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West, LeRoy and Berna (Converse)

by Betty West Miller

LeRoy West was born in Seattle, in 1917, to Pete and Adelaide (Moran) West. He was very young when his parents divorced and his mother started coming to Alaska in 1919, to work summers cooking and working in the canneries in Ketchikan and Sitka. LeRoy would be raised by his father Pete and Grandfather Moran until 1927, when he was eleven years of age and moved to Juneau to live with his mother.

Upon his arrival to Juneau, he entered the Juneau public school system. His neighbor was Berna Converse who was born in Treadwell, in 1917, and they became high school sweethearts. Berna and LeRoy were married in the spring of 1935, and quit high school as they started a family right away. LeRoy finished school and took an engineering course by correspondence. He would study at night and Berna would type up his lessons the next day and mail them. He would get A’s all the time and Berna would say it was because she did such a good job typing them and making them neat in appearance! It took LeRoy a couple of years to receive his degree but when he did, he was one very proud man as was his family.

LeRoy was working at the Alaska-Juneau Mining Co. He worked in the electrical division which included the “lokie” shop located in the basin and the electrical repair shop located at the main mine building on the hillside above Franklin Street. LeRoy liked working in the repair shop because he could walk Gastineau Avenue and a short flight of steps up to the mine complex. But working at the lokie shop meant an earlier start to work as he would have to walk all the way through the basin on a trail to the shop.

The lokies were little carts that would take the miners into the tunnels on a rail system and bring out the ore. They were electric carts and ran like a trolley. They had 2300 volts power feed. LeRoy kept them running and repairing anything that pertained to electrical. His lokie supervisor had a habit of testing the 2300 volt line by licking his fingers and slapping the wire to make sure the line was dead. Then he’d tell LeRoy the line was dead and ready to work on. This would always infuriate LeRoy as he figured one day he would have to carry him out dead! The main electrical shop was one floor above the rocker table which was a very large room. They did a lot of motor rewinding and repairs in there. They used large electric motors for winching of ore cars out of the tunnels.

LeRoy and Berna started their family at a young age and had three babies in three years. LeRoy Jr., (1935), Betty Jean (1936), and Burnetta (1938). This made a third generation Juneau family. Berna stayed home and took care of the children while LeRoy made a living. He worked at A-J Mine for a short time and then moved on to a Federal career beginning with jobs at the Bureau of Public Roads, Forest Service, Corps of Engineers, and worked as a civilian electrical engineer for the U.S. Coast Guard, totaling 33 years of federal employment.

LeRoy was an accomplished musician having played the drums throughout high school, so to make extra money, he would play drums in the evenings and on weekends at the dance clubs around town. He even played drums at his children’s high school dances and Berna would be included as chaperone for the dances. Berna was earning extra money for the family by baking pies and cakes for several local restaurants. She was an excellent cook.

The Wests lived their entire lives in Juneau. They lived over 40 years in the same house on Twelfth Street where the three West kids were raised. Both retired from working careers in 1975, LeRoy from the U.S. Coast Guard and Berna from the State of Alaska. They operated a fishing charter business with their 36-foot Uniflite boat, the Westy.

LeRoy received the Coast Guard Commandant’s Award upon his retirement. This is the highest civilian award possible for outstanding job performance. LeRoy was responsible for all the electrical system designs in the Coast Guard light stations throughout Alaska. When the light stations were first built in the early 1900’s all the stations were DC powered. LeRoy designed all the AC conversions of the light and loran stations and later did preliminary work on the automation process.

LeRoy and Berna celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary April 27, 1985. Eight months later, LeRoy passed away in Juneau and Berna passed away in Juneau in 1994. They are buried together in the Alaska Memorial Park, Elks plot, in Juneau.

Betty still lives in Juneau and has all her life and she has written her story elsewhere in this book. LeRoy Jr., lived between Alaska and Washington State for many years. He married and from the union came one son, LeRoy “Bernie” who made LeRoy Jr., a grandfather. LeRoy Jr., is divorced and living in Gig Harbor, Washington. Burnetta married soon after high school and had two children, Bernadene and Lyman Beach,
Jr., born in Juneau and Portland respectively but then divorced their father. She married Howard Ooley and moved away from Alaska. Howard was divorced and had four children so together they raised six children together.

Howard passed away in May, 2001 and Burnetta lives in Las Vegas winters and hopes to return to Juneau to live during the summers.

LeRoy West Sr., Berma (Converse) West, LeRoy West, Jr., Betty West Miller and Burnetta West Ooley. 50th anniversary, 1985.

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