In Memory

Lawrence Straley - Class Of 1945

Lawrence Straley

Longtime Spenard residents Lawrence Ward Straley and his wife, Laura Gill Straley, died peacefully at home. Mr. Straley, 69, died July 11, 1997, and Mrs. Straley, 68, died July 12, 1997. They were surrounded by many family members.

Born January 2, 1928, in Los Angeles, Mr. Straley attended South Pasadena High School. He was a radio operator in the U.S. Army Signal Corps before his honorable discharge in 1946.

Mrs. Straley was born July 13, 1928, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Laura attended South Pasadena High School, too.

On July 4, 1947, they arrived in Alaska to help build the railroad. As young pioneers, they were actively involved in the fledgling community of Spenard from the moment they arrived a dozen years before statehood.

Through his skill and expertise in the family's floor covering trade, Mr. Straley left his unique mark in the homes of numerous Alaskans, his family said. With a passion for life in the great outdoors, he was an enthusiastic sportsman. He was an avid skier and founding member of the Arctic Valley Ski Club. He was president of Greater Anchorage Inc. in 1974 and was actively involved in the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous. He also enjoyed fishing, hunting and gardening. Other hobbies included bowling, dancing, whistling and listening to his children sing.

Mrs. Straley started the first community newspaper, the Road Runner, on O'Malley Road, and was one of the first women real estate brokers in Alaska, the family said. She began the Spenard Kiddie Drop and the Hilltop Youth Association. She was an active gardener and a charter member of the Anchorage Sweet Adelines Sourdough Chorus.

Family members said: ''Larry was loved by many and lived life to the fullest. He leaves behind a fruitful legacy of love and joy. His words of wisdom will live on in the hearts of his family and friends who will never forget him. Laura was a loving and generous woman to her family and touched many lives from the beginning to the end.''

Mr. and Mrs. Straley are survived by their six children, Gloria Spaulding, Julie Hildebrand, Mary Silverstein, Alice Buckendahl, Frances Straley-Jones, all of Anchorage, and Lawrence ''Sam'' Straley of Spokane, Wash.; 16 grandchildren, Shirlene, Glenn, Sean, Seth, Suzanne, Padraic, Joe, Zach, Tanya, Alisha, Carly, Andrea, Ashley, Erica, Bradly and Little John; and four great-grandchildren, Jacob, Jamie, Anthony and Alexandra.

Anchorage Daily News, July 13, 1997


The Straleys, Lawrence and Laura, were not wealthy. They were not famous, nor prominent, nor powerful. But they were loved, and in that their lives were extraordinary.

Six children, 16 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren attended them in their deaths, July 11 and 12 in their Spenard home. Lawrence, known as Larry, died first. Laura expired 32 hours later, eased out of life by her family, who crowded onto and around her bed, held hands and in an all-night marathon sang every song they knew twice, including one of her favorites, ''Hey, Look Me Over.''

Laura had known she was ill and confirmed she had emphysema last August. In September, Larry was diagnosed with lymphoma. They were 68 and 69 respectively. Both insisted on dying at home, a three-bedroom bungalow off Arctic Boulevard where an overgrown lawn of clover and raspberries is tucked behind a white picket fence. A hand-burned wooden sign over the doorway reads: ''Straleys.''

Larry began to fade after learning his wife's death was imminent. She, upon hearing of his collapse, berated him with the argumentative humor the two often shared. ''You bimbo,'' she said. ''I'm not dead yet.'' But he was gone, and in the hours that followed, weak, bolstered by morphine, Laura gathered her children around her and gave a final, private speech.

''She said, 'I cannot thank you enough for the care you have taken of your father in his last hours,' '' said a daughter, Alice Buckendahl. She said she knew her children would do the same for her, and that she would be going soon. ''And I think she just said 'I love you,' '' Buckendahl said.

Laura never spoke again, but died in her sleep at about 12:07 p.m. the next day. The kitchen clock stopped at noon. There was never any question who was running the show, said Frances Straley-Jones, who moved back in with her parents two months before their deaths. ''My mother was a very orchestrating woman.''

Larry and Laura Straley met in their senior year at South Pasadena High School in California, 1945. To use a phrase of the day, she was a looker, and he wasn't so bad himself. They were both 17 years old, so hot to marry they drove across two state lines to elope in Utah. ''They were going to run away,'' said Larry's sister, Dorothy Brotemarkle, who lives in Cave Junction, Oreon. ''At the last minute, my father wrote a letter.''  He gave permission for them to marry, but the willful young couple eloped anyway, bypassing California's cooling-off period, Brotemarkle said. The marriage certificate still hangs in their home. Laura was the only girlfriend Larry ever had, said his sister.

The couple began their life together in the national optimism that followed V.E. Day. Larry was drafted upon his 18th birthday and served nine months in the Army Signal Corps. Following his discharge, the Straleys headed north in their Model A after Laura's father sent word there was railroad work in Alaska. They settled in Spenard.

After their first two children died as infants, the Straleys adopted a Native girl, Gloria, in 1950. In the years that followed, Laura had a succession of girls -- Julie, Mary, Alice, Frances -- and one boy, Sam. After each child, doctors warned her not to have another; once, she almost bled to death. But Laura would have had dozens of children were she able, said her daughters, and essentially, she did. She and a friend started the Spenard Kiddie Drop in the mid-1950s, and Laura later founded the Hilltop Youth Association. Her maternal love was boundless.

Laura's own mother had died when Laura was a girl. Her father handed her off to aunts in St. Paul, Minnesota, and left town. Maybe that's why family became so important to her. As the matriarch over half a dozen competing siblings, she insisted on a tight-knit clan. If there was a spat, her children said, she made both parties hug until someone said ''I love you.'' As her family grew, Laura became the model 1950s wife, once featured in The Anchorage Times as Cook of the Week. She ran for the School Board, led a Girl Scout troop, started a neighborhood newspaper and a Hillside 4-H Club.

Despite her devotion to home and family, she was keenly interested in travel and once saved enough quarters in a jar to take the whole family to Hawaii.

Because of her youthful marriage, Laura never finished high school, but earned a general equivalency diploma in her 40s. To help support her large family, she became a real estate agent, but sometimes declined a commission or took a delayed one to help young couples make their down payment, her daughters said. She was a kind woman, Buckendahl said, a strong woman. The first in the room to stand up and say what wasn't right. She was never easy. You didn't ask Laura for advice, Buckendahl said. She administered it.

A few days after the Straleys' double funeral, their children began sorting through years of clutter -- receipts, newspaper clippings, bills of sale. The Straleys were not impressed by material things and left behind little of value. Laura was fond of her pearl-sided accordion with its worn leather straps, and Larry cherished an antique ashtray that had belonged to his father.

A native Californian, Larry Straley was a striking man with a slender build, a former featherweight boxer. He wore his hair combed back, like James Dean. He was an agile skier and liked to hunt and fish.

Laura held onto her Catholic upbringing but Larry pronounced no faith. Like his wife, however, he was civic-minded. He ran for the city Assembly, was president of the Anchorage Ski Club and chairman of Fur Rendezvous. One of his dreams was to build a ski resort at Gunsight Mountain off the Glenn Highway, but despite the time and money he sank into the project, it never materialized.

What financial flair Larry lacked, he made up for with hard work. Like a lot of Alaskans, he was highly capable, moving from job to job, following good money. He was an expert at laying carpet and tile. He was a paper hanger, glass blower, salesman. He drove a truck, opened a hardware store, a sporting goods shop, feed and tack.

He loved horses and dogs and ran the city pound briefly in the 1960s. But he was a tenderhearted caretaker and brought home half the boarders. In fact, the Straley home, then off O'Malley Road, was a menagerie of children, dogs, two pigs, a goat, even a monkey. Commotion was encouraged. Friends called at all hours. Neighborhood children appeared to spend the night.

''There were people who slept in our house, I don't even know who they are,'' Buckendahl said.

And there were parties. Because the one thing the Straleys loved almost as much as singing was big-band dancing. They built a dance floor inside a Quonset hut on their O'Malley property. Laura played the accordion, the organ, the clarinet and the ukulele. There was always music in the Straley home.

From a trip to Germany in 1969, Laura brought home a collection of folk clothes for her children, whom she considered her personal von Trapp family. She taught her children and later her grandchildren songs from ''The Sound of Music.'' She adored the movie and took much of her personal philosophy from the heroine's cheerful enthusiasm. She urged her children to perform and led rounds of songs from the front of the family station wagon on ski trips. ''We entertained them,'' Buckendahl said.

Twice the couple moved away from Alaska, but returned within a year or two. Life had been good here, but in their last days, it was ruthless. Laura, bent and frail, grew foggy on medication. Larry, in constant pain, weighed less than 90 pounds. Both stubbornly smoked and sometimes drank, nearly to the end. The couple passed silent days in the living room, she on the couch, he in a favorite chair.

The Straleys were among that Anchorage elite who arrived here on a tide of hope and opportunity in the city's infancy. There is no Straley museum, Straley park or Straley road. But they left their mark.

On their 50th anniversary, the couple repeated their vows. After all, they had promised to stay together, through thick or thin, and there was plenty of both, their daughters said. They weren't saints, but they had lived well.

It's all in the song the Straley children sang in the hours between losing their remarkable parents and again while holding hands at their funeral. You know that old song, right? ''We'll sing it for you,'' said daughter Julie Hildebrand. And they did. Sitting around the kitchen table, surrounded by mementos and photographs, three Straley daughters sang ''Hey, Look Me Over,'' one more time for Mom and Dad, but especially for Mom. Their voices were strong, performance-quality, as she had taught them.

In the corner, put away but not forgotten, stood Laura's pearl-sided accordion.

Ancorage Daily News, August 3, 1997