Janes remembered for outdoors contributions

Juneau matriarch of the ski patrol honored in life

Posted: Sunday, May 07, 2006

High tea high above most of Juneau seemed a fittingly civilized way to celebrate the life of Willette Patricia Janes on Friday.

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"She always wanted to stop and smell the roses when she was on the trails," said her husband of 31 years, Robert Janes Sr. Although some friends recalled trying to keep up with Willette, both as a skier and hiker, many people will remember her as a woman stopped along the way, drinking thermos-poured tea from a porcelain cup she carried in her backpack, her husband said.

Willette, who received a legislative citation in January recognizing her community service work, died last weekend at 77, a little more than six months after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. But until her illness, the active hiker and skier was a fixture on Juneau's trails and slopes.

"You could tell her to slow down, but that wouldn't stop her," said Sean Edwards, a friend who served with her on the Juneau Ski Patrol, a group of volunteers providing first-aid services at Eaglecrest Ski Area, where Friday's memorial was held.

Janes, who came to Juneau in 1964, became part of the ski patrol in the early 1970s, before there was an Eaglecrest Ski Area and people skied at the Douglas snow bowl near the end of the Dan Moller trail, her husband said. He was already involved in it when she joined.

"She was the matriarch of the ski patrol," said Edwards, who joined the group in 1984. Janes hadn't been able to pull people on the sled for a few years. "She was not a big person. She weighed a little over 100 pounds soaking wet," he said. But she was always a much-loved fixture on the slopes.

"Seven years ago, we had a 70th birthday party (at Eaglecrest) that was a surprise," Edwards recalled. "Pretty much the entire lodge was full."

Even in her 70s, she would put much younger skiers to shame, Edwards said. He recalled the last ski trip they were on together - seven days in British Columbia. "There were eight of us, most of us in our 30s to early 50s," he said. "Willette was the only person who skied all seven days. Willette was not one to miss a good ski day. Here was someone who was skiing before I was born, and she kept up with us - with me - quite well."

She also was a hiker. Friends said she took an ownership of Juneau's trails. Her husband recalled that she was for a time on the board for Trail Mix, which maintains Juneau's trails.

"She was the hiker," said Robert Janes, who met her on the pre-Eaglecrest slopes. "I didn't do as much of that. She had strong legs."

He said much of her community-service work involved helping misguided people on the trails, who may have known where they were going but didn't know they weren't dressed for it. She would see people ill-equipped to go into a dangerous environment and would talk to them about what they would be facing.

"She had a way of talking with people," he husband said.

Janes also was deeply interested in Juneau history and was at one time the president of the Gastineau Historical Society, friends recalled. She wrote a local trail guide, "In the Miner's Footsteps," which celebrated that history.

"I learned how to dig bottles from my wife," Robert Janes said. They would hike to old mining sites and know where to unearth buried bottles, he said. The house was full of them, and she donated many to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.

It wasn't just the bottles for which she had a passion, Edwards said. "She had a real passion for life, and it showed in everything she did."

What he'll miss most is her smile, he said. "Willette had a smile that could light up a room." Often that room was as big as the great outdoors.

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