The Juneau Empire’s expanded coverage of the Juneau Lions Club 74th Gold Medal Basketball Tournament is made possible by Sealaska Corp. Thanks to this sponsorship, this article —and all of this year’s Gold Medal coverage — is available online without a subscription to the Empire.
Ted Burke, 83, a 2005 Worthy Lion selection to the Gold Medal Hall of Fame, was honored Saturday evening with the Dr. Walter Soboleff Award during the Juneau Lions Club’s 74th Annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé.
“I was definitely surprised,” Burke said. “I didn’t even think there was going to be one this year.”
The award is named after Monarch Lion the Rev. Walter A. Soboleff (1908-2011) who had been involved with the tournament nearly as long as it has been in existence.
Burke, a current Lions Club member and club adviser, was inducted into the Lions Club in 1988 by Soboleff, his father-in-law. Burke had married Janet “Jan” Soboleff in 1963.
“I have no words,” Burke said after holding the award in one hand and walking from the court with his wife’s hand tightly embraced in the other. “This tournament has been the most wonderful thing in my life and it is amazing to me that… I… just don’t know what to say. I really don’t know what to say.”
Burke was asked if he could imagine Walter Soboleff seeing him receive the honor.
“Well, he liked me,” Burke chuckled. “But I’m not sure that much… I think he got me into this knowing that it would be a wonderful, wonderful, so much important part of my life… and he made it that way.”
Burke first arrived in Juneau with the U. S. Coast Guard 17th District in 1961 while working on the Sweetbrier. He met Soboleff’s daughter Jan here at Percy’s Soda Fountain on Front Street. They were married in January 1963. The couple relocated with the Coast Guard, and came back in 1967 until 1972.
“We left again but I was asked to come back in 1987 because they couldn’t find any body to fill out the slot here,” Burke said. “And I finished my career right here.”
Walter Soboleff was living with the Burkes in 1987. Burke related a story from that time.
“We ate dinner each night at six o’clock because Walter liked to eat early,” Burke said.
After about a month and a half an application was on Burke’s plate.
Burke recalled: “I asked Walter, ‘What’s this about?’ And he said, ‘Just sign it.’ I said ‘dad, you need to tell me, I was in the Coast Guard for so many years I just need to know…”
But Walter said, “No, no, no, you just need to trust me…”
Burke said that went on for three weeks.
“In my plate one night each week,” Burke said. “Finally ,on the fourth week Janet said, ‘If you don’t sign this tomorrow you are in deep trouble.’ And I have been a Lion with a smile ever since.
“When Walter got me to become a Lion, I had done 31 years in the Coast Guard so we were never attached to a community and he said to me, ‘We are not only going to attach you to the community, but you are going to learn about all of Southeast.’ And that’s exactly what happened. I really and truly have made such wonderful friends with the people in Southeast, I feel like I am truly blessed to have been a part of Gold Medal. I really do.”
Wife Jan Burke was also surprised.
“It is pretty special,” Jan Burke said. “He’s been complaining all week that there was nobody nominated for the Walter Soboleff Award and I said, ‘Well, some years that’s the way it goes.’ And the phone would ring and people would be asking me all different kinds of questions about what he did, when he did it and this and that and the other thing and I was like, ‘Hmm.’ I didn’t discuss it with him, but I guess that’s what it was for.”
The Burkes laughed when asked what Walter Soboleff said when the couple told him of their wedding plans. Jan’s parents, Walter and Genevieve, wanted her to marry an Alaska Native and suggested she should not go out with anyone in a Coast Guard uniform and she shouldn’t marry a Catholic.
“My dad said to me after the ceremony, when we were in the reception line and he was standing next to me, ‘If you choose to be Catholic, be a good one,” Jan Burke said. “And he loved Ted. He loved Ted and they always worked well together.”
The Dr. Walter Soboleff Award honors a person who carries forward, throughout their years of association with the tournament, the pride and support they gave for their community, team, and Lions Club tournament. Attributes include volunteer work in their community, leadership both and off the court, spirit, pride in their community, motivation, conduct and sportsmanship and other personal traits that deserve to be considered.
For Ted Burke that is what the Gold Medal Tournament is.
“This is what I consider to be the whole Southeast family,” Ted Burke said. “And I think it was put really perfectly the other day, we are in our 80s now and we worked for over 33 years doing this, and when we came here this time again everybody came by to say hi to me and it is just like everyone is a relative. I’ve watched players turn into adults with children and I’ve had such a fantastic time. I’ve really and truly never been able to have been in the gym as much as I would have liked to, but Walter taught me it’s your volunteerism and being a part of a family that brings everybody in Southeast together, so that’s what it is all about.”
Ted Burke and wife Jan have been married for 60 years, have four children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.