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Brunette, James and Elsie (Anderson)

by Elsie Brunette

I was born in 1914, at Bonners Ferry, Idaho. My parents were both born in Sweden. Father August R. Anderson born in 1883, and mother Edla Anderson was born in 1888. My father came to the United States through Canada when he was 18 or 19 years old. He had four brothers in Minnesota and one in Sweden. My mother came to the United States through Ellis Island Immigration Center in the spring of 1913. She was to join a friend in Bonners Ferry but found upon her arrival they had moved. There she met my father and they were married about four months later.

I had one sister, Eleanor Anderson, who was born in 1917, in Bonners Ferry. She married Reeve Murray in Juneau in 1941. She had one daughter. Eleanor is deceased.

My father had a business in Bonners Ferry and we lived there until 1940, when my father moved to Sitka, Alaska, where he was employed by the Sims Drake Construction Company who was building the Navy facility there. He worked as a carpenter.

I was married in Idaho and had a son, Kenneth Hildreth. After three years of marriage, and my son was six months old, we were divorced. I attended a beauty school and upon receiving my license as a cosmetologist, I purchased a shop in Bonners Ferry.

In 1942, my mother and sister came down from Alaska to visit and took my son Kenneth back with them with a promise to send him back in time for school. But in September, they wrote me that Kenneth had enrolled in school in Juneau. My mother knew I would go to Alaska if she kept my son there!

In October of 1942, I went to Alaska on the North Sea owned by Northland Transportation Company. On the way up, the ship stopped at all the cannery towns, dropping off cannery supplies and workers. It took one week from Seattle to Juneau. Coming into Juneau was spectacular with the lights of the city reflecting on the water.

On my second day in Juneau, I purchased a beauty salon from James Cooper who owned the building where the shop was located. It was on Fourth and Main street right across from the Federal Building and the old AB (Arctic Brotherhood) Hall. The Juneau Fire Station was in the AB Hall. The new Court Building now stands on the location where the Cooper Building stood.

In 1946, I met my future husband James Brunette. He had just been discharged from the Navy after serving three years on PT Boats in the South Pacific. Jim had come to Alaska with three other friends from Wisconsin to seek employment. He worked at the Subport storing and shipping lumber and on the tug boats that operated out of there. We were married in 1947.

We joined the VFW and remained active for many years. Jim was Commander of Post 5559 and I was president of the Auxiliary. We were members of the Elks and Jim also joined the Masons and received his 32nd degree. I joined the Eastern Star and we are still members. I am also a member of the Alaska Pioneers Auxiliary after living in Juneau for 30 years.

We had boats and did our share of salmon fishing; my largest fish was a 45 pound king salmon. We had purchased property on Point Stevens in 1950. It was mostly wooded but had an old cabin on it. In 1965, the cabin burned. We cleared a patch of land on the site and built a two-story home there. It was a beautiful site overlooking Lena Point.

I sold my shop in 1949, and worked for Sears for a number of years. At that time, Sears was located down on Front Street and Main. I also worked for George’s Gift Shop periodically.

Jim worked as an accountant for the Fish & Wildlife Service before Alaska became a state. He also worked for the VFW as Service Officer from 1954-59 and traveled all over Alaska meeting with veterans and helping to establish claims to the VA and Social Security. Each year we took the ferry to Haines and drove all over the Interior of Alaska. Upon Alaska becoming a state in 1959, Jim was appointed State Director of the VA and he continued to travel throughout Alaska.

Jim had left state government and opened his own real estate office. Then he was asked to return to the Directorship of the VA. He accepted and resigned from that position in 1975, when we planned to return to the lower 48 and go into business for ourselves. We moved to Lincoln City, Oregon, and purchased a small marina on the Siletz River. Jim repaired and sold outboard motors and boats and we operated a tackle and bait and marine hardware store on the property.

My son, Ken, worked in Juneau. He married Charlotte Conine in 1954, and they had three children. The grandchildren spent time in the summer with us and could land fish with the best of them and still do.

We sold the Marina in 1986, and moved to Salem where we are presently living. Jim is working with a group of WWII PT boat veterans to restore a Higging PT boat. It will be the only operating PT boat in existence when completed.

We both miss Alaska and had many wonderful experiences there. It is nice to keep in touch with our Alaska friends and many of them stop by to visit on their way through here. We belong to the Willamette Valley Alaska Club and have many members who used to live in Alaska.

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