Elders: Juneau should build itself as SE hub

Economic council brings panel of seniors together to plot community vision

Posted: Friday, December 15, 2000

Kay Smith told the joke about the banker with a glass eye to explain her vision of Juneau's future Thursday night during a community panel discussion at Centennial Hall.

The banker would only approve a loan to a little old lady if she could guess which eye was false. She chose correctly and the astonished banker wanted to know how she picked the glass eye.

"I thought I saw a little glint of human kindness in it," Smith said, delivering the punch line.

Smith got a lot of laughs while illustrating the difficulty her daughter Molly had raising money to start Perseverance Theatre in 1979.

"We couldn't find a banker with a glass eye," she said. A relative finally came through with a $10,000 loan and the first show, "Pure Gold," opened that same year.

Smith was one of nine panelists, with a collective "700 years of experience," who spoke at "Understanding Our Past to Design Our Future," a community discussion sponsored by the Juneau Economic Development Council.

Retired Judge Thomas Stewart also focused on the performing arts and the need for a proper facility in Juneau.

He talked about the frustration of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council trying to find a stage for groups such as the Juneau Symphony, Juneau Lyric Opera, Juneau Dance Unlimited and Juneau-Douglas Little Theatre. He said the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium cannot meet the demand.

"Some look at this as high brow ... but it is most important that this community get behind the erection of a proper performing arts center," Stewart said. "It would be an economic boon as well as a boon to the quality of our lives and culture."

Other panelists believe facilities such as sports or arts complexes should be built to accommodate the region, so Juneau can increase its role as a Southeast hub while remaining the capital of Alaska.

Walter Soboleff, Native elder and theologian, wants a bigger sports facility to handle events such as the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament. The event has attracted teams from towns and villages throughout the Panhandle for more than 50 years and has outgrown the JDHS gym.

"We've turned people away," Soboleff said. "One day they may cease to come and it will affect Juneau very much."

Marie Olson, a Native leader and former union official, asked that a new facility include the "permanent, winter house of the Tlingit." She envisions a building similar to the anthropology museum in Vancouver, British Columbia, that would reflect the region's culture.

Economist George Rogers said Juneau always has been a town in transition, with an economy once based on natural resources now dependent on "amenity" resources. Bartlett Regional Hospital serves residents throughout Southeast, and the city attracts visitors from around the world.

"We now package amenities and experiences instead of supplying resources," he said. "We've got to be motivated to provide services to villages and other parts of the region ... service above ourselves and the community we live in."

Panelists also talked about the quality of life in Juneau.

Katherine Shaw, whom moderator Clark Gruening described as "91 years young," feels people have been too busy fighting to appreciate the good things about Juneau.

"We have to work together to make this a friendly town," she said.

Shaw got a round of applause when she criticized the anonymous Word of Mouth column in the Juneau Empire.

"I'm really against that," she said. "If you want to say something, put your name to it."

The Juneau elders also recommended the JEDC have another panel, led by teen-agers and young adults. Jean Rogers, a writer and school mentor, suggested a contest for students similar to a science fair.

"Ask them what we should do to make the community come together," she said. "It's wonderful to see what kids come up with."

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