GONE ELECTRIC – Skipper of the F/V Sunbeam, Fabian Grutter, unplugs the vessel from the Crescent Harbor dock prior to testing out a new electric motor Wednesday. The Sunbeam is the first  hybrid diesel electric fishing boat in Sitka. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Iris D. (Dee) Longenbaugh

Iris D. (Dee) Longenbaugh

Dee Longenbaugh, a history buff and antique map specialist whose wit and cheery personality endeared her to generations of visitors to the succession of bookstores she ran, died peacefully Feb. 9 at her home in Juneau. She was 84.
    Dee never lost her love of the American Southwest where she grew up, but she formed a lasting attachment to Southeast Alaska after arriving in Sitka with her husband and children in 1963. Her husband, Dr. George H. Longenbaugh, was a surgeon at the Indian Health Service Mt. Edgecumbe hospital and later in private practice in Sitka.
    In 1977, with only one of her four children still at home, Dee fulfilled her longtime goal of having her own book store and opened The Observatory on Katlian Street in Sitka. From the first, her shop, as it moved to different locations, became known for its mix of offerings, from rare first editions to journals of early explorers to volumes of literary fiction.
    But it was her collection of rare maps that drew the attention of her friends and patrons: she bought, sold and traded, but most of all Dee loved the lore of early maps. She wrote journal articles about her map research, and until the past several years would make pilgrimages to map collector conferences in the U.S. and Europe, often with a grandchild or two in tow.
    The Observatory’s last venue was a corner shop on Franklin Street in Juneau, where it was not uncommon for a cruise ship visitor to renew the acquaintance, formed years before, with the delightful lady who ran this wonderful book store.
    Iris D. (Dee) Longenbaugh was born Dec. 19, 1933, to Grace (Whelan) and Glenn R. Davis, on a farm in Billings, Okla. Her mother later married Thomas Montgomery, whom Dee always called her father.
Dee lived in towns throughout the Southwest growing up, as her family moved to accommodate her father’s work with oil companies. She made friends easily, and enjoyed the frequent moves.
At age 16, having attended 30 schools, she graduated from high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and worked for a year before attending Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
After her first year at Highlands, she met George H. Longenbaugh in Cortez, Colorado, where her family was then living. She and George married October 12, 1952, in Denver, where Dee put her husband through medical school, and the couple began a family. During this time, she worked for the Denver Post, a job she always recalled with great fondness.
After several years on the Navajo Nation and in Baltimore, Maryland, where George completed his surgical residency at Johns Hopkins, the couple and their three young children moved to Sitka, in 1963, where George was stationed with the Public Health Service. In 1967, he began a private practice in general surgery in Sitka, and the couple moved above his clinic at 814 Halibut Point Road.
Sitka was a perfect fit for George and Dee and their family. They all liked to boat and had many weekend adventures aboard the Arrowmaker.
Dee quickly came to love the natural beauty and rich history of Sitka, while forming close friendships. Her many volunteer efforts included founding the first mental health clinic in Sitka, assisting children through Easter Seals and the White Elephant Shop, and chairing the local committees to elect and re-elect Gov. Jay Hammond.
She and George also had their fourth child while George was stationed at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital.
In 1977, Dee opened Observatory Bookstore, on Katlian Street; she envisioned it as a used bookstore specializing in Alaskana, but added the antiquarian maps at the urging of George, who enjoyed their buying trips to Europe.
In January 1985, George died in a traffic accident in Mexico while he and Dee were on vacation with their closest friend, Dr. Dean Tirador. In 1989, Dee moved to Santa Fe, opening here bookstore there. She greatly enjoyed her time in New Mexico, but missed Southeast Alaska. She returned in January 1992, this time to Juneau, where her daughters lived with their families.
The Observatory occupied three locations during its 24 years in Juneau, all within a block of each other downtown. The store and its knowledgeable and friendly owner became known internationally through travel writers and books (it was featured in Fodor’s travel guides for many years).
Dee met thousands of people at the shop and may have occasionally forgotten a face, she said, but she never forgot a book she sold.
She became known as an expert on Alaska maps and history, helped train museum guides and presented a number of papers at international conferences. She was a guest lecturer for several years at the Juneau Charter School, introducing many students to Alaska history.
She traveled around the world to many of the International Map Collectors Society’s annual conferences and treasured her reading card at the British Museum, which assisted her in her research for her many papers and articles on Alaska history and map-making.
In Juneau and Sitka, she was well known for her reviews of Alaska books, featured in the Daily Sitka Sentinel and on KTOO public radio.
In 2016, Dee closed the store due to ill health, and it then became even more clear how many people felt connected to her and the Observatory. Dee and family members were flooded with inquiries about her and thanks for her participation in their lives. It was very meaningful to Dee and her children to know she had had such an impact on so many people.
Dee spent her last two years in the excellent care of Hans Snyder and his staff at Sunny Days Home Care in Juneau. She remained an active member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church until her death.
Dee is survived by her children, Matt and wife Suky Longenbaugh of Tumwater, Washington; Betsy Longenbaugh and husband Edward Schoenfeld of Douglas; Leslie Longenbaugh and husband Robert Schults of Juneau;  and John Longenbaugh of Portland, Oregon; grandchildren Miles, Leah Rose, and Olivia Longenbaugh, Maggie and Elizabeth Schoenfeld, Jane Sherbrooke  and Jack Sherwood; and great-grandchildren Noah, Micah and Ivy Longenbaugh and Ben Lesewski. She also leaves her two “sweet sisters,” as she always called them, and their husbands – Sandy and Thad Poulson and Cathy and Mike Bagley, all of Sitka, AK.
Dee was preceded in death by her husband, George Longenbaugh; parents, Grace and Thomas Montgomery; sister Gertrude Christopher; brothers Timothy, Chuck and Thomas Matthew Montgomery; and dear friend, Dean Tirador.
Dee will be buried in Sitka, with a funeral service scheduled there 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, at St. Peter’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church. A memorial service in Juneau is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, May 19.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Holy Trinity Church elevator fund, or to the Front Street Clinic in Juneau.

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