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Erwin, Marshall & Vivian (Croken) and Ray Renshaw

by Marsha Erwin Bennett

Vivian and Marshall Erwin met in Juneau in 1934, shortly after they both independently came to live here. Vivian came to join her mother, Clara Croken, and brothers, Howard and Robert Croken. Howard was the first of the family to come to Alaska, working for the Alaska Communications System (ACS). Clara ran a small boarding house in which Marshall stayed when he first arrived in Juneau. Betty and Bert McDowell recommended the boarding house to Marshall and later became the couple’s close friends. The house still stands across from the old Capital School. It is next door to the String Shop and Spirit Beads on Fifth Street.

Marshall stayed only a few months on his first time in Juneau. He moved to Fairbanks in the spring of 1935, to work for Fairbanks Exploration Co. In the meantime, Joe and Brownie Erwin, Marshall’s brother and sister-in- law came to Juneau and began operating a family style restaurant on South Franklin Street. They later became the cooks for the A-J Mine, operating the boarding house in the Silverbow Basin, from 1939 until the mine closed in 1944.

When Marshall returned to Juneau from Fairbanks, he stayed with Brownie and Joe, but he rekindled his friendship with Vivian that had started at her mother’s boarding house. They married in January 1937. Linda Mae was born in November 1937, and Marsha Claire was born in 1940. Brownie and Joe had two girls, Joanne and Shirley, and twin boys, Troy and Gene who lived with them during their Juneau days. Both Troy and Gene spent time living with Marshall and Vivian and the girls, also, after their parents moved to the Seattle area once the mine closed.

Vivian worried about Marshall’s safety in the mine and encouraged him to consider starting a business together. They decided on the grocery business since “everyone has to eat everyday.” But at the time they opened, there were at least 18 other grocery or meat markets operating in Juneau: Piggly Wiggly, United Food, Garnicks, California Grocery, George Brothers, Bert’s Cash Grocery, Behrend’s Department Store and numerous small meat or specialty markets.

Marshall and Vivian opened Case Lot Grocery in 1938 on South Franklin Street, next to Brownie and Joe’s restaurant. In the early 1940’s, they bought the building and adjacent property from Charles Goldstein and expanded their store. During WWII, the building was taken over by the Army as a supply depot for staging the war in the Aleutians. Later, when the Erwins regained control of the building, they paved the parking lot and expanded further.

The paved parking lot was a first in Juneau. The Erwins also were the first to bring in frozen foods, one of the first to move away from a strictly credit system to “cash and carry” and they were early supporters of the vessel Robert Eugene chartered by Ketchikan Merchants Association to bring fresh meat and other products to Juneau consumers when Alaska Steamship Co. rates became unbearable. After the 1950’s expansion, the store was renamed Erwin’s Supermarket and all transactions from then on were on a “cash and carry” basis only. By this time, only two grocery stores remained in the Juneau area: Erwin’s and Foodland. Erwin’s operated on South Franklin Street until 1968.

In 1962, the Erwins bought dairy lands in the Mendenhall Valley from Joe and Matilda Kendler. During the next two years, they developed the site as the first shopping center in the Valley, naming their grocery Glacier Village IGA. A Chevron Station opened at the same time as the grocery, followed by a Mall in 1969. Later the merchants renamed the center Airport Shopping Center, recognizing its proximity to the Airport.

The Mendenhall Mall Complex, which Marshall and Vivian envisioned at the time of Marshall’s death in 1973, was later sold to Charles Robinson, Rheinhold Fluck and Mal Menzies who developed it further. Vivian and her partners did complete the supermarket, now known as Superbear after Marshall died. She, Linda and Marsha continue to own Airport Shopping Center.

Marshall and Vivian were always active in Juneau clubs and organizations and in efforts to maintain the capital in Juneau. Marshall was honored as Rotary International’s “Man of the Year” award in 1958.

Linda Erwin graduated from Juneau High School in 1955 and attended Washington State University. She married Ed Burling in 1956, and they had three children: Kathy, Kristy and Mike, who together now have six grandchildren and one great grandchild. After Ed died in 1974, Linda married Louis Androes, a retired Boeing engineer. He also has three children. Linda and Louis live in Silverton, Oregon.

Marsha Erwin graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1958, from the U. of Michigan in 1963, and received her M.A. from American University in 1969. She married Jim Bennett, an economist, in 1963 and they had one son, Peter, in 1968. They divorced in 1973, on returning to Alaska. In 1983, she married Larry Walter. Kelly, Alex and Emily Walter are stepchildren of this marriage. They are now divorced.

Marshall died in 1973. In 1979, Vivian married Ray Renshaw. In 1999, the Erwin family reunion in Juneau celebrated Vivian and Ray Renshaw’s 20th anniversary and their 90th birthdays. The Crokens, Erwins, Renshaws and their children and grandchildren were all present for this special gathering.

Ray Renshaw came to Alaska in 1935, as a pilot working for Herb Munter at Aircraft Charter Service in Ketchikan. He flew for the Alaska Game Commission and Bureau of Fisheries in the 1930’s and 1940’s and for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard on patrols during WWII. After the war, he began flying for Ellis Air Lines in Ketchikan and later became Chief Pilot for the merged Alaska Coastal-Ellis Airlines which he joined in Juneau in 1945. In 1944, he married Jean Ellis and they had one daughter, Diana, born in 1953. Ray retired from Alaska Airlines in 1969, after the merger of Alaska Coastal and Ellis formed Alaska Airlines. He continued to fly for Champion International and later Southeast Skyways until his retirement in 1979, when he and Vivian were married.

Ray received several honors from the FAA for his excellent 70 year flight record and for Flight Instructor of the Year. He served on the Juneau Planning Commission for several years and built his own home in West Juneau. He was an active prospector, with his friend and associate, Leo Mark Anthony, and was named Director Emeritus of the Alaska Miner’s Association in Juneau for his years of active support and interest in mining.

Ray’s daughter, Diana and her husband, John Netherland and son Tynan, live in Ketchikan where John is a contractor and Diana works as a school librarian. Diana’s son, Thane Peterson, is working toward a pilot’s license and in the computer industry in Idaho.

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