For some at the Anchorage Memorial Cemetery on Monday, Memorial Day was about honoring not only fallen military members but also Alaska pioneers. 

Under the warmth of the summer sun and the shelter of the American flag near the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel lie dozens of Anchorage's founding members, some of whom served their country in Alaska's early days.

On Monday Pioneers of Alaska, a group of people who've lived in the state for at least 20 years and aim to preserve Alaska history, remembered 48 of its members who died within the last 12 months -- including former gubernatorial first lady Ermalee Hickel.

"It doesn't matter who you are, I mean, it could have been just Joe Blow off the street. It doesn't matter," said Barbara Brock, one of the ceremony organizers. "Your purpose on this earth meant something to somebody at some time, and we are trying to remember that, and honor that."

Joining the group this year was a much younger crowd -- a group of college choir students who found the pioneer group on Facebook, and traveled all the way from Missouri. 
 
'Just to give some of them a sense of peace,' explained Laura Nave, a member of the choir and a sophomore at College of the Ozarks in Missouri. 

Nave says she's found peace in Alaska, after losing her father in February. Visiting the 49th state was his dream.

'It was just a dream come true to finally get to come here and see all these places that my dad wanted to see, and I know that he's with me," Nave said. 

Nave's father was on her mind Monday, but she says he's always in her heart -- much like the families of those laid to rest at the Anchorage Memorial Cemetery.

Brock says Pioneers of Alaska holds the ceremony annually, but this is the first year the organization has had an outside group participate.

Contact reporter Liz Raines by email.

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