Statehood pioneer Katie Hurley gave words of advice to the University of Alaska Southeast's 2009 graduates Sunday, and shared stories going back to the decades before statehood.
But it was one statement in particular from the 88-year-old Wasilla resident that rocked the Rec Center with cheers.
Hurley said that Saturday night she scrapped the speech she had been working on, and instead spoke on the importance of being involved in government.
"Especially," she said, "keep the capital in Juneau."
The cheers were thunderous from the crowd packing the gym to see more than 300 associates, bachelors and masters degrees conferred from the Sitka campus of the University of Alaska. Additional degrees from the university's flagship school at Fairbanks, including doctorates, were also conferred in Juneau.
Two honorary doctorate of law degrees were conferred, to Laraine Derr and Marlene Johnson. A former dean of the UAS School of Business and commissioner of the Department of Revenue, Derr now owns Chez Alaska Cooking School. Johnson is former chairman of the Sealaska Corporation and is currently board chair of the Huna Heritage Foundation.
Hurley herself was a recipient of an honorary doctorate in 1985. Her long history in the state's leadership includes service as chief of staff to Alaska Territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening at age 24, and later for Bill Egan, the state's first governor.
Hurley's history in Juneau began when she was born here in 1921, and she graduated from Juneau High School in 1939.
Governor Gruening, or E.G., as she called him, hired Hurley to work in the territorial governor's office and became a mentor to her. Among her duties was helping Gruening advocate for the military development of Alaska.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Gruening heard of the bombing of Pearl Harbor not through official channels but from an Auke Bay resident with a shortwave radio.
The governor's secretary, who Hurley described simply as having "colorful" language, reached Hurley by phone at the Lutheran church downtown.
"Get your ass up here, we're at war," Hurley was told.
During the war, Hurley translated coded messages for the governor. After the war, there was a renewed push for statehood that she assisted in.
Veterans released from service moved to Alaska to homestead, but found out they could no longer vote for president because Alaska was only a territory.
As statehood neared, Alaska held a Constitutional Convention at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Hurley was chosen to be the chief clerk to that body.
"I was on the floor of the convention - all day, every day," she said, taking the minutes. She remembers convention chairman Bill Egan as a "masterful presiding officer" who had a talent for making sure that everyone was heard. Others thought so too, and he became the state's first governor.
Hurley served in a number of state positions, and in 1978 ran for lieutenant governor, winning the democraticnomination.
Her final words of advice Sunday were, "if you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun."
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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