Retired Superior Court Judge Tom Stewart has been on the sidelines watching Juneau Fourth of July parades since he was 2 or 3 years old. On Friday, he will make his debut appearance in the march through town, where he will be honored with the title of parade marshal and chauffeured through the streets in the back seat of a convertible.
"It's an honor of age," said Stewart, 84. "Age in years personally, and age in years in the community."
The honor will stretch to both parades, the Juneau event beginning at 11 a.m. Friday and the Douglas celebration starting at 1:30 p.m.
Also honored will be Wayne and Rita Jensen, grand marshals of the Douglas parade.
Stewart likes to joke that he followed Horace Greeley's advice to "go west young man" at the age of 3 weeks. His parents were living in a mining camp on Prince of Wales Island in 1918, but his mother had medical problems and went to Seattle for his birth. Soon, they were back in Alaska.
Stewart's father, Ben Stewart, worked as a mining engineer and eventually became the commissioner of mines for the territory of Alaska. Mount Ben Stewart on Douglas Island is named after him.
Tom Stewart served in the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division in Europe during World War II. After his return, he became secretary to the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1955-56. He served as a Superior Court judge and volunteers for the Juneau World Affairs Council, is active with the Juneau Lyric Opera and serves on the board of directors for the Symphony Foundation and the Southeast Alaska Land Trust.
He and his late wife, Jane, who organized many Juneau arts groups, raised six children in Juneau.
He said he has devoted most of his life to working for and in Alaska.
"It's meaningful to get community recognition for what may be called labors over some 84 years," he said.
The 12 members of the Juneau Festival Association elected Stewart as marshal this year, said Bev Dorsher, who co-chairs the association with her husband Gerald.
"What we look for in the criteria is somebody who is a long-time Juneau resident and who has done a lot for the city of Juneau," said Bev Dorsher. "Judge Stewart has been a long-time citizen, he was secretary of the Constitutional (Convention), he's a veteran and we just thought that he would be an excellent grand marshal."
The Juneau parade is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. Friday at the Department of Labor parking lot on Egan Drive.
Stewart's duty as grand marshal will be waving to parade-watchers from a white convertible lent by John Symons. One perk of the position will be the free ride to the Douglas parade, Stewart said.
"It's very difficult to get there after the Juneau parade," he said. "If I get a free ride right down the middle of the road, why not?"
When the Douglas Fourth of July Parade starts at about 1:30 at Gastineau Elementary School, Douglas residents Wayne and Rita Jensen will be honored as parade marshals.
The Jensens were chosen by the Douglas Fourth of July Committee "because of all the help they gave us on the Treadwell Arena," said Pat Peterson, president of the committee.
The couple has been helping with fund-raisers and conceptual drawings for the ice rink since the committee began planning the project in the early 1990s, Peterson said. The arena opened earlier this year.
"I think it's just kind of a fun recognition for helping the Douglas Fourth of July committee accomplish one of their goals," said Wayne Jensen, an architect with the firm Jensen Yorba Lott. Rita Jensen also works wirks at the firm.
"I think it sounds like great fun, and of course we're honored to be included," said Rita Jensen.
The Jensens have lived in Douglas off and on for about 20 years, Wayne Jensen said. They have one daughter, Courtney, 18.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.