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Burrus, Don and Elma

by Jean Burrus Kline

Donald Leonard Burrus was born at Alta, Iowa, in 1904, to Enoch and Gertrude (McCune) Burrus. Harriett Elma Ward was born at Pinehurst, Washington, in 1910, to Ned T. and Helen (Craig) Ward. They were married at Seattle on August 4, 1940, after a long engagement while Elma taught school in Everett, and Don taught and was principal at Morris, Minnesota. Their daughter, Jean, was born in Morris in 1941. During World War II, Don was a civilian employee of the Army, first at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, then at Ft. Lewis, managing the munitions shipping departments.

Encouraged to come to Alaska by friends, Harvey and Margaret Starling, Don applied for and received the position of Superintendent of Wrangell Institute in 1944. The family arrived in Juneau on the Baranof in July. With white linen on the tables and five course dinners served, the trip was very impressive, but blackout shades were at all of the windows of the ship, and no one was allowed on deck after dark.

After arriving in Juneau, Don was also selected as manager of the newly created Alaska Native Arts and Crafts, under the auspices of the Alaska Native Service. He chose the ANAC position and remained its manager until retirement in 1972, developing and promoting quality handicrafts of Alaska’s native people. He was responsible for ANAC becoming a nonprofit cooperative owned and directed by a board of Alaska Native crafts people. During those years, he made many trips to the northwest coastal villages on the ANS freighter North Star, one trip lasting over two months. He also flew with many of the early bush pilots to the interior villages. As he
traveled, he photographed many of the people and locales and still has an excellent photographic collection. He was active in Kiwanis, the Masonic Lodge and the Shriners. He was a talented banjo player and along with Elma, played in many dance bands in the Pacific Northwest.

Elma, educated as a music teacher, was Don’s secretary and also retired in 1972. She was active in Eastern Star and often played the organ for both the Douglas and Juneau chapters. She sang in the choir and participated in the Martha’s Society of the Presbyterian Church and was a charter member of Chapter G, PEO and of the Juneau Chapter of AAUW. She was a wonderful seamstress and musician. She and Don were members of the Pioneers of Alaska.

They lived in Edna Polley’s basement apartment on 11th Street first, later buying a home at 705 12th Street which was built by Jimmy Larsen, a fine local carpenter. Don and Elma lived there until 1972, when they moved to their Lena Beach cabin where they also had a fantastic vegetable garden and many beautiful flowers. After 24 years of climbing the 109 stairs to the road each time they left the cabin, they moved to the Fireweed Place in 1996.

Life was simpler in the 40’s and 50’s - fewer people and cars, and transportation was limited. Most people knew each other and the telephone party lines, radio and newspapers kept us informed of births, deaths, and plane and ship arrivals and departures. Juneau had its sophisticated luxuries, too. Two memorable events were the Alaska Music Trails concerts and the annual Arts and Crafts shows where local artists and crafts persons showed their excellent work.

As my parents were mountain climbers, we hiked many beaches, trails and mountains in the surrounding area. Then Dad built a 14 foot Chris Craft boat in our basement, and we all became hooked on fishing. He also drove the Alcan Highway the first year it was open for civilian traffic, and many times after. We had two victory gardens, one near Norway Point, and the other at the Auke Recreation area. Jam was made from summer picked wild berries, and salmon was canned when caught. Mother had special recipes which she used when the freighters didn’t arrive, and we had a freezer locker at Spruce Delicatessen.

I especially remember the dairies. At our house, we could hear (and occasionally smell) the cows from the big Smith Dairy across from the cemetery. They also had an outlet where we bought milk and ice cream. Driving “out the road” the herds seemed to stretch all the way to Auke Lake. At the Sherwood farm, north of the Mendenhall Bridge, an old bull often wore a hat to celebrate events - Shriner’s picnics, Fourth of July, etc.

In 1945, my parents bought a lot on Lena Beach with the Starlings. The Duck Creek Hospital, built by the Army during the war, was auctioned and Dad and Harvey won the bid for 80 feet of hallway and windows for 25 cents per foot! After dismantling and pulling nails, Bert Caro transported the materials and construction of the cabin took place over the next several years.

At the Evergreen Bowl, I took skiing and swimming lessons, both fun but cold experiences. The biggest teeter-totter and slide I’d ever seen, and picnic tables with firepits were also located there. When wading in Gold Creek I always wondered what was in the cave I’d been told never to enter. Soapbox car derbies were held in the summer on 12th Street and were a highlight. Originally, the cars were made from wooden soapboxes, but over the years, the boys and their fathers became more innovative. Onlookers lined the street from the Gold Creek Bridge to the finish line at Glacier Avenue to watch their favorites. As a “flats” child, I played at the Fireman’s Ballpark, bought skate keys at Madsen’s, ran errands to the Harbor Market and the Spruce, drank Card’s Pop, and watched the boys build the “Burma Road” in the vacant lot where the Lutheran Church is now, and played in the woods behind the cemetery. As a camper and counselor, life long friends were made and many wonderful experiences were had at Eagle River Scout Camp.

I attended the grade school on Fifth Street, then J-High, which became J-D High in 1956, with the consolidation with Douglas, a highly memorable event as there were new acquaintances to make, both from Douglas and St. Ann’s. In 1958, we moved to the new high school on Glacier and I graduated in May, 1959. Vivid remembrances from early school days are the May Fetes - a spring celebration put on by the whole grade school. During 7th and 8th grades, square dancing was held each Friday night, with Ray and Eunice Nevin as our instructors. In high school, Zach Gordon’s Teenage Club and Percy’s Cafe became the centers of social activity along with Rainbow Girls’ and high school dances. I was active with the J-High Ski Club and Team which Peter Bibb and Frank Darnell enthusiastically coached. The ski area was at the end of the Dan Moeller trail on Douglas Island, and we often hiked to Third Cabin if the snow cat Oola was out of commission.

After attending Washington State University, I married Mike Grummett, son of Stan and Grace Grummett, in 1961. We had three boys, all born in Juneau at St. Ann’s Hospital: Terry (1962), Ken (1963) and Jeff (1965). We were later divorced. In 1980, I married Don Niemi, son of Tauno and Marge Niemi, of Douglas. Don’s son Ron, born in 1957, resides in Olympia, Washington, and he and his wife Shelli have a son and daughter. Don died in 1986.

Pete Kline and I were married in 1990. He was born at Morris, Pennsylvania in 1935. After a tour of Korea, he graduated from Bucknell University and worked for Price Waterhouse CPAs in Philadelphia and Seattle. While performing cannery audits, he experienced SE Alaska life, especially on the Taku River, and promptly moved his family to Juneau in 1965, joining Bill Schmitz in an accounting practice. He has three daughters, Phyllis, Linda Jane and Karen, all of whom graduated from J-D High.

Over the past 40 years, I worked for the Attorney General’s office, Linn Forrest Architects, J-D School District and the Senate Secretary’s office, retiring in 1999. My most notable occupation was when I purchased the Baranof Book Shop from Inez Gregg, in 1974. As it grew out of its small space, I moved it to the old Capital Theater (formerly Spickett’s Palace) in 1976. I met many wonderful people, had outstanding employees, and still miss the activity!

My mother, Elma, died on May 12, 1998. Dad is now 96 and lives at the Juneau Pioneers Home. Pete and I look forward to the day that we will be fully retired and enjoying trout fishing and gardening full time at our cabin on Taku River.

Don and Elma Burrus, 1940.

Jean and Don Burrus top of Mt. Roberts, 1946.

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