PALMER — June Liebing’s time in the Valley pre-dates the Matanuska Colony, and her basketball career here came at a time when the Palmer High School girl’s team was shooting through rafters to make a basket.
So, it would seem to most, there’s really no better person to become the PHS girl’s squad’s first honorary captain.
“We are honored to honor June,” head coach Lyle Busbey said Friday before his girls showered Liebing with everything from a shawl to a signed basketball and a headband — all of it, of course, in Palmer blue.
For her part, Liebing, 92, seemed to enjoy the event at the Alaska Veterans and Pioneers Home in Palmer, first eating ice cream with the team, then tossing her souvenir basketball through a hoop the girls brought along and finally cracking a joke while they took a group photo.
“I think it’s nice,” she said simply of the event.
She said her basketball career in the Valley lasted eight or nine years. She played center and guard.
Deb Till, a nurse practitioner at the home where Liebing lives, said she got to know Liebing and told coach Busbey about her time on early PHS basketball teams.
Busbey said he came up with the honorary captain idea and kicked it around with Till. In addition to the PHS swag, the team hopes to have Liebing out to one of its home games.
Busbey said the Palmer team Liebing played on might not be the first for Palmer High, but it was close.
“I don’t know if there was too many teams before that,” he told the assembled crowd, pointing out that at the time in Southcentral Alaska there were only four teams. A season was six games long, each team playing the others twice.
Liebing came to Alaska with her family at age 11 in 1932.
The family lived on King’s Lake, which now is more or less surrounded by the neighborhoods west of Wasilla-Fishhook Road and north of Seldon Road just a few miles outside the current boundaries of the city of Wasilla.
Back then, though, it was a wild, undeveloped land. Liebing recalled in previous stories for the Frontiersman how in the summer she would canoe to school — a one-teacher school with seven children in attendance — and how in the winter she and her brother would ice skate there.
“Our new home was on a beautiful lake surrounded by woods. It looked so big to me!” Leibing says her memoir “Reminiscences of June Marie (King) Liebing: On Her Life in the Matanuska Valley of Alaska,” quoted heavily in a Frontiersman article last summer. “There were loons, ducks and beavers, and about 500 billion mosquitoes.”
Eventually, work drew her father and the family to Palmer.
“June attended her senior year at the Palmer school and played on their basketball team in 1938,” Till said in remarks introducing Libeing.
“She was one of our first transfer students,” joked coach Busbey afterward.
“I missed the lake, but it wasn’t a life-crushing thing. I was busy with school,” is how Liebing described the change in her memoir.
As an adult, Liebing went into nursing. She was a volunteer and a community leader, Till said.
“She’s been a lesson to her family, her community and her church,” Till said.
Contact Andrew Wellner at 352-2270