Parks and Recreation Image

Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Weschenfelder, Eugene E. and Marie

by Florence Johnson

Gene and Marie Weschenfelder “honeymooned” to Alaska in 1913, from Pennsylvania. They first met in adjoining backyards in Pittsburgh. Marie was hanging sheets as a housekeeper; Gene, born April 27, 1889, to Johann and Karolina Weschenfelder, was a recent immigrant from Coburg, Germany. After their brief courtship and marriage, on September 30, 1913, they were swayed by the wanderlust feeling and tickets were bought to Alaska.

Arriving in Juneau on a chilly, damp day, Gene heard that the Treadwell Mine was hiring. Trained as a butcher in Coburg, he was taken on at Treadwell. Marie agreed to stay reluctantly. It was a decision that would hold the rest of their lives. Comfortable housing was provided by the company and the newlyweds settled in.

Their only child, son Ernest, was born July 13, 1914. He attended school in Treadwell and Douglas, boarding out with the Guerin family. He graduated from the Juneau High School in 1932, in a class of eleven.

The mine cave-in on April 22, 1917, changed the lives of many. Gene continued to work as a butcher in Treadwell until few people remained. He then filed on a homestead previously owned by a Mr. Dahl, 160 acres on Spuhn Island, across from Fritz Cove Road in Juneau. He and Marie built a log home the hard way, cutting every tree that went into its making. A system was devised to use rain water in addition to a well, and a Delco Plant was installed to generate electricity. Gene started a fox farm using a few pairs of fox he bought from the Aleutians. This project consumed time and energy for over twenty years. A big garden was produced annually. Choice items were sold at a Juneau market in addition to Gene’s sausage. Gene prized the recipe for his sausage and it was a much sought-after product. In the late fifties, they sold the island. The garage they owned on the mainland across from the island on Fritz Cove Road was enlarged and converted to a small home. It is habited today and shows nice improvements have been made. Gene passed away in 1967, and Marie in 1971.

During this time span, their son Ernest attended the University of Washington, receiving a degree in forestry and civil engineering. Returning to Alaska, he served as a fire ranger, draftsman and then landed a job in Anchorage with the Civil Aeronautics Administration. He became a valued employee during the war years doing strategic planning of airfields in Alaska.

In 1944, Florence Jensen had come to Douglas to visit her brother Mark Jensen and wife Mamie. They introduced her to their lifelong friends the Weschenfelders. Marie suggested that Florence look up their son Ernest in Anchorage when she traveled on business there. A romance ensued and in 1945, they were married in the Episcopal Church in Juneau. All the flowers which decorated the church were from the gardens of Spuhn Island.

Ernie and Florence had five children, two who were born in Anchorage. There was a move out of Anchorage a few years later. Ernie was employed as a civilian in the Air Force in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Denver, most of that time in the Missile Program. During that time, he assisted an engineering team in developing a telescopic arm used to gather the first soil samples on Mars. While in Colorado, from 1963 - 1972, Florence taught home economics. After retirement, Ernie and Florence served as Peace Corps volunteers in Malawi, Africa, in 1975-76. It was a chance to “give something back.”

They retired to Green Valley, Arizona, built a new home and then opted to return to Alaska in 1988. They built a small house in Girdwood, a ski resort community south of Anchorage. Ernie was a member of the Pioneers of Alaska Igloo #15, Anchorage Elks Lodge and Lions Club. He passed away in 1991, and is buried in the Pioneer section of the Anchorage Cemetery.

The Weschenfelders loved Alaska and contributed to the legacy of being true pioneers of this great state.

Florence is a member of the Anchorage Symphony, PEO, Chapter C of Anchorage, and the Pioneers of
Alaska, Auxiliary #4. In 1992, she established Vintage Print Company which publishes post cards from Gene Weschenfelder’s many early pioneer day photos, and the book “Pioneering in Alaska” which chronicles Marie and Gene’s endeavors, as well as Ernie’s early years.

In 1993, Florence married Bruno Johnson who has lived in Anchorage for 52 years. They live in Arizona during the winters but still think of Alaska as their home.

Eugene, Ernie and Marie.

Treadwell School children. Ernest Weschenfelder top row, third from left.