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Colony Days honors Palmer settlers: festival marks colonists 75th anniversary.

Imagine choosing to relocate your family from economically stricken Minnesota or Michigan to distant Alaska as part of a Depression-era federal program. About 200 families were chosen to participate in the program for each to claim and cultivate 40 acres of land in the Matanuska Valley.

The labor was intense to excavate farmland by hand. Colonists perhaps longed for familiar things from home and the intimacy of extended family relationships. But the opportunity to pursue a life in Alaska probably eclipsed a bleak outlook at their previous towns.

Palmer's community festival, Colony Days, remembers the hard work of those long-ago settlers.

Sponsored by the Palmer Chamber of Commerce, Colony Days is June 11 to 13 in downtown Palmer and at the State Fairgrounds.

HONORING COLONISTS

The festival honors the Colonists, especially this year, which marks the 75th anniversary of the settlers' arrival, said Jillyan Webb, executive director of the Palmer Chamber of Commerce.

"Palmer has so much history," Webb said. "The festival is also a chance for the community to come together and have a lot of fun."

And for Palmer children to learn the history of the area and join healthy activities outside, she added.

Colony Days typically features, on Friday, an antique car rally, preliminary heats of the bed races and an ice cream social. Saturday's activities include a parade, children's games and bed-race finals. Palmer's Friday Fling, which features crafts and food, will run all three days.

The chamber began sponsoring Colony Days in 1985, according to Sara Jansen, a longtime member of the chamber events committee. Descendants of the colonists held annual gatherings until 1985 when the Palmer Midsummer Festival was united with the Colony celebration for the 50th anniversary, Jansen said. The festival unites Palmer residents with an emphasis on a unique history.

"It's important to the community because it's important to remember how Palmer really started to grow," Jansen said.

Also, she loves to see people having a good time and relishes organizing area events. Jansen considers Colony Days the June Palmer Party.

75TH ANNIVERSARY EVENTS

Events like the parade and bed races will feature the 75th anniversary theme, said Marcie Bentti, another events committee member. A tent similar to the colonists' first Palmer dwelling in 1935 will be set up at the visitors center, she said.

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Bentti's family was one of the original Palmer colonists. She also works with the colonists group, which is planning events at the State Fairgrounds during Colony Days. A dinner is planned for Saturday at Raven Hall, and a picnic is set for Sunday. Events are open to the public, she said.

A new health fair joins Colony Days this year, Webb said. Local health-care providers will sponsor the health fair, which will be held in conjunction with the Friday Fling market, Webb said.

A quilt walkabout will feature 12 quilts displayed at Palmer businesses. Quilt viewers can obtain stamps in a passport and submit it in a drawing to win a quilt. A karaoke contest also joins the 2010 Colony Days lineup.

Regular events include a petting zoo sponsored by the Winner Circle 4-H Club and games, like an egg toss and a three-legged race.

Webb has been executive director of the Palmer chamber for about a year. She is excited about special events planned for this year's 75th anniversary celebration.

"I can't wait to meet some of the colonist kids' families this year," she said.

Webb said she treasures the community spirit resounding throughout downtown Palmer during Colony Days. She enjoys the ice cream social and the vintage car rally, but said it's hard to pick a favorite event.

Webb also retold the story of last year's bed-race final heat, which pitted the chamber team against the IBEW team. Pajama-clad teams of four pushers and one bed rider trundle a wheeled bed down a course and perform various feats at different stations before trotting to the finish line. Last year the IBEW team won by a half-second.

"I'm looking forward to the rematch," Webb said.

For more information and a schedule of events, visit www.palmerchamber.org.
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Title Annotation:Alaska This Month
Comment:Colony Days honors Palmer settlers: festival marks colonists 75th anniversary.(Alaska This Month)
Author:Pounds, Nancy
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Jun 1, 2010
Words:683
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