When the Juneau and Douglas July Fourth parades step off on Sunday, honored community members will be leading the way as grand marshals.
Grand marshals for the Juneau parade include dedicated community servants Sherry Patterson and Benjamin Danny Coronell, who is a retired Juneau Police officer.
On Douglas, longtime residents and community volunteers Wallace “Sandy” Williams Jr. and Susanne Williams will serve as the grand marshals.
“I was pretty excited,” Coronell said by phone Thursday afternoon. “My first thought was of my mom, who was the grand marshal about 40 years ago.” He joked that he’s practicing his “princess wave” to prepare for the big day.
On a more serious note, he said that he plans to wear his wolf regalia and is excited to fulfill his duties and share the honor with Patterson, the first Black grand marshal in the history of Juneau’s parade.
“It’s quite the honor. I tell people any success in my life is from my mom and dad. My mom and dad would be proud,” Coronell said. “I feel like I am walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.”
Coronell retired from the Juneau Police Department with 25 years of service and multiple awards for bravery and service, including the Officer of the Year award from the Glacier Rotary Club and the Public Service Award from the Alaska Federation of Natives.
He advocates for the dangers of substance abuse and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He has served on the Board of Directors for the United Way, been a member of the Steps Leadership team, and served as First Vice President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood camp. He is currently a member of the Laperouse Alaska Association. He’s a longtime delegate for the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and a member of the Goldbelt Board of directors since 2006.
Patterson said she was elated and surprised by her selection, which she learned about in October 2019. She said she was initially selected to serve as the grand marshal for the 2020 parade. When COVID-19 related concerns led organizers to cancel the parade last summer, they asked her to consider serving this year.
“I am humbled and honored to have this election,” she said by phone Friday morning.
Patterson is a Louisiana native. She moved to Alaska in 1974, a few months after graduating from high school. Her professional contributions include a career in finance that spanned more than 36 years. She’s currently the executive office manager for the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.
Patterson is extremely active in the capital city. Her community roles include serving as the president of the Black Awareness Association and acting as the co-chair of First Lady Donna Walker’s Bridge Builders of Juneau. She served on the local leadership council with Big Brothers Big Sisters, was a Healing Hand Foundation board member, and has been an on-call religious counselor at Lemon Creek Correctional Center.
She is a public speaker and vocalist who performs at local, state and federal events. She has performed for five administrations at the annual Governor’s Mansion Christmas Open House. She’s the recipient of the 2018 Mayor’s Award for the Arts for Achievement in the Arts.
Patterson said the parade’s theme — “Building Bridges Across the Last Frontier” — is pitch-perfect for the current times.
“I hope everyone will come out and have a good time. The theme they chose is great and needed. We are so divided during this time, and this is a great chance to come out and build those bridges as a community,” Patterson said.
Sandy and Susanne Williams
Across the channel, Sandy Williams shared similar sentiments about the day.
“It was quite an honor to be chosen. We were humbled,” Williams said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.
He said that he and his wife will ride in an antique car with a flag and a sign as part of their official duties.
“We’ve been celebrating the fourth on Douglas since 1898. The miners only had two holidays a year, Christmas and July 4, so these celebrations meant a lot to them,” he said. “It’s absolutely a fun holiday.”
The Williams met while in college and arrived in Alaska as newlyweds in 1959, where the couple raised two sons, Wallace (Rusty) and Michael.
Sandy, a civil engineer, started work with the Bureau of Public Roads and then left the state to serve at Fort Belford in Virginia. He returned to Juneau to spend 30 years working for the State of Alaska.
Along the way, he served in the Alaska National Guard Army Engineering Group and as president of the Alaska Society of Civil Engineers, Professional Civil Engineers, Juneau Rotary Club, Juneau Glacier Swim Team, and Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners.
He’s also served as a board member for several city and civic committees. He has received multiple awards, including the CBJ Community Service Award and the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Service Award. He’s been active with Juneau community gardens. He was instrumental in the drive to build Treadwell Ice Arena and the Pioneer Pavilion in Douglas.
He is currently on the board of Douglas Island Pink and Chum Inc. and active in the Juneau Rotary Club.
Susanne, who is now retired, worked at the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and the Department of Transportation. She was a founding member of Friends of Juneau Libraries and a Cub Scout den mother.
She’s a past president of several organizations, including the Juneau League of Women Voters, the Juneau Alaska Library Association and the Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners Association. She’s a former board member of Juneau Community Garden Association and spent several years as Douglas 4th of July Committee Secretary.
In retirement, the couple became master gardeners and helped teach the vegetable section for new gardeners through the Johnson Youth Center for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Office.
The selection process
According to a news release issued by the Juneau 4th of July Parade Committee, both Patterson and Coronell are “being recognized for their efforts in building bridges between the diverse groups that make up our beautiful Capital City.”
The release continues: “In each one’s unique path, both have used education, cultural celebration, and historical stories to create an atmosphere of understanding and appreciation between brown, Black, white, Asian-American, Pacific Islanders and Indigenous Americans. Both of our grand marshals represent the amazing impact of living a life of service to others. A notable shared characteristic of each grand marshal is vigilance to bring together our community. With extraordinary grace, Benjamin and Sherry have risen above the societal obstacles and have contributed to building a community bridge, a strong bridge established on principles of honor, respect, and courage.”
According to a news release issued by the Douglas Fourth of July Committee, the Williamses are being honored for their longtime service and commitment to making Douglas a better place to live, play and gather.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-308-4891.