The Jesse Lee Home started in Unalaska, Alaska in 1889, serving Aleut children in the Aleutian Islands. The most famous resident was P. Gordon Gould, who became an ordained Methodist minister and for a period of time was the leader of Methodist work in Alaska, while living in Philadelphia. One of the buildings at Alaska Pacific University was named in his honor. We were privileged to know him personally when we first arrived in Alaska.
For a variety of reasons, the home was moved to Seward, Alaska, in 1926 and that is where I had my first personal relationship with the staff and residents in 1961, when I was serving the Moose Pass Circuit. For some reason, the Superintendent took a liking to me and often invited me to Seward for a meal. His name was Lysond Morgan. In various ways, I related to the residents and my favorite story relates to my interest in climbing Mt. Marathon, famous for a race that takes place every Fourth of July. The record is something like 45 minutes. Some of the boys were eager to take me to the top. Instead of showing me the gentle trail up the mountain, they took me to the exit chute and off we went. A few minutes later I not only was finished, I lost my breakfast and maybe some more. They were so amused. The rest of the story is that later I took the easier trail with a nurse and we went up and down in six hours.
Even more famous than P. Gordon Gould is Benny Benson, a thirteen year old boy who designed the Alaska State Flag in 1927. He lived in the Jesse Lee Home at both Unalaska and Seward He has been duly honored for this achievement. Look up the heart warming story on the Internet.
The 1964 Earthquake devastated Seward and The Jesse Lee Home. The buildings were condemned and with the generous help of Methodists all over the United States, $600,000 was provided to relocate and rebuild The Jesse Lee Home in Anchorage, Alaska. The parent organization is now the Alaska Children’s Service.
For a brief period of time, while the pastor in Chugiak, I served on the Board of Directors, giving that up when I moved to Juneau in 1969.
The Legend of Lonesome Louie
A totem pole is on the lawn in front of the Gilbert Center at Alaska Children’s Service in Anchorage, Alaska. The totem, known as Lonesome Louie, is based on a true story, inspired by a roving horse who appeared on the grounds of The Jesse Lee Home in Anchorage. The horse was very friendly, peeking in cottage windows and accepting lumps of sugar from children and staff at the home.
Everybody loved the horse and the children named him ‘Lonesome Louie.’ “He wanted friends, just as people do.” The students wrote, “People have to be accepted for what they are and not for what we want them to be.” Although Louie was friendly, he was also shy and ran away every time staff or students tried to catch him.
Eventually, Lonesome Louie disappeared, presumably to return to his original owners and familiar barn.
Several of the older students, along with administrator and master wood worker Lynn Gaylor, carved a totem that told the story of Lonesome Louie.
The totem was dedicated at a special ceremony on August 22, 1973. A special guest of the dedication event was Governor William A. Egan who read: “On behalf of the people of the State of Alaska, I do dedicate the Lonesome Louie totem to the children of the Jesse Lee Home past and present, and to the people who have helped make Jesse Lee a part of what makes Alaska good place to live.”