Juneau readies for statehood anniversary

As Alaska's capital, city looks at ways to celebrate its role

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2007

Excitement is growing in the state capital over the 50th anniversary celebration of Alaska statehood.

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Nearly three-dozen representatives of the city and state, local organizations, businesses and community members met at City Hall on Friday to discuss initial plans for the birthday of America's 49th state. The group is separate from the state's Statehood Celebration Commission.

Kathy Hildre was in high school on Jan. 3, 1959 when Alaska was admitted to the Union. Hildre said she doesn't remember too much about that particular day during her teenage years, but looking back as an adult she realizes what an important milestone the 50th anniversary of statehood will be for Alaska.

"This is an exciting time," she said Friday. "It's happening in my lifetime. I think it's really important that we're doing this."

As the state capital, Juneau should be looking at ways to celebrate its role during the road to statehood, Hildre said.

"Because we are the capital, we shouldn't let that go by," she said.

The brainstorming meeting, hosted by city special projects officer Maria Gladziszewski, covered a wide range of ideas on how to commemorate the anniversary - from what kind of events should be held to when those events could be held.

Ideas thrown around included creating flags or banners to fly throughout town, replicating a statehood banquet, having a logo contest, erecting a totem pole, commemorating the statehood flag-raising ceremony of 1959, as well as numerous other ideas. Nothing concrete was decided upon, but several people volunteered to look at finding a way to hire a coordinator for Juneau's statehood celebrations.

Kathy Kolkorst Ruddy said there are numerous anniversaries to celebrate in the coming year that were important in the fight for statehood. For instance, on May 28, 1958, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Alaska statehood bill.

"It was a tough fight," she said.

The U.S. Senate passed the bill on June 28, 1958, and President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill into law the following month, on July 7.

"Next year is the time for celebrating, I think," Ruddy said.

Jane Lindsey, director of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, said the anniversary is a good time for the local libraries, museums and historical organizations to work together on ways to commemorate Juneau's statehood stories.

"It seems like bringing the personal story in of the community through stories and photographs ... I think that's very personal and touching, and could be very powerful," she said.

Deputy City Manager Kim Kiefer said Friday's meeting was a way to figure out who wants to do what and how people want to get involved.

"It's a great opportunity for Juneau to celebrate Alaska - to celebrate 50 years in Juneau," she said. "To have a year's worth of fun events."

From larger fireworks displays to themed events, there are many ways that the community can mark the occasion, Kiefer said.

"There's a whole bunch of fun things we can do," she said. "So it's just a matter of everybody brainstorming and seeing what people want to get involved in."

Gladziszewski said it is unclear at this point what funds will be available to Juneau for statehood celebrations or planning.

Darrell Brown has fond childhood memories of Alaska officially entering the Union.

"I remember standing in front of the plaque that they have when they were raising the flag and everybody was giving their speeches," he said of that January day.

The coming year will be important for Juneau, Southeast Alaska and the entire state, Brown said.

"I'd like to see communities working together statewide to honor the state more so than just honoring the communities, because that's what it's about," he said. "It's about statehood."

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



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