Juneau historian, community organizer and advocate Marie Darlin has died. She was 93 years old.
Darlin, born in Juneau in 1925, was a third-generation Juneauite, her family having arrived in the city in 1894, just 14 years after its founding. Friends referred to her as the “velvet hammer” behind many causes, most notably the preservation of local history.
“She was such a large-dimensional person — and I don’t mean size — in her character and the activities that she has done to make Alaskans’ lives better,” said Malin Babcock, who was born in Juneau in 1939 and served with Darlin on the board of directors for the Gastineau Channel Historical Society.
“Marie and I are both half-Finnish,” Babcock said. “Finns have, and they have cultivated, a national characteristic known as sisu. Basically, it means guts. It means stick-to-it-iveness. Looking back at Marie, she absolutely embodies that.”
Darlin received the 2014 Evangeline Atwood Award from the Alaska Historical Society for outstanding achievements over a lifetime. She was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame in 2015 and was named an AWARE Woman of Distinction the following year.
Gary Gillette, a member of the board of directors for the Gastineau Historical Society, said, “I used to tease her: You’ve gotten every award we have. There’s nothing more we can give you.”
Darlin was born to Hilda Hendrickson and Henry Hanna in April 1925. Her father died three years later, drowning during a hunting accident, and her mother moved in with her parents. In 1929, the family moved from their homestead on Douglas Island to a homesite at Sunny Point, where they operated a dairy. Hilda’s parents were Finnish immigrants, and Darlin grew up speaking both English and Finnish.
Hilda married John Osborn in 1932, and the family moved to Auke Bay in 1938. Darlin is said to have had an active childhood; when Gillette was compiling an article on the history of soapbox racing cars in Juneau, Darlin said she was either the first girl or one of the first girls to participate. At the time, the race ran down what is today’s Goldbelt Avenue and Calhoun Avenue to finish on 12th Street in the Flats.
Darlin graduated from Juneau High School in 1943, the the year after fellow student and valedictorian John Tanaka was barred from graduation because he was interned in a camp for being a Japanese-American on the West Coast. Darlin was among the supporters of the Empty Chair project memorializing Tanaka’s experience.
“I think the whole town (had an emotional response),” Darlin told the Empire in 2012. “We didn’t like to see people go; they were well liked and they were part of the community. I think it was one of the saddest experiences we had in Juneau.”
That project still stands in Capital Park and has won national awards for public art.
“After I graduated, I went to work for the Employment Security Commission, which is now a part of the Department of Labor,” she told the Empire in 2002. “I made $150 a month and that was high wages at that time.”
In 1944, she married Kenneth Wingate, who was in Juneau working on construction projects during World War II. They had two daughters. Wingate died in 1962, and she later married Bill Darlin, who she met on a trip along the Alaska Highway. They had gone to high school together.
“We bought Triangle Cleaners across from the Baranof and operated for a while until it was combined with Alaska Laundry and Dry Cleaners,” she said in 2002.
Over the years, Darlin worked for the Alaska Road Commission, the Alaska Department of Education and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. After retirement, she helped found the local chapter of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees. She was elected federation president at the group’s fifth annual meeting in 1991.
She helped form parent-teacher associations at Juneau schools from Douglas to Auke Bay. She served on the Juneau School Board between 1966 and 1972, and she served on the advisory council for what was then known as the Juneau-Douglas Community College. Today, it is the University of Alaska Southeast.
In the 1980s, she was part of an effort to built middle-income senior housing in Juneau, an effort that culminated with the construction of Fireweed Place. Darlin moved into the complex when it opened in 1991 and served on its board of directors.
After retirement, Darlin was an extraordinarily active volunteer.
In addition to her work with NARFE, she was a stalwart advocate for women and Alaska’s elderly in general. She served as a volunteer lobbyist for AARP, the Alaska Medical Care Advisory Committee and took a position on the Alaska Commission on Aging. She also helped create a widowed persons support group in Juneau after being widowed a second time.
She was a Pioneer of Alaska, served on the Juneau Historic Preservation Commission, the Gastineau Channel Historical Society board of directors, the Retired Teachers Association, and the Tourism Advisory Committee. She helped with the creation of the 1994 time capsule on the first floor of the Federal Building, running home at the last minute to put a Bartlett Bear (a stuffed animal from the hospital) inside.
She volunteered for more than two decades with the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, guiding guests to their destination, and served on the city’s Tourism Advisory Committee. She was a regular volunteer at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, recording more than 1,000 hours of volunteer time — the equivalent of five years (with no vacations) of 40-hour weeks — by 2010.
As a member of the Pioneers in the late 1990s, she co-edited and helped coordinate the massive three-volume work, “Gastineau Channel Memories,” which compiles the histories of pre-statehood Juneau families.
“She was just an incredible resource of information, which is the real sad loss,” Gillette said. “But a lot of people take that with them: Marie worked tirelessly to get people to write down their stories.”
Darlin’s daughter Sue Nielsen said a celebration of Darlin’s life will be held at a later date.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.