Petersburg, on Alaska's Inside Passage, is a town that still makes its living from the sea and is not a port of call for large cruise ships. Folks who visit here leave the crowds behind, and are welcomed by people who live in this thriving fishing village with a strong Norwegian heritage. They meet our hardworking and friendly people, and let us show you how to catch our abundant salmon and halibut, or show you some humpback whales!
Petersburg is located on Frederick Sound near the summer feeding grounds of hundreds of humpback whales. The Stikine-LeConte Wilderness Area, with its beautiful LeConte Glacier calving off tons of bright blue icebergs, is a short boat ride away. It's centered in the middle of the Tongass National Forest.
Visit a place that still holds on to its small town roots. Step back in time for our Fourth of July celebration or take a mini-visit to Scandinavia for three days in May as we celebrate Norwegian Independence Day. Petersburg is known as Alaska's Little Norway.
The Early Years of the PETERSBURG ROTARY CLUB
Our club was chartered on May 29th, 1941 with 24 Charter Members.
The noted "minutes" of that day do not mention whether it was a day or an afternoon meeting, but on the 22 of March in 1941 about a dozen prominent businessmen of the Petersburg community met with a Dr. Whitehead and Mr. Rod Darnell, both of Juneau, who "talked us into it." The "it" was the formation of a Rotary Club in Petersburg, Alaska. Those 12 men thought that starting such a club would be a good idea. After all, Petersburg already had a Moose and an Elks Lodge. The Masons were already well established. There was a felt need for a social club that provided a lot of noon time entertainment as well as a good luncheon. Dr. Whitehead and Mr. Darnell were successful advocates of Rotary. The Petersburg Club was founded that day.
The charter itself was presented by Mr. R. Vincent Borleske to the Club at a banquet held on May 29, 1941. In keeping with the troubled times our country was experiencing in 1941, the opening song was "America." The welcoming address was delivered by the Mayor of Petersburg, who was himself a Charter Member, Mr. Ed Locken. Dr. Whitehead returned for the occasion. The closing page of the evening's program summed up the philosophy of the new club. It reads,
"SERVICE ABOVE SELF - He Profits Most Who Serves Best"
Rotary is not of yesterday nor tomorrow but of today; not destructive but intensive; not exclusive but unique; not selfish but practical; not stilted and formal but social and fraternal.
The small white banner that became the flag of the petersburg Rotary Club presents a different view of Petersburg than the curent banner which announces that we are "Alaska's Little Norway." ~ 1941 there were, according to Lester Elkins, a Charter Member and the first secretary of the club, "Eighteen guides of the Brown bear." Mr. Elkins was, himself, one of those guides. The fact that there were so many guides led the club members to adopt the figure of the grizzly as its emblem and the words "Home of the Brown Bear' as its motto.
During those early years "the Glacier Priest", a Father Hubbard, took 16mm movies of each of the Charter Members in front of his place of business. The movie was shown around for a few years before Fr. Hubbard decided he wanted to reclaim his property. This author feels that this film is now avery valuable piece of property; not so much in a monetary sense but because of the visual history of our town and those who were its helmsmen.
The Club soon got into the swing of things as a service organization. The first project they were involved in was on April 4, 1941. On that date they "removed platform from M. Wheeler's empty lot between H & W." In November of that same year the Club entered the world of scouting by sponsoring the Cub Scouts of Petersburg, an honor and a tradition that we have continued for these past 50 years. One tradition that has changed, however, is the fact that the Club no longer invites the den mothers and their Cub Scout charges to the noon luncheons. In 1941, "We'd feed 'em. Boys were always hungry. After they were fed they'd give a little speech."
Those early years were, of course, the war years. There was a considerable amount of time and effort allocated for rubber drives, special dinners held for the men from Petersburg who were inducted into the armed forces, and clothing drives for the Red Cross.
The young people of Petersburg became an interest of the Club during these early years. No doubt there are still some who remember the swimming pond called "Thompson's Hole." It was created with drag-line, truck and a #2 shovel and the damming up of the creek waters which ordinarily flowed away through the culvert. Dressing cabins for boys and girls were built and, in July of 1946, a new spring loaded diving board was installed. Each fall "Thompson's Hole" was readied for another winter of skating. Active involvement in the lives of the youth of Petersburg was evident as luncheon invitations continued to be extended to the Petersburg Basketball Team and the High School Pep Band. There are no records which indicate that the basketball team had to play for their lunch. There is, however, a note here and there that would seem to indicate that the Pep Band did have to play for theirs.
The early club loved to sing, purchasing several different volumes of song books, a piano, and even hiring Colleen MacDonald as its first pianist.
A sense of humor was an absolute must to be a member of the Petersburg Club. Here are a few notes I discovered among the archival material:
"Chas. Gleenaa, chrmn. of the Garden Committee, made an appeal for less water and more sunshine. Appeal Granted.'
"February 28, 1945: Rotary Anniv. Banquet Considerable fines were collected due to lackness of manners when ladies were present."
"September 22, 1943 - The Garden Committee reported that (name withheld)' s garden was by far the worst garden in town." An appropriate fine, of course, was assessed!
As the 40's drew to a close the young Club could look back upon a decade of involvement in the life of the city with a certain amount of pride and satisfaction.
The members of the Club had taken an interest not only in making Petersburg a more beautiful place, but they also showed an intense desire to reach out to the larger world community through their Christmas seal campaigns, their TB drives,
and the Red Cross clothing drives. During these early years the seeds were also sown for the Club to be active sponsors of the young people of Petersburg. It was the beginning of a legacy that lives on to this day.
Early Club History by: Carroll Marohl