A young life cut short in tragic factory accident
At 28 years old, Anfesa Galaktionoff had big dreams. She recently landed a job as a mechanic’s helper with the potential for advancement. She just made a trade for a heifer calf that she hoped would someday be the start of her own herd. She finally owned eight horses, which she kept at a friend’s ranch in Deaver, allowing her to pursue her passion of working with large animals.
After bouncing back and forth a few times between her native state of Alaska, and most recently between Deaver and Lovell, she finally settled in Lovell with her domestic partner and a small child she loved as if he were her own. The future held endless possibilities for her, but it was a future abruptly ended by a tragic industrial accident that took place during her afternoon shift at the Western Sugar Cooperative factory in Lovell, where she lost her life on Jan. 4, 2014.
Anfesa was born in Anchorage, but lived in her father Nectary Galaktionoff Jr’s remote native village on Saint Paul Island for the first year and half of her life. St. Paul Island is the largest of the Pribilof Islands, a group of five Alaskan volcanic islands located in the Bering Sea between the United States and Russia. Although she didn’t spend much of her childhood on the remote island, she is still considered very much a member of her father’s native Aleut people. According to her mother Colleen Savage, although not fluent in the Aleut language or its culture, Anfesa took pride in her native heritage.
She spent much of her early childhood in Anchorage, where she attended school and her outgoing personality won her many friends. Savage said Anfesa was devastated when she learned that she and her mother would be relocating to Northern Wyoming in 1995 due to her mother’s career change.
“In the spring of 1995, just before Anfesa’s 10th birthday, our lives were called in a new direction. We were soon moving to Wyoming,” wrote her mother. “Anfesa was heart-broken and didn’t want to leave Alaska. It was the only way of life that she had known and in her mind it would soon be coming to an end. The thought of being so far away from her Dad and friends was too much of a challenge for her to accept at her age. Even with all the encouragement that family could give, she didn’t want to accept the idea of leaving. She had no idea that adventure was lurking around the corner, just waiting for her to discover.
“The journey was long and hard as we became stranded in Yukon Canada, with engine failure. In a strange place, with no friends to talk to, her father far away, you could see the fear in her eyes and the question of ‘what next?’ But even so, she would still somehow manage to ease the pain with warm loving words, ‘Don’t worry, Mom. We’ll make it. I promise.’ The challenges were tremendous, but she never failed to keep looking at the positive side. Her encouraging words made time fly.
“As we got closer and closer to Wyoming, Anfesa began to see the journey in a whole new way. Her eyes filled with intrigue and it was love at first sight. The horses, the animals and the rugged beauty of the land captured the wild mustang stirring within her. And as we settled in to a new way of life, she soon discovered her calling. She had a special touch with horses, a quiet magnetic force that seemed to quickly draw even the most unruly of them right to her side. Ever so gently, she could approach just about any horse with a whisper and a soft touch and have them wrapped around her finger for life.”
As always, it was her kind-hearted and friendly nature that won her many friends in Lovell and nearby areas. One of those friends was Tom Edwards of Deaver, a lifelong friend she affectionately called “Gramps.”
“Making new friends, meeting new people and discovering how good change could be, she quickly accepted her new life in Wyoming,” wrote Savage. “She befriended every neighbor who owned a horse and always offered to exercise them with all compassion. She loved the land, the horses and the southern hospitality of all of our friends and neighbors.
“She blended into the culture of farming and ranching as she began growing up into a beautiful young woman. Soon she was known to many people as the “horse whisperer,” as she developed a love of riding and a talent for training horses all throughout Big Horn County.”
Savage recounted a story where Anfesa landed her first pony “Raspus” at a horse auction in the year 2000.
“She was looking at this wild, skittish and very panicked looking pony at the horse auction, when its owner came along and said, ‘You can have that pony if you can pet it,’” recounted Savage.
According to Savage, Anfesa quickly made “friends” with that pony, which she brought home and kept in her backyard. She said experienced horse people were amazed by how she turned that wild pony into a pet, who frolicked with the children in the backyard and was trained to pull a cart and even to race barrels in the rodeo. Savage said Anfesa even trained the pony to pull her mother in a cart to her wedding, which was held in a park in Lovell.
She attended school in Lovell for 7½ years before returning again to Alaska with her family because of her mother’s bouts with asthma that were exacerbated by the dry climate in Wyoming.
Over the years, she kept in touch with Gramps (Edwards), who helped her return to Wyoming by providing her with housing and a place to keep horses on his property in Deaver.
“She was happiest when she was around her horses,” said Edwards. “She loved showing them off and introducing kids to riding.”
“Horses were her love and life until we suddenly ended up having to leave Wyoming when she was 17 years old,” said Savage. “Accepting Alaska, once again, she dearly missed the land, her horses and the lifestyle that she’d become accustomed to in Wyoming.
“In late 2008, with the help of her adopted ‘Gramps’ (Tom Edwards), Anfesa was able to return home to Wyoming, where her heart was all along.
“Gramps took her in under his wing, always supporting her dreams and doing everything possible to bring them to life. She enjoyed horses and children so much that she developed a yearning to build a horse ranch. First and foremost, she wanted to breed the Indian paint horse, but she also wanted to teach the children how to ride and train their own horses with love and compassion. Her heart was at peace and full of joy once again as she began the long and challenging journey to build her dreams. Being a strong, compassionate and determined young woman, she endured many challenges that came her way while spreading all the love that she could possibly give.”
Anfesa had been back in Wyoming for about four years before landing the job at the factory. It was her first campaign and her mother said she spoke fondly of her new friends, acquaintances and supervisors at the factory.
“When we first drove into Lovell for the memorial service, it seemed so quiet,” said Savage. “The factory stood silent and it felt like the entire community was in mourning.”
Anfesa’s cremains were laid to rest this past weekend near her grandfather’s grave on St. Paul Island. She left behind many friends and relatives, including her mother and stepfather Colleen and Colton Savage; her father, Nectary Galaktionoff Jr.; her sister Marissa; and her brother Dustin; along with Grandma Smith, Grandpa and Grandma Wisemore, Grandpa Lee and “Gramps” (Tom Edwards), her “Kamuska” (Aleutian godmother) Michelle, Kamuska Shannon, Krusna (Aleutian godfather) Alex Jr.; Grandma and Grandpa Wardell, and many aunts and uncles, as well as their families, her loved ones Tristain Heimerl and Travis and the many other people in Wyoming who she considered adopted family and friends.
Editor’s note: Our hearts go out to those who were unable to participate in this interview as they mourn the loss of their loved one, Anfesa Galaktionoff, July 6, 1985 – Jan. 4, 2014.
by Patti Carpenter