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Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Jackson, Richard V.

by Richard Jackson

February 5, 1922--Born in Juneau, Alaska to John B. and Ina Jackson, joining two older brothers, Roy I. Jackson (b. Nov. 14, 1916) and John Howard Jackson (b. July 13, 1918, d. January 1, 1994). Our parents were both immigrants from Scandinavia—our father was born in Norway in 1889, as Jens Bastian Kurset (taking his surname from the place of his birth). He was the youngest of eight children, three of whom emigrated to the United States in the early 1900’s. His older brother, Lars, had arrived a few years earlier, and had adopted the surname Jackson, a shortening of their father’s original name of Jacobsen. Jens and his sister, Anna, arrived at Ellis Island in 1907, and also adopted the surname Jackson to maintain the family connection. Lars returned to Norway about 1909, took his old name back, married, and raised a family. Anna also married, taking her husband’s surname, Lowell. So the descendants of John Jackson are the only Jacksons in the extended family. Our mother was born in Gamla-Karleby, Finland, on May 11, 1889. Her maiden name was Ina Matilda Smedjabacka. Gamla-Karleby (now known as Kokkola) was a “Swedish” community, and Finland at that time was under Russian control. She emigrated to the United States about 1909, moving first to the Duluth area, and later to the Northwest, Aberdeen and Seattle.

On a trip to Alaska in 1914, she met our father, and they were married in Juneau the same year. They both became naturalized citizens of the United States a year or two later. Dad was a halibut fisherman; in 1924, he had his own boat built in Tacoma, the Ina J. That halibut boat became the only source of livelihood for the family after his untimely death from pneumonia in May, 1927, just a few days short of his 38th birthday, He is buried in Juneau, and his name is included on the memorial to fisherman and others located at the main harbor pier.

1922 to 1940--I lived in Juneau throughout this period, except for almost a year from the early fall of 1937 to the spring of 1938, which I spent in Seattle while recovering from a mild form of tuberculosis. I returned to Juneau in the summer of 1938, and to high school that fall. I was graduated with the class of 1940. High school in Juneau was a wonderful time for most of us—good teachers, lots of activities, many long-time friends, and a feeling of connectedness that has followed most of us throughout our lives. Our class of 1940, joined by others from preceding and later classes will celebrate the new millennium and our 60th high school anniversary at a three-day gathering in Juneau in June of 2000.

As a boy growing up in Juneau, I always felt that there weren’t many better places to live, in spite of all the rain. I had no problem with finding a job suitable for a youngster—spent at least six years on a paper route for the “Empire,” and had many other ways to make a few dollars. In retrospect, most of the good feelings arose from the many friends we each had, and the activities which we shared.

Summer of 1940--I spent the summer working as a deck-hand on a cannery tender for Libby McNeill and Libby at Taku Inlet. At the conclusion of the cannery season, I stayed with the tender on its return trip to Seattle, since my family had already moved to Seattle. Our move there was due to the fact that my oldest brother and I were enrolled at the University of Washington, and our other brother was recovering from a severe case of tuberculosis at a sanitarium located in Seattle. Mother bought a house on Boylston Avenue in Seattle, within walking distance of the University for us. She lived there until her death in 1952.

1940-1944--Enrolled at the University of Washington during this period, received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in February of 1944. I spent the summer of 1941, at a cannery in Rose Inlet, Alaska, somewhat west of Ketchikan. In the early summer of 1942, at the end of my sophomore year in college, I went to work for the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, doing engineering work for the construction of the Alaska Highway. After a few weeks in Whitehorse, I was transferred to a field position as assistant to the Resident Engineer for the Bureau on the construction of the portion of the new Alaska Highway located in the Tanana Valley between the Big Delta Junction with the Richardson Highway and Tanacross. I stayed on that job until just before Christmas of 1942, when the highway was officially opened. Returned to Seattle in time for winter quarter at the U. of W. World War II was going full blast by this time; hence, I joined the Navy in July of 1943, finishing my last year at the U. of W. as an apprentice seaman, under the auspices of the Navy V-12 program.

1944-1946--Following graduation from Washington, I was transferred to Midshipman School at Columbia University in New York, where I was commissioned as an ensign in June of 1944. Following training assignments in Miami and Hollywood Beach, Florida, I was assigned to the newly constructed vessel, the USS PCE-884, a patrol and anti-submarine type ship, in Portland, Oregon. The ship was fitted out as a “weather” ship and was scheduled for duty in the South Pacific, working out of a base at Guam, in the Mariannas. I spent about 20 months at sea, mostly on this same vessel. We did not encounter any enemy activity during this period, but we did literally go through the “eye” of two major typhoons while on station between Guam and the Philippines, an awesome experience. In the summer of 1946, having accumulated enough points to return to the States, I was placed in command of the USS PC-1251 at Guam. We were ordered to return to Portland again, this time for decommissioning of the vessel and mustering out of the entire crew.

1946-1947--Returned to the U. of W. and received a B.S. in Civil Engineering in June of 1947.

1947-1949--Accepted a position as Instructor in Civil Engineering at the University of Alaska at College, Alaska. My students were mostly veterans, about my age, and very sincere about their efforts to continue with their education and their lives. One or two had even been in my high-school graduating class. It was a great time, with winters considerably colder and darker than those experienced in Juneau. During the second year, I was promoted to Assistant Professor, but the work was about the same. During the summers of 1948 and 1949 I worked for Morrison-Knudsen Company (M-K) on the rehabilitation of the railroad yards at Fairbanks. Upon completion of that project in late 1949, I was invited to go to work for them in Venezuela in South America, with the work not to start for another year or so. I enjoyed the teaching very much, but the prospect of much warmer weather enticed me. In the meanwhile, I could go back to school for an advanced degree.

1950-1951--Enrolled in graduate school at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Received a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering in February, 1951.

1951-1953--Started work in March of 1951, for M-K as office engineer on a major tunnel project on the new “autopista” connecting Caracas, Venezuela, with the coastal area on the Caribbean, where the airport and shipping piers were located. During the summer of 1951, a major event occurred in my life—I met Norma Jean Perez, a co-ed from UCLA and northern California whose father was the office manager on the project. Norma was visiting her parents during her summer vacation, between her junior and senior years at UCLA. She returned at Christmas, we became engaged, and were married in Venezuela the following summer, following her graduation. We lived in the construction camp, but with a comfortable trailer located on a ridge high above the Caribbean. After the essential completion of the tunnel project in late summer, we were transferred to another M-K project in eastern Venezuela, building a main-line railroad and parallel highway to develop the iron-ore deposits near the Guri River. In late summer of 1953, we returned to New York, purchased a new car, and headed to Seattle to make our home.

1953-1962--I was employed by M-K, working first for the Alaska District and then later for the Seattle District of M-K, with offices in the Hoge Building in Seattle. We had our first new home built in the Normandy Park area, and lived there until the end of 1962. Each of our four sons were born at Swedish Hospital in Seattle during this interval: Richard, Jr. in 1953, Kurt in 1955, David in 1958, and Jeff in early 1962.

1963-1987--Continuing my career in heavy construction, we moved to Dallas, Texas, for three years, and then to El Paso, Texas, for eleven years. Before we left El Paso, the two older sons had gone off to college, the first to USC and the second to U. of W. which gave us a tie to the Seattle area again. In 1976, I returned to the northwest, working in Anchorage and Seattle, while Norma stayed with the two younger boys in El Paso so David could finish high school. In 1977, Norma and the two younger boys joined me in the Seattle area, moving into another new home in Bellevue. I continued my construction career here in the Northwest, with the last three years in the Portland area. I retired in 1987, and we moved to Whidbey Island to enjoy our retirement. We have been here for the last 13 years, and have no plans to move. We enjoy traveling and have been involved in a lot of volunteer activities, which seem to be ongoing. We especially enjoy going on active “elderhostels,” having completed eighteen over the years. We highly recommend them, whether you’re still physically active or not. We also enjoy our grandchildren, two boys and two girls, with twin boys due about the time we’re due in Juneau for our class reunion.