Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s oldest member is now also one of Alaska’s few known centenarians.
Fiocla Wilson turned 100 years old Thursday, and celebrated with as many relations as candles that could have dotted her birthday cake. Her six living children, their children and their children’s children packed into the commons at Heritage Place in Soldotna to wish well the woman who many ascribe as the glue that binds their extensive familial network.
“It means I have a good chance of living a little longer I guess,” said Coby Wilson, Fiocla Wilson’s oldest child with a laugh. “It’s pretty neat, it’s nice to see everybody, she’s lived a good life.”
Coby Wilson guessed his mother’s good cooking and hard work in the home contributed to her endurance. Additionally, she didn’t hold on to negative feelings, he said.
“She always told me, ‘Your dad is going to be mad at you’. That was her favorite thing to say to me,” he said laughing again. “But she would always let it go in her heart,”
Wiya Murdoch, said anyone who has built a relationship with her grandmother, Fiocla Wilson, is well aware of her kind and compassionate personality.
“She is always such a leader, she always told us to be the best person we could be,” said Rene Schimmel, Fiocla Wilson’s granddaughter.
“She was a mother to all of us,” said Danny Hakkinen, a family friend. “What a wonderful lady.”
He thanked Fiocla Wilson Thursday for preparing “some of the best meal I’ve had in my life.”
Fiocla Wilson said she learned to cook for her family when she was a young girl, before she attended boarding school. She said one of her favorite things to make is Russian beat pie.
Great-grandson Sam Schimmel, 16, said Fiocla Wilson nourished relationships and bonds between family members with a kind and stern love, saying her attitude has often been, “you will be family, and no fighting.”
Judy Queen, girlfriend of Fiocla Wilson’s youngest child, Russell Wilson, said she came to pay respects to an incredibly impressive mother and woman. Fiocla Wilson accomplished much during her lifetime in Alaska, Queen said.
Born Fiocla Sacaloff on June 30, 1916, in the central Kenai Peninsula, she went to boarding school in Eklutna when she was 9 years old, said Kathy Rodgers, Fiocla Wilson’s daughter. The day Fiocla Sacaloff returned to Kenai when she was 17-years-old she met Phillip Wilson, who said, “I am going to marry that girl,” and he did that same year. Phillip Wilson passed away 45 years ago, and Fiocla Wilson never remarried.
Fiocla Wilson and her husband were two of the first agents for Alaska Airlines on the Kenai Peninsula, Queen said.
The job had some unexpected consequences, but Fiocla Wilson was prepared.
In those days, Fiocla Wilson would often find her home full of wayfarers weathered in by severe conditions, Judy Queen said. The house “was always open” anyway, she said.
Fiocla Wilson was also one of the first to convert from the Russian Orthodox Church to Protestantism when Slavic Gospel missionaries arrived in the area in the 1930s, Russell Wilson said.
Russell Wilson was the only of Fiocla Wilson’s eight children, two of whom died when they were very young, born in a hospital, Queen said. Everyone else she gave birth two at home, she said.
“She is very resilient,” Queen said.
Fiocla Wilson has been living at Heritage Place for the past five years, Queen said. The family has received a number of phone calls from staff who said Fiocla Wilson might not have much time left, but her health always returned, she said.
Fiocla Wilson said she herself is surprised she has lived this long, and couldn’t make any guesses as to the source of her longevity, and said she too believes she has lived a good life.
“It is hard for me to believe because I have never met anyone who is 100 years old, let alone my mother,” said Russell Wilson with a laugh. “I never thought of her as being old.”
• Kelly Sullivan is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.