DONNELLSON — The Donnellson Public Library will celebrate the 106th birthday of a Lee County man who went to live alone in the harsh wilderness of Alaska and became an icon of that state.
The public is invited to Richard Proenneke’s birthday party from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday at the Library, 411 S. Main St.
“There will be refreshments, cookies including sugar cookies from Richard’s mother Laura, hickory nut cookies, cupcakes, one of Richard’s staples, ‘sticks of dynamite’ , punch and Richard’s favorite tea, “Kobuk Samovar Tea,” said Brie Anderson, curator of the library’s Richard Proenneke Museum.
Kobuk Samovar tea is a dark, herbaceous blend from Anchorage.
The celebration, including children’s activities, will also mark the release of a newly released handwritten diary of one of Proenneke’s first trips to Alaska, along with a DVD, “Alone at Twin Lakes – 1965.”
The DVD is narrated by local folk singer and musician William Whitmore, whose grandmother, Edith Tweedy, corresponded with Proenneke for 20 years and visited him in the 1980s.
“Richard filmed throughout the stay at Twin Lakes, which began August 8, capturing on film the people we got to know while reading Richard’s writings,” Anderson said.
“In our collection of films taken by Richard and (his brother) Raymond Proenneke, there was a film called ‘1965 Twin Lakes’. After 56 years, Richard’s first handwritten diary found its way back to his film. They are at reunited again.
Proenneke, who grew up on a farm in Primrose, aged around 51, went to live in solitude at Upper Twin Lake in his hand-built bush cabin in Alaska for 30 years with just his camera tripod mounted.
In 1977, ABC News sent a crew to interview him for a segment of the Harry Reasoner-Barbara Walters show.
Proenneke’s spiral notebooks, films and photographs have been compiled into award-winning books and documentaries broadcast on public television.
They can also be viewed on YouTube or ordered through Amazon or the Donnellson Library Museum.
During the summers of 1967 and 1968, Proenneke filmed himself building his cabin using simple hand tools and local materials such as spruce logs, beach stones, foundation gravel from the bottom of the lake and grass and moss for the roof.
His cabin and farm are maintained by the National Park Service.
Tourists visiting Lake Clark National Park to see Proenneke’s Cabin, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, marvel at its craftsmanship.
A commenter on ‘At Home in the Wilderness’ on YouTube said he visited the cabin and added: ‘Like so many others, I was amazed at the detail of the hands-on work in all of Dick’s projects and builds. .”
Back home, fans continue to honor the man who seemed capable of doing whatever he needed to.
The Donnellson Museum houses a replica of his log cabin and exhibits actual furniture, including the Grizzly he shot in 1950 in Kodiak; his red flannel shirt, his black waistcoats and his furry mittens; his writings, and more, including a homemade pan he used to pan and find gold.
Proenneke died in 2003 at the age of 86. He often credits his Iowa farm upbringing with giving him the skills to hunt, fish, and fend for himself.
“He may have lived in Alaska for almost 50 years, more than 30 years in his hand-built cabin in Twin Lakes, but his roots are strong here in Lee County,” Anderson said.
To learn more, visit donnellson.lib.ia.us or call (319) 835-5545.