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Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Schmitz, Fred & Mae (Sturrock)

by Fred Schmidtz. Jr.

Fred (Fritz) Schmitz was born in Ravensdale, Washington, on Novermber 7, 1908. Traveling by steamship in 1927, to join some of his older brothers who were already working in Juneau, Fred found work first in the sawmill and later in the mine car shop located in the Perseverance Basin. The locals had a real passion for baseball, and the Schmitz brothers spent many hours playing ball on the Moose Club team. News of the Schmitz brothers’ ball playing prowess reached Seattle, and an article in the Seattle Times entitled, “Listen To This One” told of “Peter, Bill and Jack Schmitz each hitting a home run in the third inning of a game between the Moose and Elks, in Juneau, Alaska, June 27, 1930.” Fred met Mabel (Mae) Sturrock, his future bride-to-be shortly after his arrival in Juneau.

Mae’s mother sailed from Scotland with her five year old daughter and two year old son, Alexander (Stick) in 1914, to join Mr. Sturrock who was working as a carpenter for the Treadwell Mine. Another brother, Harry (Hub) was born five years later. Mae attended elementary school in Douglas while her father worked in the Douglas mine until the cave-in. After the cave-in the family moved across Gastineau Channel to Thane where
the family lived in A.J. Company housing for many years. Mae attended high school in Juneau, graduating in 1927. She then spent two years living in Seattle while attending Hall School of Commerce. Upon returning to Juneau, she began working for a Juneau doctor, Henry DeVighne.

The family always enjoyed Mae’s stories about the commute along the boardwalk from Thane to Juneau. Winters were especially dangerous because travelers had to pass below the Mt. Roberts slide chute. After learning to drive, she was allowed the use of the family car in order to attend after-school events in Juneau. Again, the boardwalk was “the road’ for several miles. Driving a car above the water at high tide was an exciting thing to do for Mae and her friends who would sometimes tag along. In the summer, Mae would stop the car, and the gang would swim for awhile under the boardwalk before continuing on home to Thane. She spoke of the rarity of seeing a car or a telephone in the city at that time.

Fred Schmitz and Mabel (Mae) Sturrock were married in Juneau on December 1, 1931. They set up housekeeping first in an apartment on Gastineau Avenue and later moved to Starr Hill. The couple had two children, Fred, Jr., and Lorene Mae. After the mine closed during World War II, Fred worked for a short time for the Federal Aviation Administration. Not owning a car kept the family at home most of the time until Fred, Sr. began a new job with Burt Caro Transfer. The family had the use of the transfer company truck and began spending time fishing at Montana Creek, picnicking at the Salt Chuck near Peterson Creek, and picking berries at “secret” places. Fred passed away in 1950, at age 42 after a short illness, leaving Mae a widow with two children to raise. She cared for children in her home, and her two young teenagers found work at the local movie theaters.

Simon (Sam/Scotty) Russell, a long time family friend and bachelor worked in the mine with Fred in the early years before World War II. Sam enlisted in the Army during the war and saw duty in Attu. After the War, Sam returned to Juneau and secured a job as a shipwright for Northern Commercial Company. Because of his pronounced Scottish accent, many people began to call him Scotty. Sam and Mae were married September 1953. Sam was the family “potato” planter. Living on Starr Hill was not conducive to vegetable gardens, but Sam solved the problem. He would take a Sunday drive, stopping along the way to plant potatoes here and there. The grandchildren were delighted when, later in the summer, he would stop the car and they would help him search for his potatoes. He loved growing things: Christmas Cactus in the house, tomatoes on the front porch and beautiful nasturtiums in his small rock garden in front of the house at 519 Kennedy Street.

In their declining years, the house on Kennedy Street was sold; and the couple moved to the Parkshore Condominiums. Sam passed away in 1984, at age 78, and Mae died in 1988 at age 80.