Parks and Recreation Image


Juneau-Douglas City Museum


Cesar, Santiago “Sam” & Mary

by excerpts from a video interview with Mary Cesar by Janet Ruotsala
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Mary Cesar went to school in Haines until the fifth grade, then she went to Sheldon Jackson in Sitka until the eighth grade. She then went back to Haines and lived with her grandmother and went to school and worked in the laundry and the hotel. Mary moved to Juneau when she was 17 and lived with her Aunt Jenny David. Santiago (Sam) Cesar had a large family in the Philippines. His mother was Amelia, his father was Delfon. They lived in the town of Alaputus. Sam’s surname was spelled Cezar in the Philippines. He and his brother, Andy, came by steerage to the United States in the 1920’s, with some of the people from their town. Sam joined the Coast Guard in Seattle. He was sent to Juneau on the ship Unalga and was in the Coast Guard for two or three years. He was discharged in Juneau and decided to stay here. Sam and Mary were married in 1935. They had seven children: Amelia Lillian, Kermit, Delfin, Niles, Marilyn Ann, Kenneth Robert and Michael. Sam went to work at the A.J. Mine as a crusher, and then he drove haul trucks. When the mine closed in 1944, he went fishing. He was a cook on a seine boat.

Before Sam and Mary Cesar had children, they lived on a chicken ranch with five acres, at Auke Bay. Sam rode to work on a motorcycle. The motorcycle woke the neighbors when he drove to work so he sold it and bought an old Ford that had to be cranked to start. In the summer, he worked at the cannery to help earn money to return his brother, Andy, to the Philippines, and in 1935, Sam took Andy back. Andy was later killed by the Japanese.

When Mary became pregnant, they sold the Auke Bay property. Amelia was born at the Government Hospital in Juneau. Mary stayed at the hospital ten days. The children got their Indian names from Mary’s Aunt Jenny, as it had to be a Raven who gave them their names. While they lived downtown, the kids used to go down to the Juneau Cold Storage to see the boats come in loaded with fish. They bought a house on Ninth Street, but sold it in the 1970’s, when the Urban Renewal program started. Later they bought a house, car and condo.

During the war, they bought the Tan Cafe. Mary walked from Ninth Street to work at night, up the middle of the street. In the 1940’s, they bought the Dew Drop Inn and the building and rented out the apartments upstairs. It was across from Pete Warner’s machine shop. The restaurant was busy-the Cold Storage, Coast Guard and the A.J. Mill were all working and running. Cesar’s had rented a juke box from Dick Garrison so they had music but no dancing. A new hotel/restaurant opened with music and dancing and the City Café reopened after the war when the Japanese owners came back, so business dropped.

From 1941 through 1943, the Cesars lived in Hoonah for three summers while Sam fished. They didn’t buy much from the company store as it was too expensive. They had electricity but no running water. The water was stored in a tent. The canneries were running all the time. All of the family remember the whistles that blew for meals, coffee breaks and shift change. Hoonah was a safe place for kids to be raised. They could walk from Icy Straits cannery to Hoonah on a trail, to go to the movies. There were strawberry patches along the way. They could pick and pay. The walk was long and they were afraid of bears so they didn’t go very often.

Back in Juneau, Mary worked at the Sarabia Restaurant for a while cooking Filipino dishes. She worked at the Alaskan Hotel nights as a dishwasher, cook and waitress. She also worked 16-hour days at the Baranof Hotel as a chamber maid. She napped during her lunch hour in the linen closet. She worked at Carson’s Bakery for 13 years and at the San Francisco Bakery for Messerschmidts for a short time. She remembers working at the Bataan, the Yacht Club (for Ben), the Imperial and the Old Timers Café. She worked five years with the school lunch program at the Catholic School.

After the kids were grown, Mary got her GED. With that, she went to work for the State of Alaska for about 15 years and worked one session for the legislature.

Sam got his first boat, the It, then the Defiance. They fished halibut in the It for a few years and had good luck until It sank in a storm about 1962, which was written up in the Alaska Magazine. They had the Mary C built in Tacoma about 1973. The family brought the boat from Tacoma to Juneau. While taking on water in Discovery Bay, their son got sick when stung by a bee, so they pulled in for repairs and called a doctor. Sam was arrested by the Canadians and held for 24 hours since he had not cleared customs. As they continued north, they followed in the wake of a barge for 48 hours into Ketchikan.

Mary went to the Philippines three times, the first time in 1963. The first and second times were during the Marcos reign. They had to be careful what they said. Mary went to Washington, D.C. when her son Niles graduated. She spent two weeks in Japan and three months in the Philippines.

In the earlier days in Juneau, the kids hitchhiked to Dredge Lake and also used to swim in the sand dunes, south of town, which they liked because it was close. They charged all their groceries at the Home Grocery and Spruce Delicatessen. Now that there are lots of people in Juneau, Mary doesn’t know many of them any more.