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Juneau-Douglas City Museum


Varness

by Pat Fleek Varness
UID=793


Around 1924, three Varnes brothers came to America. They were Ingvald, Ole and Osvald. They settled in Juneau, Alaska.

INGVALD OLAF VARNES

Ingvald married Aasta Borgan in December 1923. He went to Alaska with his brothers Ole and Osvald. He stayed in Alaska and the two brothers went back to Norway. Ingvald brought Aasta to Alaska in 1924. They had three children, Ingvald, Astrid and Katherine. Ingvald became an American citizen in 1930.

His family stayed in Alaska until 1942, and moved to Seattle to continue their lives there. Aasta died in 1989, at the age of 89.

OLE VARNES

Ole fished in Alaska and perhaps worked in the gold mines before returning to Norway.

OSVALD VARNES

Osvald fished and worked in the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mines. He returned to Norway to marry Marie
Hostad and together they traveled to America aboard the boat, Duchess of Alhold, arriving in Quebec on October 17, 1930.

Osvald Albert Jonasen Varnes
3/6/1900 - 9/3/1972
U.S. Citizenship papers
11/1/1930 in Juneau, Alaska.

Marie Hostad
7/7/1905 - 12/3/1983
U.S. Citizenship papers
10/6/1939 in Juneau, Alaska

They had three children, Agnes, Mary and Oswald Albert. Osvald continued to work in the gold mines. The working conditions were poor and the hours were long. This was during the Great Depression and although the wages were minimal, he felt extremely fortunate to “have a job.”

In the late 1930’s, Osvald decided to return to the fishing industry. He found employment in Seattle and moved the family south. They were the first of a group of Norwegian families to move to Seattle from Juneau. They resided in the Ballard area which is a Scandinavian community and the Norwegians from Juneau remained a tightly knit group.

The family relied on Osvald’s income from halibut fishing in the spring and summer. This was “seasonal work.” He was a crew member earning a “boat share.” In the fall and winter, he would go trolling and seining for tuna, sardines, salmon, codfish, red snapper, etc. He had a reputation in the trade for being an excellent fisherman and was highly skilled and known for working well with his hands.

Shortly after World War II, Osvald was hired by the U.S. Government to go to China with a group to teach "Modern Methods of Fishing” to the Chinese. His skills, particularly in mending nets, were a major qualifying factor in his being selected for this job.

Marie was a homemaker and she was highly instrumental in instilling the Norwegian traditions which were of great importance to the family. In addition to raising the children and being the homemaker, she began supplementing the family income by working as a housekeeper in a Seattle hotel in the mid-1940’s.

Both Marie and Osvald returned to Norway to visit their families. Osvald returned in 1954, and Marie returned in 1949, and again in 1972.

INGVALD OLAF VARNESS FAMILY
by Pat Fleek Varness

My husband, Ingvald Olaf Varness, and his twin sister Astrid, came into the world at St. Ann’s Hospital in Juneau, on January 19, 1926. Ing’s birth preceded Astrids’ by 28 minutes. Both twins weighed in at a little over six pounds each. There were not too many twins in Juneau at that time, so it was quite an event. Two years later, another little sister joined Ingvald and Astrid and her name was Kathy. She was born at home in Douglas. At that time, there was a ferry running between Douglas and Juneau, but the weather was real bad and the stork could not wait any longer.

Ingvald’s father was a fisherman and had his own boat. In 1930, the boat caught fire and blew up while on the grid. He then went to work at the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mine as a bulldozer. His name was also Ingvald and he worked at the mine until his death from double pneumonia in 1934. Ing was only eight at the time of his father’s death and only had vague recollections of him. Ing’s mother fed and clothed the children by taking in boarders after his father died. They lived in a house at the foot of the trail going to Mt. Roberts. In 1936, his mother married John T. Holm. Ing always said that Ture was a wonderful stepfather and treated him like his own son. They were married two years and had a daughter name Kay and later another named Alice. Ing said that his school years were mostly spent day dreaming about hunting and fishing and the boat his pal, Ralph Mielke, and him were going to buy when they grew up. He said he went to Sunday School every Sunday and played the clarinet in the school band.

In 1942, the Japanese attacked the Aleutian Islands and his mother figured that was too close to home, so she left a note for Ture while he was out fishing. The note stated that she had sold the house and moved to Seattle, Washington. They went to Seattle on the M/V North Sea.

Ing and his sisters enrolled in school. Ing lasted six months. It was just too much of a change for him in the big city. He went to work for Boeing Aircraft as a parts man and then after a few months, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Ing’s schooling in the Coast Guard consisted of boot camp in Port Townsend, Washington; Advanced Seamanship at Catalina Island, California; and Gunnery School at San Diego, California. After Ing had completed his Coast Guard training, he was off to San Pedro, California, where he transferred to a patrol frigate. Ing spent the next year and a half at sea in the South Pacific until he was given a medical discharge on October 1945.

After being discharged, Ing went to school at Broadway High School and received his G.E.D. While attending school, all he could think of was returning to Juneau. Finally, he got his break and worked his way to Ketchikan on a halibut schooner. The captain dropped him there, because they were going to Kodiak and bypassing Juneau.

In Ketchikan, with twenty dollars in his pocket, he got a job with Nordby Supply Company. His job lasted only until he had enough money for a steerage ticket to Juneau on the M/V Baranof. After purchasing his ticket, Ing only had enough money for three or four meals. Upon arrival in Juneau, Ing was disappointed as he saw just a few familiar faces. He moved in with his Aunt and Uncle John and Sina Sonderland on Starr Hill
and then got a job driving for Royal Blue Cab Company, owned by Pauline and Bill Cady. Ing and I (Pat Fleek) met while he drove for Royal Blue Cab. I worked evenings at the Capitol Theater (where the Juneau-Douglas Little Theater is now).

We were married February 10, 1947. I was working for the Alaska Road Commission, Territory of Alaska, since we could not live on what Ing made driving cab. At that time, Ing made just fifty cents a fare. After Ing’s employment with Royal Blue Cab, he worked as a truck spotter for R.J. Sommer Construction Company, a halibut fisherman for one season, and eventually taking an apprenticeship as an electrician.

Ing loved being an electrician. Since Ing worked in construction, we had to move to Seattle in 1954, as there was no work in Juneau. While in Seattle, Ing worked for Beckstrom Electric and the University of Washington. We came back to Juneau in 1959. We left again in 1960, as there was no work in Juneau once again. Ing traveled to New York to work on the Worlds Fair. In 1963, Ing returned to Juneau to work as foreman and ultimately worked on the Federal Building, Bill Ray Center, the hospital, Lemon Creek Correctional Center and the Hilton Hotel. I joined him in 1964, and went to work for First National Bank of Anchorage.

Ing finally got the boat that he dreamt about for so many years. His pride and joy was a 21-foot Glasply that he bought from Herb Bonnett. Ing named the boat Ing and Ting which means nothing in Swedish. Ing spent many happy hours fishing on it and he didn’t care if he caught anything. A fish was always a bonus for Ing.

After working as an electrician for 36 years, an injury on the job eventually ended his career as an electrician. After Ing’s injury, he had to be retrained by Vocational Rehabilitation. Ing attended the University of Alaska Southeast, taking a variety of classes, and eventually got an accounting certificate. After his tenure at UAS, Ing worked for Lyles Hardware for a year as a sales clerk. We then retired and moved to Port Angeles. Shortly, thereafter, Ing was diagnosed with lung cancer. We lived there until 1988, when we returned to Juneau. He wanted to go back to Juneau to die. He died January 26, 1988 at home with family. Ing and I had a wonderful life together raising two sons and two daughters and eventually having 15 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.

PATRICIA RUTH FLEEK VARNESS
by Bobbi Ann Varness, Granddaughter
Daughter of Robert & Beverly Varness

Being the average teenager that I am, I have never really stopped to think about the past. So when I think about the oldest person who I know, I think of my Grandma Patricia Ruth Varness.

On May 14, 1927, my grandma was born to George A. and Elizabeth Berg Fleek, in their home in Cactus Garden, Arizona. Her oldest sister, Leona, who was 17, was the one to name her Patricia Ruth. Having two brothers, Sonny and Bob, and two older sisters, Leona and Marjorie, my grandma was the baby of the family.

She says she does not remember too much about Cactus Gardens, but she does remember that the houses were owned by the Inspiration Mining Company. It was actually just a canyon with a few houses on each side. When she was 5 years old the family home was one of five houses that were burned to the ground. After the fire, the family moved to Inspiration, Arizona, that was close by.

In 1934, grandma, together with her mom, brother Bob, her sister, Marjorie, moved to Douglas, Alaska, to join her dad who had preceded them. Brother Bob was 11 and grandma was 7. They docked in Juneau and she remembers asking her dad how they were going to get to Douglas. He replied that they would take a ferry as the Juneau-Douglas Bridge was not built until 1935.

Douglas was so different from Arizona. Grandma was used to walking around in bare feet, but in Douglas it was too cold for that so she wore shoes all the time. She remembers getting teased by all the kids as she was always saying, “Well down in Arizona...” but she soon got over that and was one of the Douglas kids. One thing that she liked about moving to Douglas was that she had lots of cousins; Alfreda and Clayton Fleek were close to her age.

In 1937, when she was 10 years old, she went through a fire again. Half the town of Douglas was burned down. Grandma remembers her mom waking her up and telling her to get dressed and go tell her brother, Sonny, and his family that the town was on fire. Grandma remembers the Taku wind was really blowing and the cinders were flying near her as she ran to her brother’s house to warn them, but they already knew about the fire heading their way. Sonny’s rental house was destroyed in the fire and they lost everything.

At the time of the fire, grandma was living in the Catholic Church house located by the baseball ground. The Department of Highways and post office is there now. Across from the church house was the Russian Orthodox Church that was also destroyed by fire; also the Odd Fellows building that was on the Juneau side of the church house. Tony Simon’s store next to the church house was also destroyed. The church house has recently been remodeled with a full basement and the new owner has purchased the Catholic Church and is using it as his carpenter shop.

After the fire, they went to different places for school such as City Hall and the Episcopal Church until the new school was built.

Every child has a special teacher they remember and grandma’s was Grace Naghel. In addition to her regular classes, Grace Naghel taught dancing. Grandma remembers the Irish dance and Spanish hat dance. Once, Grace Naghel took grandma and the class to her home in Juneau where she opened a large trunk and let each of them pick out something they would like to keep. My grandma does not know why, but she picked out a pair of those old-fashioned laced shoes that certainly would not be in style today. When it was time for their school picnic, Grace Naghel took them to her folks’ summer home by Jordan Creek. After playing games and riding in a rowboat, they went across the street to Kendler’s Dairy and had some of Mrs. Kendler’s delicious ice cream. Kendler’s Dairy has been replaced by the Juneau Airport. Grace Naghel is ninety years old now and lives in California. Both grandma and her brother, Bob, correspond with her.

Even though she grew up at the end of the Depression and World War II, grandma says it was a good time. They didn’t have computers, TV, McDonalds or Taco Bell, but they knew everyone in town. They played baseball, rode their bikes, played “King of the Hill” and “Red Light, Green Light.” Grandma said that we always felt blessed growing up in Douglas. “It was a small town then, and even though everyone knew everything about you, it was like a big family,” she said.

Grandma went to school in Douglas until her freshman year. Her dad worked for the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mining Company and was a powerhouse operator. During her second year of high school, they lived in the Coliseum Apartments that were later destroyed by fire. After the Coliseum Apartments, they moved to the Salmon Creek Powerhouse. Grandma’s dad’s next move was to the Nugget Creek Powerhouse by the Mendenhall Glacier.

While living at Nugget Creek, grandma would walk to the Loop Road to catch the school bus used to
transport all the school kids to Juneau. Sometimes she would ride her bike to catch the bus and then hide the bike in the bushes. Grandma remembers waiting for the bus in the dark of the morning and hearing the wolves howling. It was very scary as there were no houses nearby.

Grandma’s dad was later transferred from the Nugget Creek Powerhouse to the main powerhouse at the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mining Company on South Franklin Street in Juneau. During the time grandma’s dad worked at the main power plant in Juneau, the family lived at the Odd Fellows Apartments that was located across the street from the Baranof Hotel. Grandma said, “Looking back on all the places that I lived makes me sad as not one is there anymore except the Catholic Church house in Douglas and the Odd Fellows Apartments in Juneau.” At Salmon Creek Powerhouse, the three houses that were there when she was 16 years old have been torn down. The house at the Nugget Creek Powerhouse near the Mendenhall Glacier has been torn down.

During World War II, there were over 10,000 service men stationed in and around Juneau, mostly at Duck Creek.

When she was 17 years old, grandma worked the summer at the USO Club in the kitchen making hamburgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, etc. Zack Gordon was the director and Alida Matheson was the assistant director. It was interesting work, and it was also interesting for grandma to meet all the different men from around the states. The men at the USO voted grandma “Queen of the USO” in 1945.

After graduating from high school in May 1945, grandma went with her mom to visit her sister, Leona, and brother-in-law George Hill. After the visit, grandma’s mom returned to Juneau but grandma stayed with her sister and started working for Rheem Mft. Grandma did not work there long because she got homesick and took the boat back to Juneau. Returning to Juneau, grandma got a job with John Young and Joe Werner who were accountants. Giving me advice she says, “Most of my working years were in banking. I figure if you didn’t have money, you might as well be close to it.”

In September 1945, grandma went with her parents and brother Bob to Seattle and then to Salt Lake City, Utah, by bus where she attended the wedding of her best girlfriend. After the wedding they attended Bob’s wedding on September 14, 1945. Brother Bob married Georgia Lee Wilky who he had met in Phoenix, Arizona, while stationed at Williams Air Corps Base nearby.

After Bob’s wedding, grandma returned to Juneau while her folks headed for Pennsylvania to attend a family reunion. Grandma headed for Juneau because she was in love with her future husband, Ingvald Varness, a Starr Hill kid. They were married February 10, 1947. This was the day of her folk’s 38th wedding anniversary. Grandma and grandfather had 42 years together until his death on January 26, 1988.

Grandmother and Grandfather Varness had four children: John Michael, Ingrid Elizabeth, Linda Kathleen and Robert Arthur. From their children they have 15 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. Grandma says, “If you want to stay young you should hang around young people. That is what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years, off and on, as I have been doing day care in my home. It keeps me young at heart!”


Pat and Ingvald, 1984.