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Dolly Farnsworth

Photo of Dolly Farnsworth
Categories: 2015 Alumnae, Community Service


Dolly Farnsworth somehow found the time to homestead, raise four children and be a civic leader in Soldotna. Farnsworth was one of those great ladies who bridged the years from territorial Alaska to statehood, exemplifying the legendary character of the era.

She came to Alaska in the late 1940s with fiancé Jack Farnsworth. They married at Fort Richardson and in 1948 they moved to the area where the City of Soldotna now thrives and homesteaded the location which became the intersection of the Sterling Highway and the Kenai Spur Highway. They built their own house, as many folks did then, on the 160-acre federal allowance, a modest home in which Farnsworth lived until her death.

During a Radio Kenai interview, Nina Kersten, Farnsworth’s daughter said about her mother: “She heard about a fellow that homesteaded down here and had a little cabin on the property and his wife decided that she was not going to go live in the wilderness so he had to give it all up. A friend of a friend told my dad about it, so he bought the cabin and then came down here and staked the claim and they decided to homestead. My mother had always wanted to own land.

In those early years Farnsworth was a relative rarity in having some post high school education including an accounting degree acquired in 1942 which she used during the war with an aircraft manufacturing company. As Soldotna grew she used her accounting skills to open Soldotna Bookkeeping in 1959. It was, for years, the only bookkeeping company in the area and helped many a small business get on its feet.

Farnsworth acted as the City of Soldotna’s city clerk’s office from the time it became a fourthclass city in 1960 until 1967 when it became a first-class city.

Farnsworth helped to found the Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library in Soldotna in 1960. In 1965 she became the first woman to sit on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. She sat on the Soldotna City Council in 1972 – 1973 and again in 1983 – 1984.

She never had a problem getting elected; it was just finding the time to make the commitment she knew each post required. In 1976, to strengthen that commitment, she went back to college studying public policy and political science for an additional degree at Willamette University.

From 1984 to 1990 Farnsworth served as mayor of Soldotna. She also addressed the shortage of medical resources in the region, helping to establish the Central Peninsula General Hospital, on whose board she served from 1992 to 2001.

Farnsworth was also mayor of Soldotna from 1984 to 1990.

Early on she saw the necessity and justice in settling the Alaska Native claims. After the act was passed, Farnsworth found a special joy in her time at Wildwood Station in Kenai teaching local Alaska Native people about the Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. She and her students created a family tree for the Wilson family of Kenai that would later be used as an eligibility guide for Native land claims in the area.

Farnsworth received many honors and awards during her life including: 1994 – Soldotna Chamber of Commerce commendation for dedication and support of the community; 1996 – State of Alaska commendation for outstanding service in developing the Kenai River Management Plan; 1998 – Soldotna Chamber of Commerce commendation for outstanding service as board chair from August 1995 to July 1998; 1998 – Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Pioneer Award; 2000 – Resolution by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly commending Farnsworth for her service and dedication as a member of the Central Peninsula Hospital Board of Directors; 2001 – Soroptimist International Woman of Distinction Award for professional accomplishments in the area of economic/social development in education and health; 2005 – Central Peninsula Health Foundation for contributions as a founding member.

Farnsworth was a role model for many women in Soldotna and on the Kenai Peninsula. She set an example for young women everywhere by her resilience as an Alaska Pioneer, her success as a business woman and her dedication as a public servant. Homesteader Dolly Farnsworth left a permanent mark on the community.

Farnsworth’s daughter added to her Radio Kenai interview: “She was wonderful, everybody loved her. She was very hospitable and very knowledgeable. Of course she basically grew up with the area so she knew just about everything there was to know about the area and the city. She had a mind like a steel trap; she never forgot about anything. She was a mentor … for many people. She loved Alaska, she loved her homestead and you couldn’t get her to leave here.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech