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Sweeney, Dora M.

by Katherine A. Brown, niece

Born in Biwabie, Minnesota, on June 19, 1907, to Finnish immigrants, Dora M. Lundstrom moved to Juneau, Alaska, as an infant, with her parents, Alfred and Mae Maki Lundstrom. As a by-product of growing up in a close, Finnish-speaking family, Dora speaks Finnish as fluently as she does English. Her four siblings include Daisy Lundstrom-Brown-Burrell, deceased; Della Lundstrom-Clark, deceased; Alfred Lundstrom, deceased; and Irene Lundstrom-McKinley.

Dora married Edward C. Sweeney on December 17, 1927, a man about ten years her elder. For many years they lived at 513 North Franklin, which currently bears a plaque designating the structure as a historical site. Over their years together, they acquired a cabin at Lena Loop where they enjoyed gardening and spending their weekends. In February of 1972, Ed suffered a head trauma, which left him weak and housebound much of the time. On October 31, 1972, they moved to Port Angeles, Washington, in search of milder winters. Ed died in Port Angeles five years later, on July 16, 1977, and Dora returned home to Juneau on July 12, 1986, to be nearer to family and friends.

After graduating from Juneau High School, Dora attended a business college in Seattle and was subsequently employed by Hellenthal & Hellenthal Attorneys of Juneau. She was employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1930 to 1940, by the Territorial Health Department from 1940 to 1942, and the Shattuck Insurance Agency of Juneau from 1942 to 1952. Dora worked parttime for Sommers Construction Company for about twenty-six years beginning in 1958. She retired from the company after it was dissolved when the last director, former Governor George A. Parks, died in May of 1984. In 1953, she worked as Secretary of the Alaska Territorial Senate.

As a pioneer legislator, Dora Sweeney helped to build Alaska’s political framework during the transition from territory to statehood. Mrs. Sweeney served in the final two legislatures of the Territory of Alaska and as an elected delegate to the State’s Constitutional Convention in 1955 and 1956. As a convention delegate, she served on the Committee on the Legislative Branch, and was a signer of the State Constitution in 1956. She was one of six female members of the Fifty-Five Club (fifty-five delegates to the Constitution Convention) along with Helen Fischer, Dorothy Haaland, Mildred Herman, Katherine Nordale and Ada Wien. She was subsequently elected to three House terms in the Alaska State Legislature and retired from her legislative career in 1965. She then worked for the Legislative Council as Legislative Historian from 1965-70 and was the first woman Sergeant-at-Arms, Alaska State House of Representatives in 1966.

In a decade which is not known for fair and equal treatment of women, Dora’s career is remarkable. She was elected five times to the House of Representatives and finally defeated by members of her own party in an unsuccessful bid for the State Senate. In the end, her good character overshadowed her party loyalty. Mrs. Bill Egan remembers Dora for her, “friendliness, honesty, and for her efforts to do the right thing for all Alaskans, not just for the citizens of Juneau.” She served as one of three Alaska Commissioners to the “Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education” and was a charter member of the Juneau Community College Advisory Council. She served on the Juneau City Charter Commission. The first “Woman of the Year Award” was presented to her by the Juneau Rotary Club in 1957 and the Alaska Press Club “Outstanding Citizen Award” in 1964, 1965 and 1966. She is listed in the first edition of “Who’s Who of American Women.”

Dora was honored by Governor Jay Hammond with an award from the “Joe Kappler Senior Citizen’s Hall of Fame” in recognition of her years of service to seniors and her community. Dora served on Governor Egan’s State Committee on Aging and as a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging in 1970. For many years, she also served as a “Gray Lady” in the tubercular ward of the Government Hospital in Juneau.

She was an active member of the Democratic Party and many civic and fraternal organizations. She was State President of the Easter Seal Society, Business and Professional Women and Pioneers of Alaska Auxiliary. She was Treasurer of Northern Lights Presbyterian Church for sixteen years. She was Past Worthy Matron of the Order of Eastern Star and Sub Deputy for eleven years for the Rainbow Girls.

On May 7, 1993, Dora received a Meritorious Service Award from the University of Alaska Southeast, for “significant and lasting contributions to the State of Alaska.” Mrs. Sweeney donated her personal set of Constitutional Convention Minutes, notes and other documents to the UAS Egan Library. Valuable contributions of books and artwork have also been made from her personal estate to the Alaska State Museum and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. At the age of eighty-six, Dora was very proud to be on stage in cap and gown with her very good friend, Cecilia Kunz, to receive her Meritorious Service Award, at the 1993 UAS commencement ceremony at Centennial Hall. She received congratulations from Senator Ted Stevens, who commented that “it’s wonderful to know that your service to Alaska as a delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention and in Alaska’s Legislature is being recognized. And your advice to our young people to become involved in the political process is important, and I’m certain that your recommendation will reach the ears of some of our future leaders.”

Today, Dora Sweeney is ninety-four years of age and resides in the Juneau Pioneer’s Home with her sister, Irene Lundstrom-McKinley. Dora continues to receive invitations from new governors for swearing-in ceremonies and picnics. She smiles and is very pleased to be remembered, but is content to watch these events on television. She enjoys her proximity to her many nieces and nephews, and is very happy with her care at the Pioneers Home. She has lived an accomplished life, one that is regarded by her family with a great deal of pride.

Dora Sweeney

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