Getting to know two of Juneau's unsung heroes

Posted: Sunday, May 01, 2005

Vantage Point By Robert Hale, publisher of the Juneau Empire.

So often I hear people in Juneau bemoaning the things they think need fixing here in the capital city. Sometimes the fix-its involve state government and its inexplicable actions, other times it's something as benign as the inconvenience caused by a downtown street improvement project or the changing of a leash law.

Lest you think such complaints are unique to Juneau, think again. They're not. They're common in every community on the planet.

Conversely, every community has its champions - unsung heroes, if you will - who go well out of their way to improve the quality of life and living, and expect nothing in return.

I met one of Juneau's unsungs last Friday during a conversation with Paul Douglas, trustee for the Douglas-Dornan Foundation, which he and his late wife established in 1994 following the death of their son and daughter-in-law in an auto accident on Thane Road in 1993, a mishap that Paul Douglas says was never explained.

Brian Douglas and Wythe Dornan had moved to Juneau in 1989 from the Chicago area. He was the assistant brew master at the Alaskan Brewery. She was a pre-school teacher. The couple served as foster parents, volunteered at the Glory Hole and supported activities to protect the environment. Douglas was an organizer of an "ultimate" Frisbee club and he formed a home brewers club. Dornan was active in the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The elder Douglas has been in Juneau since 2000. He uprooted himself and moved after the death of his first wife and following his retirement from a career in the pharmaceutical industry. The move from Chicagoland to Juneau was an easy one to make, Douglas said, because of the many visits he and his wife had made here during the 1990s and because of the network of friends he'd established during that time.

The Douglas-Dornan Foundation was created, Douglas said, in honor of two people who loved Juneau and Southeast, and who had made it a point to give back to the community in which they lived and worked.

And so it was in the spirit of giving that Douglas parents established the foundation that now awards more than $20,000 in grants to non-profit agencies across Southeast. The first grant was awarded in 1994 to NAEYC of Southeast Alaska in the amount of $500, and funding has grown steadily each year since. Last year the foundation awarded grants to 15 agencies and individuals in the amount of $23,302.

The groups funded through the Douglas-Dornan Foundation cover a lot of waterfront: AWARE Inc., Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Harborview PTA, Tenakee Springs Preschool and Vaccinate Juneau Kids. The agencies funded last year received anywhere from $314 to 3,000 for programs ranging from curriculum supplies to sand and a water table for Kid Zone: Fun and Learning. Individuals who receive grants are often teachers or artists.

The foundation touches numerous community organizations and programs not just in Juneau, but in Haines, Ketchikan, Skagway, Douglas and Petersburg.

It's not uncommon for the foundation to make grants of $1,000 or less. In 1999, for example, $500 was awarded to the Haines Dolphin Swim Team for a copier. That same year the Alaska Health Fair received $385 for safety booklets. Three years ago Stephen Byers, a teacher at Juneau's Harborview school, was awarded $1,616 for his math and reading classes.

Douglas said Friday that in the absence of his son and daughter-in-law he takes great pride in continuing to provide for others in remembrance of them. He should also take pride in knowing the money his foundation provides does make a difference in the lives of Southeast Alaskans, thus making triumph out of tragedy.

• Robert Hale is the publisher of the Juneau Empire. He can be reached at

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