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Story Last modified at 11:19 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Peters Creek loses 'feisty' pioneer

Alaska Star


Kay Sisson

Longtime Chugiak resident Kay Sisson died suddenly in her Peters Creek home on Feb. 27.

She was 76.

Sisson was "everybody's grandmother" – a generous spirit who cooked sumptuous meals and made any visitor feel at home, granddaughters DeAnna Bistodeau and Heather Steeby said.

Then again, not everybody has a grandma with a gun holster in her purse for the .38 she always carried.

"Our gun-toting grandma," the 33-year-old DeAnna said. Her job as a kid was to remind Sisson to take the gun out of her purse on trips to the airport to pick up hunting clients.

Sisson and her husband, Don, settled as one of the first families on Aurora Borealis Road in a home built in 1960. They moved there from a homestead in Indian Valley, and moved to Alaska from Indiana.

The Sissons waged a decades-long battle with the flood-prone section of Peters Creek that ran past their home. In later years, they battled too with state salmon-protection rules that kept them from resolving the water in the yard with a little elbow grease, some heavy equipment and a couple sticks of dynamite.

The Sissons also ran a hunting guide service for more than 20 years. Kay did the cooking. Clients, including actor Rick Schroder, came once or twice for guided trips then continued to send Christmas cards or returned to Alaska just to visit.

The couple's home served as a de facto pilot's café before the hangars were built at Birchwood, the granddaughters said. Coffee was on 24 hours a day.

"Her saying was, 'I'll get your first cup,'" Heather said. "'After that, you're on your own.'"

Kay served for years as a force to be reckoned with on the board of the Chugiak-Birchwood-Eagle River Rural Road Service Area, friends said.

Despite the ornery nature of the creek, she loved living by the water, said friend and next-door neighbor Gail McCain. Sisson would fish for trout when she needed some solace.

The two met over the creek-flooding issues, said McCain, who moved to Chugiak about eight years ago.

"I can remember the first time I met her," McCain said. "My husband and I were walking around the neighborhood. We walked up and she was just warm and friendly and welcoming. You couldn't even walk up to the front door without being invited in for coffee."

The two would share ingredients to avoid the drive into town. They also shared a garden in the Sisson yard – McCain's was too shady – and cooked together: smoked salmon, cold meats, fruitcake cookies at Christmas time.

Sisson's cooking talents were legendary. She could bake rolls on a woodstove. Her granddaughters said nobody ever went to another house for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

"Because nobody wanted to miss her noodles ... and rhubarb cake," Heather said.

McCain described the Sisson place as full of children and a frequent scene of backyard barbecues. Kay ran herd over it all.

"She was feisty," McCain said. "She was also one of the most honest, straightforward – just everything you could roll into one person, she was all of those things. And knowledgeable and generous ..."

Sisson retired last year after working for 17 years as a tax professional at H&R Block, eight years at the Anchorage franchise and nine years at the Eagle River office.

There, she always kept a dish that read "What the IRS missed" full of peanut M&M candies.

Fellow tax professional Mary Bonnar described Sisson, who went by "Kathy" at work, as someone with a lot of respected clients who came back to her faithfully over the years.

"She was loved by all the staff," Bonnar said. "We were continually amazed for her age at her ability to keep up with the tax laws and the new tax situations."

Sisson designed a Web site for the family guide service before anybody in the family even knew what the Web was.

She had four children, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Her granddaughters said that doesn't even include all the people she "adopted" over the years.

"Once you met them, you were family," DeAnna said.

A memorial service is planned for Friday, March 4. Flowers in her memory can be sent to the Cremation Society of Alaska, 7216 Lake Otis Parkway.

Zaz Hollander can be reached at

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.