Donovan McGee

Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2003

Former Juneau resident Donovan "Don" McGee, 95, died June 26, 2003, in Sitka.

He was born on June 10, 1908, in Buffalo Springs, Texas.

Although he is remembered in Sitka as a fisherman, barkeeper and owner, his family said he took pride in his cowboy heritage. After his father's death, his grandfather took him in along with his mother and three siblings. He moved to Wyoming when he was 6 and grew up with old cowhands such as his uncle, Sam Aldrich, who ranched until he was 90 on a spread adjacent to Buffalo Bill's, near Cody.

McGee boxed in amateur matches and had a good record, including a regional Golden Gloves championship.

In 1926, he was breaking horses for a rancher outside of Burns, Ore. A year later, he was offered a job as deputy and stayed on as a lawman for three years. He occasionally arrested and jailed some of his former companions.

His cowboy adventures are detailed in the 1992 book "The Last Cowboy" by Jo Rainbolt.

During World War II, he came to Alaska as a Seabee for the construction of the Excursion Inlet port of embarkation. After the war, he was planning to travel to South America until he met Rosetta Femmer, a daughter of Juneau pioneers. They were married, and he traded in his spurs for a fishing boat. The couple and their sons, Wes and Dave, made their homes in Pelican, Juneau and Douglas, while he fished and bought and tendered fish for Larry Freeburn. In the off-season, he tended bar and was a familiar face behind the plank at Jack Kristen's Alaska Hotel Bar. He later owned Don's Club 22 in Douglas, and during those years, Rose cooked for Mike's Place, also in Douglas.

The McGees moved to Tenakee Springs in 1962 and bought the Tenakee Tavern. He fished crab aboard his boat, the Elizabeth, for the O'Tooles' Totem Seafoods cannery.

He was one of the three sponsors of a petition for incorporation of the city of Tenakee Springs, and he served on the city council for several terms.

Rose's ill health forced their retirement in 1974. They continued to live in Tenakee, and he kept busy on the council and later as the town's public works director.

In the 1980s, they moved to Juneau and subsequently to the Sitka Pioneers' Home, where Rose died in 1996.

Until failing health intervened, he frequently could be found in the Pioneers' Home shop working on projects.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Rosetta, and son, Dave.

He is survived by his son, Wes McGee of Crestline, Calif.; grandchildren Donovan McGee of Crestline, Calif., Joylynn Blake of Haines, Dave Dunn of Ferndale, Wash., Donna Giogioni of Anchorage and Stacey McKinney of St. Louis, Mo.; and great-grandchildren in Alaska, California and Missouri.

Services were held on July 5 at the Sitka Pioneers' Home Chapel.

Contributions may be made in his memory to the Sitka Pioneers' Home, Site Council, 120 Katlian St., Sitka, or to a favorite charity.

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