by Jack Hermle
My father, John Hermle, Sr., arrived in Juneau in 1926, from his family home near San Jose, California, to visit his uncle, Gus Messerschmidt and his aunt Gertrude Messerschmidt, proprietors of the old San Francisco Bakery. The building is now the Silverbow Inn and Back Room Restaurant. He worked in Juneau that summer for L.F. Morris to help build some houses near Fifth and Gold Streets. In the fall, he returned home to the family farm in Los Gatos, for winter. However, he wasn’t interested in farm work. He liked Juneau and the surrounding wilderness, the hunting and the fishing, so he returned to Alaska.
His first experience with the grocery business was an old boxy wooden delivery truck that he drove for the Gastineau Grocery in the downtown area. At that time, almost everything was in the downtown area except for a dairy farm or two near what is now the airport. Later he drove for the California Grocery, owned by Nick Bavard. There is a large black and white photograph at Carr’s Safeway of an old square, boxy California Grocery delivery truck that my dad might have driven.
My mother, Helen Hegberg, born in 1903, was the daughter of Swedish immigrants Andrew and Anna Jackson) Hegberg and grew up in Seattle. She met my dad while walking with her girl friend in Seattle. My dad, a sailor on the battleship California was on leave at the time. My mother was visiting a friend in Ketchikan when my dad, who was living in Juneau at the time, invited her to come to Juneau, which she did. Sometime later, in August, 1928, they were married by Frank Boyle, the U.S. Commissioner. They rented the upper half of a house near the old St. Ann’s Hospital on Sixth Street. During this time, she was working for an attorney as a secretary, then as a homemaker while my sister and I were growing up.
In 1935, Dad joined Joe Thibodeau in partnership and they purchased the Home Grocery building on the corner of Willoughby and E Street where the Federal building property is now. E Street is now known as Glacier Avenue. Four years later he bought out Thibodeau’s interest in the business.
In 1937, they purchased from Gus Messerschmidt a house on E Street (Glacier Avenue), right across from the old corrugated metal and heavy timber Fair Building, built in the gold mining days. The Bill Ray Center replaced the Fair Building sometime during the 1970’s. When my dad acquired the house, four lots were also included. The property line bordered Tenth Street on one side and Eleventh Street on the other. The total cost of the house and lots was about $5,000. Before dial phones came into existence, the caller would ask the operator, “Black 450, please,” which was our phone number.
My sister, Jean, married Gene Mitchell, a local mechanic, shortly after she graduated from Juneau High School, and they raised a family of six children. She lived with her family at various times in Oregon, Alaska, Washington and is currently living in Polson, Montana.
During the time that I was a kid of elementary school age, such things as shooting marbles and playing guns around the neighborhood were some of the things that I did with my friends. An occasional picnic in the Evergreen Bowl (now Cope Park) as well as Treadwell Beach with Mom, friends and relatives was always great fun. We would ride the Douglas bus, which was an old school bus, right to the beach where there were picnic tables, swings and a teeter-totter. There was nothing much at Sandy Beach at the time. In Juneau, the Ninth Street hill was blocked off in the winter at times for sledders. Gold Street hill was also a popular riding hill for kids with their sleds. Winter was not quite as much fun when walking all the way to the Fifth Street school. I always walked, no matter what the weather. Powerful Taku winds were more frequent then. I sometimes had to walk backward into the wind.
I graduated from Juneau High School on Fifth Street with the class of 1954. The building now houses legislative offices. I attended Oregon State College from 1954 to 1958, along with five of my friends and classmates from Alaska; namely Ernest Polley, Pete Argetsinger, Dave Hill, Bruce Casperson and Jay Braun. We all joined the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity.
During the summers in the late 50’s, while home from college, I drove the delivery and freight truck for Dad’s store, Home Grocery and American Meat and Home Liquor. Orvald Osborne drove the truck during the winter months and went commercial fishing about the time I would return from college, which was quite convenient. I did three grocery deliveries per day. The store had three different sizes of folding wooden delivery boxes. I would pick up freight at the Alaska Steamship Company warehouse on the dock and sometimes from West Coast Grocery. American Meat had extra cold storage space at Sturm’s Lockers, near the ball park on Glacier Avenue. A restaurant supply business and a small sushi restaurant now inhabit the building. Glover’s grocery store was right across the street where the Goldbelt building now stands.
I returned to Juneau upon graduation from college, joined the Alaska Army National Guard, then flew out to the P.E. Harris Company salmon cannery at Hawk Inlet, along with Ernest Polley, to work for the summer season. I was a trap guard on a floating log salmon trap for two weeks, then became a crewman on a cannery brailing boat. During the “brailing” operation, we would stand or kneel on a plank across a “spiller” on the trap and pull on the net while two men pulled the plank across the spiller. This operation would get the fish into a smaller and smaller pocket so that they could be scooped into the fish bins on the boat, with a winch, boom and net contraption.
After boot camp that fall and winter of 1958-1959, I returned to Juneau and went to work for Alaska Coastal Airlines in the tools and parts section as an assistant to Rod Sudman in the seaplane base building. The shops and hangars have since been transformed into what is now the Merchant’s Wharf.
Mom and dad divorced in 1959. She worked for the Employment Security Commission and when she retired at age 79, she was reportedly the oldest state employee at that time. She died on January 2, 1993, at Polson, Montana.
Dad later married Alberta (Gallwas) Delebecque, who was born in Douglas on April 14, 1908. After graduating from Douglas High School in 1927, she attended the University of Washington and Bellingham Normal School, then returned to Southeast Alaska. She taught school at Strawberry Point, now Gustavus, for a year then at Chichagof. Dad and Alberta moved to the Sitka Pioneers Home in 1986, and Dad died on November 27, 1989, and Alberta on October 6, 1999, both at Sitka. Alberta’s daughter, Katie (Delebecque) Smith lives in Los Angeles.
After working for the State of Alaska for many years, along with a short period of time spent in New York City, I retired and now spend my hours photographing Southeastern Alaska, along with occasional hikes and kayak trips with friends. I still live in the family home in which I grew up, in Juneau.