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Staats, Carol Ruotasala

by Carol Ruotasala Staats

My mother, Eva Elvira Russell, and I arrived in Juneau on the Northland, a ninety foot steamship, in August of 1938.

Mother and Bert Ruotsala were married by Judge Gray shortly after our arrival and I not only had a stepfather, but a younger brother, several uncles, a great uncle and a new set of grandparents.

We lived in housing on the Juneau beach near the small boat harbor and Smithís Dairy. One house was on dry land and the other was built on piling out over the water.

I went to the third grade in Juneau and the start of the fourth. I was still in Juneau at the time of the big Goldstein fire.

Late in í39, we moved to a one room cabin complete with outhouse and a creek for water located on the Douglas Highway near my grandparentís house. My folks were building a new house and living near the site made it much easier and faster. The next year we moved to the new house, and our Great Uncle Herman, who had spent the winter in an insulated tent, moved into the cabin.

I transferred to Douglas School and had Walter Savikko, a brilliant teacher, for the fourth grade. The Territorial schools at that time were the equivalent of good private schools due to the caliber of the teachers and the low student/teacher ratio.

In 1941-42, my motherís brother, George Karppi, came up to stay with us. He worked on the building of the North Douglas Highway, at that time only about a mile of road north of the Juneau-Douglas Bridge. Later he worked as a longshoreman and at the Juneau Cold Storage before going out to Pelican for many seasons. When my folks moved to Washington, he went Outside, too.

In 1943, my grandmother, Ida Karppi Allen, came to Alaska. She stayed with us on her way to Ft. Richardson where she worked until her death in 1954. She visited us many times before the family moved Outside. She traveled all over Alaska and especially enjoyed the Channel area.

During the war, there was no food rationing in Alaska. People were urged to keep a stock of food on hand in case shipping was disrupted. Lydia Fohn-Hansen of the University of Alaska put out a booklet on edible wild plants, and many families took advantage of them to supplement fresh produce. My mother used them and grew a large garden every year. We had our own berries and picked all the wild varieties. My family canned, salted and smoked salmon for winter use. We ate venison, grouse, ducks, and other varieties of fish.

I graduated from Douglas High in 1948. I was the president of the senior class, salutatorian, editor of the Gastineau Breeze, our school newspaper, and coeditor of the year book, the Taku, with Lyle Riley, whose family came to Douglas in 1947.

In 1951, I went to Anchorage to visit Willard Staats, who I had met in 1949, while enroute to visit an old Douglas teacher in Montana. We were married in December of 1951, and lived in Mountain View for twenty years. Willard, who came to Alaska in 1946, in the service, worked as a heavy equipment operator on construction jobs all over Alaska. We were active in P.T.A. while our children were in school, serving as members and officers. I was a member of the Anchorage Community Chorus and participated in the Alaska Festival of Music.

I also worked with Anchorage composer Alice Countryman on a number of major musical endeavors. I provided the lyrics for many compositions which have been performed. I received a degree in Humanities from the UAA in 1971.

All of our children were born in Alaska. We lost our son Carl in 1975. Willard IV and his wife Linda live in Anchorage where he teaches. They have three daughters. Sanford, a miner and mechanic, lives near Wasilla. Lillian, who has worked on the North Slope for many years, also writes poetry and lives near us.

In 1972, we moved to a farmstead near Wasilla where we have lived ever since. Willard retired from ARCO/Alaska in 1986, and we have been enjoying gardening, reading, music and writing and visiting with family and friends.

Stacking glazed and frozen halibut, Juneau Cold Storage. George Karppi, brother of Elvira Ruotsala, third from left.

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