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by Richard Rainery

Maternal grandparents, Adam and Anna Folta, immigrated to the United States in the 1880’s from Bohemia. They settled in Braddock, Pennsylvania, where Adam worked as a coal miner. Sons John and George were born in 1890 and 1893, respectively. The Foltas moved to Carbondale, Washington, where young George heard fascinating stories about the wilderness and wildlife of Alaska. Determined to emulate Daniel Boone, he decided to head for The Last Frontier at the earliest opportunity. After completing high school and business college in 1912, he took a steamer to Ketchikan, finding work as an inspector with the U.S. Steamship Inspection Service. His work came to the attention of Governor Strong who hired him as clerk and secretary in 1915, a job he retained when Thomas Riggs succeeded Strong.

George married Marion Sutton and they had a son George, Jr. in 1919. After training himself in shorthand, George was appointed Court Reporter for the U.S. District Court in 1921. A self-taught man, during the evenings he studied law under Juneau lawyer Herbert Faulkner. In 1927, he was admitted to the Alaska Bar and received an appointment as the Assistant District Attorney for the Juneau Judicial District.

About this time, Ruth Coles moved to Ketchikan from Washington, D.C. Born in Albion, Illinois, in 1901, Ruth was working for the U.S. Forest Service when she saw a notice for a job in Alaska. Seeking adventure, she took the job, leaving her family home for Alaska. While in Ketchikan, she met George whose first marriage had ended in divorce. The couple wed in 1928, and their children Claire and Richard were born in Juneau. In 1940, Folta was appointed Solicitor atLarge for the Territory of Alaska. In 1947, President Harry Truman appointed him Presiding Judge for the First Judicial District of Alaska (covering Southeast Alaska). Folta often heard cases in the Third Judicial District in Anchorage.

Soon after arriving in Alaska, George realized his lifelong dream, traveling to Kodiak Island to hunt the huge brown bears there. Hunting was part of his daily routine back home in Juneau as well; he often left work to hike into the woods, often returning home in time for only a couple hours of sleep before returning to his office. When young Richard was about eleven, he accompanied his father on his first hunt. They were pushing through heavy brush, George leading, when he heard the cough of a startled bear. As the beast came crashing through he brush George yelled, “Run, don’t stop for anything,” and Richard obeyed, in his panic tripping and falling flat. He knew the bear was on him, but his father, with hair-trigger reflex, fired, felling the bear at point-blank range. Richard suffered from bear nightmares for some time afterward, to the dismay of his mother. Claire’s childhood was not without drama; she once was caught in the middle of a gun battle between police and desperados!

Meanwhile, Claire and Richard both graduated from Juneau High School. Both married and had children, Claire and her children moving to Anchorage after her divorce in 1960, where she worked for many years as a legal secretary, paralegal and finally as an In-Court Clerk for the Alaska Trial Courts. She and her second husband, Ray Wipperman, now divide their time between Anchorage and their second home in Halibut Cove, Alaska. Son Richard and his wife Julie lived for a time in Juneau, relocated to Haines and presently live in Saipan. Richard has held various government posts and Julie teaches. Son George Jr. served on the U.S.S. Bluegill, a submarine stationed in the Pacific during WWII. After retiring from the Navy, he took up residence in Mercer Island, Washington.

Despite his devotion to the hunt, George understood that bears were an integral part of the Alaskan wilderness. While working for Governor Riggs, he toiled behind the scenes to scuttle the governor’s ill-conceived plan to exterminate brown bear in southern Alaska. In 1955, while on a hunting trip in Yakataga, George died. After George’s death, Ruth took up residence in Palm Springs for a number of years and then moved to Laguna Hills, California, where she died in 1980. The third and fourth generations of the family still live in Anchorage and Juneau, respectively.

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