Poor, Val Allen & Alice
by Alice Poor
Val A. Poor was born January 28, 1916, at Big Falls, Minnesota, to Val Luvious and Della Poor. When he was 12 years old, he moved to Littlefork, Minnesota, and attended school there. When he was 17 years old, he enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps.
In the spring of 1936, he and a friend hitchhiked to Seattle to look for work in Alaska. They promoted themselves as lumberjacks and were hired by Nick Bez to build fish traps at his Todd Cannery in Peril Straits. That fall they decided to try their luck in Juneau instead of returning to Seattle. They had heard of the good money being paid by the A.J. Mine and decided to try for one of those $4.65 per day jobs. Big money in those days! They booked passage on the MV Estebeth for Juneau on September 16. Not being 21 years old, Val was not old enough to work underground. He found work at the sawmill on South Franklin Street and applied for a job in the mine.
Six weeks before his 21st birthday, Val’s name was posted at the mine office for a job and he reported for work as a “mucker.” A mucker cleaned along the railroad tracks, shoveling spilled ore from the tracks and ditches. He was fitted with a miner’s metal hat, a carbide lamp and a can of carbide fuel for his lamp. He needed a strong back and a shovel to do his job. In order to reach the mine, he climbed hundreds of steps up Mt. Roberts to reach the train portal that took the miners several miles into the mountain. He worked three different shifts, two weeks on day shift, two weeks on afternoon shift and two weeks graveyard. The mine worked every day but Christmas and the Fourth of July. Shortly after being hired, he was promoted to chute puncher, $1.00 more a day. Before the year was over he was again promoted to bulldozer. Another $1.00 more a day for this dangerous job and now earning $6.65 a day!
Juneau was a town with many small family-owned businesses along Franklin, Front, Seward and Willoughby. If a person worked in the mine, his credit was good and he could charge in most any store and pay his bill on payday. The streets were as busy at midnight as noon with the men coming off shift three times a day. While the 48 states down south were still depressed, Juneau was very prosperous.
After working underground for three years, it was time for a break. Val had left his girlfriend Alice, in Minnesota, with a promise to return in the fall. Each spring, he said he would be home in the fall and each fall he said he would return in the spring!! In the fall of 1938 Alice issued an ultimatum, “Be home in the spring or forget the whole thing,” or she would enter nurse’s training.
In June, 1939, Val showed up driving a new car, in a beautiful suit and white “buck” shoes! The picture of a rich gold miner! Val and Alice were married and Val took a much needed break for five months. When they reached Seattle they had to sell their car in order to pay for passage to Juneau on the thirteen-stateroom MV Northland Val still owed money on the car. They arrived on October 31, 1939. Housing for rent was in short supply in those days, but they finally found a house on Willoughby Avenue for $45 per month. It was more than they could afford, but they found two young men who rented the upstairs for $20 which paid for heating.
In the spring, they decided they needed to have a house of their own. Val found that the A.J. Mine wanted houses in Thane removed from the property of a former mining company which A.J. owned. Because Val worked for the A.J., he could purchase a big eight room house for $50 provided he tore it down and removed it from the property. In Douglas, they found a lot on Fifth Street for $175 with the basement already excavated. Friends were wonderful, and he was able to borrow the needed cash.
In February, they moved to the Thane house. One bedroom still had all of its windows where they set up housekeeping and started tearing the house down around them. Shortly after their move the weather, which had been mild all winter, turned bitterly cold. All they had for heat was a very old kitchen wood stove. For a few weeks things were very difficult. Val worked his shift in the mine, came home and worked another eight hours tearing down the house. While he was at work, Alice removed the nails and sorted the best wood into piles to be moved to Douglas. They purchased an old truck and made frequent trips to their lot in Douglas with the best material. After a couple months, they had only plaster walls between themselves and the elements at the Thane house, and they had to start building a garage from the less desirable lumber to live in while they worked on the new house. The day they moved from Thane to Douglas, Val went to work on the graveyard shift, and Alice went to the hospital at 4 a.m. and gave birth to their first child, Val Joseph, at St. Ann’s Hospital.
Val’s brother came from Minnesota for two months and the house was soon under construction. With a lot of help from Val’s mining friends, they were able to move into their first home by November when the weather turned cold. Only two rooms were livable and apple boxes served as cupboards but they had the luxury of an oil kitchen stove and constant heat. They continued for the next two years completing the rest of the house.
In 1942, Val decided he would leave the mine for good and took a job with the Juneau Cold Storage, running the Coca-Cola plant and delivering Coke to the different businesses around town. Some of his best customers were just across the street on South Franklin. The “girls” in the red light district did a thriving business with so many single men in town.
In the summer of 1943, the house was finished and paid for. With Val’s salary and Alice’s, who worked for the Douglas Grocery Store, they had paid everything they owed. Val learned the local drug store, owned by Guy L. Smith, a longtime Douglas resident, was for sale. Guy was also the postmaster, and the post office was a part of the store. Val decided he would purchase the business, and they would sell their house to raise the cash for a down payment. Alice shed many tears at having to give up their home. They bought the store and moved to an apartment upstairs. Ten days after, Alice gave birth to their second son, Woodrow, and Val became the new postmaster of Douglas.
The first year the store was open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. After a year part-time help was hired, and Val and Alice had every other evening and Sundays off. By this time they had a third child, a daughter, Danna. A year later another son, Richard arrived, and after a seven year rest, their fourth son, Robert was born.
Val always enjoyed being active in clubs. He joined the Elks, Lions, Masons, was on the Douglas School Board and Fire Department and later the Juneau Douglas School Board and the University of Alaska Advisory Board. He was master of the Masonic Lodge and President of the Juneau Lions Club in 1949. In 1951, he started a Lions Club in Douglas, and one of their first big projects was to develop Sandy Beach into a recreation area.
In 1960, a group of businessmen decided to form a corporation to build an office building in Douglas, on what was then the ball park with Val the president of the corporation. The Department of Transportation needed a large office building to house 250 state employees or the department might be moved elsewhere. Local people purchased stock in the company, the building was built, and the DOT moved into it.
Over the years, the town had grown and the post office had been enlarged three times. The Poor’s now needed more space. The Island Development Corporation, as it was known, agreed to build a new post office building next door to the office building. Val and Alice were both full time postal employees by this time and decided to sell their store in 1962.
In 1964, the Juneau Rotary Club named Val “Juneau’s Man of the Year” honoring him for his many years of hard work for the community.
In 1975, Val decided it was time to retire and do some traveling. Alice had just been honored that year as “Alaska’s outstanding postal employee” and received her award from the Assistant Postmaster General in San Diego. Val had 32 years credit and Alice, 30. They had always enjoyed their work, but it was time to do other things. They retired July 1, 1975.
That fall, they purchased a fifth wheel trailer and managed to put 110,000 miles on it in the next eight years, visiting most of the states, parts of Canada and Mexico. In 1975, they sold their lovely home they had built in Douglas in 1953, and moved to their cabin near Lena Beach. In 1993, Val’s health began to decline, and it was time to give up the beach cabin and move to a condo in downtown Juneau. In 1998, they moved to Sitka and on July 6, Val entered the Pioneer’s Home there. Two weeks before his 83rd birthday, Val suffered a stroke and passed away January 14, 1999. They would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary a few months later. Val was laid to rest at Alaska Memorial Park, near the Mendenhall Glacier.
Val and Alice’s sons Joe and Richard live in Juneau, Woodrow in North Carolina, and Robert in Georgia. Their daughter Danna lives in Seattle. Their first daughter, born in 1941, died as an infant in 1942. They have nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
Val Allen Poor