by Jeannette McLeod, neighbor
“Employees may come, employees may go, but I go on forever.” Agnes Kiefer said that and although she didn’t quite go on forever, she lived to be 90. Agnes Kiefer lived those 90 years. She was on the go all of her years. She once commented that she had enjoyed smoking in her younger years but during the Depression she could not afford to buy cigarettes at 25 cents a package. She was not going to beg or borrow them from anyone else least of all her friends, so, she quit. That was Agnes Kiefer-very independent and self reliant all of her 90 years.
Agnes Kiefer lived in her own house on West Ninth Street since 1941. It was the only house at that end of the street that had a verandah. There she and her husband, Bert, could sit on a summer’s evening and watch the goings on in the neighborhood. Bert was a dispatcher for the Royal Blue Cab Company. One of the two cab companies in Juneau at the time. Every day Bert would be properly attired in his suit, hat and top coat, carrying his lunch pail and off to work he’d go. Ninth Street, at that time, was a narrow dirt road that ran from A Street straight down to the dock on the waterfront. Bert would be picked up by one of the cabs and driven to work, as he suffered from emphysema. Bert slept sitting up and his head wore a dark patch on the wall above the bed. One of the first things that Agnes did after Bert passed away was to have her bedroom painted, although she did not sleep in that room for a long time after.
Agnes began working at the Alaska Daily Empire in 1941, as cleaning lady and often did proofreading until her eyesight failed. In 1956, she had the second longest tenure of anyone then working on the Empire, second only to mechanical superintendent Arthur Bringdale, an ace Linotype machine operator. In 1962, the Empire ran a photo of her with her birthday cake. The article reported, “The staff of the Daily Alaska Empire took time out Friday to honor its favorite co-worker on her 81st birthday.” Her cake was inscribed, “Happy Birthday to the Empire’s Sweetheart.” This summed up the feeling of the entire staff. The birthday parties were annual events.
In 1968, on her 87th birthday, which was her 27th anniversary of working at the Empire, she received another write-up and a diamond awarded by the Donrey Media Group. The 1971, tribute to her read, “To us Aggie is America, Aggie is Alaska, Aggie is Juneau. Because of the love she shares with others and the love we have for her we greet her this year on ‘her’ day.”
For her 90th birthday, Agnes received 90 silver dollars. (Silver dollars had been common currency up to the late 1950’s but were now rare.) What a stack of silver dollars that was and heavy. Cards and letters were received from all over the world from former workers and friends containing, what Agnes called, “offerings.” Because of her ill health at the time she decided to replace her worn out chair with a new recliner in which she could elevate her feet. Taking her “offerings” to Lyles Hardware she picked out the recliner in the color she desired and opened her purse to make the down payment. Howie Ryder declined the payment stating, “Nope, not this time, Aggie. We’ve overlooked your birthday for the last time. The chair is yours. Go spend your ‘offerings’ on something else.” It may be that she did. She enjoyed collecting milk glass and had many pieces that she had collected over the years, from miniature size to some very large.
Agnes Kiefer was born July 20, 1881, in Webb County, Missouri. She came to Juneau aboard the steamship Northwestern on Valentine’s Day, 1914, and started working as a waitress at the Gastineau Hotel on Franklin Street. She continued to work as a waitress and homemaker and accompanied her husband on his gas boat. Bert passed away during the 1940’s.
Agnes suffered from eye troubles and read with an electronic magnifying glass. She claimed that her eyes were going to outlast her and she could not afford to have surgery to remove the cataracts. In her late eighties, she was having difficulty in distinguishing the height and depth of objects such as the sidewalk curbs and the distance for oncoming traffic. She decided that perhaps it might be a good idea for safety to have her eyes done as she was now legally blind. She no longer could read and would ask whoever was standing next to her in the store to read items for her. After the surgery, she was surprised and delighted at how bright and clear everything was.
The first time that Agnes became ill and took time off from work was in the 1970’s. Good friends lived nearby in the neighborhood and would visit with her as she had with them when they were ill. She enjoyed the afternoon tea get togethers that they had at each others homes, exchanging gossip, chatting, doing handwork and just keeping up with what was going on in Juneau.
Agnes was not described as a “sweet sugary little old lady.” She would speak out on any and all subjects brusquely, keeping up to date on all events, local, state and whatever, with her own opinion. Agnes was an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Post 4, a long time member of the Perseverance Rebekah Lodge #2-A of IOOF and a past president of the Pioneers of Alaska, Auxiliary #6 of Juneau. She was commended for taking care of the three-level Empire Building at 136 Main Street and of many of its occupants. She gave freely of her opinions and advice on all levels.