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Overstreet remembered for perennial service

Posted: July 8, 2013 - 9:12pm  |  Updated: July 8, 2013 - 11:10pm

What more could be said about Bill Overstreet, the man who will be remembered for the countless impressions he left on Juneau and Alaska?

Plenty.

During a celebration of life Monday at Centennial Hall — the construction of which he championed while mayor of Juneau — a state and city delegation, friends and family honored the man who did so much for the city and state he loved.

Mayor Merrill Sanford read a mayoral proclamation from the city of Juneau.

It summarized Overstreet’s achievements during his time here, and was echoed by the many testaments to his life that followed.

“Bill took the lead in modernizing Juneau in making it a more welcoming city,” said Sanford. “I, Mayor Sanford, mayor of the City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska; on behalf of the city Assembly, do hereby recognize and celebrate in memoriam that humble and exceptional champion of Juneau, William D. Overstreet Sr.”

Following a musical interlude performed by Steve Hamilton accompanied by Bobby Reynolds, Jim Clark conducted the memorial where, one-by-one, friends of Overstreet stepped before the podium and reminisced about his life.

“Everyone knows that Bill Overstreet had a wonderful sense of humor and a very sharp wit,” said Clark. “I remember telling him one time how proud I was of my daughter for learning to speak Japanese and he said, ‘you know, Clark, if it wasn’t for me and some of my friends in the Pacific, we’d all be speaking Japanese.’”

Born in Waynoka, Woods County Okla., Overstreet developed an interest in travel and adventure as the son of a railroad man.

During his junior year in high school, Overstreet dropped out and enlisted in the Navy. He barely met the weight requirement.

He was assigned to the U.S.S. Portland aboard which he campaigned through the Aleutian Islands and later in the South Pacific.

Almost a decade after he was discharged from the Navy, he began teaching eighth-grade in Juneau at Capital School.

“Mr. Overstreet. That’s the way we used to call him,” said Roger Grummet, a former student, “and it always seemed disrespectful, to me, to call him anything else.”

Grummet collected what his fellow eighth-graders at the time remembered of Overstreet and shared that.

One former student wrote about a dartboard Overstreet brought to class. The bullseye was labeled “sunshine”; the surrounding circle was labeled “overcast” and the third was marked “rain and snow.” They would toss darts to predict the weather.

The official record they kept was far closer to the real weather conditions than what the weather service predicted, the student wrote.

“Mr. Overstreet was not my homeroom teacher,” said Grummet, who had Overstreet as the coach of his basketball team called ‘The Vampires.’ “We didn’t have much of a playbook. His instructions were to either get the ball to Eric McDowell or Bob Beierly and then ‘get out of the way!’”

Grummet would later cross paths with Overstreet as an adult.

“I think I became a better person by observing Mr. Overstreet, and the way he treated people — by watching his dedication to Juneau, the State of Alaska and any project he was involved with. His energy was infectious, and he was respected by everyone. That’s why he was, is, and always will be, Mr. Overstreet to me.”

After receiving his master’s degree from the University of Washington, he became the principal of Capital School.

As he moved on to join the Alaska Department of Education as an Elementary Education Supervisor, Ken Koelsch befriended him.

“It began with a telegram that arrived in Michigan,” said Koelsch.

It read: Offer junior high language arts salary $8,030 (stop) acceptance or (stop) rejection by March 26, 1968 (stop) W.D. Overstreet Superintendent with Schools.

“Less than 20 words from Bill Overstreet changed our lives forever,” said Koelsch, “as it did countless other teachers hired for the Juneau school system.”

A procession of speakers commemorated his life. Each remembered Overstreet as he retired from education and was elected to the CBJ Assembly before becoming mayor for fear of losing the capital city to the Mat-Su Valley.

During the Capital Move Campaign, Overstreet traveled statewide to speak about the importance of keeping the capital in Juneau.

“Bill was a truly gifted mayor,” said former Mayor Bruce Botelho. “Bill will always be remembered for his role in the capital move. But his vision wasn’t simply that Juneau was entitled to be the capital. He believed that it had to continually earn that right.”

Overstreet undertook countless efforts to beautify the city with the placement of state flags, the revitalization of South Franklin Street, and the construction projects for Eaglecrest Ski Area and Centennial Hall.

“Many of you knew Bill Overstreet as a school teacher, principal, Assembly member, trade representative, Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Hickel,” said Bill Overstreet junior. “He was all those things, but before that he was my dad.”

As evidenced by two broken arms, one broken leg and the half dozen concussions Overstreet junior endured through his youth, his father had been there as a watchful eye.

“He taught me to think for myself, to be responsible for my own actions, and to admit when I made a mistake,” said Overstreet Jr.

In the last few years of his life, Overstreet spent his time on the Whale Project — a bronze humpback whale breaching from an infinity pool at Bridge Park.

In a hall with ceilings as high as the 42-foot whale that will commemorate 50 years of statehood when it is brought to Juneau next year, Laraine Derr of the Whale Committee said Overstreet’s dream would soon be realized.

“Rest in peace, Bill,” said Derr. “I know the whale will rise.”

• Contact reporter Kenneth Rosen at 523-2250 or at kenneth.rosen@juneauempire.com.

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