by Dorothea Hendrickson Forrest
The year is 1958, the month is December. After 92 years as a U.S. Territory, Alaska soon will become the 49th State. My parentís (Acting Governor and Mrs. Waino E. Hendrickson) had a large part in this transition. Dad, who was appointed Secretary of Alaska by President Eisenhower in 1953, was also, for the second time, filling the position of Alaskaís governor.
In August, he had supervised a primary election and in November, a general election when Alaskans had for the first time chosen their own governor, lieutenant governor, two U.S. Senators and one U.S. Representative. He had also supervised gathering an inventory of all the Territoryís assets. His was the responsibility of answering the many transitional questions; and to work with the Interior Department, to insure that the change would be as smooth as possible for the sake of Alaskaís people. He was one person filling two extremely demanding jobs.
December would be the last month of the last year of Alaska as a Territory. Juneau, full of the usual holiday spirit, was additionally electric with anticipation. My parents wished the last Christmas Reception in the Territorial Governorís house to be a memorable occasion, a mid-December celebration of family, friends, and the whole Gastineau Channel area. My dad was born in Juneau in 1896, to Finnish immigrants who had first met in Astoria, Oregon, at the home of my grandmotherís brother. After their marriage, they moved to California where my grandfather completed his U.S. Citizenship, and then headed for Juneauís gold rush. My grandmotherís brother, Fred Hannila, his wife and daughter joined them. The four children born to Henry and Maria Hendrickson produced eight grandchildren, who by 1958, had increased the family census to 35. The family of Mariaís brother had increased by 25. Dad now had about 50 in-laws, uncles, nieces, nephews, first, second and third cousins living in the Gastineau Channel area. This extended family assisted Dad and Mom in hosting the Open House, greeting, pouring, and passing refreshment trays to the more than 500 persons who attended. Neva Egan, the wife of Governor Elect Bill Egan, (who was unable to attend due to his recent hospitalization) was an honored guest with their son, Dennis. The mansion, a vibrant holiday Christmas card, was beautiful. Marguerite Doucette prepared a superb assortment of Christmas cookies, cakes, pastries and punch from her domain in the mansionís kitchen.
On December 30, 1958, President Eisenhower invited my father to be present during the January 3, 1959, signing of his Executive Order and Proclamation announcing Alaskaís statehood. Secretary Seaton telephoned dad to advise the invitation to represent the Territory was forthcoming. Dad reminded Seaton that it was illegal for him to be absent from Alaska as he was both Secretary of Alaska and Governor. ďConsider it a command performance,Ē he was told.
There were about 75 to 100 newsmen, photographers and TV cameramen gathered to witness the occasion, which started promptly at noon and lasted about three minutes. Three minutes to compress 92 years in which Alaska had survived more as a colony than a Territory.
Dad was part of those 92 years. He was seven years old when the border between Canada and Alaska had been finalized; nine, when Tongass National Forest had been formed; fifteen, the year the first Territorial Legislature convened. When he graduated from Juneau High School in 1916, his class was urging that fish traps be made illegal. He went moose hunting up Taku River; he and his brother fished the ďBread LineĒ between Eagle River Harbor and Tee Harbor, catching fish faster than he could bait his hook. He was 21 when he joined the Army, trained at Fort Seward in Haines, and was sent to the Presidio at San Francisco, his first experience outside of Alaska. His Army tour ended at Camp Grant, Illinois, when WWI was over and he was discharged. He worked in the machine shop at Thane.
He met my mother, Marion Kingnorth, who had graduated in August, 1922, from St. Josephís Hospital School of Nursing in Victoria, B.C. She came to nurse at St. Annís Hospital right from her graduation. They were married in 1924. At that time, he was assistant wharfinger of the Juneau City Dock. The year before I was born he became associated with the Alaska Laundry. Washing machines werenít standard home equipment in those days, so he became acquainted with most of Juneau in his duties of delivering clean laundry and making collections. He became a volunteer fireman, joined the American Legion, and was on the St. Annís Hospital board. In 1937, he acquired an FHA loan and built a home in Juneau. When WWII came, he was an air raid warden. He ran for Mayor of Juneau and won in 1945. That was the first of five terms. He served two sessions in the Territorial House of Representatives. Both his job as mayor and as legislator ended when he was appointed Secretary of Alaska in 1953, under Governor Frank Heintzleman.
In the five months prior to statehood, Dad had worked with the Interior Department to get Alaska the best statehood purse he could, while others worked with Congress. All he could hope for was the best, as the signing was over, and he was out of a job!
While in Washington, D.C. for the signing, Secretary Seaton asked Dad to be the chairman of the Alaska Field Committee. If he accepted the position, he would spend the next five years helping the Interior Department with the many aspects of enabling the statehood act. He was 63 years old; in five years he would be 68. He accepted.
My mother was named Woman of the Year for 1958 in the Gastineau Channel area. In his statement when presenting her with a plaque honoring her, Dr. I.J. Montgomery cited her keen, kindly understanding of human nature in her work for the area in which she had lived since 1922. He also observed that she had served as Alaskaís first lady over two long periods. She, like my dad, had been active in American Legion projects, and she had been instrumental in starting the St. Annís Hospital Guild. She had also become an active, enthusiastic member of the Juneau Pioneers.
My earliest memory is of my dad showing me the swimmers in the water below me. He was holding me firmly on the balcony railing over the swimming tank of the Arctic Brotherhood (A.B.) Hall. This large building once was located next to the old City Hall/Fire Hall on the corner of Main and Fourth Streets and was where he had learned to swim. Shortly after that, the swimming tank was taken out of use and the hall used for dances, basketball games and roller skating, until it was eventually torn down to make way for the Alaska State Office Building. There was a rifle range in the basement where in the 1940ís the high school rifle club received instruction in the proper handling of firearms.
The coming of Christmas was announced by the arrival of the Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogues, usually at the end of summer. We would pour over them, compare one with the other, make our list, add it up, and revise it again and again, until we finally achieved the spending goal advocated by our parents. Because all mail arrived by boat, the very latest the order could be mailed would be mid October.
Another early memory is of the Christmas boats. I remember waiting in line to go up the gangplank to the shipís deck, the long line winding around to the main entrance, and then descending a flight of stairs to a large reception area. The line wound around the room, past the little passageways leading to staterooms and ended at an immense decorated Christmas tree, next to Santa who was majestically sitting and talking to the children
who often climbed onto his lap. He would hand each child a candy filled stocking.
My parents were active in Juneauís American Legion. In the early 1930ís, the Juneau organization began actively participating in child welfare programs promoted by the national organization. There was a definite need for this in Juneau. Too frequently, there was no temporary place for the children of inmates in the Territorial Jail to stay. The jail cook, a venerable lady named Minnie Field, provided temporary care for a large number of these waifs. She lived in a little house next to the back of the jail, at the top of the stairs ascending from Calhoun Avenue. I remember going there with my mother, there were kids everywhere. The American Legion raised funds to provide milk and other nourishing food for the kids, while the Auxiliary had bake sales and clothing drives, as most of the children arrived at Minnieís with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Each year the Legion members assembled bright red crepe paper poppies. They were sold to be worn as lapel pins on Memorial Day. There was always a parade, ending at the Evergreen Cemetery. After a memorial ceremony, wreaths fashioned of hemlock boughs and decorated with poppies were laid on the graves of veterans. A contingent also marched to a dock, where again Taps was played and wreaths tossed into the water to honor those who had died at sea.
I was in eighth grade when the bombing of Pearl Harbor changed our lives completely. This caused another heartache; the removal of the Japanese families to camps in the United States. A classmate, Tommy Fukuyama, whose parents owned a laundry and dry cleaning plant, was one of the casualties. Tom had an older brother, Walter, and two older sisters, Mary and Ethel. The sisters had been my counselors at Girl Scout Camp; both graduated from Juneau High. Mr. Fukuyama designated my father to act in his behalf to look after his property during his absence. This was no small task. It was valuable property in the middle of downtown Juneau. There were those who wanted to have it condemned so they could buy it at much less than its value.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the bombing of Dutch Harbor, and the occupation of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands, emphasized Alaskaís precarious position. In rapid succession, we had air raid drills, blackout curtains on all windows, air raid wardens, required first aid classes for adults and children, air raid shelters, and caches of survival supplies. Streetlights were wrapped so the light shone straight down. Dad had all the duties of blackout checking. My mother proudly made our blackout curtains from a discarded heavy velvet stage curtain from the old Coliseum Theater. In 1942, we practiced air raid drills from the grade school. Each eighth grader was assigned three younger children for whom they were responsible. The middle grades lined up much as they did to go into school, with the teacher leading them. Because time would be critical, we were instructed to immediately take the children up the steps to Seventh Street and then down into Evergreen Bowl, across the baseball field to Gold Creek, across Gold Creek and up the mountainside to one of the tunnels dotting the lower sides of Mt. Juneau. The practice drills didnít include the creek crossing.
I donít remember how many we were entering our freshman year; our class had already taken a big hit from families moving south. Our graduating class was one of the smallest since the early 1920ís, twenty-eight graduated and only eight were boys. As we were graduating in 1946, veterans were returning, many of them just a year or two older than we, some going back to school to finish their education.
Getting married during the war, with all the restrictions and travel problems is another story for another day!