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Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Doucette, Marguerite Kremer

by Jeannette Doucette McLeod

Marguerite Kremer Doucette was born January 1, 1909 to John and Katherine Kremer in Bettendorf, Luxembourg. (Luxembourg is a 999 square mile Grand Duchy governed by either a Duke or Duchess. It is located at the corner intersection of France, Belgium and German). Marguerite was the eldest of six girls and two boys. Her parents had their own home and farm. Each child was expected to work on the farm, help in the house and care for the younger children. She attended a two-room school house (one side for girls, the other for boys) where they learned French and German as well as the basic subjects. The girls were also taught the many types of knitting, crocheting, tatting and sewing. Graduating from the eighth grade (equivalent of American high school) she began domestic service in a neighboring town as housekeeper and governess to a Belgian general’s family. If she missed the train at night after work, she would walk the miles to home along the railroad tracks because she did not like being away from home, mother and siblings. After two years in service, the general was transferred and Marguerite traveled with them to Belgium and then to Paris. After a brief time, she and a cousin were employed by the American Ambassador to France, James C. Dunn. (Mrs. Dunn was the oldest daughter of the Armour family of the Armour Meat Packing Co.) It was while in France, that Marguerite was trained as a Cordon Bleu chef. The domestic staff traveled with the ambassador’s family to Europe as well as the United States. It was while employed at the American Embassy that she met Charles Doucette. After a time in the U.S., Charles and Marguerite were married in Ellsworth, New Hampshire, August 13, 1928.

Charles continued to travel with the ambassador’s family and Marguerite remained in the United States. Their daughter Jeannette was born in Washington D.C. January 3, 1931. Charles and Marguerite then were employed by the Jewett Shoese family. Mr. Shoese was a lobbyist and Mrs. Shoese was the daughter and later inherited the Feline and Marshall Field Department Stores. Here they met Ernest and Dorothy Gruening. Ernest Gruening was then editor of a New Hampshire paper and looking for domestics. Charles and Marguerite were employed by the Gruenings until they moved to New York. They then were employed by the Goodwin family of Boston. They were then recommended to the Francis Cummings family at Prides Crossing, Massachusetts.

The Depression over, Marguerite decided to take her daughter to Europe to meet her grandparents. In May 1939, they sailed on the Laconia to Liverpool, England where they boarded the night train to Belgium and then on to Luxembourg. While in Luxembourg, WWII began with the invasion of Poland. Luxembourg was a neutral country. American passports were no longer valid for travel in several countries as the citizen’s safety could not be assured. After six months of correspondence with the American Embassy in Luxembourg and through intercession of the legislature of Massachusetts, several prominent statesmen such as Cordell Hull and lobbyist Jewett Shoese, and over the objections of the ambassador, they were given clearance to change their ship tickets from return on the Queen Mary in Liverpool to the Count de Savoy at Naples, Italy. They traveled from Luxembourg, Switzerland, Belgium, France and finally to Italy. After two weeks in Italy, they were allowed to board the Count de Savoy, the last ship to leave Italy for America. All the passengers aboard were family members of government personnel, wives and children. There were three male passengers other than crew; a boxer, his manager and his doctor. They arrived in New York on Christmas Eve, 1939.

At this time, Ernest Gruening was appointed Governor of Alaska and Dorothy Gruening was looking for staff at the Governor’s Mansion. Marguerite and family arrived in Juneau on May 26, 1941, for one year employment and remained. Marguerite maintained and supervised the running of the Mansion until 1966. She was known for her culinary cooking and hospitality during the terms of Governors Gruening, Stepovich, Heintzleman, Hendrickson, Egan, and Hickel.

She was remembered by many prominent celebrities who entertained the service men during the war years and visited the Mansion—Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Berggen, Ingrid Bergen, and Edna Ferber are among a few. Marguerite was the basis for Edna Ferber’s French cook in her book “Ice Palace” and was lauded in Ernest Gruening’s book “Many Challenges.” Many foreign dignitaries also complimented her on her expert culinary art and her ability to speak their language fluently. She also was called upon to translate at times of emergency. One time a crew man from a tour ship needed to have a tooth pulled and no one could speak either French or German. She translated for the doctor and held the man’s hand until the operation was completed and he was returned to the ship. Many a delivery person remembered that there was always a tray of cookies on the table when they made their rounds. Many Juneau boys were employed at the Mansion to do odd jobs and also enjoyed the cookies, cakes, and pies.

Marguerite is remembered for her Sarah Coventry at-home parties, and as an Avon sales lady. She was an active member and officer in many organizations; Women of the Moose, Better Business Professional Women, Perseverance Rebekah Lodge, Catholic Daughters of America and Pioneers Auxiliary #6.

She traveled to Europe to visit her family every two years and entertained her visiting sisters at her home in Juneau several times. She was employed by the Department of Revenue until her retirement in 1973. She moved to the Pioneers Home in 1998, and celebrated her 90th birthday on January 1, 1999.