PRE-FLIGHT – Hawlet Cohen, 11, warms up at the Sitka Cirque studio as gymnasts stretch in the background Wednesday. Students from Sitka Cirque and the Sitka Gymnastics Academy will present a joint show 3 p.m. Saturday at the 207 Smith Street studio. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Donor Covers Gap In Fundraising Effort

By Sentinel Staff
    In the wake of the Assembly’s recent decision against spending $5,000 in city tourism funds for the St. Michael’s Cathedral renovation, a private citizen is stepping forward to help.
    The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, dropped off a check at St. Michael’s this afternoon.
    “I have always thought of Sitka as the heart of Alaska, and St. Michael’s as our centerpiece,” the donor said in a written statement. “The building should be beautiful and in good condition with flowers and evergreens around her. We Sitkans see this every time we are downtown. I would be happy to make that contribution of $5,000. How about you?”
    “It’s a landmark, for heaven’s sake,” the donor commented to the Sentinel this afternoon.
    The Assembly, which had voted 5-2 in favor of the city contribution when it was first introduced, voted it down on a 3-4 vote last Tuesday. Those who had changed their minds said they were concerned about the threat of lawsuits by opponents who have cited the First Amendment principle of the separation of church and state.
    Bob Potrzuski, who voted in favor of the contribution in the two votes by the Assembly, said he has received more comments on the final decision than on any other issue. Most of the comments were against the Assembly’s decision against the contribution, he said.
    It was on an icy Sunday morning 52 years ago today that the great fire of 1966 leveled the 1848 Cathedral and many other buildings in the heart of downtown Sitka.
    From its start in an overheated furnace in a downtown shop, and despite the concerted efforts of the Sitka Volunteer Fire Department and scores of volunteers, the fire spread rapidly, fanned by gusty winds and fueled by the wooden buildings, many over a century old. Fortunately, no lives were lost, but property damage was estimated at the equivalent of $26 million today.
    Low-interest disaster loans and insurance proceeds allowed the major structures to be replaced within a couple of years. A non-denominational fundraising campaign was started to assist the Russian Orthodox church in replacing the historic St. Michael’s Cathedral.
    Completion of the replica in 1977 removed the last outward sign of the disastrous 1966 fire.

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