Parker, Larry & Kay (Oldham)
by from an oral interview with Dee Williams
I was an eight pound baby born in Vermont on August 5,1918. We lived in upstate Vermont, and I thought it was a good-size place until I got to wandering around the world and found that it was a pretty small place. My father was Lauris William Parker. I am Lauris Sanford Parker. He used one of my maternal grandfather’s names.
I know that my dad had some Canadian background, because he settled just 45 miles from the border. My mother was a local girl in the St. Johnsbury environs. I think she probably went to St. Johns Free Academy, the same place where I went to receive the better part of my education. It was a private school put there by the Fairbanks family of the Fairbanks Scale Company. She was from a farm family around St. Johnsbury – they call it, the Northeast Kingdom now. They were really individuals. They had their own way of doing it, and that was the best way to do it.
I had one brother, Bob, who was three years younger than I. Bob was quite an enthusiastic guy - whatever he was doing, he was doing all over. Consequently, when he got in the Air Force, he wanted to be where things were happening in Europe, and that was the end of that. My father died very early, when he was 40, and everybody thought that was young. My mother had been left to bring up Bob and me, so she found out how to go to work in the world. She got us through school all right - me through the Academy. Bob wasn’t too much on school. My mother got out here once to visit in January, and it was warm. She wanted to know where the snow was, and I told her that it didn’t snow here and that you had to get used to the rain, as we lived in a rain forest. Everywhere we took her, we ran into nice people and that meant a lot to her.
When I got out of the Academy, there was no money to go to college, so I just went on from there working in the local area. Then I went into the Air Corps - they call it the Air Force now, but it was just part of the Army at that time. The Signal Corps started the program they had had in World War I of bringing young people into the Army and putting them through an officers’ training course. From that I went into Signal Corps efforts, and one they had was here in Alaska where it was called the Alaska Communication System. All the telephone system was ACS, and there were a limited number of pay telephones, so if a person needed to make a call “outside,” they had to go down to the Cable Office. It was located in the old Federal Building in Juneau.
I worked in the Aleutians thirteen months for the ACS headquarters out of Anchorage setting up radio stations and things like that requiring quite a lot of building. On the side I was becoming interested in ocean cable. In WW I, we used a lot of cable here in the Territory. We had a station here, one in Seward, Valdez and Ketchikan. They were the Western Union of Alaska. I was in Anchorage in the ACS as the Assistant Officer in Charge when the war came along. That pretty well started me going out and setting up stations, putting in high-powered transmitters and trying to find things that weren’t on the market. It was a very good deal for a young man that wanted to get out and start making things. We set up these communication places all over. The one that really worried us was the cable that went to Manila because the Japanese were holding the other end of that thing. That put us in jeopardy for the things we put on the cable down in Seattle. We would listen to see if they opened up that transmitter. What we did was change all the codes.
I then had an opportunity to go down to Seattle and Ballard and build two cable barges. I had never worked in a shipyard or anything like that. We were building wooden ships to go into rocky beaches. That was really exciting and I got to know a lot of Alaskans that way. We ended up with two self-powered cable barges and all the cable gear that goes with laying the cable and picking it up, and we had room on board for all the crew and technical people. When I had been in my Air Corps training, I had a chance to meet my high school sweetheart again. At this point I went home, and Kay and I got married and came back. I finished up the barges we had in Ballard. One we sent to the South Pacific, and the other one I took north and worked on ocean cable from Seattle on up. (Kay stayed in Seattle.) Adak was one of the largest installations we had almost anywhere in Alaska, and we had a lot of men out there. The cable was the most secure means of communication that anyone had. Everyone thought of Alaska as a real turning point.
We had been through Juneau on the cable ship and had gotten to know quite a few people. When we got ready to move up here, we loaded everything on board the cable ship and moved up. We got ashore and Mrs. Johnson, who ran the Channel Apartments, had an apartment for us, and that is where we first lived - Apt. 25. Later when we had three girls, we moved into a larger apartment. Wendy was a growing girl by the time we came up here, and Laurie was the first child we had at St. Ann’s. We had another child, Peggy, at St. Ann’s, so I always had a soft spot in my heart for St. Ann’s even though I wasn’t a Catholic. This was after the war, because Kay was not allowed to come to Alaska until after the war. I don’t think we could have had a better place because we had a lot of room there and lots of friends around us. There were a lot of people in the same age group as Kay and I - starting families – Hunt Gruening and Joe Snow and many others. Joe Alter and I got to know each other there and through the Methodist Church. Joe was “Mr. Health,” and he was out scouring for someone to work as a sanitarian. He packed me off to Columbus, Georgia, and made a sanitarian out of me. So for the next twenty years or so I worked with that. I was Mayor in the ’60s and retired after that.
The following is extracted from an article in the December 1999 Alaskan Southeaster:
With an interest in photography Parker had hoped that he could make “cuts” for the Juneau newspaper. Although this did not work out as well as he had hoped, he did take lots of photographs in his travels with the Health Department which show the diversity of Alaska and its cultures. He was involved in many musical productions - not only singing tenor, but also building sets, etc. In 1947 he became involved with the 4th of July fireworks display and worked with that for more than fifty years. During his tenure as Mayor from 1959 to 1967, he led the effort to establish Juneau as the capital and resisted the early efforts to move the capital site. Other efforts included the incorporation of the city into a borough, the development of the Snettisham Hydroelectric Project, the building of Egan Drive, supporting a good, firm educational system, and of course, the start of the Salmon Derby in 1948. He even had a stint as “disk jockey” at KJNO! Parker doesn’t take credit for building Juneau into the city it is now saying that is just what people did then. He proudly said of those people, “They came from every darn place you could mention, and they put the best they had into building this city.”
I was born Katharine Hershey Oldham in Bangor, Maine, on August 15, 1918, and lived in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where I met my future husband, Larry Parker, when we were in school. My father was originally from Iowa but homesteaded in Montana and was a principal in several schools in the northeast. My mother, Catharine Hershey, grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and after finishing college worked on a newspaper in Harrisburg. I attended St Johnsbury Academy, Middlebury College and graduated from the University of New Hampshire. After working as a reporter for the St. Johnsbury daily paper and teaching for a year in Manchester, Vermont, I married Larry on October 29, 1943, and we went to Seattle where he was in the Signal Corps. I remained in Seattle while he was on tours of duty in Alaska and joined him in Juneau in June of 1946 with our first child, Wendy.
This was a challenge and adventure, but Larry had always wanted to come here. We were young and enthusiastic, like all our neighbors at the Channel Apartments on Willoughby. These have since been replaced by a new office building. We were very fortunate to find housing because housing of any kind was very scarce and remained so for many years. These apartments were built by Gov. Ernest Gruening for veterans after World War II.
There were only 8,000 people in Juneau then, and the city limits were where the high school is now. Most roads were dirt, so it seemed like a long ride to the Glacier or Tee Harbor. The city seemed very “civilized,” except for three murders our first year here and the last hanging! Going to the Auke Bay recreation area for picnics was a fun occasion, but another long drive. There were cows and several dairies around. Evergreen Bowl (now Cope Park) was the main recreation area with a small unheated pool, tennis court and a nice place for picnics and walks. Picking blueberries and salmonberries and making jam have always been summer projects. Skiing at North Douglas was a rope tow and the sno-cat “Oola,” that carried the skis. We all hiked to various creeks and around, often carrying a rifle in case of bears. The more adventurous climbed mountains and around the glacier.
One of the most outstanding features of life here was the support of schools - whenever one was needed, it was built. Teachers were excellent and, like almost all residents, came from all over the country. There was always a Native population, but newcomers arrived after World War II.
I worked briefly as a reporter for Mrs. Dorothy Pegues on the Alaska Sunday Press; after our daughter, Laurie was born September 6, 1946, and Peggy on New Years Day 1948, I was too busy to do much outside our home. While Larry was mayor, I was involved in local projects and later the Alaska Crippled Children’s organization, Friends of the Library and elections. During Juneau’s Centennial, I was on a committee with Carol Eastaugh to beautify the city working with the Juneau Garden Club. My husband and I often met and entertained visitors when he was mayor. Many ships, naval and otherwise, visited in the summers. We were on the inaugural voyage of a new ferry. A highlight for me was when Neva Egan, the Governor’s wife, invited me to accompany her to Seattle when she launched another new ferry. Senator Bob Bartlett, a fine man who worked hard for Alaska in Washington, spoke and the Navy had a band present.
Even before television, Alaska people had many interests. They have always been great readers. Mrs. Inez Gregg, a wonderful woman, opened a small but wonderful bookshop on Seward Street that was very popular. Sewing clubs were a hobby, too. Most parents were actively involved in their children’s activities and in school projects. Twice I took the children to Vermont - all the way on Canadian Pacific ships from Juneau to Vancouver, by train across Canada to Montreal and by train to St. Johnsbury. This was when my husband had to take courses “Outside.”
I worked for the state for fifteen years at Fish and Game and the Department of Public Safety. Both were very interesting, and I made many friends there. Through the years our friendships have been wonderful, as many interesting and talented people live here.