Dr. Soboleff - a community leader and a man of substance

Posted: Wednesday, April 07, 2004

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

Before taking a break from writing this past winter, I had not yet written about one of the famous men of Juneau's history. He had his 95th birthday on November 14.

Dr. Walter Soboleff was born at Killisnoo, which is not far from Wrangell, where my father was born three years earlier in 1905.

Dr. Soboleff is a great preacher. He led the Memorial Presbyterian Church for many years and is now the associate pastor at the Northern Light United Church. He still preaches.

I remember as a young boy listening to his voice more than fifty years ago. I was so impressed with the timbre of his speech and the cadence of his sentences - based on his heritage of Tlingit, Russian and American. I thought that he had the most beautiful voice that I had ever heard. I imagined it was like the preachers and prophets of the Bible, in its persuasiveness and power, and calm and gentle tone.

Sometimes great men have attributes that are not particularly linked to the most famous features they are remembered by. For instance, Abraham Lincoln was a wartime President, who many think was America's leading individual.

He was also a great word-smith, as influential, almost, as Shakespeare. So many of our thoughts today are molded in the unique language that he used.

He was a poet of America as, in his own time, Walt Whitman was.

We are familiar with so much of what he said and wrote. Let me quote just a sentence: "We must think anew. We must disenthrall ourselves."

Only a master of the English language would have said that, and probably no other American president.

In the same spirit, Walter Soboleff is foremost a famous community leader among the people of Southeastern Alaska, and a well-respected preacher of his Church. But, for me, there is always something extra, something special, something akin to a voice like John the Baptist crying in the wilderness.

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