Paul Mahoney’s work boots are still lined up where he left them. His six grown sons see no reason to disturb the battered footwear from their post along two shelves in the historic family home. Although his earthly work ended with his death in 2002, his legacy continues, with industrious hospitality at its fore.

Nestled at the base of the Talkeetna Mountains in Wasilla, the hedges along Schrock Road part beneath a hand-painted sign announcing “Grotto Iona: A Place of Prayer.” The Mahoney family retreat is intended for pilgrims as much as it is their own family members.header

The descendants of Paul and Iona Mahoney share a devotion to Saint Jude and a paternal tenderness for this land and anyone who finds their way to it. The homestead was staked in 1958 — at that time the family numbered four sons with a fifth on the way. Six girls and another boy would join them through birth over the next 12 years. The young couple (he of Irish and Scottish lineage, she Dutch and Cherokee) traveled from Colorado, through the Yukon Territory and chose land north of Wasilla as proving grounds for a generation. Their strength typifies the perseverance needed to endure a brutal climate and unending physical work.

At first glance, to meet the Mahoney clan today is to encounter a winsome remnant of Mat-Su Valley history, with many still sporting fringed leather, western boots and quiet swagger. However, upon lingering in their company, it’s clear that the grit of this family’s bond is no bucolic theater. They are trappers, miners, steel workers, rodeo queens, storytellers, musicians, loggers, hunters, fishermen, bikers, painters, blacksmiths, woodworkers, builders and farmers. They all know how to cook. The Mahoneys’ Catholic faith is the bedrock which continues to shape their milestones, anchor their tragedies and propel them forward in unity.

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Tim Mahoney, the eldest, maintains the homestead with brother Tom and sisters Pauline and Abigail. Tim may appear on bicycle, tractor, or horseback from any end of the 80-acre property. His statuesque presence and crisp ranch gear are trimmed by a white Stetson. Read the rest here.

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Image Credit: Grotto interior, Chelsa Paulk, Chelsa J Photography

Image Credit: Cross & Grotto Iona Fall Scene, by Connie Mahoney

All the rest are the work of Bill Hess