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A teacher for many of Juneau's generations celebrates at 95

Posted: Sunday, September 09, 2001

Retired teacher Elizabeth "Betty" Green will celebrate her 95th birthday Wednesday in the same house she's lived in since 1944, surrounded by former students some the children of former students.

"I taught all the Soboleffs, except for their daughter," Green said. She taught Walter Soboleff when she taught "everything, mostly English" at Sheldon Jackson High School in Sitka and later taught his sons Walter Jr., Sasha and Ross in Juneau. Soboleff Sr. was the first director of Native Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Walter Jr. works for the state Department of Administration, Sasha is a former Juneau-Douglas High School principal and Ross is a vice president for Sealaska Corp..reen began her Alaska teaching career at Sheldon Jackson, then continued it for 20 years in Juneau.

"My friends say that my most frequent exclamation is, 'Oh, yes, I know them! I had them or their kids in school,'" Green said with a smile.

She feels fortunate that she retired where she taught for 20 years.

"I see my former students frequently or hear from them. It makes for interesting newspaper reading," said Green.

One of the people she reads about is Ross Soboleff.

"Growing up and going to school here, it was a tough time to be a Native," said Soboleff. "There are a few notable teachers a handful that I thought in reflection treated me with respect. Mrs. Green was one of them. A young man remembers that in a town like this."

Green began teaching in Sitka in 1931 and in 1932, married a purser, Henry Evans Green, whom she met on her steamship ride to Sitka. They lived in Seattle, and had a son, Denny. When her husband was due to be promoted to agent by the Alaska Steamship Co., she persuaded him that Juneau was a better assignment than Anchorage. They moved here permanently in 1936.

"My first impressions of Juneau were from the ship that took me to Sitka. Juneau was bigger than the other cities along the route, and I liked it. I liked the fact that it was on the water and had mountains on either side. I was raised right on the banks of the Delaware River and I was accustomed to living near water.

"And, after I lived in Sitka, I felt that everything there was geared to fishing or education. But Juneau had business and politics. So I came readily." One of her pastimes was sitting in the gallery of the Legislature and "watching the procedures."

"I got such a kick out of one woman legislator who sat in the first seat on the left side so she could turn and give a good profile. I am sure she had at least 10 hats," Green said.

Because son Denny suffered from cerebral palsy, the Greens decided to send him to a special school near Philadelphia. The expense meant that Green took a refresher course at the University of Washington and went back to work in 1952. She taught junior high before transferring to Juneau-Douglas High in 1961.

Science teacher Eldon Dennis and his wife Jan, a school nurse, were colleagues.

"As a young teacher coming here, it was nice to have people like Betty who were accepting and encouraging. She was a first-class person and a first-class teacher, a professional in every way. She felt strongly about doing what was right for the kids as well as what was right for her profession," Dennis, 62, said.

After retiring at age 66, Green served one term on the school board and gardened to her heart's content. Her large yard includes a barbecue she built, as well as cherry trees, a Canadian apple cross, several lilacs and two maples, the latter planted because she missed the reds and yellow of autumn in the East.

For 15 years, she and her husband used a 26-foot Chris Craft to explore the waterways between Juneau and Haines. She was widowed in 1983.

"I also traveled with Denny because I felt life had short-changed him. We went to every continent except Europe and Antarctica. We went to Africa twice, to New Zealand and Australia. He was a good traveler," she said.

Green's gardening is now indoors, a large collection of vines, hanging plants and African violets. She is also devoted to watching tennis on television, while her tiny dog, Trudy, cuddles against her knees.

"I have loved it every minute that I have lived in Alaska, particularly in Juneau," Green said.

Green's trustee/caretaker, Judy Morley, is holding a birthday open house from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday at 407 W. 11th. "She would love to see all her friends and former students," said Morley, who is preparing hors d'oeuvres for the event. She requests "no gifts."

*****

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire. com.



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