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Gruber, Evans & Clara (Bussinger)

by Eleanor Gruber Smith


Evans was born in Lincoln, Missouri, in 1895. He was raised and attended school in Lincoln. He left in early adulthood to see what some of the other states had to offer. He came to Seattle, Washington, where he met and married Clara Ethel Bussinger. At that time Clara’s brother Clarence Bussinger was employed at the Kennicott Copper Mine in Kennicott, Alaska. There was no work to be found because of the Great Depression covering the whole United States, and much of the world. Clarence wrote to the newlyweds and said he would loan the money for them to travel to Alaska if they wanted to come and he knew that Evans could find employment. Packing their meager belongings, Evans and his wife made the long trip by boat and train from Seattle to Kennicott. When he arrived, there was no housing so he and Clara took a large tent with a wood floor for their home. Clarence came to board with them. They fed and provided board to repay him for the loan. Evans then enrolled in a correspondence school and studied electrical engineering. He graduated from this course and spent his life in that profession. Two children were born in Kennicott to Evans and Clara: Eleanor Eveline and Vivian Ethel and later a third girl was born in Juneau, named Verna.

When Eleanor was about five, the family left Kennicott and settled in Hyder for a short spell and later moved to Juneau where Evans worked at the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mine as an electrical engineer. He also worked throughout the City of Juneau for private businesses and local citizens. Evans built a beautiful home on Twelfth Street in Juneau for his family and they spent many years there. In the meantime, they moved to Thane a small town south of Juneau.

Evans became ill when he was only 45 with crippling arthritis. He became progressively worse and after a few years had to quit working and he and Clara moved to Seattle to live. He took treatments but it did not do any good and he died in 1948, in Seattle where he is buried at Washelli Cemetery in the Masonic Section.


Clara was born in 1898, and was the youngest of ten children. She attended school in Seattle at the West Woodland School and graduated there. She married Evans Gruber after graduation. Clara obtained employment at the U.S. Post Office and retired from there with honors. Clara died in Seattle at the age of 93 and is buried at the Washelli Cemetery alongside Evans.


Eleanor was born in Kennicott in 1916, to Evans and Clara Gruber. She was born in a tent during a terrible storm and the wind blew off the roof and her mother had to be transported to the hospital with her baby.

Eleanor’s parents left Kennicott when she was about five years old and she attended the Juneau schools through grade and high school. Her parents moved to Thane when she was in the 7th grade and she attended the Thane School. Helen Bolyan was the teacher and there were about 16 students in all the grades. Mrs. Bolyan placed them all together in order to teach more efficiently. Eleanor spent two years at that school before entering the high school in Juneau from which she graduated in 1933.

Eleanor later married Bud Sutherland and had the misfortune of having a stillborn full-term baby. She and Bud moved to Seattle and the marriage failed. Later, Eleanor married Bruce W. Smith who had been born in Skagway and knew her parents in Juneau. It was a happy marriage and they had many adventures traveling in their motor vehicle. Bruce died of cancer in 1995. Eleanor then moved back to Alaska and is now living in Anchorage. She has a few classmates still living in Anchorage, mainly Clyde Bolyan, George Karabelnikoff and Oliver Kola who she sees frequently.

During her life, she took many courses in community college and also Edmonds College and worked for a firm of attorneys in Seattle from whom she retired after 25 years. She had lots of roots in Alaska and carried fond memories of Kennicott. The children who lived there prior to its closing are called “The Kennicott Kids” and they meet frequently at different Alaskan events. She has one daughter living in Bothel, Washington, two granddaughters and six great grandchildren. She keeps busy doing garden work, loving flowers and birds and attending various events in Anchorage.


Vivian was born in Kennicott and moved to Juneau with the family when her father went there for work. Vivian attended Juneau schools and graduated from high school there. When her family moved to Thane she attended school in a one-room school with a potbelly stove for heat. When her sister Eleanor became quite ill, the family went to Seattle where Eleanor went through the Virginia Mason Hospital. Upon her return to home in Seattle, they all came down with scarlet fever, except sister Verna. The family was in absolute quarantine during this time causing Vivian to lose some schooling and had to repeat a grade. The family returned to Juneau and started school again. Vivian went to nursing school in Seattle for a semester but became ill and returned to Juneau.

She married Emil Millard Starks and had two children: Treva and Leslie. Millard died and she married Jack Kent, living in Yakima, Chelan and also Missouri for a time. She is now living in Mesa, Arizona, where she and Jack are retired and enjoy traveling in their motor home. They raised a boy, Robert Kent, as their own and he now lives in Vancouver, Washington. Treva lives in Yakima and Leslie in Mesa.


Juneau was a small town on Gastineau Channel the population being about 4,000. The transportation was by car and the roads were rutty and narrow and ended at Mendenhall Glacier. We often went there to obtain ice to make ice cream. It was at the end of the road with caves we could crawl under. There was a power plant less than a block away and a house located across from it which housed the family who lived and worked there.

The town itself consisted mostly of the mine where most of the inhabitants worked, and the various merchant establishments furnishing the needs of all the people, like California Grocery, George Brothers, etc. Shelley Graves was a clothing store and he was known for his generosity in providing clothing for newcomers while they were looking for work. The Depression was still on in the lower states, but did not seem to affect Juneau, or most of Alaska, for that matter. There were drug emporiums and theaters and two cab companies. Transportation to Douglas was by ferry, a bridge was built many years later, and eventually was replaced by the new bridge standing now. The school systems were separate from each other with fierce competition between Juneau and Douglas. Douglas was a smaller town which had been supported by the Treadwell Mine for several years. Douglas had two major fires which the town survived. We watched it burn from our home in Juneau. Was a terrible sight to know all those people were losing their homes.

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