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Rice, George B. & Julia (Palmer)

by Hallie Rice and Ken DeRoux

George Barnett Rice came to Alaska in 1914, from a pioneer Oregon family. His grandfather, George W. Rice, had come west as an infant in his motherís arms, traveling by wagon and ox team. The family ran low on money, so they sold their wagon and team to Indians and spent the winter in Boise, Idaho. The next spring, in 1852, they made a raft and floated down the Snake River to the Columbia. They landed on the south bank of the Columbia River and homesteaded. This location became known as Rice, Oregon and still exists.

George was born in The Dalles, Oregon in 1883. He attended Oregon State College in Corvallis for two years. In 1912, he married Lillian Seufert and had a daughter, Frances, still alive in 2001. This marriage did not last and George came north to Alaska, settling in Sitka. For most young men there, fishing was the only industry. George hooked up with Sam Butts and they bought a 30 foot gas boat. They trolled and did some seining until 1923, when George sold his interest to Sam. During World War I George was not drafted but took a job as the general manager of the Sitka Packing Company.

Julia Palmer (Rice) was born in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1885. She came west and settled in Portland, Oregon in 1900. She finished her education there and went to two years of college and trained to become a Presbyterian missionary. Her first assignment was to the Sheldon Jackson Native School in Sitka where she arrived in 1919. There she worked with the young girls, teaching some basic courses but also teaching hygiene and sewing. She was in charge of the Large Girlsí Dormitory.

The story is told that Julia and a friend at Sheldon Jackson would walk by the local barber shop on Saturdays to look over the young men that had come back from fishing! Presumably that is how she met George, who she soon married. Their friends in Sitka included Mr. and Mrs. Howard Stabler, the Polleys and the DeArmonds. In 1922, Julia was involved in the establishment of the Sitka Public Library. After she met George, Julia quit work at Sheldon Jackson and went fishing with George and Sam Butz. They lived on the boat for several years and had many interesting sea stories.

In 1923, the Rices came to Juneau where George soon struck up a business relationship with John Ahlers and they started one of the first plumbing stores in Juneau, Rice and Ahlers, Inc. They installed some of the first oil furnaces in Juneau homes. This business grew and was quite successful. George Rice sold his interest to John Ahlers in 1935.

When it became apparent by 1925, that the Rices were not going to be able to have children, they decided to go outside and visit adoption facilities in Washington and Oregon. Julia found just what she wanted at the Waverly Baby Home in Portland, Oregon: twins, just two years old. At the last minute the baby boy became sick and she could leave with only the daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Rice-DeRoux). She returned to Portland the next year in the hope that she could get the other twin, but, in the meantime, he had been adopted by another family, so Julia decided on another boy, Hallie Palmer Rice, who was closest in age to Mary Elizabeth.

The Rices were the typical family that grew up in the 20ís and 30ís. George Rice was the Exalted Ruler of the Elks Club in 1923, and later served on the city council and as deputy mayor. While a successful business man, he actively participated in social activities and the local welfare of the community. When the nuns at St. Annís School and Hospital were not permitted to attend a good movie or a locally produced minstrel show, George would hire out the hall for the nuns. Julia did much volunteer work at the Elks Club and the Masonic Lodge. She was known for her ability to cook for large groups. When a mudslide swept down on South Franklin Street in the 1930ís, causing the loss of buildings and fatalities, Julia quickly organized a field kitchen to provide relief workers with a steady supply of soup and sandwiches.

George suffered from cancer during the late 30ís and died at home in 1940. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery. Julia, who was widely known as ďRicie,Ē remained in Juneau most of the time for the next 40 years. She became endeared by the next two generations, for whom she babysat, and helped in many homes and with many volunteer causes. She was known as a true sourdough and looked after by those who recognized her good deeds. Julia Palmer Rice died in 1982, at the age of 96.

The Riceís daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Betty) has remained most of her life in Juneau. She married Harold DeRoux in 1945, and raised three sons, Kenneth, Richard and Daniel DeRoux, all still active in Juneau. She and Harold divorced in 1959, and she married Robert Quist in 1961. The couple lives in Juneau.

Hallie P. Rice left Juneau in 1941, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He married Virginia (Kelly) in Key West, Florida, after WWII, and after a Navy career went into business in Baltimore, Maryland. Hallie and Virginia raised seven children.

Julia P. Rice, 1903, eighteen years old.

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