Part of a continuing weekly series on local history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.
The most common type of history question people ask me can be summed up as: “Why’s it named that?” Everyone lives in a relationship with their surroundings. And as with any relationship, knowing more about your partner — Anchorage in this case — promotes a stronger connection. Today it is time to learn about the origins of local school names.
Many area schools have obvious name origins, either self-explanatory (e.g., East and West high schools) named after their neighborhoods (e.g., Government Hill and Wonder Park Elementary Schools), or named after natural features and wildlife (e.g., Aurora and Birchwood Elementary Schools). This article focuses on those schools named for individuals, some perhaps forgotten.
Abbott Loop Elementary is named for the road, which is named for homesteader Cecil Abbott (1898-1986), a World War II veteran who moved north in 1944 and made a fortune in real estate and insurance. He was the first president of the Alaska Association of Realtors.
Bartlett High School is named for politician Edward “Bob” Bartlett (1904-1968), Alaska’s last nonvoting delegate (1945-1959) to Congress before statehood and one of Alaska’s first U.S. senators (1959-1968).
Baxter Elementary is named for the road that is named for LaVon “Von” Baxter (1916-1999), a World War II veteran and insurance man who moved to Anchorage in 1945. His homestead was located at what is now the intersection of Tudor and Baxter Roads.
Begich Middle School is named for politician Nicholas “Nick” Begich (1932-1972). He worked in the Anchorage and Fort Richardson school systems, was elected to the Alaska Senate in 1962, and elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970. He was presumed dead from a 1972 small plane flight that was lost between Juneau and Anchorage. His body was never recovered.
Benson Secondary is named for the Aleut John Ben “Benny” Benson Jr. (1913-1972), who designed the Alaska flag at age 13.
Bowman Elementary is named for civil rights advocate and politician Willard Bowman (1919-1975). He was the first director of the Alaska Human Rights Commission and was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1970, serving until his 1975 death.
Campbell Elementary is named for the creek, which is itself named for the point. Both Point MacKenzie and Campbell were named during George Vancouver’s 1794 Cook Inlet voyage, perhaps named by Vancouver or by Joseph Whidbey, ship master for Vancouver’s H.M.S. Discovery. Point MacKenzie is most likely named for Scottish astronomer and politician James Stuart MacKenzie. Point Campbell is most likely named for MacKenzie’s wife, Elizabeth Campbell. Husband and wife across the Inlet from one another.
Clark Middle School is named for schoolteacher Orah Dee Clark (1875-1965), who taught in Alaska from 1906 through 1944 and was Anchorage’s first school superintendent.
Dimond High School is named for lawyer, politician, and judge Anthony “Tony” Dimond (1881-1953). Dimond was the mayor of Valdez (1920-1922, 1925-1932), Alaska’s nonvoting delegate to Congress (1933 to 1945), and a U.S. District Judge (1945-1953).
Girdwood School is named for the community, which is named for Irish-born gold miner James Girdwood (1856-1928). He arrived at what was then called Glacier City in 1896 amid the Cook Inlet Gold Rush and established the first of several claims on Crow Creek.
Gruening Middle School is named for politician Ernest Gruening (1887-1974), who was Alaska’s territorial governor (1939-1953) and other first U.S. senator (1959-1969), with Bob Bartlett.
Hanshew Middle School is named for teacher Ual Strange “U.S.” Hanshew (1907-1965). He moved to Anchorage in 1937 and was on the Anchorage School Board from 1947 to 1952. He taught history at Central, then a high school, from 1963 until a fatal heart attack in 1965. According to stories at the time, he was the favorite teacher for one of the school board member’s daughters, who insisted the new junior high be named for him.
Huffman Elementary is named for the road, which is named for radio operator Vernon “Vern” Huffman (1906-1974). In 1940, he and his wife Evelyn (1911-1978) moved to Anchorage and homesteaded on what is now Upper Huffman Road. They were leading advocates for the development of a Baháʼí community in Anchorage.
Kincaid Elementary is named for contractor Ralph Kincaid (1907-1953). He and his father had homesteads around what is now the International Airport and Kincaid Park. According to one source, Ralph Kincaid’s company paved Fourth and Fifth avenues.
King Tech High School is named for civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968).
Klatt Elementary, like the road, is named for homesteader Lester “Les” Klatt (1919-2012). He and his wife, Doris, were inspired by George Sundborg’s 1945 book, “Opportunity in Alaska.” In 1947, they drove the Alaska-Canadian Highway north and quickly settled on a homestead then far south of developed Anchorage.
Lake Hood Elementary is named for the lake, but the origin of the lake’s name is not certain. It is possibly named for Mount Hood in Oregon. Mount Hood is named after British Admiral Samuel Hood (1724-1816).
Lake Otis Elementary is named for the lake, which is named for an early Anchorage resident who lived there and developed it into a skating rink circa 1919. Local newspapers described him as “Mr. Otis,” perhaps the Frank L. Otis (1870-1928) in the area at that time.
McLaughlin Secondary School is named for lawyer, Alaska Constitutional Convention member, and Anchorage magistrate George McLaughlin (1914-1958).
Mears Middle School is named for educator and civic advocate Jennifer “Jane” Mears (1880-1953). She was the lead advocate for the creation of the first Anchorage school, the Pioneer School House. She also co-founded the Anchorage Women’s Club and served as its first president.
Muldoon Elementary, like the road and neighborhood, is named for area homesteader Arnold Muldoon (1909-1985). He and other area homesteaders built the original corduroyed road that bears his name. He proved up and received the patent for his homestead near the southern end of Muldoon Road in 1952.
O’Malley Elementary, like the road, is named for longtime Anchorage doctor James “Doc” O’Malley Sr. (1907-1974). He moved to Anchorage in 1946 with his wife and fellow doctor, Virginia. According to his granddaughter, journalist and author Julia O’Malley, the road was only named after him because he was the first to sign a petition for road improvements.
Rogers Park Elementary is named for Robert Rogers, who homesteaded in that area, roughly 1939 to the mid-1940s.
Like many other Anchorage schools, Rabbit Creek Elementary is named for the hosting neighborhood and its defining feature. However, Rabbit Creek deserves special mention as the name predates Anchorage and is a direct translation of the Dena’ina place name, Ggeh Betnu.
Rilke Schule, the German language-focused charter school, is named for German-language author Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926).
Romig Middle School is named for Dr. Joseph Romig (1872-1951), a missionary doctor and mayor of Anchorage (1937-1938).
Russian Jack Elementary is named for convicted bootlegger and murderer Jacob Marunenko (1883-1971), also known as Jack Marchin. For several years, Marunenko lived in a cabin in what is now Russian Jack Springs Park.
Service High School is named for the English-born author Robert Service (1874-1958) known for his poems about the Klondike Gold Rush.
Steller Secondary School is named for German botanist, physician and zoologist Georg Wilhelm Steller (1709-1746). During Vitus Bering’s last expedition, Steller named six species after himself, including the Steller’s jay, Steller’s sea eagle, Steller’s sea lion and Steller’s eider.
Tudor Elementary, like the road, is named for real estate developer and homesteader Burl Tudor (1920-2000). He moved to Alaska in 1945, won a homestead in a 1949 land lottery restricted to veterans, and moved to Seattle in 1953. His homestead was around the intersection of Boniface Parkway and Tudor Road.
Tyson Elementary is named for Rev. William Tyson (1916-1993), best known for his attempts to preserve Yup’ik culture.
Wendler Middle School is named for the German-born businessman and civic leader Anton Wendler (1868-1935). He arrived in Anchorage in 1915, co-founded the city’s first grocery store, was Anchorage’s first Chamber of Commerce president, and was a charter member of the school board.
Whaley School is named for Dr. Helen Whaley (1924-1971), Alaska’s first female pediatrician.
Wood Elementary is named for longtime Anchorage teacher and principal Gladys Wood (1916-1970). She moved to Anchorage in 1950 and began teaching that year at Denali Elementary.
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Abbott, Jeanne. “How the Names of Anchorage’s Past Fare Today.” Anchorage Daily News, June 13, 1982, D4.
“Around the Town.” Anchorage Daily Times, November 10, 1919, 6.
“Businessman Abbott Dies at 87.” Anchorage Times, March 8, 1986, A-5.
General Land Office Records, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior. glorecords.blm.gov/default.aspx.
Doogan, Mike. “Schools Named for Homesteaders, Politicians, Educators.” Anchorage Daily News, December 28, 2001, B-1.
“George McLaughlin Dies Here of Heart Attack.” Anchorage Daily Times, June 23, 1958, 1, 9.
“Helen Stoddard Whaley, M.D.” Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, alaskawomenshalloffame.org/alumnae/name/helen-whaley-m-d/.
Kari, James, James A. Fall, and Shem Pete. Shem Pete’s Alaska: The Territory of the Upper Cook Inlet Dena’ina, Revised 2nd ed. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2016.
Northon, Cherie. A Cultural and Historical Geography of Campbell Creek, Anchorage, Alaska. Anchorage: Alaska Humanities Forum, 2007.
O’Malley, Julia. “M.L.K. Avenue: Too Long in Coming.” Anchorage Daily News, August 5, 2010, A3.
Parham, Bruce. “Mears, Jane Wainwright.” Cook Inlet Historical Society, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940. alaskahistory.org/biographies/mears-jane-wainwright.
Parham, Bruce. “Wendler, Anton J. ‘A.J.’ or ‘Tony.’” Cook Inlet Historical Society, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, alaskahistory.org/biographies/wendler-anton-j-aj-or-tony/
“Obituaries—Ruth E. Baxter, 83.” Anchorage Daily News, November 19, 2000, B-7.
“Obituaries—Vernon E. Huffman.” Anchorage Daily News, January 20, 1974, A-2.
“Obituaries—William J. Tyson.” Anchorage Daily News, December 29, 1993, B5.
“Pioneer Physician, Dr. O’Malley Dies.” Anchorage Daily News, August 13, 1974, 16.
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