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The Friendly Log Cabin: The U.S.O. in Anchorage, 1941-1945.

[This exhibit was mounted in the lobby of the UAA Consortium Library from November 2000 to March 2001. The materials used in it were selected by Jeffrey Sinnott, a member of the staff of the UAA Archives and Manuscripts Department.]

Original Exhibit Text

During World War II in Anchorage, a large log cabin building at the corner of 5th Avenue and G Street, served as the local club of the United Service Organization. Local businessmen, civilian and military volunteers, and a dedicated staff made the club a welcome place for servicemen and their guests to visit for recreational activities, entertainment, and socializing, as well as educational and spiritual services.

In late 1944, the Anchorage U.S.O. club produced a photo-illustrated booklet entitled, "The Friendly Log Cabin." In it, the staff documented, in words and images, the many programs and activities of the organization during the war, and welcomed servicemen new to the area to make use of the club's many attractions. This exhibit presents a brief history of the U.S.O. in Anchorage based primarily on this booklet. The booklet and other photographs and materials presented here are found in the papers of Beulah Marrs Parisi, who was a U.S.O. volunteer and later the official hostess of the "Friendly Log Cabin." The Parisi collection contains copies of her wartime biographical scrapbooks from 1941 to 1945, and other selected original materials from the period. Two photographs from the papers of Dr. C. Earl Albrecht, then the commander of the 183rd Station Hospital, Fort Richardson, are also included.

While living in Anchorage during the war, Beulah Marrs also served as the matron of a group of young working women living together in a small furnished three room house on the corner of 6th Avenue and H Street. The original residents were Beulah Marrs, Polly Petty, Blanche Kerr, and Beverley Pettyjohn. U.S.O. hostess Helen Lawrence, among others, also lived there for a time. This residence came to be known as the "Bee Hive," an apt title, since all of the women residents were active U.S.O. volunteers and decided to make the house an unofficial auxilliary unit of the organization. The women opened their doors to numerous area servicemen for home cooked meals and polite socializing.

Thumb-Nail History of the U.S.O. in Anchorage from "The Friendly Log Cabin" Booklet

When Forrest K. Knapp, an associate of the U.S.O. and formerly of the Army & Navy Y.M.C.A., visited Anchorage, Alaska, in the late summer of 1941, his purpose was two-fold: to see his daughter, Mrs. Howard Romig; to investigate the possibilities of establishing a U.S.O. club in the city. Not long after his arrival a surprise telegram from the New York office authorized him to remain and establish the club himself.

Securing the use of the basement of the Episcopal church and the support of W.J. McDonald, a former Y.M.C.A. man, Mr. Knapp opened the doors of the first Anchorage U.S.O. building on September 1, 1941. Before the first auspicious opening, though, Mrt. Knapp had organized a group of Anchorage businessmen into a Committee of Management. Through the wholehearted support of these men, their unstinted advice and cooperation the Club has prospered through the years. The members of that first Committee of Management, in addition to Mr. Knapp and Mr. McDonald, were: William Stolt, E.C. Robinson, R.B. Atwood, J.C. Morris, Wells Ervin, Father Dermot O'Flanagan, Chaplain Frederick G. Jennings, Leonard Hopkins, Chaplain James L. McBride, and Chaplain Ralph K. Wheeler.

Although the first club building was not spacious, limited activities, a spirit of genuine fellowship and cooperation formed the cornerstone for many projects. There was a reading room with all current magazines and other publications, some books, a piano, a ping-pong table, and a miniature pool table. None of there attractions had opportunity for rest. A big favorite with the men--then as now--was the coffee and cake canteen service rendered each Sunday afternoon.

Such spontaneous features were already established when, that same September, the first official U.S.O. hostess, Margaret Jane "Peg" Conrady, arrived in Anchorage. Not only was she Anchorage's first U.S.O. hostess, but she was the first one in history to be sent overseas.

With indefatigable drive, "Peg" became to the club wat a cheer leader is to a football team, organizing the first dancing classes, drama club, and many other "firsts." She planned and saw to successful completion a grand Halloween Dance, held at the I.O.O.F. hall, done to a turn, with decorations, costumes and gaiety unconfined.

Most important, "Peg" sold the U.S.O. and its work to the women and girls of Anchorage.

Established projects got under way in this period that were destined to leave a lasting impression on the future program of the Anchorage U.S.O. The Toastmasters Club was started. Though its membership has been a veritable passing parade, the club continues to this day, its functions being discussed elsewhere in this book.

Also around this time the first of several types of music-appreciation classes were begun, organized by Blanche Fousek of the Anchorage High School Music Department. Held on Sunday evenings, these classes created such interest that they more than filled the little hall; many found them more instructive and interesting than most college courses. However, school activities compelled Miss Fousek to give up the classes.

The time formerly dedicated to the music-appreciation classes became a religious meditation hour, with all chaplains and ministers of the Post and community cooperating.

Soon the Anchorage U.S.O. outgrew its limited space; the need for a larger, better-equipped building became a prime necessity. Shortly plans for a large, permanent plant were completed and appropriation granted, but the unavailability of building materials made temporary abandonment of the plan necessary. However, through the cooperation of Mr. Knapp, the U.S.O. New York Office, Major General Eugene M. Landrum, then Post commander, and Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., commander of the Alaska Defense Command, a workable plan soon evolved.

The Anchorage Post of the American Legion leased the site for the construction of a sizable log building. Through the efforts of Mr. Knapp, the New York office of the U.S.O. advanced a sum of money equal to three years' rental allowance. With the backing of the Committee of Management, a local drive for funds was launched, under the direction of Col. Otto F. Ohlson of the Alaska Railroad. Nearly $10,000 were realized from this campaign.

With funds available, plans for actual construction went rapidly forward. The military authorities cooperated by permitting enlisted personnel to cut and "snake" logs and to assist otherwise in the construction of the beautiful log lodge in Anchorage. First a large, overall basement was dug, the foundation constructed, then, during ceremonies on the Sunday afternoon of October 19, 1941, Lieutenant General Buckner shoved the cornerstone log into place.

As days passed, the building rose rapidly. Nearly one-third of the structure was up before blueprints arrived. Ninety percent of the labor was done by enlisted men, under the supervision of Mr. Vic Johnson, of Palmer, Alaska.

Before the work could be completed, however, war was declared. The army called the soldiers back to more urgent duties. The building was at a standstill. Then it was that an even greater spirit of cooperation was shown by the civilian men of Anchorage. From all corners of the community men came voluntarily to give of their time and labor that the work might be completed. Actually by the time things had "quieted down a bit," and the soldiers were permitted again to visit the city, they found a virtually completed project, ready for their use. To mark the formal opening of the present building, a large banquet was held on February 12, 1942. Dignitaries of the Army, the Committee of Management, the Hostess Army, and many others who had contributed so much toward the realization of the success, were honored on this occasion.

With the increase in physical size, the U.S.O. tackled bigger things. An excellent canteen was set into operation under the skillful guidance of Mrs. Mattie Lofness, who served countless sandwiches, cups of coffee, pieces of cake and pie, until she was forced "to the sidelines" by illness in August, 1943. Another column details present work of the canteen, now under the able supervision of Mrs. Roe Bishop.

Although ample space had been provided in the basement for bowling alleys, a shortage of funds for this project halted operations. Civilian employees working at Whittier, however, raised a fund of $2,000 and the alleys were installed.

In August, 1942, Mr. Merle Scott arrived to assume the duties of Assistant Director. One of his first moves was to organize the Servicemen's Council, the work of whick is discussed elsewhere in this work. Not long after Mr. Scott's arrival--in September, 1942, Mr. and Mrs. Knapp left Anchorage to undertake the building and organizing of a U.S.O. at Sitka. Under Mr. Scott's direction the Girls Service Organization also had its birth.

Mr. Lloyd Cleaves, the present director, served as Program Director from December, 1942, to July, 1943, when he assumed the duties of Mr. Scott. The completion of the addition marked the early part of Mr. Cleaves' directorship.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

The U.S.O. building with new addition and cache at left; ca. 1943. The new addition allowed an expanded area for the snack bar and canteen.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

Interior of U.S.O. building decorated for Christmas with tree and mural; 1944.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

The first inhabitants of the "Bee Hive;" ca. 1941. Left to right: Beulah Marrs, Polly Petty, Blanche Kerr, and Beverley Pettyjohn seated on house lawn. Beulah Marrs and Beverley Pettyjohn were both natives of Bemidji, Minnesota.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

A Servicemen's Council Committee in serious session; ca. 1942-1943. Left to right: Lloyd Cleaves, Technical Sergeant Richard Scott, Merle Scott (club director), and Corporal John Jacobson (assistant club director).

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

Big Council Meeting of Girls Service Organization; ca. 1942. Left to right: Martha Ann Sweazy (secretary), Florence Johnston, Beulah Marrs (president), Vera Adams, Helvi Enatti, and Evelyn Witcher.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

U.S.O. Club full for the Halloween Dance; 1943. The stag line is at left.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

Cast photograph in costume for "Bonanza Days;" August 1944. Those pictured include: Lorene Harrison (standing second from left, as "The Lady known as Lou" from the Robert Service poem, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew"), Beulah Marrs (standing fourth from from left), Priscilla Williams, Lou Owens, Al Brewer, Rose Grimes, and Marilyn Wissler.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

Corporal Fred Kermott singing from "The Good Book" with the Men's Chorus; ca. May 1944. This photograph is probably from the "As You Were" musical review.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

Hostess Beulah Marrs in velvet dress at the Flower Show in the U.S.O. building; September 1944. The event was sponsored by the Garden Club of Anchorage and the U.S.O.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

Afternoon Hostess Lorene Harrison and her fireside singers at a Sunday night sing-a-long; ca. 1942-1945. Mrs. Harrison was the leader of the popular Sunday Night Musicales.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

Comedian Joe E. Brown in fur parka with other U.S.O. Traveling Entertainers; ca. March 1942. Joe E. Brown was master of ceremonies at a Golden Gloves boxing match.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

Large Audience seated at Minnesota Birthday Party at the U.S.O.; May 1944. Approximately 500 people attended the event, which included the showing of the 45 minute color film, "10,000 Lakes." This was one of a number of State Night parties held there.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

Army Air Corps Sergeant Gabski and Beulah Marrs standing next to the 42nd Troop Carrier Squadron cake at the unit's party at Elmendorf Field; ca. 1943. This was one of a number of unit parties hosted by the U.S.O.

Image from the USO in Anchorage Exhibit

Babe Postma and Verna McPherson seize the moment during a U.S.O. sponsored ski outing; ca. 1942.