Alice Johnstone Dies; Was a 77-Year Resident

Alice Johnstone

Alice Johnstone was born Jan. 19, 1925, in Pasadena, California, to dairy milk retailers Curtis and Gladys Isabelle (Happy) Sherwood, nee Rolfe. She was named Alice Cassandra Sherwood.
In December 1940 the family moved to Juneau, Alaska, to a dairy farm with 25 dairy stock, a home with a single cold water tap and no electricity, and a 12-mile school bus ride to the local high school.
Alice met Chuck Johnstone on her first bus ride to school. On June 15, 1942, the two were married at the Chapel by the Lake in Auke Bay, north of Juneau, and immediately moved to Sitka, where Chuck was working on the construction of the Japonski Island Naval facility. She attended Sitka High School to complete her senior year in 1943.
Over the years they had and raised four children in Sitka. And despite her antipathy for the role of the traditional wife in her early marriage, she was awarded the 1995 Homemaker of the Year Award from the Southeast Alaska Fair with multiple first place awards for preserving foods, spinning, dyeing, and weaving.
When the children were in school, she found work outside the home and joined an early woman’s organization, the Beta Sigma Phi, as well as the Parent Teacher Association. She became an avid self-taught botanist. She patronized the library, and found women who knit, spun, and wove; she patronized the White Elephant Shop where she volunteered and found clothes and kitchen equipment.
She became part of a vibrant local business community, eventually joining the Sears Roebuck catalog office as a freight clerk, ultimately working her way up to store manager. She was known to occasionally open the store very early on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning so parents could pick up their orders delayed by the weather to make sure that “Santa” could put those gifts under the Christmas tree. She retired from Sears after serving 33 years. Additionally, she, along with seven other local partners, established Old Harbor Books, a business that has served the community’s needs for decades.
As her children grew, Alice became more involved in the community. She was active as an election worker and later was elected to three terms on the Borough Assembly. She served on the board of the local credit union for many years. She became concerned about the alcoholism rate in Sitka, and Alaska, and served 17 years on the Sitka Alcohol and Drug Advisory Board, and eight years on the Alaska Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council, endeavoring to educate communities and their policy makers about the issues and potential policy options.
Alice was a lifelong learner. She appreciated the music, news, and educational programs on KCAW Raven Radio and served on their board. She joined a women’s book group and served on the Kettleson Library Board.
Concerned about equity for women (and others), she became an early member of the Sitka Women’s Commission. She had planned to go to college as a teen, but she was not able to do so until 1965, when she enrolled at the University of Alaska Community College campus in Sitka and earned her AA degree there. She continued taking classes there into her 90s, and also served on the UA Community College Advisory Board.
It’s fair to say, however, that Alice was best known for her interests in sustainability and conservation. She, Chuck, and several like-minded friends founded the Sitka Conservation Society, which has grown into not only an area-wide conservation organization but an entity that supports local industries, the school lunch program, youth recreation programs and internships, the arts, and is a member of a regional organization which works to support and preserve the entire Tongass National Forest.
Some of her individual volunteer activities included organizing many Christmas Bird Counts and helping with the Bat Survey. She is best known for advocating, with others, for the formation of the first national citizen-initiated wilderness area, the West Chichagof-Yakobi Island Wilderness Area. She was one of four local people to be awarded the U.S. Forest Service Bob Marshall Champions of Wilderness award in Washington, D.C., for those efforts.
Community was very important to Alice. Sitka recognized that by naming her Sitka Woman of the Year in 2015; Alaska recognized that by naming her the 2015 Alaska Woman of the Year for Conservation.
Alice lived in Sitka for 77 years. It was her home even though she passed on April 28, 2024, in Santa Rosa, where she moved to be closer to family and to enjoy the warmer weather. She continued to be involved there, making many new friends and working with the Environmental Committee at her senior living community to convince the local garbage company to provide compost containers to serve more than 300 households, with weekly compost pickups. She also provided informational sessions about spinning and weaving, and made presentations about living in Alaska. She was well known for her smile and was nick-named “Alice from Alaska.”
Alice is survived by her daughter, Gale Johnstone Brownell (Phillip) of Sebastopol, California; her sons, Brian (Pamela) Johnstone of Arlington, Washington, and Gregory (Cynthia) Johnstone of Hoquiam, Washington; nine grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren.
Her husband, Charles Johnstone, her sister, Beth Lever, her brother, Rolfe Sherwood, and her son, Jay Johnstone, predeceased her.
Alice would recommend donations to KCAW, Sitka Public Library, or Sitka Conservation Society in her name. She personally strongly supported The Living Wilderness Fund of the Sitka Conservation Society, an endowment fund, to ensure that their work continues in perpetuity.
A celebration of her life is scheduled at Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa 2-4 p.m. Saturday, June 1; and at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp 2-4 p.m. Saturday, September 7, at the Odess Theater. All are invited.

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