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Juneau-Douglas City Museum


Overstreet, William D. & Jean

by Bill Overstreet
UID=974


Bill Overstreet was born at his parentís home, in Waynoka, Oklahoma, the youngest of six children, on May 1, 1926. His mother, originally from Kansas, and is father, born in Missouri, met, married and farmed in rural Oklahoma until a tornado took their barn away. They moved into Waynoka where his father became a railroader.

Bill was a sophomore in high school and an usher in the Majestic Theater in Waynoka on Sunday, December 7, 1941, when a messenger came to the theater to report that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Bill and two friends dropped out of high school in their junior year and joined the Navy. He was 16. He lied about his age, was sworn into service on Friday, November 13, 1942, and on his way to San Diego, California. Following boot camp he was assigned to the USS Portland with the 6th Deck Division, manning and maintaining the twenty-millimeter machine guns.

After Billís discharge from the Navy, at the age of 20, he returned to Oklahoma. In search of a GED route to a diploma, he enrolled at Northwestern State College, received his high school diploma and continued with college. It was then that he met Jean, and they were married on May 25, 1947. Their son, Bill Jr., was born in 1948. Bill graduated from Northwestern State in 1951. He secured a high school history position at Huerfano County High in Walsenburg, Colorado, a former coal mining town. Encouraged by Billís sister, Faye, the Overstreets decided to move to Juneau. They packed all of their possessions in an old Ford and headed north.

By mail, Bill had applied for a teaching position in Juneau. To cover all bases, he had also applied to Douglas, Thane and Auke Bay! They arrived on June 8, 1952, and moved in with Billís sister and her two daughters. In an interview with Superintendent Sterling Sears, Bill found that the only suitable opening was an eighth grade position in the Fifth Street School. The last question Mr. Sears asked was, ďCan you coach grade school basketball?Ē Billís response was, ďYes, sir!Ē Bill, with contract in hand, was off to the bookstore to purchase a basketball handbook.

That first summer, after working construction on the nearly completed Harborview Elementary School, he took a Fish and Wildlife Service stream guard position, spending the rest of the summer outside of Haines. Jean had gone to work the second week they were in town for the U.S. Coast Guard. She spent weekends looking for a place to live. A vacancy developed at the Twentieth Century Apartments, and although the waiting list was long, when the landlady, Mrs. Gross, learned that the applicant was an eighth grade teacher, they were placed first on the list. The Gross family had twin daughters who were to be in the eighth grade. Bill and Jeanís rent was $85 a month.

In downtown Juneau, traffic was two-way and parking on most streets was allowed on each side. Most people walked to work or took the city bus. It seemed that every third or fourth business was a bar or liquor store. All the stores used ďcounter checks,Ē silver dollars were in common use and every business appeared to trust everyone. The Post Office was the social center. Most everyone had post office boxes and the Overstreets soon became widely acquainted. The Baranof Hotel placed cans of condensed milk on its tables; Stan Perry delivered Mendenhall Glacier ice to the bars, boats and restaurants; and locally produced milk, eggs and potatoes were available. Soon a trip to the bank was necessary and Bill received another shock. Explaining his needs, and that he was a teacher, his request for funds was promptly approved.

In 1952, the school district was made up of a high school and an elementary school on Fifth Street. Harborview was just opening. Douglas was a City School District and operated both the Mayflower and Mt. Jumbo schools. The Territorial Department of Education operated one-teacher schools at Tee Harbor and at the Minfield Home. The Catholic Church operated St. Annís Elementary School. The school year was 180 days, vacations were limited, accommodating the needs of a fishing community. School was out in early May, after a picnic in Evergreen Bowl. Bill was one of two eighth grade teachers, the other Liz Lucas. Once a week Max Lewis would conduct an art class and Marge Kinsey would teach music for an hour. Bill had forty youngsters in his class and Liz had thirty-six. Helen Pekovich served as a room mother and was a jewel. Charmaine Gross was the other room mother. She helped with the graduation party which was held in the gym.

Floyd Dryden was the principal of the elementary school. Looking back on the years spent with him, Bill believes it to have been the best educational experience of his life. Mr. Dryden would take the steps of the three story building three at a time when he thought he was not being observed. He was in every classroom every day. He knew every pupil by name. Litter was picked up from the floor and the playground. The school didnít have a secretary. The task was education, not bookkeeping or making reports.

In those days, things were done a little differently. The city enforced a ten oíclock curfew for students. Achievement tests were administered in the fall and spring. Doctors came to the school and inoculated the kids without charge. Everyone went outside for recess, rain, snow and wind notwithstanding. Kids that walked to school walked home for lunch. Teachers received yearly evaluations and were asked to resign if their performance was thought unsatisfactory and fired if they declined the request. The same happened if the teacher had difficulties with alcohol or the law.

True to Billís contract he was soon coaching basketball. Kenny Thibodeau had a grocery store on Willoughby and coached at St. Annís as a service to that school. He put up a trophy for the Gastineau Channel Championship. St. Annís, Douglas and Fifth Street played each other. The Fifth Streeters were undefeated in the two years that the Conference lasted.

Fishing was Juneauís number one avocation. Billís cousin Wayne Johnson and his wife Norma had the Silver Spray. In the 1962 Salmon Derby, Bill and Jean were with them. Easing into a bight at Handtrollerís Cove, Bill got one on. After Wayne also caught a king, they headed for Tee Harbor. Billís fish was the ďsmallest fish ever to win the DerbyĒ at 29.2 pounds. The prize of a new Chevrolet made it easier to take the ribbing about the size. Five years later, Jean caught a 32.6 pound king at Aaron Island and she was in the lead with only a few boats waiting to turn in fish. Elmer Lindstrom provided drama. His king was a pound or so larger. Jean had to settle for a seventeen hundred dollar second prize.

Bill became active in the Education Association. His third year in Juneau, John Poling, a Harborview teacher, was running for President of the Alaska Education Association and asked Bill to run with him as Secretary-Treasurer. They were elected and used the attic of the Methodist Church as an office. John and Bill implemented a plan for the first delegate assembly meeting of teachers from all over Alaska, held in 1955. John Poling later was instrumental in creating the Alaska Teachersí Retirement system.

The Juneau and Douglas school districts were consolidated at the beginning of the 1955-1956 school year. Part of the plan for integrating the districts was to send all eighth graders to Douglas. Bill went with them to Mt. Jumbo. About that time, Floyd Dryden announced his retirement and Bill succeeded him. The new job was satisfying, primarily because he had inherited an all-star staff. Avis Aamot, a first grade teacher and Rosie Hermes, a fifth grade teacher were the best he ever saw. They became the standard by which he measured every elementary teacher. Others came close, but none ever equaled.

In 1958, Bill took a position as Elementary Education supervisor with the Territorial Department of Education, which required traveling extensively in Alaska. Bill had been elected president of the Alaska Education Association just before accepting this new position. Perceiving a conflict of interest, he resigned the AEA position. In 1960, the principalship in Juneau became open. Bill returned to the school district as principal of Capital School.

When Sterling Sears resigned, Bill applied for the superintendency and was hired. At the end of Billís second year as superintendent, he had the pleasure of presenting a diploma to their son, Bill Jr., who went on to Boston University and then to Humboldt State at Arcata, California, from which he received his degree. He later received his Master of Fine Arts degree from Florida State University.

In February, 1972, Bill became the first Executive Director of the Alaska School Board Association. Jean achieved an even more significant ďfirstĒ that year. She received the first Federal Woman of the Year award which honored federal outstanding employees. In 1973, Bill filed for the Juneau Assembly and in 1976, threw his hat into the ring for mayor and won a three year term. Bill was heavily involved with the campaign against the capital move from 1960 onward. By 1982, he had traveled from one end of the state to the other, speaking against the move and for the repeal of the law calling for a new capital city. A resounding ďNOĒ to Willow made the election victory sweet!

Bill resigned as mayor in 1983 and, shortly after, asked Jean if she would like to move to Tokyo. Her response was, ďLetís do it,Ē to Billís utter amazement. As director of the Alaska Office of International Trade, Billís purpose was to promote an already substantial trade in natural gas, fish, timber and tourism. Consequently, they traveled extensively in Japan, to South Korea, and Taiwan.

Billís first retirement was good practice. After a year and a half in Tokyo, it was time to retire again in the spring of 1985. Arriving home in time for the University of Alaska-Juneau graduation, Bill gave the commencement address and was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Administration. In Juneau he and Jean found they had free time for boating. They bought a vacation house in Sun City West, Arizona, wintering there, and Bill discovered golf! After one last stint in public service, for Governor Walter Hickel, Bill retired a third time, and now, retirement has finally taken a firm grip. Jean and Bill spend winters in the Sonoran Desert with side trips to San Jose to visit their son Bill, Jr. and their grand- and great grandchildren. Jean and Bill celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary on May 25, 1997.