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Many seniors just don't want to leave

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2001

Bud Taylor found Juneau was harder to leave than he expected.

"I always thought when I retired from the Department of the Interior I'd go back to my home town," said Taylor, who came from Sheridan, Wyo., 40 years ago. "But whenever I go down I can't get back fast enough."

Like many Alaskans, Taylor came here for a job. But like more and more of the state's residents, when work ended, the 71-year-old discovered Juneau had become home - as well as a refuge from the traffic and crowds of the Lower 48.

"First of all, it's the air. A-I-R. It's 100 percent pure, just like Ivory soap," Taylor said. "And the way of life is a little slower, a little easier, and let's face it, what state is going to give you money to live in the state?"

The longevity bonus, plus the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, make it easier to get by on a fixed income, Taylor said.

The dividend gives Alaskans yearly checks - this year's was $1,850 - from the state's oil-wealth savings account. And the Longevity Bonus Program sends monthly checks of $100 to $250 to about 20,000 senior Alaskans. The program is being phased out, so only Alaskans who turned 65 before 1997 receive the checks.

Please visit our Aging Archives to view past stories from this series.

"We feel it has definitely had an impact on people," said Virginia Smiley, state longevity programs manager. "There are people for whom this $250 a month is the money they use to fill their oil tanks in a Bush community."

Taylor spends most of his longevity bonus on medication.

"I was telling my wife the other day I don't know what I'd do without that," he said.

Taylor and his wife still live in their home of 20 years. His two sons and daughter help take care of it. Taylor appreciates that Juneau has so few roads, so he doesn't have to go far to pick up milk or a prescription.

There's only one drawback to Juneau, Taylor said.

"Just the weather, the lack of sunshine, but we can live with that," Taylor said.

Agnes Wolfe was shocked by the rainy weather when she came from California in 1982 to help her daughter open a coffee shop in Juneau.

"It was cold," said Wolfe, who arrived in December. "It took me about six months before I got used to it."

By the time she retired five years later, Wolfe had grown to enjoy Juneau, rain and all.

"I wouldn't trade it. I really fell in love with Alaska," said Wolfe, 80.

Wolfe got used to the cold, but Lazzette Ohman couldn't get used to the constant sunshine when she tried living in California. Born in Ketchikan, she's firmly rooted in Alaska.

"Alaskans are born and raised here and their families are here," Ohman said. "This is home."

In her 82 years she only moved out of state once, for a few years after World War II. For her, it always has been home and always will be. She was born in Ketchikan, graduated from school in Juneau in 1937 and lived 21 years in Funter Bay on Admiralty Island. Except for the few years she worked in California, Ohman never lived outside Alaska.

"I missed the seasons up here," she said of her time in California. "It's the peace too. Gosh, you go down in the states and everybody's a hustle and a bustle."

For people who've always lived in Alaska, some for generations, leaving is not a consideration. Elsie Hughes remembers her father insisting the family move back to his birthplace when he got old.

"He said he didn't want to die anywhere else but Klukwan," Hughes said.

Back then there were few services for seniors. Families and tribes took care of their elders.

"The elderly took care of themselves a lot," Hughes said. "When you got old you just got old."

Now the tribe takes care of her in other ways. Hughes, who was born in Killisnoo near Angoon in 1928, returned to Juneau from Oregon in 1982. She recently moved into a Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority home.

"The Lord called us back," said Hughes, who worked as a missionary in the villages.

Family also anchors people in Juneau. Ohman's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live here. Many of her friends stayed in Alaska, too, because that's where their family was, Ohman said. Those who left were drawn out of state by family or for health reasons.

"I don't think it's for travel, because you can't get anything better than here," said Ohman, who works part time cataloging photos for the U.S. Forest Service.

Juneau's a great place to spend the next 20 years, she said, and often people figure that out after they leave.

"I read in the paper sometimes 'Joe Blow is going to retire and move to so and so,' " Ohman said, "and I think to myself 'They'll be back.' "

Kristan Hutchison can be reached at stansabbatini@yahoo.com.



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