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Juneau-Douglas City Museum


McDowell, Betty

by From an oral interview with Dee Williams
UID=943


I came to Juneau in September 1931. I had finished a year of college and a year of business college. My sister and her husband had just moved to Juneau where he was to be the pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church. They graciously invited me to stay with them, which I did for some time; and with the help of a good friend of theirs, I did get work in the brand new Federal Building, which is now the Capitol Building. I got here just in time for my 20th birthday. My sister and brother-in-law left in 1937, but by that time I was married and had my own home.

My parents both came from Iceland to Canada as did many Icelanders but when they were married, they decided to travel, and Blaine, Washington, seemed like home to them. Thatís where my five sisters, one brother, and I were all born; grew up and went through high school. My maiden name was Thordarson. If I had been born in Iceland, I wouldnít have had that last name; but would have been Magnusdaughter. That is the way they used the names in Iceland. It was my great privilege to finally be able to visit Iceland when my son, Peter, and I went there; and that was a real thrill. I still had some cousins living there.

I was married in 1936, to Bert McDowell who had come here in 1930, as I had, looking for work. One of the things I remember from that time was the sound of the cars on the planking on Willoughby Avenue, when they drove that stretch. Of course, there have been tremendous changes since that time when there were only 4,000 people living here, no airplanes, very few telephones, emergency messages went by telegram. It was a very nice small community, which I have always enjoyed. I first lived at 3rd and Main, because the parsonage was the upstairs of the church building. That stayed there until just a few years ago when it was demolished, and the big court building was built. My husband had worked in grocery stores in Washington State, and he got a job with Piggly Wiggly almost right away. He took a few hundred dollars that he had saved out of his salary and started his own little grocery store down on Willoughby Avenue across from the Salvation Army. As soon as he could find space, he moved up to Seward Street; and as the store grew, he moved to a bigger space across the street. He always enjoyed that kind of work and did really well. He served on the City Council for many years; when Waino Hendrickson, who was mayor at the time, was appointed to be Lieutenant Governor, Bert was moved up from his council position to acting Mayor. Then, eventually, he ran and was elected to the office, so he sold his store to Wilbur Irving and Harold Bates. It became Foodland later. The first store was Bertís, and on Seward. It was last located next to B. M. Behrends Bank. Eventually, we left Juneau in 1957, and took over a store in Haines. We would probably still be there, but his health problems made him give up that kind of work. We moved to a warmer climate in Eugene, Oregon. After his death and living alone for seven years, I moved back to Juneau because my children and grandchildren were all here. I have always been glad I came back. Two of our children still live here and one grandson. Two of our three children graduated from Juneau High School, but our youngest graduated in Haines when we lived there.

One of the joys of our life was having a house on Lena Beach where we spent time in the summer. It was a wonderful place to have children in the summer time, and there were a lot of friendship events there.

Christmas midnight service at our church, Resurrection Lutheran, was always a great memory. I joined there in 1931, and have been a member every since ó singing in the choir for years and years. In earlier days, there were lots of small groceries and meat markets, and every one lived in town; so wherever you went you saw people you knew. Juneau is still a wonderful place ó just very different. A lot of the changes are great ó the downtown flowers and a lot of things that make life easier.

My husband always liked to take credit for being a matchmaker for Vivian and Marshall Erwin. Marshall came into the store and asked Bert about a place to get room and board. Vivianís mother had been shopping there, so Bert told him about their house, and he went up there and became a boarder. Marshall was working in the mine at that time which was very dangerous, so they decided to start a little store of their own featuring case lot sales, so they named it Case Lot Grocery. The two men worked together on some special projects like finding a way to ship groceries in during the longshoremanís strike which was very hard on Juneau; we were at the mercy of the ships.
I donít have any vivid memories of tourism in Juneau in the 30ís and 40ís.

There was quite a bit of racism concerning the Native people when I was first here. They had a separate school and hospital. There were different classes of people with a higher level of society that had formal dances. Fishing was a much bigger industry in those days, and the A. J. Mine was a big feature of the town. Willoughby was the only wood street left then because the others had been paved over or filled in.

The real treasure of Juneau is friendships. I have always found it interesting to look at the really early pictures of Juneau.