On February 28th, 2017, the Chugiak-Eagle River area lost a legend. Ella Hitz Wallace passed away unexpectedly, but her legacy is far from gone.
The story of Ella Hitz Wallace has been told time and again over the years, both orally and in print. The adventurous tale is distinctly Alaskan: In 1947, as a 12-year old girl in Switzerland, Ella Hitz was inspired by a presentation from Yule Kiltcher on homesteading in Alaska. After finishing school, apprenticing as a florist, and working in Canada for two years, Ella and two friends had saved enough money to buy bicycles and minimal gear. In the summer of 1959, the three young women took to the road from Vancouver, British Columbia on a 13-week ride to Homer.
Good fortune was on their side as they encountered friendly, encouraging people and minimal wildlife. Flat tires were their greatest plague. While passing through Eagle River, the girls met Til Wallace of Wallace Construction, now Klondike Concrete. Til’s interest and persistence kept him in close contact with Ella, even after the cyclists continued their journey south from the area. The extended bicycling trip culminated at the Kiltcher homestead on Katchemak Bay. Unfortunately, Yule Kiltcher was out of town. The women were only able to leave a note to the man who had inspired their epic cycling journey.
Ella and Til eventually married and settled in the Chugiak-Eagle River Area. Landmarks of their 55-year marriage dot the region. They are responsible for the pond and cabin near the Mt. Baldy trailhead, where multiple attempts at developing a homestead ended in frustration due to repeated vandalism. The unexpected wooden ship, the Chacon, which appears from around a bend on the Old Glenn Highway, is also a community contribution of the Wallace’s.
The Chacon remains next to River’s Edge Studio, which is owned by Ella and Til’s daughter Stephanie LeProwse. Mementos of her mother’s expedition mingle with local arts and crafts in the shop. Several faded photo albums contain evidence of a life well lived, full of joy and adventure. Ella’s bicycle, succumbing to the rigors of age and rust, is stationed beneath a window and a black and white photo of three young Swiss women, smiling among their bikes and packs and bags.
While a self-powered expedition may be the most movie-worthy episode from Ella Hitz Wallace’s life, that is not how Stephanie will most remember her mother. She recalls Ella as a nature lover, filling the yard of their home with flowers, always on the lookout for wildlife, and continually maintaining bird feeders at the house. In honor of her mother’s outstanding life, Stephanie will be planting and dedicating a garden near River’s Edge Studio in her mother’s name. The garden will be revealed at Ella’s Celebration of Life. Community members who wish to commemorate Ella’s life and legacy are welcome to join family and friends at the River’s Edge Studio, located at 17049 Old Glenn Highway, on Sunday, June 25th at 1:00pm.