Ringing in statehood: Juneau man recalls Alaska's early years as 'revolutionary days'
"Although we didn't have to take up arms - we did it legally and legitimately - it was a little bit like the revolutionary days."
Looking back nearly 50 years later, Romer Derr sees parallels between Alaska's fight for statehood and the founding of the United States of America.

"Although we didn't have to take up arms - we did it legally and legitimately - it was a little bit like the revolutionary days," he said. "We did not like the oak that was placed upon us without us being able to make any decisions for ourselves."

Derr, 71, first came to Alaska while in high school shortly before the Constitutional Convention when his father was working for the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. He became enthralled by the grandeur of the territory and quickly became engaged in the march toward statehood.

"I got caught up in the convention and the way it had been done," Derr said. "Everybody of anybody around the territory was involved."

He believed the citizens of the territory should have more of a voice in their government and have more oversight over the management of Alaska's resources.

"We had full taxation with no representation, so we were doing the same thing in Alaska that the colonials were doing under British rule," he said. "They dictated what went where and what happened and we didn't have voting members of Congress or anything."

After riding the boom and bust economy of Fairbanks for a few years, Derr came to the capital to work on Juneau-Douglas High School. He remembers the ferry ride from Haines down Lynn Canal fondly and says he knew he had found the place he wanted to be.

"I spent the whole time on deck in the rain looking," he said. "It was the most beautiful place I'd ever seen, before or since."

Derr settled into Juneau and became active in the community. In 1958, as the Alaska Statehood Act made its way through Congress, Derr was the president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. After passing the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, people were eagerly anticipating President Dwight D. Eisenhower's approval of the statehood act, he said.

Courtesy Romer Derr

Working together: Romer Derr, left, and Iona Stone, right, bring mail from the Alaska Visitors Association to Pedro Barril at the post office in the late 1950s.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Alaska pioneer: Juneau resident Romer Derr talks about his involvement with Alaska statehood. He was a member of "Get Out the Affirmative Vote For Statehood in Southeast Alaska" and ended up ringing a replica of the Liberty Bell in front of the Capitol after the statehood bill was signed.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Memento: Romer Derr holds a medallion made for Alaska after it became the 49th state in the United States.

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