John Willard O’Connell

Mayor of Sitka, AK

John Willard4 (William Henry “Billy”3, John Jr. 2, John I1) O’Connell was born 14 NOV 1909; died 14 FEB 1971 at Sitka, AK.  He is buried a t the Sitka National Cemetery. At the time of his death in 1971, John Willard O'Connell had served as mayor of Columbia Falls, MT; mayor of Sitka, AK; as a member of the Alaska Economic Development Commission; president of the Alaska Municipal League; as a member of the Sitka Borough Assembly; and as a member of the Alaska State Legislature.  All this community service did not always result in domestic tranquility for John O'Connell, nor personal prosperity.

He began his domestic life on 12 JUN 1936 when he married Claudia Irene Lewis of Columbia Falls, daughter of a longtime area family (more of whom later).  After more than 100 years in America, it finally happened.  An O'Connell married a Protestant!  This did not sit well with elder sister Catherine, but was tolerated by the rest of the family.

John and Claudia broke with Catholic tradition and had but two children: Jerry Anne and Charles Lewis.  The children were raised Catholic.

John W. O'Connell graduated from high school in Kalispell and attended Carroll College in Helena, MT; Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA; and Northwest Business College, also in Spokane.

The family lived in Columbia Falls originally, then moved to Rathdrum, ID; Mapleton and Lehi, UT; and back to Columbia Falls.  John left his family in Montana while he went up on a job in Fairbanks, AK.

"He wasn't home from Alaska two months, before he was called to the service," writes daughter Jerry Anne.  During World War II, John served as a Seabee in the Navy Corps of Engineers, helping to build the Alaska Highway.  Following the war, he returned to Montana where he was almost immediately, on 7 APR 1947, elected mayor of the little village of Columbia Falls.

Community service did not prove financially rewarding.  In his second term, the mayor's home was re-possessed and the family moved to nearby Phillipsburg, MT, to begin anew.  O'Connell purchased a sawmill which did not prove to be a lucrative financial involvement either.  The family returned to the Columbia Falls area, this time Kalispell.  After a brief stay, they moved to Fairbanks, AK, in the late summer of 1950.

In Fairbanks, John worked at Ladd Air Force Base as a steamfitter and Claudia worked as both waitress and nurse.  John also was involved with a George Gilbertson in the operation of a hotel and bar.  This venture failed following a fire which burned the hotel to the ground in 1952. John was able to recover some of his losses when he discovered that the firemen had flooded the basement -- thereby saving the bottles of liquor stored there.

Little Chuck got his first job -- he re-packed liquor bottles from soggy cases to dry ones.

After the fire, the O'Connell family re-located to Ketchikan, AK, where John resumed his steamfitter trade during the construction of the Ketchikan Pulp Mill.  Two years later, the family moved to Sitka.  John had gone on ahead.  Wife and children arrive on 10 JUN 1955.

Sitka apparently also needed a pulp mill.  John helped build this one, too. He later went into business for himself, contracting for the plumbing in a number of homes being built for pulp mill employees.  He also landed the contract for putting in all the grout pipe for the Blue Lake Dam.  But politics began to beckon once again.

John served as chairman of the Sitka Democratic Precinct from 1960-1963, and was elected mayor, serving from 1963 to 1967.  He later served in the Alaska House of Representatives, sharing a desk with Ted Stevens who later became United States Senator from Alaska.

As mayor, John O'Connell took on the chore of completely revamping the little southeastern Alaska community.  Through his efforts and foresight, funding was obtained for the Centennial Building, Sitka's airport, two harbors, the "Harbor Drive Project", the extension of Lake Street to the high school, the establishment of Alaska Airlines

direct-routing to Anchorage and Seattle, and the bridge from Sitka to Japonski Island -- later named the John O'Connell Bridge.  He was responsible for increasing the size of Sitka by one-third (all the dredged material from the construction of one of the new boat harbors was re-located to downtown.  The Centennial Building now sits on the reclaimed land.)

O'Connell was elected to the Legislature in 1964 and served as both mayor and legislator concurrently.

In 1967, O'Connell suffered a stroke and resigned both positions.  As a result of the stroke, John was unable to speak.  His ability to write was also impaired.  He entered therapy and began learning to talk and write all over again.

It was during this therapy period that Alaska Airlines hired O'Connell as a sales representative at $500 per month.  The family continues to be grateful for this act of kindness on the part of the airline.  John retained the "job" at the prescribed salary for the four years prior to his death in 1971. Funeral services were conducted from St. Gregory's Catholic Church and burial was at the Sitka National Cemetery.

The 1930 Census for Stonehill, Lincoln County, Montana, lists John W. O'Connell, age 20, as a "partner" with five other men working as "laborer, railway."  It's our John -- father born in Iowa; mother born in South Dakota.

John and Claudia (Lewis) O’Connell were the parents of:

1.         Jerry Anne5, born 15 AUG 1938 at Kalispell, MT; married 1959 to Donald Irwin Peterson, born 21 MAR 1936 at Providence Hospital, Seattle, WA. Jerry Anne graduated from Ketchikan High School and obtained a degree in education from Seattle University in 1960.  She was employed by the Seattle School district for many years, is still called in on a substitute basis, but prefers to think of  herself as a professional Grandma to her grandchildren. Don received his middle name from the attending physician at his birth, P.C. Irwin, M.D.

A former Roman Catholic seminarian, Don graduated from Seattle University.  His father, Truman Peterson, had been an employee of the Seattle Transit System for more than 40 years at the time of his retirement.   Don, newly graduated as an electrical engineer, accepted a position with Bethlehem Steel in Huntington Park, CA, The Peterson family, after a few years, returned to Seattle, where Don took a position with the Boeing Company, the company from which he eventually retired.

Don and Jerry Anne (O’Connell) Peterson live in Bellevue, WA, a suburb of  Seattle.  Their four daughters have each graduated from college and live in surrounding communities.

            1.         Penne Patricia6, born 28 JUL 1960; married first 27 JUN 1987 Kevin Hansen at Holy Family Catholic Church, Kirkland, WA; and second 30 SEP 2000 Kenneth Gerard Lawler at Mary Queen of Heaven Church, Sammamish, WA.

                        Kevin and Penne (Peterson) Hansen are the parents of:

                        1.         Kyle McKenzie7, born 17 DEC 1991;

                        2.         Kaylee Elizabeth7, born 8 MAR 1995.

                        Kenny and Penne (Peterson) Lawler are the parents of:

                        1.         Casey Anne7, born 22 AUG 2001.

Kenny brought three sons to the marriage Ryan, 17 MAR 1983; Griffin, 2 MAR 1986; and Christian, 20 MAR 1992.  The Lawlers live in Sammamish.

            2.         Claudia Anne6, born 27 AUG 1961; worked for many years with the Microsoft Corporation before taking an early retirement.  She currently lives in Kirkland, WA and is engaged to be married to Edward “Eddie” Ellard in 2006.

            3.         Camille Theresa6, born 17 AUG 1962; married 2 DEC 1994 William Matthew Baltuck at St. Joseph Church, Issaquah, WA. Will was as native of Detroit, MI.  The family resides in Seattle, WA.

Will and Camille (Peterson) Baltuck are the parents of:

1.                  Peter William7, born 15 JAN 1997;

2.                  Claire Jocelyn7, born 12 NOV 1999;

3.                  Sydney Jean7, born 13 MAY 2002. 

            4.         Sharon Michelle6, born 22 APR 1964; married 17 MAY 1996 at St.  Therese Church, Seattle, WA, Phillip James Knowles. The family lives in Kirkland, WA.

Phil and Sharon (Peterson) Knowles are the parents of:

                        1.         Varenna Nicole7, born 29 NOV 1998;

                        2.         Cameron Michael7, born 7 NOV 2000.

2.         Charles Lewis5, born 8 APR 1942.

Charles Lewis O’Connell

Union Business Manager

Born in Kalispell, MT, Charles Lewis O'Connell graduated from Sitka High School in 1960.  Like his father, he enrolled at Gonzaga University in Spokane.  He also attended Seattle University and the University of Washington before returning to Gonzaga where he graduated in January 1965, with a degree in education and sociology, with minors in philosophy, psychology, history and theology.  After returning to Alaska, he did post graduate work both at the University of Alaska and Alaska Methodist University.

He married Betty Joyce Ladiges of Missoula, MT in 1962.

The new teacher had his first teaching experience in Walla Walla, WA, but soon realized he wanted to come home to Alaska.  He arrived in Anchorage in June, 1967.  He initially worked for Alaska Airlines, but was soon able to secure a teaching position at Woodland Park Elementary School in December of that year.

It was five years later, in 1972, that Chuck was chosen "Anchorage Teacher of the Year".  Always active in the teachers' association, he was elected president for the local union in 1973-74.  In the fall of 1974, he switched from "elected" leader to "professional staff" for the Anchorage association and parent organization, NEA/Alaska.  Highlights of his career included leading a successful teachers' strike in the fall of 1979 and successfully negotiating a $380 million teachers’ contract in 1984.

Chuck retired from NEA/Alaska in 1988.  After two years recuperation, he returned to union work in June 1990, this time as a business agent for the statewide Alaska State Employees Association, AFSCME local 52.

Chuck's marriage to Betty Ladiges had ended 14 SEP 1976. The following spring, Chuck married Dianne Bartelle Shullaw Anderson, a woman (this writer) with whom he had worked in the same NEA office for several years.  Dianne had one son, Jeffrey Lee Anderson, born 21 MAR 1968.  Jeff and the NEA/Alaska office staff were present at the wedding ceremony conducted high above Anchorage in a purple and white Polar Airlines Navajo aircraft rented for the occasion 24 MAY 1977.

Together Chuck and Dianne built a home in the Stuck again Heights area, above Anchorage.  It was almost ready for occupancy when their first daughter, Jennifer, was born.  They moved in anyway, having eaten their first Thanksgiving dinner there a few days earlier amid strewn rocks for the fireplace and carpetless floors.  Two years and some months later, they became the parents of a second daughter, Jessica.

Chuck and Dianne joined Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Anchorage in 1979.  Chuck was ordained an elder for the congregation in the fall of 1984 and served through 1989.

Chuck also made an attempt at political office when he ran for the Alaska State Legislature during the summer and fall of 1982.  He ran a strong campaign, but lost to the incumbent.

Betty Ladiges O'Connell re-located to Missoula, MT, with Catie, Shannon, and John.  The older O'Connell youngsters visited Anchorage in the summers of 1978 and 1979.  On the second visit, Catie, then 15, decided to remain in Alaska with her father's family.

Catie returned to Montana during the summer of 1980 to visit her mother, brother and sister.  On her return to Anchorage in August, the family learned that the girl was suffering from an incurable, congenital pulmonary defect.  The tests confirming the diagnosis were conducted the week following the birth of Jessica.  The baby was one of the few bright spots throughout the fall.

Betty O'Connell married Rod Wallace of Missoula that September.  Catie flew to Montana to visit over Christmas.  Her mother took her to a clinic in Denver, CO, where tests were repeated with the same results. Catie returned to Montana where her condition worsened.  She died 11 FEB 1981.  Her funeral was conducted 14 FEB 1981, and her father brought her ashes back to Alaska.

Shannon and John again visited Alaska during the summer of 1981.  After his return to Montana, John decided to come back in January, 1982, to become a permanent member of his father's household.  He visited Montana in the summer of 1982; Shannon visited Alaska in the summer of 1983; and John visited Montana in the summer of 1984.  Shannon spent five months in early 1985 with her brother, step-brother, and father in Anchorage, while Dianne and the girls were in San Anselmo, CA, where Dianne was attending seminary.

Chuck turned 60 years old April 8, 2002 and announced his retirement.  He formally retired on his 25th wedding anniversary, May 24, 2002.

Chuck and Betty (Ladiges) O’Connell were the parents of:

1.         Catherine Colleen (Catie) 6, born 5 MAY 1964 at Sacred Heart Hospital, Spokane, WA; died 11 FEB 1981 at Missoula, MT. Ashes returned to Alaska.  Catie attended elementary school in Anchorage, AK; graduated from junior high school in Missoula and was attending Bartlett High School in Anchorage at the time of her death. See notes under father above.

2.         Shannon Lynn6, born 23 JAN 1967 at Walla Walla, WA; attended elementary school in Anchorage, AK; was graduated from high school in Missoula, MT; and  eventually established residency in California where she was graduated from Chaffey Community College.  She was graduated from the University of  California at Riverside with a bachelor's degree in economics 13 JUN 1992; and was graduated from the University of California, Irvine, on 15 JUN 2002 with a Masters in Business Administration.  She currently (2006) is employed by the    Toyota Corporation managing employee benefits investments.  She and her partner Laura Kathryn Koppang, born 27 JAN 1960 in California, currently reside in Cypress, CA.  Shannon and Laura are the parents of:

            1.         Charles Carter Koppang O’Connell7 (Charlie), born 22 JAN 1004 at Long Beach (CA) Memorial Hospital at 6:30 AM, by Caesarian Section, after a long labor. He weighed in at eight pounds, seven ounces. Charlie is named in honor of Shannon's dad Charles Lewis O'Connell.  Charlie's middle names are family names on Laura's side of the family, Carter being Laura's mother's maiden name and Koppang being Laura's surname.

            2.         Delaney Colleen O’Connell7,  July 13, 2006, Long Beach Memorial.  Delaney is  Laura’s mother’s maiden name and Colleen is Shannon’s sister Catie’s middle name.  Little Delaney looks very much like her big brother Charlie.

3.         John William6, born 14 JUL 1969 at Providence Alaska Medical Center, Anchorage, AK; married 13 JUL 1990 a Jodi Marie Renz at Couer d’Alene, ID.  Jodi was born 22 OCT 1968.  John attended elementary school in Anchorage and Missoula and East High School in Anchorage, AK.  He was graduated from the University of Alaska, Anchorage Adult Education program.  After high school, he joined the United States Air Force, and was assigned to Fairchild Air Force Base (outside Spokane);  McCord Air Force Base, W; the airbase at Albuquerque, NM; and is currently stationed at Eglin AFB in Florida. TSgt. O’Connell is a flight engineer and has flown missions in Bosnia and Iraq.  He and Jodi were divorced in early 2003. 

John married Charity Guy New Year's Eve 2007 at Las Vegas, NV.  Step-mother Dianne officiated at the service.

John and Jodi (Renz) O’Connell are the parents of:

            1.         Alexandra Natasia Marie7, born 3 NOV 1991 at Spokane, WA. She  currently resides in Crestview, FL.

Chuck and Dianne (Shullaw) O’Connell were the parents of:

1.         Jennifer Ellen6 (Jenna), born 29 NOV 1977 at Providence Alaska Medical Center, Anchorage, AK.  She was graduated from East Anchorage High School  on 24 MAY 1995 with a better than 3.5 grade point average and ranking about 29th in her class of 389.  Her interests in high school centered around the study of  Russian language and culture and playing trombone in the symphonic band.  She visited Chernogolovka, outside Moscow, on two different student exchanges for   three weeks each in 1993 and 1995. Jennifer won first place in the statewide Olympiada for spoken Russian in the spring of 1995 and returned to Russia in July for the second time that year to compete internationally in Moscow.  She received a bronze metal at the international level.  Following these three weeks in  Russia, she spent three additional weeks in Germany with foreign exchange student Katharina Krein and her family.

She was graduated from the University of Oregon, Eugene, in June 1999 with    majors in Russian, International Relations, and History.

She was employed by the ARC of Anchorage as executive assistant to the executive director for two years, before re-locating to the Redmond, WA area where she accepted employment with the Microsoft Corp. in 2001.  Jenna was married to Michael Maurice Goff of Wasilla, AK, on 11 OCT 2008.  The couple reside in Lynnwood, WA, with Rufus (the pug) and Willow (the puggle).

2.         Jessica Dianne6 (Jessye), was born 3 AUG 1980 at Providence Alaska Medical Center, Anchorage, AK. She was graduated from East Anchorage High School   (School Within A School) in the spring of 1998.   Her interests in elementary and junior high school included the study of the Spanish language.  She participated in a school-sponsored trip to Costa Rica during sixth grade. Since the summer of  1993, her main focus has been on the theatre arts. She participated for years in the  University of Alaska, Anchorage's Theatre of Youth program; the Magic If  Shakespearean Ensemble; and the East High school theatre program.  As part of  the ATY program, she spent three weeks in New Zealand in the summer of 1994.

Jessye spent her first two years at the University of Alaska, Anchorage in the Department of Theatre.  During the summer of 1999, she taught theatre in the Anchorage Theatre of Youth program at Valdez, AK.  During the summers of both 2000 and 2001, she directed children in the Juneau branch of the Anchorage Theatre of Youth.

Jessye was graduated 2 MAY 2004 from the University of Alaska, Southeast in Juneau, AK.  She was chosen to give commencement remarks and was awarded “The Highest Achievement in Humanities”.

Jessye married 21 DEC 2003 Donald Wayne Schmitz in a Celtic Wedding Ceremony at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, Anchorage.  Don was born 11 JAN 1978 at Briton, CO. and raised in Homer, Alaska. He spent a year at the University of Idaho in Moscow before transferring to UAS, Juneau. He spent some time fishing the waters of Southeast, Alaska: trolling, gill-netting, and longlining. He currently works at the Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau,  making the famed "award winning beer from the Last Frontier."

Don and Jessye (O’Connell) Schmitz are the parents of:

            1.         Myah Mathilda7, born 3 JUL 2005 at the Juneau, AK, Birthing Center.

The family re-located to Lynnwood, WA, in the spring of 2007.


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