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Tomsk, Russia to Cordova, Alaska

1923 | Tikhon Lavrischeff | Male | 20-39 years old

by Maria Sakovich

Filed under:

Angel Island immigrant: Yes

Place of Origin
Tomsk, Russia

Place of Settlement
Cordova, Alaska

Tikhon Lavrischeff arrived at Angel Island from the President Pierce on July 12, 1923. He would have been admitted as soon as the immigration processing was completed had not the quota for Russia been exceeded that month. Along with 135 other compatriots he was excluded from entering the country. Lavrischeff spent three months at the immigration station before he was finally able to restart his life in America. That life turned out to be short but extraordinarily full, the sojourn at Angel Island punctuating almost two halves – Russian and American.

Tikhon Lavrischeff, aged 27, a widower, had spent five years in the military: 1915-17 in the Russian Army fighting in the Great War and until 1920 with the so-called White forces, in his case, the army of Admiral Kolchak in Siberia, achieving the rank of shtabs-kapitan (major). Before entering the Army, he had graduated from an ecclesiastical teachers seminary. At some point, perhaps in 1920, he had taken gymnasium-level exams for university entrance, studied two years at the University of Tomsk, and later for a year at the Faculty of Law in Harbin, Manchuria.1 The transcript of the Board of Special Inquiry hearing at Angel Island reveals an interesting fact about Lavrischeff: unlike many of his compatriots with similar education and military background, he also possessed practical skills, that could be called upon to make a living right away. In answer to a question from one of the immigration inspectors, he acknowledged he had worked for four years as a carpenter in Russia and had built three houses in Harbin (while studying at the Law Faculty). At Tomsk University (ca. 1920-1922) he did “newspaper work in the office during the day.” This combination of pursuing an education along with practical work, unusual in pre-revolutionary Russia, would be enormously helpful in his new North American life.

Tikhon Lavrischeff came to California “to work and continue [his] education.” His training straddled two fields: education and law. He knew he would have to work, to earn and save money, before he could enroll at the University of California, Berkeley. He figured it would take “about a year” to save enough. What he intended to study is unknown. After his release from Angel Island (October 1923), we know little about his first year in California. Although he arrived with $65, that sum would not cover two months living expenses.2 Apparently he resided in San Francisco and was “elected treasurer and librarian of the Russian National Students Association,” positions unlikely to provide an adequate income and probably no income at all.3

In late October or early November 1924, Tikhon met the Russian Orthodox Archpriest Andrew Kashevaroff, a  member of the Alaska Ecclesiastical Consistory, on the latter’s visit to San Francisco. All we know about the conversation between the cleric and the student here to complete his education is that Fr. Kashevaroff offered the young man the “rectorship of the Prince William Sound churches.” It is tempting to speculate about the encounter, both because of the nature of the work and the character and background of Fr. Kashevaroff. Being a missionary priest in Alaska had always meant rough conditions: far-flung congregations, difficult travel, severe weather in the winter. And now, Fr. Kashevaroff would have told him, “salaries of priests, and all appropriation for the maintenance of schools and churches was cut off; priests were thrown upon their meager resources . . . and had to earn their living by other means.”4 The Alaskan priest, born and raised in the Territory, knew intimately the rigors of missionary work, and he was very knowledgeable about the history of the territory and culture of the original inhabitants.5 Had he not seen something special in Tikhon Lavrischeff, it is unlikely that he would have recruited him. Probably he learned that the young man had grown up in a peasant household and acquired many practical skills (including carpentry).  He would have recognized that the young man was very smart and already had gone far beyond his humble background.6 The priest might also have heard about the war years and the privations of daily life at the University of Tomsk–lack of food and soap along with periodic outbreaks of typhus under a newly installed Bolshevik regime.7

Nothing in the transcript of the board of special inquiry interrogation at Angel Island suggests that becoming a priest was part of Lavrischeff’s plan for his new life in America. Although he had participated in the work of a religious brotherhood in Harbin, becoming a missionary priest in America seemed to be a detour from his original intentions of completing his education. Yet in Alaska he found his life’s work. After his ordination on January 4, 1925 by the Bishop of Alaska, Fr. Tikhon Lavrischeff embraced his work and the Native people whom he was serving.

From his resume (ca. November 1929), we learn that during his time in Alaska, Fr. Lavrischeff “baptized about 200 Indians in the Copper River District, built one church at Cordova, built another church at Valdes, built a community church-house at Chenega, and organized Native brotherhoods at Chitina and Copper Center.” The details about the building of St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church at Cordova, elicited by fellow compatriot Nadia Lavrova, writing for the San Francisco Examiner, attest to Fr. Tikhon’s ability to relate well to people.  (Miss Lavrova, as Nadia Shapiro, also entered the United States through Angel Island, also with a group of students, in 1922. “The church,” she wrote,

was built entirely by free will donations of citizens of Cordova, men and women belonging to every religious denomination, and even freethinkers contributed generously. The result was that $400 was collected toward the building in the first four hours of the drive, and within the next few weeks the asked-for $1,000 was oversubscribed by $200. In addition, a large lumber company donated the wood for the structure, a builder agreed to supervise the work, a plumber offered his skill, and fourteen native carpenters went at their task with right good will, none of them taking any money for their labor.8

Lavrova provided more information that well summarizes Fr. Lavrischeff’s activities in Alaska as well as his altruistic values.

The Russian priest was likewise appointed teacher of the native public school by the U.S. Bureau of Education. Before he got his appointment [he] earned his living successively as night watchman, mechanic and grocer, a veritable priest in overalls. He refuses to take any pay from his native flock, as these are too poor, and for the same reason refuses donations from the few Russians in the North and the Greeks and Slavs, workers in mines and canneries of Alaska.

The journalist also learned from the priest that he was a bit of an ethnographer as well. He acknowledged that archeology was an “avocation,” and that “he [had] made a number of interesting finds.” He was also preserving “Aleut legends,” told to him by Native elders.9 At about the same time, Fr. Kashevaroff also commented that “he is a great student and very much interested in the history of Alaska.”10

The occasion for the interview by the Examiner reporter was Fr. Lavrischeff’s arrival at the University of California, Berkeley, for the 1927 summer session to take courses in the education department. Apparently Lavrischeff had not given up his plans to continue his education and perhaps been prompted to return to university by his experience teaching in government schools in Alaska or even encouraged by Fr. Kashevaroff. After this short leave-of-absence, the priest returned to his teaching and church duties in Alaska.

Fr. Lavrischeff probably learned during his summer at the university that he could complete his bachelor’s studies in two years. Even for graduates of the Russian gymnasium, without university-level work, the University of California granted two-year’s credit toward the B.A. In July 1928, Bishop Aleksii in San Francisco appointed Fr. Lavrischeff as “temporary rector of the Berkeley parish,” presumably after his arrival in California.11 Whether a partial salary was attached to the position is unknown.

After receiving his BA, “majoring in public schools administration and supervision,” “with honor” in 1930,12 the priest remained at the university for another year to complete his work for an MA. Throughout these years, as noted above, he served both in Berkeley and in San Francisco as time permitted. (He even returned to Angel Island with Fr. Vladimir Sakovich to visit recently-arrived refugees.) The priest always intended to return to Alaska,13 and he did so, leaving California in June 1931.

He did not leave alone, however. During the course of his studies, he met a fellow student, a Californian, Mary Eloise Bauder, thirteen or fourteen years younger, who became his wife. Ordained priests cannot marry, even if widowed, so the decision to leave the priesthood cannot have been taken lightly.14 The couple left for Alaska, for jobs at the same school, the Government Industrial School at Kanakanak, Tikhon as director. After a year, the Lavrischeffs moved to the Government School at Hoonah where they remained at least until summer 1935.15 Here, the couple had their first child, John16 and while serving as principal teacher, Tikhon undertook research toward an Ed.D.  Back in Berkeley for the summer of 1935 to complete course work, Tikhon defended his dissertation, “History of Education in Alaska.”17 (Completion of graduate studies was an accomplishment that few adult refugees from the revolution and civil war managed.)

Whether the newly minted Dr. Lavrischeff returned to the Government School is unknown, but by July 1936, he had been hired as the Russian translator for the Rockefeller-funded Alaska History Research Project, an endeavor undertaken by the University of Alaska for “the production of a history of the Territory.” According to a description of the project, “the university was the first to make use of the million or more pages of records of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska.”18 Since these records and most of the other material to be examined were in Washington, D.C. at the Library of Congress (in the Slavic Division), Department of State Archives, and other governmental repositories, the Lavrischeffs moved to the nation’s capital. Their second child, David, was born in December. A year later, at the age of forty-one, the former priest/educator/scholar died.19

Special thanks to Paul Lavrischeff for the photographs of Tikhon Lavrischeff.

Maria Sakovich is a public historian and independent scholar who researches, writes, and develops exhibits in the areas of immigration, family, and community history. She has written articles on Methodist women including Deaconess Katharine Maurer, a beloved social worker at the Angel Island Immigration Station, “A Russian Summer at the Immigration Station,” on this website, and “When the Enemy Landed at Angel Island,” from the National Archives and Records Administration’s website.

  1. Resumé [November 1929], OCA Archives. See also File 22335/22-4 and Nadia Lavrova, “Religious Relics in Alaskan Mission,” San Francisco Examiner, June 26, 1927, p. 10E.
  2. “Russians in America,” Russkii Golos, Harbin, May 17, 1924, found in File 150.616, Box 140, Entry 702, RG 59 (Department of State), NARA, Washington, DC.
  3. Nadia Lavrova, “Religious Relics in Alaskan Mission.”
  4. Andrew Kashevaroff, “History of the Russian Church in South East Alaska,” p. 4, in Folder 10, A.P. Kashevaroff papers, Alaska State Library, Historical Collections; also available at: http://www.library.alaska.gov/hist/hist_docs/docs/asl_ms149_10.pdf. Not until one reads the following essay in Folder 10, “Russian Church in Alaska,” is it possible to identify Kashevaroff as the author of “History . . . in South East Alaska.”
  5. For his paid work, Fr. Kashevaroff convinced the Territorial Legislature of Alaska to fund a museum and library, which he organized; he was appointed curator in 1920. Richard Pierce, Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary, entry Kashevarov, Andrei Petrovich, pp. 215-16.
  6. “Testamonial” [“Attestat”] detailing Lavrischeff’s years at the Samara Ecclesiastical Teachers’ Seminary, 1912-1915; he received highest marks for all his courses. A copy of the handwritten document was supplied by Karen Schlussel.
  7. Tatiana Pope [Popova], “Three Unforgettable Years in Tomsk–Siberia, Russia” unpublished memoir [1971], Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Tatiana Popova was also a member of St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church in Berkeley, though she and her family may have been living in San Francisco during the Lavrischeff years: Maria Sakovich’ 1990 interview with Mrs. Popova.
  8. Nadia Lavrova, “Religious Relics in Alaskan Mission.”
  9. The American Anthropologist (New Series, Vol. 30, No. 1, January – March 1928) published “Two Aleut Tales.”
  10. Letter from Fr. Kashevaroff to E.O. Essig, 6 July 1927, Folder 4, A.P. Kashevaroff papers.
  11. E-mail communication from OCA archivist, Alex Liberovsky, 23 July 2014.
  12. “Alaska Priest Honor Student At California,” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 4 June 1930, p. 6. The newspaper article also reported that Fr. Tikhon was elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa.
  13. “Fr. Lavrischeff about Alaska,” Novaya Zarya, 25 December 1928; “Russian Priest Will Hold Services Here,” Berkeley Daily Gazette, 10 January 1929, p. 12.
  14. How Fr. Tikhon left the priesthood is unknown. No record has been found regarding “laicization” or any other form of leave-taking for him, but according to OCA archivist Alex Liberovsky, “records were not kept well during that period.” His marriage to Mary Eloise was performed by an Episcopalian minister in Modesto, California, and Fr. Andrew Kashevaroff baptized the couple’s first-born son John in Alaska. During his short career after leaving Berkeley, his years as priest in Alaska were always acknowledged.
  15. Both the positions and schools are listed as biographical information on the “Programme of the Final Examination for the Degree of Doctor of Education.”
  16. “Scrapbook of Andrew P. Kashevaroff, 1906-1939,” MS 4-6-1, pp. 65 and 66, “Photos taken at christening of John Lavischeff [sic] at St. Nicholas church, Juneau, Ak” from finding aid to scrapbook, “Guide to Collection,” Alaska State Library Historical Collections. [Accessed via the internet.]
  17. Copy of graduate transcript for Ed.D. studies, University of California, Berkeley, Office of the Registrar.
  18. The description of the research project, “History of Alaska Research,” was found in the “Encyclopedia Arctica,” a 15-volume unpublished reference work (1947-1951), in vol. 12: Alaska, Geography and General, in the article “The University of Alaska” by Charles E. Bunnell, p. 1013-14. Found at: http://collections.dartmouth.edu/arctica-beta/html/EA12-09.html [July-August 2014]
  19. “News Notes,” American Archivist, Vol I, No. 1 (January 1938), p. 28.

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