Jana Ariane Nelson
Jana Ariane Nelson (nee Janet Griffith) moved to Anchorage in 1948 with her parents, Donald and Denney Griffith, and her twin brother, Jack.
Jana worked in the legal field in Anchorage before moving to Oregon. She retired from Lane Community College in Eugene where she was the Mathematics Division Coordinator.
Her daughter, Naomi Sweetman, is the Alaska DARE Coordinator and her son, John Nelson, is a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch in Anchorage. Jana has 4 grandchildren and one great grandchild in the Anchorage area. Her brother, Jack, runs the Griffith Lab at the University of North Carolina.
For more stories of early Anchorage, visit growingupanchorage.com.
“I packed one suit, two shirts and two ties,” Dad said to Mom the night before he left Portland.
He had accepted a job with the Bureau of Land Management in Anchorage and needed to be presentable for work, but had little room in the old Plymouth for much of anything in addition to camping equipment, food, fishing gear and his beloved guns.
Does the date June 30, 1958 mean anything to you? For most of us it is utterly insignificant.
But to a select few the date stands out as a landmark in history. On that date, the Alaska Statehood bill passed the US Senate with a vote of 64-20.
The deafening roar came seconds before the shaking. Gathering speed, the sound became a runaway freight train, bearing down on anyone in its path. The world started to shake brutally, and as the expression goes, all hell broke loose.
Like most young women growing up in the 40’s and 50’s in Anchorage, I was completely unprepared for adulthood. That milestone arrived on my doorstep far too suddenly.
It felt like I was launched from a catapult and flung toward maturity at mach speed.
It could perhaps be described as a minimalist Christmas, that Christmas of 1948. Our household goods were stashed in Seattle with many other boxes and crates and barrels headed for the Last Frontier.
Good foresight that Mother didn’t ship her houseplants.
I am standing in Red Square. The pentagonal luminescent Ruby Stars glitter on top of five Kremlin towers, each an enormous jewel in the black night sky.
In front of me is St. Basil’s Cathedral. It takes my breath away and is by far the most vibrant and enchanting building I have ever seen.
Henceforth Mother always referred to it as “Ash Thursday”. It began like most other summer days. At age 11, Jack and I claimed our independence by staying away from the house as long as was possible, or as long as we could get away with it, coming in only to forage for food or some other necessity...
But, as the morning wore on, sunlight went from normal to practically non-existent.
Flying back home to Oregon from a family wedding in Anchorage, I cannot keep from reflecting on her changes over the years since I moved away. During this visit especially, I am aware of how “grown-up” Anchorage has become since we moved there in 1948, when the population was about 15,000. How different she is now compared to the “early days”!
I think of my Alaskan grandchildren, who have grown up in a much different world than we did; theirs is a world full of cell phones and video games and wireless Internet. They are used to the hustle-bustle of modern Anchorage, riddled with freeways, coffee kiosks and retail outlets on every corner.