve Sanders. He was a believer in Jesus Christ, who learned more and more to trust God and His plans.
He was a legend on the North Road. And he built the farthest north extension of that road when he was 18, homesteading with his parents and siblings in Nikiski. In later life, he was able to return to the upper peninsula of Michigan to celebrate his birthday yearly on opening day of white tail season with many of his old friends from school days.
Richard is survived by his wife of 58 years, Karen Sue McGahan, Sons Terry McGahan and Rich McGahan, Jr. (Monica), daughters, Geri Kay (McGahan) Litzen (Michael) and Leah Michele (McGahan) Jackson (Tony), Grandchildren, Tiana Hughes (Aaron), Erica McGahan, Richele Brandon, Lex Litzen, Chena Litzen and Penelope Litzen, Jimmy McGahan, Tessa McGahan, Sullivan Jackson, Evelyn Jackson, Oliver Jackson, Denali Jackson, O'Ryan Jackson, Remington Jackson, Maverick Jackson and Magnolia Jackson. Celina (Jackson) Nerison (Zach) and great-grandchildren, Indigo, Viridian, Ruby Nerison, and Harbor Jackson. Richard is also survived by his sister Carol Broussard (Beaver) and brother Jack (Betty) McGahan. Also he was a favorite uncle of many nieces and nephews that he loved dearly.
He was predeceased by his parents, Ken McGahan and Margaret (Orr) McGahan, brothers Norman, Billy, Marvin "Butch", and Dale, sisters, Ila, Elaine, Sharon and Margie.
Published by Peninsula Clarion from Sep. 6 to Sep. 9, 2023.