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Friday, January 28, 2022

Mary Epperson Made Homer What It Is

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Originally Printed in the Anchorage Daily News

Alaska has lost one of our best — I would venture to say our very best — this week. Mary Epperson passed away in Homer, surrounded by her family. She was 93.

In 1954, Mary, her husband Jack and two children moved to Alaska. At her insistence they brought a piano with them. Their family settled on the Kenai Peninsula, and Mary set about making the community of Homer what it is today. This is no exaggeration, she literally made our little hamlet by the sea what it is.

She was the city clerk and treasurer for many years. Someone once told me that in the early days people looking to buy land would check with Mary first. She knew who was ready to get out of town and would make a deal as well as to who the good neighbors were. She founded the Homer Foundation, the Homer Council on the Arts and the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. Her commitment to education was fierce and she pioneered the UA Kachemak Bay campus. Five years ago the university awarded Mary with the Meritorious Service Award for “demonstrated profound, unwavering commitment to developing our local campus of the University of Alaska.”

Recently, the goal of $25,000 was raised to secure an endowment at the college in her name. (You can donate online.) She was thrilled to know students in need would have their education paid for.

Homer ran out of awards after she won the Governor’s Award for the Arts, Citizen of the Year, Winter Carnival Queen, etc., so they created “Mary Epperson Day” to be celebrated on her birthday, June 6, every year. There were wonderful parties, attended by folks of every age, with lots of music and Mary smiling and clapping. The whole town considered themselves F.O.M. — Friends Of Mary.

If anyone said they didn’t like Mary, they had to move. Well, I’m not sure that ever happened, but she wasn’t just liked — she was loved. Beloved.

I was shorter than Mary when I decided she would be my person. She was 4-foot, 6 inches. I don’t remember not being a piano pupil. I started lessons before I went to school. She was my confidant. Who was mean to me, who I had a crush on, why I was sad, why I was happy — we could talk about anything. Etude Studio was the heart of Homer. People were in and out all the way through lessons to get tickets to events, pick up music orders, or just to find out what was happening. The front row seat to all things Homer and all things Mary was a piano bench and it was the best seat in the house. I loved it.

I never stopped learning from Mary. She loved to read the paper every day and keep track of the world. When I’d visit she would often have my latest column on her desk with questions or comments written in the margins. If my column was printed in a different spot, I would get a call wondering if everything were okay. She’d call to ask questions or give me feedback after she watched my television show. The reason education was so important to her was that she never stopped learning.

Two winters ago Mary became gravely ill, and I was told to come across the bay if I wanted to see her. I did. I stayed overnight with her and at one point a nurse told me to just ring the buzzer or come get one of them when she stopped breathing. She was wearing a child’s hospital gown with little tigers on it. They were doing everything they could to make her comfortable. I ended up crawling onto the bed with her and snuggled her up. The next morning she was put out at the nurse for not making her well — but just making her comfortable. She said she had things to do and lessons to give (she was still teaching) and didn’t have the time to be sick. The doctors called her Miracle Mary.

Because she was so tiny you’d have to bring pillows when you took her anywhere. She loved the way the ocean smelled and would have me turn up the heat and then roll her window down on our drives. She liked to have her coat zipped up for her. She was very specific in what she wanted for breakfast — a large pancake with one egg on top — over easy. If the egg got too cold she’d ask them to warm it up for her — which was often since breakfast usually took a few hours. Her coffee had to be hot and with cream only. If she didn’t like something she would make a face like she was smelling low tide.

Mary lived and breathed music. She thought Beethoven’s “Für Elise” was overdone. She and Jack had a song — Irving Berlin’s “I’ll be loving you. Always.” She had cut out of a magazine and taped to her wall: “Don’t waste your time looking back on what you’ve lost. Move on, for life is not meant to be traveled backwards.”

Mary was my best friend and fairy godmother. There are risks to picking a best friend when you’re a child and the friend is almost 50 years older than you are. I highly recommend it. I can’t imagine Homer or myself without her guidance.

Rest in peace, sweet Mary. Thank you. I’ll be loving you. Always.



3 Responses to “Mary Epperson Made Homer What It Is”
  1. Dagian says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss and Homer’s.

  2. mike from iowa says:

    Condolences to you and Homer. Ms Moore.

  3. Zyxomma says:

    Mary was one of my Alaska sheroes. RIP, beloved.

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