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Kennedy, Sue

by interview by Jeannette McLeod

Sue Kennedy was born in October, 1904, three years and three days after her brother in Norwood, PA, nine miles south of Philadelphia. Most of the population worked and shopped in Philadelphia. The stores carried no canned goods, bakery goods, only fresh produce and meat. Everyone did their own baking and preserving. Sue was a sophomore in high school at sixteen when her father, a night editor to the Philadelphia Enquirer (still in existence) accepted a position with the Los Angeles Examiner. The higher Pennsylvania scholastic requirements allowed her to complete her two years of high school in one year in California. She then attended business college and graduated. At that time, in her typing class they had to type 40 words a minute. Each error was a minus of twenty words. One strived for perfection. Her father would not allow her to be employed if there was only one male in the office and no other employees. Luckily, her neighbor employed ten other employees so she was able to work in his office. While working with four carbon copies, her eyes were weakened and she had to quit that job. She was then employed as a telephone operator, a temporary job at an automobile shop. She found permanent employment for 20 years and 6 months at Citizens National Bank in California.

She did not care for California and did not want to return to Pennsylvania because of the summer heat. Her fiancé, a Lt. Commander in the Navy, was killed at sea by a torpedo attack during WWII. At that time, a teller had to be able to remember what amounts of bills and coins they had given out that day, to whom and by whom. On her last day of work she was called into the office and informed that she was $100.00 short in her count. Sue and her supervisor went over the accounts, verifying and accounting for all moneys that had crossed her counter that day. Because of her excellent record the amount was written off as an error. After she had been in Alaska for several months, she received a call from the bank that a $100.00 bill had been found rubber banded to another stack of hundreds, by another clerk. Her record was cleared. A month after she had quit her job at the bank a retirement system was established for employees.

Sue and her mother moved to Juneau, Alaska, in 1944. Mr. Gross of Gross Theaters employed her and provided an apartment at the Coliseum Apartments above the Coliseum Theater, which he owned. She was employed by Mr. Gross for two years.

She then was employed by Charles Waynor of the Alaska Credit Bureau for two years. When Mr. Waynor decided to retire, Sue purchased the business. She sold the business after two years to marry. Her fiancé had a heart attack and died. She was again looking for employment. The Coliseum Apartments fire was one of the big fires in downtown Juneau at the time. There were 18 or 20 apartments. Sue and her mother not only lost all of their personal possessions but Sue lost her entire stamp collection that she had started when she was eight years old. She was devastated and vowed that she would never collect again. Her mother convinced her she could replace the collection. With her wide correspondence from all over the world and the friends she made through it, she started again and became one of the leading authorities on stamps in the Juneau area.

Sue and her mother were now living at the Sixth Street address which was straight up the hill from downtown Juneau. A strong walk uphill, especially in the snow and ice of the winters in those years. She was employed as an Executive Secretary, for the Territory of Alaska Fisherman’s Fund for eight or nine years. Once she worked Monday through Wednesday, then Thursday through Saturday for a total of 108 hours. The second week, 104 hours and the third week, 130 hours. The pay was $700.00 a month, no overtime. She went on vacation and her pay was cut by a third. She quit. She had been the only employee in the office. They then hired three women at $300.00 a month to do the work she had been doing.

There were very few automobiles in the Juneau area during and right after the war. Sue had shipped her car up when she and her mother moved to Juneau. They enjoyed the drive to the Glacier on Sunday afternoons. At that time, it was an all day excursion as there was only a single lane dirt road and one needed to know where one could pull off to the side of the road if they met a car coming from the other direction. At that time, there was a tree on the old road to the Glacier that had a cement wall around it, depicting where the glacier had removed the bark.

After several Juneau winters and no garage, materials for repairs were scarce. Sue sold her car and became a walker. The city limits were at 12th Street and only a few houses “out the road.” Mostly farms with cows, a few horses, and goats.

Sue then worked for Faulkner, Banfield and Boochever. She was Robert Boochever’s secretary for nine years, retiring to serve as a court reporter.

Sue was a member of the Methodist Church when it was located on the corner of Fourth and Seward until the property was sold for the present Dimond Court House. With no car and no bus service to the Douglas Methodist Church, she attended the Baptist Church which had been her mother’s church before her marriage.

Sue traveled extensively. As a single lady and alone, as her mother had died by this time, a trip around the world in 1956, was heralded not only in the Juneau Empire but in the Seattle Times. She has since been to Europe several times, South America in 1972, and the Orient in 1981. She has been through 48 of the United States.

After the war years, in 1947, Sue was a foster parent to 14 children in Europe. One could be a foster parent for $15.00 a month for a year. Seven dollars went to the child for food, clothing and education. The child wrote to the foster parent and the letter was transcribed and forwarded and the foster parent replied by the same roundabout way. After meeting Spyridon Todoulas and his sister Kalliroi on her trip to Greece, Sue adopted the sister so that she could bring them both to this country. Spyridon now lives in Washington and Kalliroi in Anchorage. They both have children which Sue considers her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Sue was surprised by a 90th birthday party with many of her friends and former employers in attendance. (Bob Boochever made a special trip for the occasion.) Her 95th birthday was a family gathering.

Sue is still volunteering at the local library. Every time she says she is going to retire permanently, they beg her to take a vacation and then come back.

Sue and her father, George Roberts Kennedy, ca. 1930.

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