by Jim Ruotsala
The Ruotsala family arrived in Douglas in 1902. Herman Ruotsalainen was the best friend of Herman Savikko, who had migrated earlier from his hometown of Iisalmi, Finland, wrote and asked my great uncle Herman to come join him. Herman was born in Kiuruvesi, Finland, in 1873. Herman Ruotsalainen was a professional hunter in Finland. Herman passed away in Douglas in 1948.
After Herman arrived he wrote to his brother John Alfred Ruotsalainen, who was born in Iisalmi, Finland, in 1877, to come also, which he did in 1903. Herman and John both worked in the foundry at the Treadwell Mine.
In 1905, John Ruotsalainen married Josefina Timonen who had also migrated from Iisalmi. In 1906, the Ruotsalainen’s gave birth to their first child, Bert Alfred, who was delivered by a midwife in Douglas, Alaska. Three other children followed: George Wilford, Ellen, Eugene Arnold. In 1910, the Ruotsalainen family moved to Rossland, British Columbia, and John Alfred worked in the mines there. While in Rossland, John’s wife, Josefina, died in 1912, while giving birth to Eugene. John then married Josephina’s sister Elizabeth, known as “Lizzie.”
From Rossland the family moved to Mullen, Idaho, to work in the mines and finally returned to Juneau for good in 1927, to work in the Alaska-Juneau Mine. In the late 30’s, John Alfred became a commercial fisherman. He passed away in Juneau in 1957.
While in Canada, John Alfred shortened the family name to Ruotsala.
Bert Ruotsala worked in Northport, Washington, until 1929, when he returned to work in the A-J Mine. He later became a journeyman carpenter, boat builder, trapper, and commercial fisherman. In 1933, Bert married Marjorie Alice Blankenship who gave birth to son James Alfred in 1934. They were divorced in 1935, when James was only 10 months old and Jimmy, as he was called, was raised by Finns at the Home Boarding House on Gastineau Avenue in Juneau while his father worked at the A-J Gold Mine.
In 1938, Bert married Elvira Russell, whom he had met in Northport, Washington. Elvira was a schoolteacher and had a daughter, Carol, who now resides in Wasilla, Alaska. They arrived in Juneau aboard the steamer Northland. Bert built a family home on the Douglas Highway and Jim and Carol attended school in Douglas.
During WW II, Bert worked for the military as a carpenter at Excursion Inlet and in 1944-45, helped to build the powerhouses at the Naval Station at Adak in the Aleutian Islands. The family moved to Spokane, Washington, in 1950. Elvira passed away in 1959, and Bert passed on in 1971.
Carol graduated from Douglas High School in 1948, and attended Washington State College in Pullman, Washington. Jim graduated in 1951, and joined the Navy during the Korean War and served on an Admiral’s staff in Tokyo, Japan, from 1951-52. In 1952-53, Jim served for eight months in Korea until the War ended.
In 1956, while living in San Diego, California, Jim attended flight school to become a commercial pilot. He soloed in 1956, but had poor eyesight and needed glasses so was unable to join the airlines. He then joined the Army in 1958.
Jim retired from a career in the U.S. Army. He then returned to Alaska for good in 1982, when he was offered the position as night manager of Denny’s Restaurant in Anchorage. In 1983, Jim was hired as Marketing Director for Air Alaska at which time he met and married Janet Whelan, City Clerk of Kenai, in 1987. Jim and Janet went back to school and received degrees from the U. of Alaska, Kenai Campus.
In 1992, he and Janet moved back to Juneau. Jim worked as a Lieutenant for Knightwatch Security as the officer-in-charge of the uniformed guards when the Legislature was in session. In Juneau, as a Lieutenant Colonel, Jim commanded the First Battalion of the Alaska State Defense Force for six years, retiring in 1998. Jim then became a professional writer specializing in aviation, nautical and military history. To date, he has had over 80 articles published in magazines and has written a book titled, Pilots of the Panhandle, covering early aviation in Southeast Alaska. Presently, he is working on two books, Volume II of the aviation series, and a book on WW II in Southeast Alaska. He also has over 4,000 photos on Alaskan history.
He was awarded over 22 decorations and awards from the military service and in March 2000, was awarded the Denali Award as Alaskan of the Year. Jim has remained active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Elks, and the Pioneers of Alaska, serving twice as Igloo President. Janet stays busy with the Pioneers of Alaska, co-editor of a book about the pioneers of Juneau, Soroptomists, Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary and is president of our condo association. Janet cooks at the Glory Hole once a month and works as a free-lance secretary for several organizations such as the Humane Society.
Between them, Jim and Janet have seven children, eleven grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Ruotsala home on Douglas Highway. Back row: Bert and Elvira. Front row: Jim and Carol with dog "Speck."
First Sergeant Jim Ruotsala and Janet Routsala, 1995.