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Juneau resident and lifelong Alaskan Mary Elizabeth Cesar, 86, died at Bartlett Regional Hospital on Jan. 12, 2004.
She was born Sept. 26, 1917, in Chilkoot (Haines) to Annie Joe and Theodore James. With the death of her parents at a young age, she was raised by her grandmother, Lilly Klanott Joe, and her grandfather, Charlie Joe, also known as Joe Whiskers because of his red beard.
She spent her early years in the Presbyterian Home in Haines before going to Sheldon Jackson School in Sitka, where she lived until completing the eighth grade. She returned to Haines to care for her grandmother and worked to support the family.
At age 16, she moved from Haines to Juneau and lived with her cousin, Mary Pineda. There she met Santiago (Sam) Cesar, who worked in the Juneau mine and was a commercial fisherman. They married May 6, 1934. They initially lived on a small farm they opened at Auke Bay when the road into town was a two-track dirt road.
Cesar had a motorcycle, which he and Mary rode as a mode of transportation. They eventually moved, selling the property at Auke Bay, purchasing a building on South Franklin Street and opening Dew Drop Inn, a family restaurant. They later moved to a home on Ninth Street. Together they raised seven children: Amelia, Kermit, Delfin, Niles, Ken, Marilyn and Michael, all born and raised in Juneau.
Mary was a devoted mother, the family said. In her early years, she worked three jobs so her children could have a better chance at a good education by going to the Catholic school. She worked at the family restaurant and as a cook in St. Anne's Elementary School. In the summer, the family would go to Hoonah, where she worked in the cannery. In the late 1950s, Mary went back to school to get her GED, then took some college classes so she could get office work. She went to work for the Alaska Department of Revenue in 1960. She retired in 1975.
As a young girl, Mary loved to swim, diving from the cabin of their gillnet and seine boats into the deep waters of the fishing grounds, the family said. She continued this passion throughout her lifetime, frequenting the Augustus Brown swimming pool until two years ago.
Mary, also known as Yaakuxdaa.éit, was Lukaax.adi of the Yeil Hit (Raven House). She was proud of her Tlingit heritage and held high standing in her clan, the family said. She was active in the Native community. She was proud to be the Camp Mother and a lifetime member of Glacier Valley Alaska Native Sisterhood, Camp 70. She was a Sealaska and Goldbelt shareholder and a tribal member of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. She was a member of the Senior Citizens Advisory Council, as well as a member of the Filipino community.
"You could always count on Mary being at functions. She donated generously whenever she could," her family said.
Mary was preceded in death by her husband, Sam, in 1987, their son, Michael, in 1973, and their daughter, Amelia, in 2001. She is survived by children, Kermit (Andrea) Cesar, Delfin (Marlene) Cesar, Niles (Florence) Cesar, Marilyn (Ted) Wieting and Ken (Jackie) Cesar; 11 grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren, plus many tribal relatives and friends.
A rosary will be held at St. Paul's Catholic Church at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 16. The funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, at St. Paul's Catholic Church. It will be followed by an Alaska Native Sisterhood service at the Tlingit Haida community building. A dinner for friends and family will follow the ANS service.
Honorary pallbearers are Anna Katzeek, Alice Vavalis, Julia Hall, Emma Marks, Ethel Lund, Connie Paddock, Harriet Roberts, Nancy Jackson, Lillian Austin, Irene Lampe, and Ida Beierly.