It took more than 25 years, but Liz Leach finally got to hear her son's band play.
Ken Guiher, music director for the Juneau-Douglas High School jazz band, helped entertain more than 300 people at the 26th Annual Juneau Senior Citizens Christmas Dinner on Sunday evening at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall.
Guiher, who has been at JDHS for six years, started working with high school music programs in 1974. Leach, his mother, had not seen him perform until a local concert last month, and again at Sunday's dinner.
"Music is in our family, but he's always been at the top," said Leach, 85, who moved here from Illinois in August to live with her son's family. "This is a mother talking, but I don't want to miss a single one of these."
Guiher's group was just part of the entertainment at the annual event, sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer's Association. Lda Kut Naax Sati' Yatx'I (All Nations' Children), the Stroller White Highland Dancers, the JRC Dance Team and the JDHS choir also entertained seniors at the dinner.
About 20 chief petty officers decked out in dress uniforms helped serve dinner, which included turkey and ham with all the trimmings. The jazz band played Christmas music and took requests such as Satin Doll and Tuxedo Junction.
"They're always the greatest," Guiher said of the diners. "They love our music, and are very receptive and polite."
The first senior citizens' dinner was held in 1974 at St. Ann's Nursing Home, where the chiefs served about 40 seniors. Attendance at the annual event now averages between 350 and 400. It has outgrown the facilities at St. Ann's and the Elks Club.
Chief Dave Steinmets, CPO
association president, said the event may have to be moved to Centennial Hall.
"But the ANB Hall is great, with the kitchen nearby and Christmas decorations already up," he said. "Without the support of the community and donations from businesses, we wouldn't be able to pull this off."
The chiefs raised about $4,000 selling $1 raffle tickets to help fund next year's event.
While active chief petty officers carried huge trays carrying up to seven dinners, retirees were busy cooking and filling plates.
"It's terrific that we have people in service 365 days of the year to take another day to do something tremendous for the community," Coast Guard Capt. Ed Page said.
Chief Petty Officer Paul Webb was busy selling raffle tickets at the door while relating some of the stories he hears each year walking by the dinner tables.
"There is more history in this room than you can find in a library," he said.
Guiher said he can't believe how much the town has to offer for senior citizens, including events such as Sunday's dinner. His mother is already playing pinochle and taking computer classes.
"We were a little concerned about her getting the kind of care here she gets in Illinois, but Juneau has been wonderful," Guiher said.
Mike Sica can be reached at email@example.com.
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