from the March 23, 2001 Skagway News

Skagway will miss beloved Oscar

Judy and Oscar Selmer at the 1997 dedication of Skagway Centennial Park.

Oscar S. Selmer, Jr. 1918-2001

A six-foot ruler is not the best device for measuring long distances, but on Monday, Oscar Selmer decided to measure the width of the valley as he did 50 years ago, with a ruler.
It took him all day, but the results were encouraging. Oscar said that the distance between the foot of Mount Dewey and the foot of AB Mountain was the same as it was 50 years ago.
"The mountains are not closing in on us," he said. — Skagway News, October 26, 1978

If anyone was ever meant to be the measure of a full life in Skagway, it was Oscar Selmer.
With his long white beard, top hat, smile and slight wave of his hand, he welcomed anyone to sit down and shoot the breeze with him about his town. Whether you knew him for 50 years or just five minutes, you were touched by him.
Oscar Selmer died at his Skagway home, Sunday, March 11 at the age of 82, holding tightly to his daughter’s hand, his favorite cat at his side, and listening to the first birds of spring.
On March 14, as flags flew half-staff throughout town in his honor (by governor proclamation), more than 300 people gathered at the Skagway Community Center to say “see you later” to Oscar, the “ambassador of good-will on Broadway.”
Near his homemade wooden coffin with a heart carved on the lid were a painting of an eagle in flight, his ukulele, his WP&YR thunderbird, photos of Oscar and his mother and father, and his traditional half a cup of coffee.
Never in Skagway’s history has there been such an outpouring of affection for one person. For an hour and a half Skagwayans listened to his favorite songs, scriptures, sayings, prayers and many memories that could fill this newspaper. And after Oscar was laid to rest in the town cemetery, many came back to eat and tell more stories.
“I want the people at my service to be happy, to laugh and enjoy themselves,” said Oscar for the program.
This town will not be quite the same without him. He was Skagway’s everyman: husband, father, musician, working man, city leader, fisherman, athlete, photographer, jokester, craftsman, town ambassador, friend to all.
Oscar Siegrud Selmer, Jr. was born at the old White Pass Hospital in Skagway on November 25, 1918. He was the seventh of eight children born to Oscar and Paula Selmer, who emigrated to this area from Norway in 1905. They joined Paula’s brother, Peter Lunde, the section foreman at Bennett, B.C..
Thus began the Selmer circle of life in Skagway, measured in the beginning with a stick. Oscar was a collector and one of the most cherished items in his “ar-chives” was a piece of wood passed down to him by his sister, Virginia.
A waitress at Bennett, Virginia one summer day decided to hike to the top of “Tickletoe Mountain” behind the railroad eating house with some co-workers. The date was Aug. 25, 1929. While scrounging for some wood for a fire to warm some coffee, she picked up what appeared to be an old shovel handle. Carved into the short stick was: “P.P. Lunde, 8-25-1901.”
“She found this piece of wood 28 years to the day he (her great uncle Peter Lunde) put it there,” Oscar said in an interview for the “Skagway Conversations” centennial video series. “That was strange.”
It also wasn’t the end of the story. Several years later, on the same date, Oscar swore, he was cleaning out the old Harry Ask building on Broadway and stumbled upon an old trunk. Inside was a clipping from the Vancouver Sun about his sister’s discovery on that day many years before.
“Someone was looking out to make sure I coincided with both parties,” he said.
Oscar’s father was a barber in Skagway, but he had been a concert violinist and professional knife thrower back in Norway. He passed on the musical background to his namesake. Oscar helped his dad with both hobbies but leaned toward music, playing the trumpet and later the ukulele and harmonica.
Growing up he was a kid with a mischievous reputation, and was the tough guy on sports teams, including the basketball squad that ran circles around Juneau in 1936 for the northern Southeast title. Yet he worked when he could for “Old Man Wills” hauling wood for 50 cents a week, and was a good neighbor. When old Charlie Walker once had a few too many drinks on his way home from selling flowers to the ships, Oscar put Charlie in his flower cart and rolled the old man home.
Like many young men in Skagway, after finishing high school, Oscar went to work for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, graduating from junior baggageman to baggageman, to hosteler helper, to brakeman. He was active in the old White Pass Athletic Club, which sponsored a hockey team that traveled to Whitehorse and beat the Canadians at their own game. Oscar was the goalie. In March 1997, when the Dawson City Nuggets came through Skagway on their trek to Ottawa to reenact the 1905 Stanley Cup Challenge, Oscar met them with his large wooden stick and thick goalie pads from his playing days. The modern-day “Dawson City Seven” were impressed and said meeting Oscar was one of the highlights of their trip.

Oscar Selmer (second from bottom left) and the 1936 SHS basketball team that defeated Juneau for the Southeast title.

Oscar’s only real time away from Skagway was during World War Two when he married for the first time and moved to Portland, Ore. to work in the shipyards. He returned to Skagway in 1945, rejoining White Pass as a carpenter helper. In September 1946, he married Alice Dunn, a nurse from Minnesota who worked in the company hospital. On a return trip from Minnesota, their first child, Stan, was born in Iowa Falls, Iowa. Two more children, Wayne and Sherrie, were born in Juneau, and all three were raised by Oscar and Alice in Skagway at Seventh and Broadway.
Oscar worked for the late Vic Sparks in the railroad’s paint shop, taking over as head painter after the celebrated artist’s retirement. Oscar’s lasting legacy with the railroad is the Thunderbird emblem that he crafted from metal and painted for the front of the diesel engines. He worked for the railroad for 36 years and was active in Teamsters Local 959.
At home his hobbies included developing photographs in a bathroom that doubled as a darkroom, polishing rocks in his crowded workshop, and playing music with the family. He also performed “The Stranger” at the ‘98 Show and led the “Skagway Sourtones” band to the docks to serenade the cruise ships in the mornings when they pulled up to the dock.
The family enjoyed fishing near their Carcross cabin, and aboard Oscar’s boat in the Skagway harbor. Oscar strived to be the first in the water every spring, and the first to bring back a salmon. “Tom Cod One,” as he was known on the VHF circuit, loved taking his kids, and later grandchildren and great-grandchildren fishing. Sometimes he invited newcomers out for the day. When he was fishing by himself, he liked to take a tape recorder along and record his thoughts while waiting to land the big one.
Losing Alice in January 1975 was a great loss to Oscar and the family, and he often visited her grave at the Pioneer Cemetery. Every Memorial Day for many years, Oscar would clean up around her grave, and those of other family members and old friends.
A few years later, Oscar met Judy Camp, a veterinarian whom he had befriended while hiking the trails and picking up trash. He took her with him when he decided to re-measure the width of the valley and tell the new editor his findings. Oscar and Judy also loved singing together and they were married in 1979.
After his White Pass years, Oscar never really retired. He served on the city council a time or two, and ran the senior citizens program for 11 years. He was proud of being “Mr. February” in the “Seniors on the Last Frontier 1988 Calendar,” and even prouder of his senior gold pass to Skagway School activities. He was a lifetime member of the Eagles and Elks, and a member of the Juneau Igloo of the Pioneers of Alaska. As Skagway’s longest living resident, he was called on in 1997 to unveil the Centennial Statue, along with members of the valley’s oldest family, the Dennis’s.
Like Judy, he loved animals, and he wanted any donations in his memory to go to either the Gastineau Humane Society in Juneau or the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka.
Late in life, with his health in decline, Oscar still liked to spend time on the benches downtown or riding around in his cart greeting friends and visitors. He entertained various writers and even joked with one last summer that he might not be home later because he bounced around town “faster than a fart on a skillet.”
If you caught up with him in a restaurant, he usually had an old photo in his pocket and a story to tell over many half cups of coffee. If he got your interest, he might bring along a prop for the next time he saw you.

A boy, a bull sling, and his rock pile. DL

Two years ago the newspaper received a call about another scoop from Oscar, believed to be on a scale equal in measure to the valley’s width.
A huge rock pile had developed at the south end of town from dredging the river for the airport expansion project. At one point, the mountain of rocks had blocked the microwave tower and interrupted long distance service and Internet connections. Oscar, with his boyhood bull sling in hand, beckoned the local news editor to the site to explain his role in Skagway becoming cut off from the rest of the world.
Many years ago, Oscar confessed, his brother Occie and he had tossed rocks into the river with their bull slings. They slung so many rocks that they wondered if someone might have to remove them some day to keep the river from filling up. Never one to stand in the way of progress, Oscar was glad someone finally removed the rocks from the river. They were leveled off to allow communications again worldwide. And as far as we know, the mountains didn’t inch any closer together as a result.
A little of Oscar has rubbed off on everyone in Skagway. His children certainly inherited their dad’s sense of humor, and the townspeople in general have learned from him to never take themselves too seriously.
Oscar is survived by his younger brother Bob Selmer of Kirkland, Wash.; wife Judy of Skagway; children Shirley Woods of Seattle, Mary Ann Invie of Beaverton, Ore., Stan Selmer of Skagway, Wayne Selmer of Haines, and Sherrie Colyer of Columbia Falls, Mont.; 10 grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; his cat Shadow; and the community of Skagway.

Special thanks to the Selmer family for use of portions of the eulogy written for Oscar’s service by Maxine Selmer and read by Brian Blanchard; and to Richard Denno for use of his quote from his “In My Travels” column. To view his story, go to <> and click onto the third choice, Hometown News Publications Archives. The issue is # 36, dated Sept. 8, 2000.

May B. Coyne, 1908-2001
Former Skagway postmaster May B. Coyne died March 1, 2001 in Dupont, Penn. She was the widow of former mayor of Skagway, Cyril “Cy” Coyne.
Mrs. Coyne was born on February 20, 1908 in Scranton, Penn., the daughter of the late Ignatious and Agnes Donovan Bohn.
Cy and May lived in Skagway for many years. She and her husband owned and operated the Chilkoot Insurance and Real Estate Agencies in Skagway and Haines, and also ran the North Wind newspaper, before retiring to their winter home in Lake San Marcos, Calif. in the early 1980s.
Surviving are two sisters, Agnes Joyce of Bridgeport, Conn. and Mildred Pramick of Dupont, with whom she resided for the past three years; step-daughter Dolores Stamps of Michigan; step-granddaughter Heather Makin; four step grandchildren; nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her husband; three brothers, Jack and Naish Bohn and Thomas Joyce; a sister Esther Holbert; and son Lee Speer.
A funeral mass was held at Sacred Heart Church in Dupont. The family can be contacted at 119 Chestnut St., Dupont, PA 18641-2101.

Alexander Stevens II, 1930-2001
Alexander T. Stevens, who attended Pius X Mission in Skagway, died March 13, 2001 from cancer at Bartlett Regional hospital in Juneau.
He was born Dec. 18, 1930 on Douglas Island and attended the Mission School in Skagway. He was a proud U.S. Marine Corps veteran and served during the Korean War.
Alex was a commercial fisherman and retired employee of the General Services Administration, in charge of the Federal Building maintenance in Juneau for many years. After his retirement, he drove tour buses for Last Frontier Tours.
His hobbies were building and flying model airplanes, and he used to love coming to Skagway to fly planes on the Dyea Flats. He also was an avid pool player and bowler, and made the best fry bread and halibut.
He was preceded in death by his father, Alexander A. Stevens, his mother, Bertha (Marshall-Stevens-Johnson), and his stepfather, Charles D. Johnson. He is survived by his sisters, Marge Ling, Dorothy Thornton, and Katherine Miyasato, all of Juneau, and Lucielle Stevenson of Seattle; his children, Patricia Murchison, Angela Stevens, Dorothy Stevens, and Samantha Des Armo, all of Anchorage, and Annette Ulmer, Alexander T. Stevens III, and Roxanne Olivera of Juneau; also 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.