PUBLISHED: 3:57 PM on Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Leading the way
Juneau couple to serve as parade grand marshals

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Dean and Edna Williams will step away from the sidelines to serve as grand marshals in this year's Fourth of July parade in Juneau.
Each year since 1926, Dean and Edna Williams have been standing on the sidewalk watching the Juneau Fourth of July parade as it winds its way through town. This year, they'll be right in the middle of the action as they wave to the roaring crowd from the Grand Marshal's car.

"I've certainly seen quite a few parades, but I've never been in one," said Edna Williams, 85, who has lived in Juneau since she was five years old.

"I remember my first parade in 1926-my parents and I were standing by the old Nugget Shop, which is where Galligaskins is now."

Dean Williams, 88, remembers coming down from their home on 12th Street with his parents to watch the festivities as well.

"They never missed the parade," said Williams, who arrived in Juneau in 1917 at the age of three months. "It was their habit-just like it's our habit now."

As this year's Grand Marshals, the Williams plan to dress in red, white and blue and share in the community spirit.

"We'll be waving at everybody," said Dean Williams, who, while happy to be named a Grand Marshal, was not completely surprised. "When you live here as long as we have-almost 80 years-you expect that the call will come someday."

In addition to being long-time Juneauites, both Dean and Edna have also contributed mightily to the community. Edna Williams worked at a number of government agencies before joining the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, where she worked for 20 years. She then worked for the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau for 15 years.

The couple still volunteers in the tourism industry, staffing the downtown kiosk as part of the Visitor Information Program. "We've been volunteers for more than 35 years," Dean Williams said. "My main job is helping Edna carry propaganda to various locales."

Dean Williams worked in the aviation industry for more than 35 years.

"I was with Pan-American World Airways for 20 years," he said, "and I also worked as a big-game guide when I had time off. Then I worked as a manager for Cordova Airlines. When it got sucked up by Alaska Airlines, I formed Southeast Skyways with Bill Bernhardt, and ran that for 10 years.

"When the doctors said I was going to kill myself if I kept working, I decided to retire," he said, "and I've been enjoying myself every since."

Southeast Skyways is now Wings of Alaska.

Since retiring in 1977, the couple has kept extremely busy.

A nationally ranked tennis player who is a member of the Pacific Northwest Tennis Association's Hall of Fame, Dean Williams still plays every chance he gets.

"Sometimes when we're working at the kiosk, someone will ask if I know any tennis players," he said.

"I'm 88 and still playing strong. My goal is to get into a national event when I'm 90, but the problem is that there aren't that many guys left to play. The challenge isn't playing-it's finding competition."

Williams is so well known in Juneau for his tennis abilities that the courts at Cope Park are named in his honor.

"I babysat those courts for years," he said. "I painted the cracks and kept the nets in shape and picked up garbage-it's become such a habit that I'll be doing it the rest of my life."

Williams also served as the chairman of the Parks and Rec department before it was an official organization.

"Mayor Larry Parker wanted to have a committee what would feed information into the Assembly," he said.

"We started all kinds of projects. So much of what was done in Evergreen Bowl (now Cope Park) is dear to my heart. It's just natural that I still want to babysit the courts."

In addition to volunteering at the kiosk, Edna Williams stays just as busy as her husband as a member of the Hospital Guild and many other organizations. "It requires a lot of luncheons," laughed her husband.

"It really keeps her going."

The couple, who met while ice-skating, also stays close to their family.

"We have a son, Gordon, who lives here, and a daughter, Janice, who lives in Nevada," Dean Williams said. The couple also has one grandson, David. Each winter they travel to Palm Springs, visiting family along the way.

"Last March, I skied with my daughter and grandson in Nevada, and they said I looked like a teenager," said Dean Williams, who added that skiing was his first love before tennis. "I thought that was great."

The couple, married for 62 years, plans to bring that same exuberant spirit to their role as Grand Marshals at the Juneau Fourth of July parade.

"The wonderful thing about the Fourth of July parade is that everybody joins in-it's one big effort to show our community spirit," Edna Williams said.

"And it's something that everybody can do."

"I like it because it's the one time of year that we're not all bickering at each other," Dean Williams said.

"There are so many different opinions in Juneau, whether you're talking about the road going north or something else. This is the one day-a beautiful day-that we can all agree on having a great time."