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Juneau-Douglas City Museum


by Myrna Ruth Newton Allen

My name is Myrna Ruth Newton Allen. I was born February 13, 1941, in Ketchikan, Alaska. My mother was Henrietta Jane (Thierstein) Newton, born September 3, 1914, in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada, of Swiss parents, John and Pauline (Juillerat) Theirstein. She died (at age 84) in February 1998. My father was Richard Gerald Newton, born February 14, 1910, in Douglas, Alaska of Tlingit parents, James and Annie (Smith) Newton. He died (at age 89) in March 1999. My dad’s uncle, Charlie Newton, was instrumental in building up the Salvation Army in Southeast Alaska. My parents met at a Salvation Army Training College in Canada and were married April 28, 1938, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. They divorced after 47 years of marriage. They had three children, my brother, Dick (two years older), myself, and a young sister, Pat, who lived only a few hours. While serving as Salvation Army officers, they lived in Klawock, Kake, Seattle, San Diego and Juneau.

Following their time with the Salvation Army, my mom held many state jobs. Her favorite, I think, was serving as a Probation Officer while Alaska was still a territory. Here is an interesting story about my mother: When she lived in Kake, the family came to Juneau in 1941, to buy groceries and supplies. She called and made an appointment to have a perm. Later my mother and dad’s sister were seen walking up South Franklin Street. When she walked in for her appointment, the beautician said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t cater to Indian trade.” The owner thought she was Native. Mom was irate. She knew something had to be done. She spoke to their friends, Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich, and later spoke before the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS) Convention that year which brought the discrimination issue to a head and eventually led to the first Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

My father worked for the Federal Government following their time with the Salvation Army, first as an accountant and later as a Cultural Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service. He had an excellent baritone voice and will be remembered for his singing and involvement with music. He gave a solo voice concert to raise money for a new organ at the Juneau Methodist Church, which was located where the Court Building now stands. For years he conducted choirs in the Methodist Church, both in Juneau and Douglas. He was a commercial fisherman in his earlier years and his boat, the Progress, was top boat in Kake for eight years in a row. He was always very proud of that! Though he lived in Redmond, Washington, in his later years, he chose to return to Alaska to die.

My brother, Richard J. Newton, Jr., graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School, went on to make a career with the Army for twenty years and now lives in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

I graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1959. In my senior year of high school I had two great honors: 1) I won a trip to Disneyland by being the top runner in the State of Alaska for an Aunt Jemima pancake race, and 2) I was a 4th of July “Princess” for the year Alaska became a State. I met and married H. Peter Sahlender, who was from Germany and worked for Pan American here in Juneau. We later moved to Los Angeles for 17 1/2 years. We were married almost twenty-three years. During that time I completed my BA at a University of California campus, my MS at Pepperdine University, and began my teaching career in Los Angeles. When I applied (from California) to teach in Juneau, I asked if it would help that I was a Native who graduated from the Juneau School District. I was told “no.” In 1982, when I began teaching in Juneau, I was the only Native classroom teacher in the district. It is exciting to see the continual growth in quality Native teachers in the district today. Our family moved back to Juneau in 1981, and I began teaching sixth grade at Harborview Elementary and first grade at Mendenhall River Community School. In 1996, I took an early retirement.

In 1990, I married William Allen. He was my partner at high school graduation. We went down the aisle at that time and then again thirty-one years later. Our parents knew each other before either of us were born. Willie grew up in Petersburg. He currently enjoys retirement, having retired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1994. In 1993, I became a Master Sea Captain and did fishing charters for several years. This year (2000) I became a Certified Healing Touch Practitioner. Together we have five children – Cris Morrison, who owns a concrete business in Petersburg, Alaska; Tonya Allen, an interior designer living in Valparaiso, Florida; Steve Sahlender, who is in the Air Force and owns a construction business on the side; Rima Allen, who lives in Juneau; and Crystal Woodard, a housewife to Terry, who is stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington, and a mother of three which includes twins). We have ten grandchildren with one grandchild and one great grandchild on the way.

I was fortunate to remember Juneau in the “good ole’ days.” I remember the water coming right to Willoughby Avenue when we lived behind the old Salvation Army Church. There would be skiffs on the shoreline where the Fiddlehead, Driftwood and parking lot are today. The glacier was to the end of “the rock” by the observatory. Nature talks are given on that rock today. Growing up we could go to Percy’s (a popular café), the Teen Age Club and the bowling alley if we were looking for something to do. We spent weekends hiking the local trails and fishing. Zach Gordon (who started the Teen Age Club) was a one-of-a-kind human being. He had a kid’s program featuring local children from a different grade each week. They would talk, sing, and even do “quickie” math problems. Afterwards he would invite those who participated in the program to Percy’s. We could order anything we wanted. This was always a giant treat for us.

I took piano lessons from Carol Berry Davis and respected the photography of her husband, Trevor. Sue Kennedy and Ethel Montgomery were both influential in my growing up years and each contributed to the history of our town.

I feel Juneau is an incredible town in which to be raised. I feel most fortunate to be a part of it and appreciate the many activities and events that occur throughout the year to make this a one-of-its-kind town.