By Phyllis Hassinger
Wonder Lake Volunteer
While most people come to Denali to visit, others fall in love with the park and stay a lifetime. Phyllis Hassinger was an 85-year old campground host at Wonder Lake Campground – located deep in the heart of Denali National Park and accessible only by bus or air. Phyllis and her husband Harry, started hosting in the park in 1990, almost 30 years ago.

My husband Harry and I had a dairy farm in Pennsylvania where we milked cows for 32 years. Then we managed a year-round lodge in Pennsylvania for seven years. Our daughter has lived in Alaska since 1971. She finally convinced us we should retire to Alaska. In 1985 we moved up here.
Photo, JImmy Tohill, Old Sourdough Studio - Denali

My job is to walk and talk. I try to meet all the camper buses that come in. One gets here at around 7:30 and one around 9:30 and they have to spend the night. I can’t believe how fortunate my health has been for me. That’s the only reason I can go at my age. I work 5 days a week. I’m there all the time. Eight hours a day. I get a small stipend.

I like Wonder Lake’s location. It couldn’t be more exciting. It’s beautiful. It’s quiet. And the people camping are from all over the world. Not all of them speak English. I walk the campground and we have two under-the roof places that have six tables under them, where people can get out of the rain.

It’s wonderful. If the mountain’s out, and the moon’s shining, we get Alpenglow on the mountain in the fall.
In the summer we have a lot of daylight. People ask how can you sleep in the daylight, and I say, Well I go to bed, and I close my eyes. I don’t think about it. What bothers me more is the long winter with the darkness. I’m so happy when I start seeing more daylight.

Since my husband passed away my life has changed drastically. When he passed away I thought, Oh what am I going to do now? But I have Wonder Lake in my blood. He would want me to do that. My daughter comes. What I miss mostly is fresh fruits and vegetables. She brings me a big container – apples – whatever is in season. And there are a lot of blueberries.

I have so many wonderful friends. The rangers are such wonderful people. You meet so many wonderful people from around the world. You advise them what they can do. It’s a tiring day. Especially for older people and little children.

I don’t know how I’d pass the summer by myself at home. People say to me, Oh you don’t look 85! I’ve had gray hair for a long time.

I’ve been lucky all my life. What more can you ask.
Phyllis Hassinger hiking near McKinley. Photo, Carol McIntyre, NPS

Harry came up with the idea of volunteering. We started volunteering for BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in the Chicken area. We worked for BLM for two years as campground hosts. We liked it there very much. We decided, why don’t we call the National Park Service and ask if they have anything available. Teklanika campground was available in 1990, and we managed that for one year. The campground hosts at Wonder Lake were going to leave. We took over at Wonder Lake.

We truly loved Wonder Lake. You’re 22 miles as the crow flies to the mountains. We have 28 sites in the campground. It’s not large. It’s just beautiful. It’s quiet there. Eighty-five miles in the park is where the campground is located. I have a 21-foot motorhome that I live in all summer. I’m the only motorhome that is allowed to drive in that far, because that’s where I have to live. I get there the beginning of June. I’m there when the first buses come to Wonder Lake. We have running water. Flush toilets. There aren’t too many places in the park that have running water! That makes it pretty nice.

They honored me with a twenty year award. When they gave me the award they had a sheet cake. They invited all the campers to come to the program to surprise me. It did.
Phyllis Hassing Wonder Lake Volunteer
Denali photographed by Jimmy Tohill
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