Florence Donnelly

Services to be Held for
Florence Donnelly, 96

The woman who many thought of as Sitka’s longtime town mother, Florence Donnelly, died peacefully in her sleep Monday at the age of 96.
The term “American Original” has been applied to many. Florence Donnelly was a true “Alaskan Original.”
She was a Sitka institution. From her home on Etolin Street, she babysat, mothered, cheered on and counseled her own two children – and five generations of Sitka boys and girls, and their parents, too.
She was born in Indestuki, near Haines, Alaska, to a Tlingit family on Nov. 22, 1915. She was of the Eagle Moiety and the Bear Clan. Her parents were lost early in her life, and she lived with an aunt until she was 5, then placed in Haines House, a Presbyterian orphanage. It was there that she met a fellow orphan, Harold Donnelly. Together they were sent by boat following fifth grade to the boarding school in Sitka, then known as the Sheldon Jackson School. She was so proud of her school that she would happily sing the entire words to the Sheldon Jackson Fight Song, which she learned as a cheer leader, with great vigor, well into her 90s.
At Sheldon Jackson School, she attended classes with Harold, the dashing young student-athlete. They married after graduation, and, using lumber cut from the Sheldon Jackson mill, built a house on Etolin Street.
Soon after came Harold “Bunny” Donnelly Jr. and Eva. Among the first Tlingits to attend Sitka’s public schools, the Donnelly kids became role models for a new generation of young people.
The Donnelly house expanded over the years from a single room to many, but always had one constant – Florence. Known to generation of kids as “The General,” Florence was the loving “second mother” to hundreds of young Sitkans from the ’40s into the new century. Seeking refuge from the rain, the fight down the street, a bad report card or just a warm piece of her justly famous home-made bread, Sitka kids came to Florence’s house day-after-day, year-after-year, and always found the same “mom” to take them in.
Florence was proud of her Tlingit heritage, and always found ways to pass that tradition along to her many “sons” and “daughters.” She used words like “eee-shwan” and gunalchéesh to remind her extended family about the traditional respect and care she had for others.
She was a life-long crafter, with Native culture at the center of her crafting. She built a doll collection with Tlingit regalia including traditional red and black button blankets that she sewed carefully at her favorite chair in the corner of the living room. She served herring eggs with eulachon (“hooligan”) grease. Her home was always decorated with art that reflected her own moiety, the Eagle, and Harold’s, the Raven.
Florence was a lifelong member of the Presbyterian Church. Her attendance at Sunday service was a practice that spanned eight decades.
She was also a fixture in other Sitka institutions, continuing to help out at Sheldon Jackson as it evolved from a trade school to a college. She donated her time constantly to charitable work, including the Salvation Army and the Pioneers Home.
Florence loved sports, particularly basketball. She cheered every game at Sitka  High – especially for  the 1954 state championship team on which her son Bunny was a starter.
She was also a bowler with the “powerhouse” Conway Insurance team alongside Wanada Holic, Claudia O’Connell and Steve Thielke, in whose VW Bug they would commute to the bowling alley in their turquoise bnowling shorts. She arranged a child care center at the Moose Lodge so that other mothers could enjoy a “girls’ night out.”
A habitual garage saler, she was famous for her own sales, and for her Saturday morning appearances at other garage sales around Sitka, even into her 90s. She loved to joke that she sometimes bought back items she had sold at her own garage sale months earlier.
Florence was probably the last Sitkan to have a rotary-dial telephone, from which she would call her various extended family members. Known as a no-nonsense elder, she took great delight in using her nickname when the occasion called for it, starting her telephone calls with “This is the General! I want a full report!”
Virtually no family in Sitka in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s was not touched by Florence Donnelly – the Prices, the Yaws, the Martins, the Paxtons, the Federoffs, the Osbakkens, the Thielkes, the Boettchers, the Didricksons, the Kidds and dozens more called Florence’s home their own. With her passing, a huge part of what defined this community for those many generations is gone.
Florence Donnelly was preceded in death by her husband Harold, in 1996, and is survived by her son Harold “Bunny” Jr. and daughter Evelyn Cici, as well as grandchildren Angela Smisek, Joe Cici, Kelly Cici, Heather Madiffari, Dawn McClung, Rand Bigelow and Dusk Bigelow, 11 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at noon Monday, Oct. 29, at the First Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Charles Bovee and Rev. Diane Wonnenberg will officiate. A burial service will follow at Sitka Memorial Park.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the American Cancer Society.

Services Pending for
Tarleton ‘Tee’ Smith

Services are pending for Tarleton “Tee” Smith, a longtime Sitka resident.
He died Oct. 23 at age 96.

Login Form



July 2004
Photo caption: Junior League All Stars will compete in a tournament in Wrangell. From left are Bryn Calhoun, Chris Scott, Sean O’Neill, Ross Venneberg, Caleb McGraw, Richard Carlos, Jacob Houston, Coby McCarty, Bryan Lovett and Daniel Erickson.


July 1974

Photo caption: Volunteers leave the Yaw Building Library with loads of books being transferred to the new Orin and Betty Stratton Library on the Sheldon Jackson campus. SJC librarian Evelyn Bonner expressed appreciation to the community for the help.


Local Events


Daily Sitka Sentinel on Instagram!


Daily Sitka Sentinel on Facebook!