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Bryon, Idabelle Dobson

by Florence Dobson Heppler

Our family arrived in Juneau on June 1, 1937. There was our mother, Mable Nance, three teenage girls, Idabelle, Marian and Florence Dobson and 5 year old Lee Nance. We were met on this very rainy day by Mable’s parents Walter and Ida Bathe. He was a barber and she a dressmaker. We were taken to our new home on Distin Street by cab driver George Dudley.

Our mother had told us that we were coming to Juneau for a vacation but three days after arriving she was locked in the old Federal jail! She had been hired as a night matron. We spent the summer getting acquainted with the town kids and in the “bowl” where there were supervised activities. Our grandmother liked to hike and bike and one day took us to meet her friend Helen Thompson who lived next to the old green house (now the Aurora Arms). The area was all woods, except for three houses, from the cemetery and Behrends Street. On Saturday nights, Mable would take us girls to the public dance at the Elks Club where young and old danced. Grandpa was a great waltzer and we learned to polka and schottische, too. Juneau was a great small town. No one locked doors or cars and since the AJ Mine was going there were always people keeping an eye on us kids while mother was locked in jail!

Our fraternal grandfather Joe Dobson came from England as a young man. He spent several years on sailing ships and finally settled in Hood River, Oregon with his family. In 1917, he came to Thane to work in the mine and his son Harry also worked there as a time keeper. Harry left for a time to join the Army during WWI and then came back to Thane. Harry and Mable met over the phone when she worked for the Juneau Phone Co. They eventually met after their two fathers met at the Elks Lodge. Mable often talked about the nice walk to Thane on the boardwalk along the beach. When we came in ’37, there were runouts along the narrow road. We also walked the road to Sheep Creek for picnics.

Willoughby was a plank road on pilings when we arrived, also Tenth Street to the bridge. There was a roller rink at Second and Main and in the winter the sawdust six-foot-wide walkway at the Fair Building (Bill Ray Center location) was flooded and frozen for ice skating. During WWII, we watched as the tide flats from the Indian Village to the Coast Guard dock were filled in with rock from the AJ Mine tailings dump.

Idabelle met her future husband, George Bryson, at the ice rink. He was born and raised in Juneau and other southeastern towns. He was a halibut fisherman on Magnus Hansen’s Explorer and helped build the Skaters Cabin on Mendenhall Lake and worked on the construction of many roads in the area. Idabelle babysat for 25 cents a night in order to pay 25 cents a night to roller skate. After graduating from Juneau High School, Idabelle and George were married and lived in the Cliff Apartments (near the present state office building.) Eventually, George quit fishing and went to work on supply boats in Southeast from Annette Island to Gustavus for the CAA which is now the FAA. They spent a few years at Annette Island and when that closed went to McGrath. George retired after 25 years with the FAA and they moved back to their home on Spruce Street which they had purchased in 1941,where they had raised their son Hank and daughter Bonnie.

Both children attended the Juneau Grade School at Fifth Street from kindergarten on and graduated from JD High. When Harborview was built on the tide flats, and over the Smith Dairy winter cow barns, they enjoyed a much shorter walk to school. Hank married Jill Penwarden and owned Channel Marina for many years until it was demolished by fire. He and Jill now live in Westport, Washington where he is in business with a boat building enterprise. For many years, Bonnie was a flight attendant with Wien Airlines in Anchorage. She is retired and lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Idabelle’s sister Florence left Juneau after high school and moved to the Interior. She returned just before the 1964 earthquake. Marian lived in Anchorage for many years and is now retired and living in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our brother Lee is retired and living in Hood River, Oregon.

My last thought is that our three month summer vacation has lasted over sixty years, but it doesn’t seem that long and I have never found any other place I’d rather be!

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