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Pusich, Mike & Anna (Bertolini)

by Debbie Pusich

Mike Pusich (Milanu Pusic’) was born June 27, 1896, in Kumbar, Yugoslavia, formerly the Republic of Austria. He had one brother and four sisters. He traveled with his Uncle Nick to the United States entering at New York City. They then traveled on to California. In 1909, he relocated to Latouche, Alaska, outside of Cordova, to work in the mine. He moved to Douglas to work in the Treadwell sawmill in 1912.

Anna Angela Bertolini was born November 14, 1896, in Drifton, Pennsylvania, and moved with her parents Lorenzo and Angelina as well as their three other children to Douglas in1910. Her father worked the Treadwell Mine where the family resided. Anna was first generation American, her parents having immigrated from Trent in northern Italy.

Mike married Anna Bertolini at Treadwell’s Lady of the Mines Catholic Church on April 18, 1915. They moved into their newly built and furnished home near the old Mission on Fourth Street in Douglas. They had seven children.

Mike started his first business in 1914, a saloon and pool hall on Front Street in Douglas. In the early 20’s, Mike paid for ship’s passage to America for his two sisters. His sister Mary married Charles Miller. His sister Dorothy married Alex Bill, whom she met on her voyage north. In March, 1922, Mike went into business with his brother-in-law Charles Miller when he leased the Alaskan Hotel.

When prohibition came, Mike was forced to close his saloon. He then started The Hub, a grocery and clothing store. When beer and wine were made legal again, he enlarged the building so that he could handle groceries and clothing on one side with beer and wine sold separately on the other side. He gradually discontinued the grocery and clothing business and remodeled the building into a modern nightclub known as the Dreamland. The Dreamland opened on October 5, 1935, and was named through a nameguessing contest handled by the Daily Alaska Empire. Mike had a New York decorator from the Rockefeller Center staff design the building. It opened with a five piece orchestra and lots of food and fanfare. The nightclub included seating for over 200 people in booths, at tables, and in the tap room, ballroom and private party rooms. The Dreamland was destroyed in the Douglas Fire on February 23, 1937. Along with many other establishments, it was a complete loss. However, with the determination and strong will that Mike was loved for, he was able to reopen in July of the same year, but on a very small scale. This time he called it Mike’s Place. The building was formerly a home used as a cigar factory. Today, the restaurant remains at it’s original location on Second Street in Douglas. In the years of 1945, 1950 and 1960, he, and later his family, continued to enlarge and enhance Mike’s Place.

Beginning in 1948, Mike brought his two sons, Rudy and Mickey, into the business as partners. All of Mike and Anna’s seven children assisted in various capacities of all their businesses. Helen worked at the Hub, and cooked at the Dreamland and Mike’s Place until she retired, with only a short absence during the war. Rudy worked in the business except for five years in the military. He later purchased the business from the family and with his family, continues to run Mike’s Place today. Grace worked as a waitress for many years. Mickey worked as a cook at Mike’s. Larry, Louie and Anne washed a lot of dishes, peeled many potatoes and scrubbed many floors.

Mike served numerous years as city councilman. He was Fire Chief from 1936 until 1947, when he became Mayor of Douglas, a position he filled until his death. As mayor, his major accomplishment was to relocate the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Mines offices and laboratory to Mayflower Island. This meant construction of the facility and causeway for access to the island. This formed a natural breakwater for the beginning of the Douglas Boat Harbor. Mike traveled with Gerry D. Jermain, an employee of the Bureau of Mines, at his own expense, to Washington, D.C. to secure funding for the project.

Mike took his first trip back to his homeland with his wife Anna in 1953. On August 2, while traveling by train en route to Yugoslavia, he died of a massive heart attack. Very close to their final destination, he’d gotten up to check on the arrival time. When he did not return, Anna went looking for him. She found him on the floor of the train with people gathering around to remove his valuables. They had already taken his shoes. Anna who only spoke English and Italian, had to greet Mike’s family at their destination. She stayed in Yugoslavia to bury Mike and later returned to her family in Douglas.

Anna continued to be involved in the family business until her death on January 14, 1973. Mike and Anna’s seven children were all raised in Douglas.

Helen was born December 16, 1916. She graduated from Douglas High School in 1934, and worked a few years at the Bureau of Indian Affairs before beginning her career as cook at Mike’s Place. She was married to fisherman Bob Schy. Helen died October 4, 1998.

Rudolph Carl was born in 1919. He worked in the family business until leaving home to work the mines and then joined the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. He returned to Douglas to work with his father, eventually buying into the business. He also owned a flight school for several years in Juneau. He married Mary Carr in 1948, and has eight children. He continues to own and operate Mike’s Place today.

Grace was born in 1922. She worked at Mike’s as a waitress where she met her future husband, Guy Russo, during the war. She also worked at First National Bank of Anchorage in Juneau. She and Guy have three sons.

Michael George, known as Mickey, was born in 1927. After Mickey’s military service in the Seabees, he was a pilot in Alaska for Pacific Northern Airlines before starting his own flying service known as Channel Flying. Mickey had five daughters. He died in October, 1974.

Lawrence Frances was born in 1932. Larry attended school in Douglas and served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He worked with his brother Louie at Orme Transfer before starting his own business, Larry’s Union Service, a Douglas gas station. He has two daughters.

Louis Henry was born in 1936. In 1953, he played basketball for the Douglas Huskies when they won the Southeast Alaska Championship. Louie worked for Orme Transfer until he opened Louie’s Douglas Inn in 1974. He married Doreen Volpatti in 1960, and they have three sons.

Ann Lois was born in 1938. Her class was the first to graduate from the Juneau-Douglas High School. She worked in the airline industry for 28 years and is now retired. She has three children.

Mike and Anna Pusich, wedding, 1915.

Back: Louie, Grace, Helen and Anne. Front: Mickey, Anna, Larry and Rudy, November 1972 at the Baranof.

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