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Margaret Mary “Peggy” Mullen

Photo of Margaret Mary “Peggy” Mullen
1946
Biography

Not only is Mullen creative and a visionary, she is also a passionate conservationist and steward of the environment. 

She still lives on the homestead property where she grew up. Last summer, she built the third incarnation of her bookstore, River City Books, on a corner of the homestead near the highway to Homer. It is elegantly designed with every “green and sustainable” element possible —from solar panels to edible plants surrounding it. 

The Mullens were the first homesteading family in Soldotna and the town grew up around them. (Soldotna has a population of nearly 5,000 now.) Surely, in earlier years, and even today, no hitchhiker on the highway near the Mullen homestead would ever go hungry. Mullen or her siblings or her mother Margie usually came and collected them and took them home for dinner. There was always a place under the kitchen table for an extra sleeping bag. 

Mullen is devoted to Soldotna and Alaska. If you applaud the creation of walkable places, seek out nature trails, buy a book, eat gourmet food, buy a charming or beautiful present for your kitchen or a friend, recycle your newspapers and pop cans, you have been the happy recipient of Mullen’s spirit of good works, her passion, humor, her intelligence, and her dedication. 

If you see someone collecting trash at the side of the highway or down on her hands and knees pulling out invasive weeds along the roadside, it is also likely to be Mullen. As she once said, invasive species are so hard to control, but it is so important to try. It is all for the protection of Alaska’s beautiful streams, rivers, and waterways. 

Mullen has made significant contributions to Soldotna and Alaska in very tangible forms. She started four elegant small business in a wilderness town. The first, in 1978, was “ Four Seasons,” a lovely little restaurant, the first of its kind in Soldotna (and, impressively for its time, an architecturally-designed building!) set back in the woods on the homestead property with a gourmet Alaska fare. The second was Northcountry Fair, a small design shop with household wares and gifts—a little of everything—like an upscale general store for folks far from a city. It really showcased Mullen’s delightful and whimsical humor and her touch of the artist by adding a little elegance in the woods. It surely nurtured another side of the community heart. The third business which she now still runs is River City Books. This small bookstore with an incredible selection is where folks come for books and talks or to gather and eat at another one of her former businesses, “now placed in very capable young hands,” she says. She opened a little market and deli, which is still in the same store as the bookstore, and now is called Lucy’s Cafe.

Food, art, and books—these are all at the core of any happy community. But, in addition, Mullen has worked in very concrete ways to expand other places and activities that make a community a home—the kinds of things that connect people and bring a shared happiness, such as walking trails, bike trails, city parks, festivals, and medical services like Planned Parenthood. In essence, her gift is looking at how people spend time with other people in community (or time alone in nature) and helping to make those places blossom. 

On a statewide/national level, Mullen helped start the League of Women Voters and Planned Parenthood for Soldotna. She’s been intimately involved in the protection of watersheds and clean water for Soldotna Creek and Kenai River. She has worked to slow the spread of invasive species. She helped build the momentum for the creation of a river park. The list goes on. If it has anything to do with a civilizing touch, preservation of wild places, creating a healthy, livable town, or marching in the streets for good causes, you will probably find Mullen somewhere at the heart of it. 

Finally, something often overlooked in our busy worlds, but so important to those who helped to build a town, Mullen, as a three-term member of the Soldotna City Council, helped bring home—to the heart of town—a cemetery plot. As one old homesteader said, “A cemetery plot was proposed 50 years ago. Mullen buttoned it up, persuaded the council to put it right in town near the river, and she nailed it this time. It is now a place where town folk can easily go and visit their elders.” (In the past, a majority of Council members had apparently wanted to put it “a taxi-cab ride away from town” making it very difficult for many elderly to go visit their loved ones.) 

“In her humble way, Mullen has demonstrated for me over the last 40 years what it means to be a passionate, gentle, effective leader, making a difference in one’s community and state which will enhance the quality of life for generations to come,” said Carol Swartz, director of the Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College/UAA in Homer, Alaska. 

Mullen has an undergraduate degree from Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA, and a graduate degree in education from the University of Alaska Anchorage. 

Mullen’s mother, Marge Mullen, was inducted in 2010 to the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.

Citations: Many interviews and book “I’d Swap My Old Skidoo For You”: A Portrait of Characters on The Last Frontier by Nan Elliot, published 1989. Chapter: “First Homesteading Family in Soldotna.” 

Notes

Peggy Mullen is a lifelong Alaskan who grew up in the Soldotna area on a homestead. She is a retail entrepreneur and is dedicated to community service. Mullen is a civic leader, conservation advocate, health care policymaker, former City Council member, and non-profit organizer. She is a mother, grandmother, aunt, daughter and sister. 

Mullen started three small businesses.  The first, in the 1970s, was The Four Seasons, a restaurant, offering healthy Alaska fare. The second was North Country Fair, a whimsical gift shop and finally, River City Books, a bookstore where folks come to read, visit and break bread. It is a community gathering place. 

She is deeply connected to her community roots, says daughter Mara Carnahan. 

“When I was 12 years old, I asked Mom, ‘Why do you live here?  Why don’t you go somewhere where everyone else thinks a lot like you do? Like Berkeley?’”  And she said, “You have the responsibility for improving the place you live.”  

Ride a bike on the Unity Trail between Kenai and Soldotna, hike local trails, fish the Kenai River,  visit the Soldotna library, picnic in Soldotna Creek Park, attend the Kenai River Music Festival, use Planned Parenthood services, you have been the recipient of Mullen’s efforts. 

Mullen was an early climate-change activist-circulating petitions, talking to senators,  “always encouraging a young, smart person to run for office,” says her son-in-law.  

Daughter, Mara, remembers as a teenager: 

“It was embarrassing as a teenager to have my mother talking about things like climate change when no one else seemed to know a thing about it…and there she was ordering 40 books called “Earth in the Balance” and passing them out.”

Mullen is now the idol of her daughter and grandsons.