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Juneau-Douglas City Museum


Wright, Ralph G. and Mary (Ramsay)

by Elwin Wright
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The steamer Jefferson first brought young Ralph Gerald Wright to Juneau in April of 1924. Following World War I Navy duty and two years of college, he sought a teaching job in Alaska. Finding nothing available, he found work at the AJ Mine.

At this time, Alaskan pioneer, Jim Ramsay, Sr., formerly of Treadwell, was shift boss at the AJ. He became aware of Ralph and his teaching abilities and invited him to help his youngest son, James, Jr., with his handwriting. Also at the Ramsay home was a daughter, May. As the tutoring continued, Ralph and May were attracted and a romance developed. In September, Ralph returned to his schooling in Seattle at the University of Washington. Steady long distance correspondence prevailed, and Ralph and May were wed in August of 1926, in Juneau at the Ramsay home.

The newlyweds soon left for Montana for a teaching position. After one year, the couple was drawn back to Alaska where Ralph accepted a principal’s position in Haines. In August of 1927, their first son, James, was born in Juneau. In 1928, a second son, Elwin, was born in Haines. The young Wright family remained in Haines until 1931, often making trips down to Juneau on the Army vessel, Fornance. Ralph accepted the position of principal at White Cliff School in Ketchikan in 1931. During vacations and holidays the family often visited
grandparents and uncles in Juneau.

Mr. Ramsay died in 1937, and Mrs. Ramsay suffered a debilitating stroke in 1941. Ralph and May decided to return to Juneau to help care for Mrs. Ramsay. World War II was on, and it was a hectic time. No teaching positions were immediately available, so Ralph found work at the Subport. Juneau was rapidly growing, and soon Ralph was offered a teaching position by then Superintendent A. B. Phillips. With meager salary, Ralph found a second job to support his family by night clerking at the Juneau Hotel.

In the spring of 1946, Mrs. Ramsay passed away. Young son James was in the Army in Germany, and son Elwin was completing his senior year at Juneau High School. In 1947, May opted to return to the Juneau work force, first with the Territorial Legislature, next at the B.M. Behrends business office, and finally with the then Territorial Department of Revenue. She worked there until retirement in 1967.

Harborview Elementary School opened in 1952, with Ralph as principal. Ralph thoroughly loved his years at Harborview and spent ten years there until retiring from the school district in l962.

It was in December of 1947, that their son James was killed in a car/pedestrian accident in Oregon. With their other son now in college and the home on 10th and D sold, Ralph and May in 1949, moved to the Assembly Apartments where they were most comfortable and happy. From the very earliest, both May and Ralph fully involved themselves in community activity as well as their family and work. They took leadership roles in several organizations, including Pioneers of Alaska, American Legion, Lions Club, Eastern Star and Northern Light Presbyterian Church. Both were honored for over fifty years service in these endeavors.

When son Elwin wed Bonnie Chesney in Juneau in 1950, there was renewed joy in the family. The joy increased with the arrival of the first granddaughter, Gwel, and next grandson, Gary, both born at St. Ann’s.

After retiring from the school district, Ralph felt the need to continue working in a different role. He took a position with the State Department of Education. After five years, in 1967, both May and Ralph retired and moved to Edmonds, Washington, to be near their son, Elwin, and family. Ralph passed away in 1985. Bonnie Wright died in May of 2000 after a lengthy illness. May now resides at Hearthside, an adult care facility in Lynnwood, near son Elwin and family. In September of 2000, Elwin took a brief “sentimental journey” to the Channel area, as it will always be home!