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Juneau-Douglas City Museum

George, Thomas

by Esther George Babitzke

My grandfather, George Michael Lazar, was born in Duma, Syria, in 1861. He stopped off in Alexendria, Egypt, at an early age and was a shoe cobbler. He left Egypt for New York in 1881. When he went through immigration they transposed his name and ended up being Michael Lazar George. This had happened to many immigrants. His wife died during childbirth with her fifth pregnancy in 1908. Grandfather headed west after selling his business in Rhode Island and left four children, Thomas, Joseph, Gus and Mamie, with relatives. He landed in Douglas, Alaska, in 1911. He later sold his business in Douglas and moved to Juneau in 1921. He started another business, Leader Department Store, at the location of the old Simpson Nugget Shop. In 1922, he bought the building on Franklin and Ferry Way. Grandfather remarried in 1915, and had four more children. He then retired to Huntington Park, California, where he died in 1949.

The three older sons took over the Leader Department Store when grandfather left Alaska. In 1935, the Leader Department Store became a grocery, liquor and meat market. The store then became George Brothers. In 1947, the three brothers sold the business to Tom Hutchings and K.G. Merrit. They kept the liquor store. Later the liquor store was sold to Bill Ray. The brothers went into several other business ventures, some good and some bad.

My father, Thomas George was the oldest son born in 1898, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He married Freda Carrico. I was born in St. Ann’s Hospital in 1925. My brother, Thomas Michael, was also born at St. Ann’s Hospital in 1926. Thomas has two children and he is now retired and living in Tempe, Arizona.

I grew up in Juneau and graduated from Juneau High School in 1944. I then attended and graduated from Providence Hospital in Seattle, Washington, as a Registered Nurse in 1947. After graduating, I returned to Juneau and worked at the Bureau of Indian Affairs Hospital on Willoughby from 1947-52. I married and had a daughter, Lynn P. Brandow, who now resides in Monmouth, Oregon. She has two sons, James and Darren, who also reside in Oregon. After five years, I was divorced.

I married Herbert R. Babitzke in 1954. At the time, he was stationed on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Storis. He was discharged after six years of service. We moved to Corvallis, Oregon, where Herbert attended Oregon State University and graduated in 1959. We have a daughter, Tracy Ann Babitzke, who was born in St. Ann’s Hospital in Juneau in 1954. We left Juneau when she was only two months old. She is now a teacher in Silverton, Oregon, and lives in Monmouth.

We lived in Oregon until 1969, when Herbert was transferred to Washington, D.C. After five years he was then transferred to Augusta, Maine, where we lived for three years. On a side, in Maine we had more snow and cold weather than Juneau ever had. We then moved to Olympia and then back to D.C. and back to Spokane where Herb retired in 1985, after 33 years Federal Service including six years with the U.S. Coast Guard.

We built our retirement home in Olympia and loved it there, but as we got older, we decided we wanted warmer weather and less rain. We moved to Mesa, Arizona, in 1998, and live in Leisure World and we really enjoy living here with so many things to do.

We miss going back to Juneau but all members of my family have passed away. My father was the last to die in his family, even though he was the oldest. He lived to be 93-1/2 years old. He loved being in Juneau and came “south” for part of the winters. He died in Mexico while on vacation.

I am grateful for the many memories in Juneau. The miners going on shift with lanterns looking like fireflies. We rode our bikes on gravel roads to Treadwell to swim and to Salmon Creek. We never worried about locking our doors or walking the streets after dark. There were a few unpleasant memories with the slide on South Franklin, the burning of the Goldstein Building and the huge Douglas Island fire. On the lighter side, it was fun watching the Gastineau Channel Bridge being built and meeting in the center of the Channel. We watched it from our house as it was going up.

Now I look forward to our class reunions with our 60th being in Juneau in 2004. We still have many of our classmates around, and it is nice to keep in touch. All in all, Juneau was a great place to grow up.