John Willard O’Connell
Mayor of Sitka, AK
(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
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,
"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.
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.
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.
Building now sits on the
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
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.
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,
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.
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
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,
and Penne (Peterson) Hansen are the parents of:
McKenzie7, born 17 DEC 1991;
Elizabeth7, born 8
and Penne (Peterson) Lawler are the parents of:
Anne7, born 22
brought three sons to the marriage Ryan, 17 MAR 1983; Griffin, 2 MAR
1986; and Christian, 20 MAR 1992. The
Lawlers live in Sammamish.
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
Theresa6, born 17
AUG 1962; married 2 DEC 1994 William Matthew Baltuck at St. Joseph Church,
Will was as native of
Detroit, MI. The family resides in Seattle, WA.
and Camille (Peterson) Baltuck are the parents of:
born 15 JAN 1997;
born 12 NOV 1999;
Sydney Jean7, born 13 MAY 2002.
Michelle6, born 22 APR 1964; married 17 MAY 1996 at St. Therese
Church, Seattle, WA, Phillip James Knowles. The family lives
in Kirkland, WA.
and Sharon (Peterson) Knowles are the parents of:
Nicole7, born 29
Michael7, born 7
2. Charles Lewis5, born 8 APR
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
He married Betty Joyce Ladiges of Missoula, MT
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
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
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:
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.
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.
Jodi (Renz) O’Connell are the parents of:
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.
graduated from the University of Oregon, Eugene,
in June 1999 with majors in Russian,
International Relations, and History.
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.
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”.
married 21 DEC 2003 Donald Wayne Schmitz in a
Celtic Wedding Ceremony at the Alaska Native
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."
Jessye (O’Connell) Schmitz are the parents of:
Mathilda7, born 3
JUL 2005 at the Juneau,
AK, Birthing Center.
The family re-located to Lynnwood, WA, in the spring of 2007.