Upcoming book gathers memories of life in Juneau

Posted: Monday, April 23, 2001

A 12-member history committee of the Pioneers Igloo and the Gastineau Channel Historical Society is nearing completion of its second book of local lore.

Some of the people whose stories appear in the forthcoming "Gastineau Memories" previewed their tales Saturday afternoon at the Juneau Senior Center at 10th Street and Egan Drive.

"My first memories of being in a house in Juneau were right here where we are sitting," said painter Ken DeRoux. "That was around 1950 (before Egan Drive existed). Klinkhammer's Garage was just up the street. Whenever I eat tomato soup with milk in it I think of our neighbor, Mrs. Tucker, who first gave it to me; she lived two doors from here. That's what history is all about."

Family legend has it that his grandfather, August "Frenchy" DeRoux, stowed away to reach South America from France. August wound up in Seattle, and was one of the first stampeders to heed the call of the Klondike gold rush. He came north in July 1897 and staked a claim in Dawson on a tributary of Bonanza Creek in October - one of the few to make it over the passes into Canada that first year.

August DeRoux subsequently established a metallurgical lab in Skagway, and found asbestos claims on Admiralty Island in 1928.

"I remember playing with asbestos from my father's desk as a kid. I think all my uncles died from mining the stuff," Ken DeRoux said.

Edna Williams, 80, came to Juneau as a child with her parents; her father ran a tailor shop. She recalled attending the Fifth Street Elementary School. "The Taku winds were so fierce that we would have to duck into doorways. My father had to take me to school because I never would have made it otherwise."

Tennis champ Dean Williams has lived most of his 83 years in Juneau, except for stints with the Army in the Aleutians and Nome during World War II. His father, Jason Williams, was a forest ranger and gymnast who fell in love with the Last Frontier while working on the boundary survey between Canada and Alaska. While working on a Boy Scout badge, 12-year-old Dean became the youngest ham operator ever to earn a license. He communicated in Morse code with a man in Auckland for 50 years; Dean and his wife Edna finally met his ham friend on a trip to New Zealand in 1962.

Co-chairing the history book committee are Marie Darlin and Janet Ruotsala. Introducing Janice Taylor, Darlin said Taylor would demonstrate "how one family can almost create a town."

Taylor had prepared a 4-foot-wide family tree to illustrate. Her father, prospector Arthur Gregory, lived in Juneau for three years in the late '30s. And, although she grew up in Homer, she moved to Southeast after marrying into a Juneau family and later acquiring a son-in-law, Reed Herman, with connections to numerous Douglas families.

Genealogist Taylor explained how two Finns, a couple surnamed Kronqvist, were the root of it all. Of that couple's six surviving children, each bore a child who immigrated to America, changing his name to Kronquist along the way. Of the following generation, 12, including Fred and Emil Kronquist, wound up in Douglas. Those 12 married into 17 other families, with the surnames Morris, Smith, Sparks, Bergt, Wahto, Franklin, Baalog, Nelson, Niemi, Bloomquist, Hagerup, Hermann, Brown, Metcalf, Eyler, Shudshift and Savikko.

Alice Poor's story also will be in the volume. She arrived 61 years ago as bride to Val Poor, a "bulldozer" at the Alaska Juneau gold mine. A bulldozer uses high explosives to blast big chunks of ore into manageable bits.

"We have been around here a year or two," Poor joked.

More than 300 stories are being edited for the book, available by fall. Dee Williams, a member of the book committee, has taped the stories of those who didn't have time to write them, including former mayor Larry Parker, Don Burford, John Dapcevich and Judge Tom Stewart. "People often say things they would not write," she said.

"There's all kinds of history of all kinds in this room," commented Bobbie Rice, looking around. Rice moved to Juneau in 1949 to work for the Boy Scouts, and, like so many others, wound up staying.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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