Janet Burke talks about some of her father’s things on display at the Walter Soboleff Center as her brothers, Walter Jr., center, and Sasha, watch on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. Nov. 14 was named Dr. Walter Soboleff Day by the Alaska Legislature in 2014. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Janet Burke talks about some of her father’s things on display at the Walter Soboleff Center as her brothers, Walter Jr., center, and Sasha, watch on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. Nov. 14 was named Dr. Walter Soboleff Day by the Alaska Legislature in 2014. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Family shares items and stories for Dr. Walter Soboleff Day

Soboleff’s sons and daughter loan collection to Sealaska Heritage Institute for display

The Soboleffs gathered at the Walter Soboleff Building for Dr. Walter Soboleff Day.

Janet Soboleff Burke, Sasha I. Soboleff and Walter Soboleff Jr. and a loaned collection of the late Walter Soboleff’s belongings were present Wednesday near the entrance of the Sealaska Heritage Institute building named for the longtime Sealaska board of directors member and past SHI board chairman.

“They’re all our favorites,” Burke said of the items that included a Masonic hat, beaded vest, cane, a bible, photographs and more accumulated by the scholar, minister and civic leader, who lived to 102.

Heather McClain, collections manager for SHI, said all of the items are new to SHI as of this week, and while they were displayed for the noon hour of on Dr. Walter Soboleff Day, they will be available for research appointments. Nov. 14 was officially designated a holiday back in 2014.

The bible on display included notes from Walter Soboleff and was one of more than 50 the had accumulated. His children said he had a habit of annotating, highlighting passages and making notes of the differences between versions of the scripture.

Burke identified Micah 6:8 as her father’s favorite verse.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.”

Sasha and Walter Jr. Soboleff wore Walter Soboleff Day T-shirts with one of their father’s favorite quotes on the back, “Take care of the old person you are going to become.”

The three surviving Soboleff adult children — Ross Soboleff passed away in July — shared stories about their father who was a scholar, Presbyterian minister, a 33rd-degree Mason and civic leader as a prominent Alaska Native.

Burke recalled a cruise they went on for her father’s 101st birthday to see the Panama Canal. It also satisfied an interest in cruise ships.

Burke said her dad would watch the ships often, read a wide selection of cruise-focused magazines and assemble his own packets of information, but he had never been inside of one until that trip.

“He was awestruck by the interior of the cruise ship,” Burke said.

During a tour, the centenarian got to show off his knowledge of the vessel.

“The first mate told the captain, ‘He might know more about this ship than we do,’” Burke said.

The Soboleffs also talked about what it’s like to be the sons and daughter of a man who has a state holiday named in his honor. They said as a minister’s child, you always need to be on good behavior, but that’s especially true if your dad is a statewide icon.

“A lot of people recognize him and ask if we’re Walter’s kids,” Sasha Soboleff said.“My sister could be in Hawaii, and someone would talk about dad. My brother could be in San Diego and someone would talk about dad. You always had to mind your Ps and Qs. “

City museum too

The Juneau-Douglas City Museum also observed Dr. Walter Soboleff Day through a monthlong offer.

Throughout November, visitors to the museum have the opportunity to send a letter for free.

“What they’re getting are nice cards, postage and an insert that honors Walter Soboleff,” said Elisa Borges, public programs coordinator for the museum. “We’ve had probably, all told, had about 100 people that have so far requested letters.”

Borges said the program reflects Soboleff’s prolific letter writing, which his children recalled during their event.

“All the women thought he was only writing to them,” Sasha Soboleff said.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


A picture of the Rev. Dr. Walter Soboleff on his 100th Birthday and his hat from the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons on display at the Walter Soboleff Center on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. Nov. 14 was named Dr. Walter Soboleff Day by the Alaska Legislature in 2014. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A picture of the Rev. Dr. Walter Soboleff on his 100th Birthday and his hat from the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons on display at the Walter Soboleff Center on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. Nov. 14 was named Dr. Walter Soboleff Day by the Alaska Legislature in 2014. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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