Caroline Mina McLain Reader
Caroline Mina McLain Reader was born at home, on Belmont Point, Nome, Alaska on September 6, 1928. She arrived around midnight on the 5th but during the excitement of her birth, they forgot to look at the clock, and ended up picking the 6th as her birthdate.
Her father, who made his living as a gold miner, was out prospecting at the time, so received word of her birth by mail boat. She was the third child and daughter of Arthur and Carrie McLain, joining sisters Marjorie and Elizabeth, with her brother Arthur following two years later. Caroline grew up on Belmont Point and attended elementary and high school in Nome. She described Belmont Point as being the “ideal” place to grow up. She and her siblings used to love to run over towards the cemetery and play down in the willow bushes and the grass in the summertime. They had the Snake River and Dry Creek right below the house, so they spent many hours on the water, on rafts and rowboats. She recalls a story about her Dad being upset with folks from the Sandspit taking an old rowboat they had on Belmont Point, so he went and got it, brought it back, and chopped a hole in it. Caroline and her brother Art ended up making a playhouse out of the old boat, using the hole their dad had chopped in it as a doorway. Caroline and her siblings had to walk to and from school, from Belmont Point to 3rd and Steadman, where the VFW sits now. She recalls being in first grade, when the Great Fire of 1934 burned down most of Nome. Caroline’s report cards describe her as “A very good student. Always dependable.”
The McLain family grew up frugally, having to survive all winter on their Dad’s meager summer mining proceeds. Their home had no electricity or running water. In 1940, they lost their Dad to a heart attack on Christmas Eve. He was delivering Christmas cookies with a sled for their mother when he collapsed on the trail between town and Belmont Point. After their Dad died, it was difficult to keep up with the manual duties of running their household — keeping the stoves going with wood and coal, hauling ice and snow for water, and cleaning the kerosene lamps. Their mother Carrie had to go to work outside the home then, and with her income, they were able to get electricity and replace the coal stove with an oil fired one. They were also able to afford a few luxuries, like a radio.
Nome was a bustling place in the early 1940’s with the military presence during World War II. There were hundreds of soldiers brought into Nome to serve the war effort. For a fee, Caroline and her family provided laundry services for the GI’s, as well as selling them candy and cookies. Caroline recalls, “Those were awfully exciting years. There were dances every weekend, though I did not go. I was too bashful and didn’t know how to dance and was afraid to try.” Her Mom and sisters would go and dance every dance because there was a lack of women. It added a lot of excitement to their lives, especially after losing their Dad.
Caroline graduated high school in 1946 at the top of her class of three students. With that distinction, came a room and board scholarship for two years at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Although Caroline’s interests were in the nursing and medicine fields, the university only offered a two-year pre-nursing course so she elected to study Elementary Education instead. She completed four years at UAF, receiving a bachelor’s degree in May 1950. Upon her graduation, she returned to Nome where she taught second grade for one year.
In the summer of 1950, she met Charles (Chuck) Reader who was working with her brother Art, dismantling Army Quonset huts. In Caroline’s words, “Chuck seemed to have the world on a string.” She was attracted to his good looks and sense of humor. She and Chuck were married on Grandma Carrie’s birthday January 26, 1951. Their first child was born in December of that year with five more children to follow. Caroline spent the majority of her married life as a house wife and mother, caring for her children and their home. Her marriage to Chuck did not last, so when the baby, Charley, started school, Caroline returned to work.
She held various jobs over the years – secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, waitress and pie baker for Leonardo’s by the Sea restaurant, ticket agent at Alaska Airlines, and lastly, school secretary for the Nome Elementary School. She became a second mom for several generations of Nome’s school age children, making sure they made it to school and were signed up for lunch.
In 1978, Caroline and her two daughters Josie and Mary made their first trip to Hawaii on Western Airlines, taking advantage of a triangle fare they offered from Seattle, to San Francisco, Honolulu, and return. So began her love affair with the beautiful state of Hawaii. She made a trip back the following year by herself and met a man she probably would have married, had he lived. His name was Unea Kiili and he was from the island of Molokai. Unea called Caroline his “pumehana” which in Hawaiian is a term of great love and endearment. Sadly, Unea passed away from a heart attack in March 1981 and Caroline was alone once again.
Upon Caroline’s retirement from Nome Public Schools in 1984, she made plans to travel back to Hawaii where she had committed to volunteer at the leprosy settlement on Molokai. She spent several months there and met Unea’s brother Sam. They developed a friendship which resulted in Sam making several trips to Nome and Caroline also returning to Hawaii to visit him.
In the mid 1980’s, Caroline reconnected with a college friend, John Kubanyi who was widowed and living in Fairbanks. During the next ten or so years, they went on several long road trips in the Lower 48, driving coast to coast visiting friends and relatives. Their first road trip in 1987 was 16,628 miles in length! Caroline and John shared many travel adventures together and were great companions for each other in their later years of life. They remained close friends until his death in January 2001.
Caroline’s hobbies and interests were many. She was an excellent cook and baker, preparing delicious holiday meals and treats for her family and friends throughout the year. She loved to embroider, decorating pillow cases, dresser scarves and tablecloths. She was a skilled seamstress and made clothes, pajamas or nightgowns, and parky covers, for her children, as well as beautiful outfits for their dolls. Caroline loved to ice skate and was quite good at it. It was always a treat for her children when she would come down to Dry Creek and join them on the ice. She loved making scrapbooks and documenting her travels. She kept a diary for many years. She always had a crossword puzzle book in her nightstand. Her favorite board game was Scrabble. Another of her pastimes was picking up trash around Nome with her dear friend and neighbor Ingaborg Handeland. They were known as the “Clean Queens” of Nome. More often than not, Caroline walked or rode a bicycle to get around town. It wasn’t until 1983 that she got the first and only vehicle that she ever owned – a little yellow Chevy pickup. She was quite proud of that car and the independence it gave her. Caroline loved cats and had her “Pretty” for over 19 years.
Berry picking was another of her favorite activities. She never liked to go too far out of town to pick, as she was afraid of bears. Caroline loved music and musicals and had a large collection of soundtracks, such as “The King and I”, “South Pacific”, “The Sound of Music”, and many more. Growing up along the shore of the Bering Sea, Caroline loved a beach party or picnic. Per her wishes, several of her birthday celebrations were held on west beach at the Sandspit area which is where she remembers her Dad walking every summer morning to begin his day’s work.
Volunteering was something that took up much of Caroline’s spare time. She was a good and faithful servant, devoting many hours to the needs of her church and church family. Caroline said, “I’ve been active in our Methodist Church for a long time. I’ve done just about everything except preach.” She volunteered at the Thrift Shop, the Food Bank and the Elementary School. You may remember the Thrift Shop Style Shows that she and her close friend Lee Fuller co-hosted. Caroline’s hilarious ice-skating routing was always included as part of the production.
Caroline was a lifetime member of the Pioneers of Alaska, Women’s Igloo #1 and held the office of historian for several years. She was in the first emergency medical technician class taught in Nome and served as an EMT. When “on call”, she would hardly sleep — she was so afraid that her pager would go off and she’d be called to duty. Caroline liked keeping busy and it bothered her when her health prevented her from doing activities she so loved. One of her mottos was “To do the thing that’s left undone, brings peace of mind to everyone.”
In March of 1990, Caroline was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Although its progression was slow, and she took medication to help control its side effects, it was a frustrating and debilitating disease for her. Facing a diagnosis like this is devastating and Caroline was concerned that she wouldn’t get to see her grandchildren graduate from high school. She survived 30 years with this dreaded disease and saw many of her grandchildren graduate high school and beyond.
After a fall in her basement in 2012, which resulted in bleeding in her brain, Caroline’s health steadily declined. It was determined that she needed round the clock care and medical attention. Caroline moved in to the Quyanna Care Center in Nome in March 2013 and remained a resident there until her passing on August 2, 2020.
When Caroline’s mother Carrie passed away in 1973, a pastor in Palmer told her, “Carrie’s physical body had become a burden to her, and we had no right to wish her to suffer on in that body.” These same words could have been used to describe Caroline’s condition. She had lived a busy and full life. She gave all that she had to give to her children, her grandchildren and to the people of Nome. She was tired and ready to leave her earthly home. We can all feel thankful for the person she was and for the love she gave to all of us.
Caroline is survived by her six children Caroline “Cussy” Kauer, Virginia “Ginny” Emmons, Josephine “Josie” Reader, Mary Reader, Julia Reader and Charles “Charley” Reader, and step-daughter Sharon Paulson, and their families. She was pre-deceased by her parents Arthur and Carrie McLain, her siblings Marjorie Smith, Elizabeth Rolfson and Arthur McLain, grandsons Lindsey Reader, Logan Green-Reader and Charles Christopher Reader, and by her great grandson Jamison Thrun.
The family would like to thank everyone who sent their warm wishes and condolences during this difficult time. We would especially like to thank the Quyanna Care Center staff for their patient and loving care of Caroline over these past seven years.