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Celebrating statehood: Hurley's grand golden return

Alaska Constitutional Convention chief clerk is parade marshal today

Posted: Friday, July 04, 2008

Katie Hurley, 87, believes her greatest contribution to Alaska statehood was her enthusiasm.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

"I didn't mind working late," said Hurley, who was the secretary to territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening and chief clerk to the Alaska Constitutional Convention. "I didn't mind being there on Sunday. I knew I was observing history, and I took it all in. It was a great, great, great time to be part of that."

Hurley often found herself bringing her typewriter home in the evenings to finish her work during the 75-day convention in Fairbanks over the winter of 1955-56.

"I was a clerk. I didn't vote, but I gave it my all and it was not just a job," she said. "I would have done it for nothing."

Hurley will serve today as the grand marshal in the Juneau Fourth of July parade. The community is celebrating the anniversary of the nation as well as the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood. The parade theme this year is "A Golden Celebration."

Hurley, who was born in Juneau on March 30, 1921, said it's a thrill to be honored in the community she was raised. The 1939 Juneau High School graduate presently resides in Wasilla.

"It's a fantastic honor to be chosen since I don't live here anymore," she said. "I've been gone since 1960, but my heart is still here."

Hurley said she is happy to be back to celebrate the Fourth of July and the 50th Anniversary of the passing of the Alaska Statehood Act by the U.S. Senate on June 30, 1958. She said she has fond memories of that day when the delegate to Congress, E.L. "Bob" Bartlett, called her from Washington, D.C.

"The debate had gone on for five or six days, and he called me early that morning - of course, the four-hour time change - to let me know he had been assured that the vote was going to come on and to be sure to listen to the radio. ... There was great excitement."

Hurley, who was seven-months pregnant at the time, recalls how she went with her son and a friend that morning to go fishing in Thane. She was sitting in the car anxiously awaiting the news over the radio when she heard the vote was about to take place.

"I wanted to see it coming over the teletype, the names and the votes, so I said come on we got to go. I broke all speed limits, but I didn't get a ticket," she said laughing.

"I was just determined to be there."

She ran up the steps of the present-day Capitol and watched the roll call come over the wire in The Associated Press office. Celebrations ensued upon hearing the Senate had voted in favor of statehood, Hurley said.

"It was kind of unbelievable after so many years of fighting, and then it sort of came together so quickly in June (of '58)," she said.

Hurley said she has been reminiscing this week about all the people who put so much hard work into making Alaska the 49th state in the union.

"The leadership we had in those days is phenomenal," she said.

Hurley said she also has many fond memories from the constitutional convention, particularly of the dedicated and hardworking people.

"We had such good people that ran for the constitutional convention from all over the state," she said. "And it was the first time that people in small populated areas had an opportunity to serve, and that was very exciting."

People with different backgrounds were bonded together by a common goal and acted very unselfishly, Hurley recalls.

"Those people sacrificed," she said. "They didn't get paid very much. Most of them were not able to have their families up there, but there was a camaraderie."

The tone of her voice preserved in the audio recordings from the final roll call of the convention reflects how much emotion the people had put into the constitution, she said.

"People were doing it because there was a cause," she said. "At the convention no one dreamed it would happen so fast. There was a positive attitude, but if anyone was betting that we would be a state in five years, I don't remember anybody."

Following the convention, Hurley served as the secretary of the Senate during the territorial Legislature as well as the first state Legislature.

"That was an exciting time to see how they implemented the constitution," she said.

Hurley also has served in the Alaska Legislature, as president of the Alaska State Board of Education, chairwoman of the Alaska State Commission on Human Rights, and as executive director of the Alaska Commission on the Status of Women.

Hurley said she enjoys visiting classrooms to give history presentations. She likes to make sure the students know the difference about Seward's Day, when Alaska was purchased from Russia, and Alaska Day, when it was formally transferred from Russia to the United States.

At 87 years old, she says she still feels young at heart. And she laughed about Alaska statehood now being considered history.

"Somehow, to me, that's so new, even though it's 50 years ago," she said.

• Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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