Juneau Rotary's History

Juneau Rotary, "The Totem Pole Club"

By Bob Rehfeld

Mike Grummet and Mike Blackwell of the Gastineau Historical Society recently contacted me about doing a historical research project on the Soapbox Derby in Juneau. According to the Mikes, back in the 1940's the Soapbox Derby was the biggest event in the community surpassing the July 4th festivities. For several years the Juneau Rotary Club sponsored the event along with the Alaska Empire, now the Juneau Empire. With this information, the Mikes called to arrange a meeting with me to request use of our Club archives for their research. Last winter, Program Chair Bill Legere used one of the club meetings to show a Rain Country episode showing the Soapbox derby in Juneau using film footage taken by Joe Alter. Following the video, we presented photos and newspaper articles from our club archives of the derby activities in 1947. I still had the folders in my office when the Mikes stopped by to view what we had in our files. In reviewing the articles we made a pleasant surprise that is of special historical note to our club.

In 1947, Frank "Streak" Maier, then 14 won the local derby and represented Juneau at the national All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. Accompanying Frank to Akron was Mayor and Juneau Rotarian Waino Hendrickson. As part of the race day activities, Mayor Hendrickson presented a totem pole provided by the Juneau Rotary Club as a gift from the community of Juneau to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Derby. According to Mayor Hendrickson's presentation speech, the pole consists of four parts each representing the qualities of a derby participant. On top of the pole is Mountain Spirit who symbolizes the inspiration needed to achieve. The second, a frog with a jewel, stands for the idea and the idea is the father of the act to design the racer. The third is old raven facing new raven, which represents the mentor's knowledge passed onto to the younger racer. The last and most important symbol at the base is beaver that represents the spirit of industry and stick-to-it-edness to complete and compete in the event.

The pole still stands in Akron today. Mike Blackwell contacted the derby headquarters and a representative sent us several pictures of the pole including the plaque at the base, which states the club was donated by our club. In an interesting twist of irony, it is interesting to note that a prisoner charged with murder carved the pole in the Juneau Federal jail.

The Gastineau Historical Society has promised to keep us appraised as the research progresses and they have indicated they would like to include the role that our Club played in sponsoring the event.

This brings to three the number of totem poles our club has been involved with throughout our clubs history. The other two being most recently the Four Story Pole standing at the City Museum and the Old Women Pole that our club restored back in 1954.