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Harmon, Henry “Hank” & Genevieve

by Jean Kline

Henry Alois Harmon was born in Eau Galle, Wisconsin, on August 20, 1907. He graduated from high school at Durand, Wisconsin, and from the Stout State College at Menominee, Wisconsin. Mr. Harmon first came to Alaska to teach in the Juneau public schools in August,1935. Offered a job in both Alaska and Hawaii, he chose Alaska as his father had been in the Klondike gold rush and had heard all of the stories about Alaska. He taught vocational education for fourteen years and served as principal of the high school for several years.

Genevieve Frances Schlumpf was a Wisconsin high school teacher of music, English and drama. She and Hank corresponded while he was in his first year in Alaska . When returned to Wisconsin in August, 1936, they were married one week later and set off for Alaska again.

When Hank arrived in 1935, many single teachers lived in the Gastineau Hotel. Elma Olson and Marge Tillotson were already there. The teachers had their own social life, as well as being a part of the community. There were card parties every Friday night, sledding on Gold Street in the winter and even bobsled rides, arranged by A. B. Phillips. Hank also became friends with some of the A.J. miners when he moved from the Gastineau Hotel to the Bergman Hotel during his first year.

In those first years, A. B. Phillips was superintendent of schools, Alex Dunham was high school principal and Floyd Dryden was elementary principal. R. E. Robertson, Walter Scott and Grover Winn were the three school board members, and remained on the board until the 40’s when Dr. Rude and Ruth Popejoy ran and won.

Hank and Gen hiked a lot of the CCC Trails, which are still in use today. They went fishing for a dollar a day on Olaf Larsen’s boat The Wanderer with Kinky Bayer as skipper. At one time, they caught twenty-six salmon between them. They were living at Fifth and Franklin then, and Hank stood outside and gave everyone he knew a fish. Teachers were frequently entertained by the people of Juneau in their homes. Governor Troy invited teachers to the mansion and the prominent lawyers in town also entertained them. There were dances, many formal, and Hank and Gen learned to dance the schottische.

Gen and Hank had three sons, James, Joseph and Patrick. Gen recalls that the one time Hank was at a loss for words was when the entire high school gave him a baby shower on the birth of their first son, Jim. Another memorable occasion was also a solemn one. Special graduation exercises were held for Johnny Tanaka before he and his family were sent to a Japanese internment camp. His chair was left vacant during the graduation exercises at the end of the year. Well liked by all students, Hank served as unofficial counselor to many, urging them to stay in school to graduate.

Gen taught piano and voice lessons for many years and was one of the first eight members of the Juneau Symphony, playing violin. She was also active in the Alaska Music Trails Concert Association. She continued her community involvement, taking part in the organization of the annual Arts and Crafts Show each year, and later as a member of the 1967 Statewide Centennial committee. It was due to her work with the local Centennial Commission that Juneau built the State Museum, its centennial project.

In 1949, Hank retired from teaching and became the Territorial Director of the Department of Public Welfare. After statehood, he served as Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Health and Welfare from 1960 to 1966. In 1967, he was with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and in 1969, accepted the position of State Coordinator of the Office of Aging, helping to plan and organize programs for the state’s senior citizens. He retired once more in 1972.

Hank was an active man in the Juneau community, and gave unceasingly of his time to make Juneau a better place. From 1942 to 1947, he was company commander in the Alaska Territorial Guard, promoted from captain to major. He was a founder of Territorial Sportsmen, and a board member. He was also a member of the Pioneers of Alaska, the Juneau Chapter of the American Cancer Society and on its board of directors for over 20 years, and the Juneau Rifle and Pistol Club, through which Hank helped organize firearms safety programs, and from whom many Juneau young people learned to handle firearms properly. He was also a member of the Knights of Columbus, the Elks, the Moose and Juneau Rotary. For service to the Boy Scouts he was awarded the “Silver Beaver.” He was one of the founders of the Soap Box Derby, and was a task force of one to “Keep Juneau Clean,” policing the Fifth and East Street neighborhood where the family lived. The Hank Harmon Rifle Range at Montana Creek was named for him.

In an October 27, 1981 Daily Alaska Empire letter to the editor, Vern Metcalfe remembered Hank, “I can still remember Vic Power ‘volunteering’ Hank and myself to be the clean-up crew behind the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Posse in the 1959 Fourth of July Parade. That was the year we celebrated our admission to the Union with all sorts of very important people visiting our town. Lowell Thomas, Sr. was the master of ceremonies. Governors or their representatives from all of the 48 other states were on hand, military brass abounded...

“This Sheriff’s posse came with about 20 fancied up horses and Vic Power determined that since the detachment was to lead the parade, stern measures were needed to ensure that the units following were not endangered. This led to him drafting Hank and myself to join him in doing our duty. We were clad in all-white white pith helmets. I borrowed the city’s version of a litter machine, a 55-gallon barrel mounted on a hand truck and Hank brought his largest shovel while Vic manned a huge broom. The parade started with a literal bang (a mortar was fired) at the gates to the Subport and all 20 steeds immediately evacuated themselves. Before we’d moved 10 feet we had the barrel two thirds filled...It was a very strenuous day. We were also heckled by the multitudes but bore up well.

“...We also caused a near collapse of the reviewing stand. As we approached the reviewing stand (governors, all kinds of admirals and generals), I shouted in my best parade ground voice ‘Preee-sent Arms’ and up went the broom and the shovel. One colonel doubled over and nearly fell into the street but we did get a return salute from the bemused brass while thousands roared in laughter.”

Henry A. Harmon died in Juneau in October, 1981. Gen still lives in Juneau.

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