Gil Truitt, ‘Mr. Edgecumbe,’ Left Rich Legacy

Gilbert Allen Truitt


Gilbert Allen Truitt, who chronicled and helped shape the history of Sitka throughout his life, died July 10 at Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center following hip surgery. He was 93.

Gil was born in Sitka June 2, 1927, the son of Dorothy James and Joseph Truitt. He grew up in the Cottages settlement, the Christian Native community on Presbyterian mission land, on Kelly and Metlakatla streets.

His maternal great-grandmother, Amelia Cameron, was one of the Sloan sisters, Kiks.ádi Point House women who were matriarchs of Cottages families. His grandparents, Albert and Paulina James, were graduates of the mission school, as was his mother, Dorothy James Truitt.

The community was battered by untimely death. Tuberculosis and other diseases hit Native communities hard, a consequence of pervasive bias. Every family lost children or parents. Gil Truitt’s mother lost her siblings, and her mother died young. By the time Gil was born, most of the families of the Cottages were struggling. His father died in a boating accident north of Sitka that also claimed two brothers-in-law and an uncle. In one of his columns he wrote for the Sentinel, “Gilnettings,” he said that after his father’s death, the children – he was the oldest at age 8 – did the chores, gathering food, chopping firewood, packing fresh water home, keeping the household running.

Gil’s first of many jobs was finding gallon jugs for Art “Dutchie” Silverman. He also worked for Clarence Rands; cut up and sold halibut cheeks; was a pinsetter for the Neill Andersen bowling alley; cleaned the SJ gym after games in exchange for season tickets.

His mother died in 1943, when he was 15, and the siblings were split up to live with other families.

Gil attended the BIA elementary school on Katlian, and SJ School, then wanted to attend the BIA school in Wrangell but didn’t have money for transportation. SJ charged tuition, but he was recruited by Miss Kuykendall, the boys matron, and spent a year there, working for Peter Simpson in exchange for his tuition. He still wanted to go to Wrangell because he felt there were more students there like himself, who had been orphaned. He made it the next year and found out years later that his steamship fare had been paid by local businessman Art Franklin.

In February 1947, Mt. Edgecumbe High School opened in the former Navy facilities on Japonski Island, replacing Wrangell Institute and the BIA school at Eklutna. Gil Truitt was one of the first students to arrive and was always proud of the fact he was in the first graduating class – his email handle was originalbrave48.

He went on to Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, getting a bachelor of arts degree in 1957, and later earned a master of arts in education from Arizona State University in 1972.

He served in the U.S. Army, stationed in Juneau and Ft. Richardson. He married Shirley Guilford May 26, 1962, at the Sitka Presbyterian Church.

He had returned to Mt. Edgecumbe in 1957, where he taught history and physical education, was basketball coach, activities/academic director and administrator until retiring in 1990.

Gil Truitt overcame a difficult childhood with grace, dignity and gratitude, and made important contributions to Alaska. These included researching and discovering that the deed for the former BIA school property on Katlian Street could go to the City of Sitka only as long as it was used for Native education. The property was duly transferred to the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and now it’s the site of the Sheet’ká Ḵwáan Naa Kahídi community house.

His compilation of a map of the Sitka Indian Village 1920-1945 was another major achievement. Working with Herb Didrickson, Buddy Widmark, Ellen Hope Hayes, Bill Brady and Ray Perkins, with Charlie Joseph and Esther Littlefield, he made a map identifying the nearly 300 residential and clan houses in the Sitka Indian Village.

After the Bureau of Indian Affairs closed Mt. Edgecumbe High School in 1983, Gil played a major role in getting it reopened, lobbying the Congressional delegation, governor, legislators, education boards and other elected officials and helping with a letter-writing campaign he credited former MEHS teacher Cathy Sutton with leading.

Gil Truitt tirelessly documented and shared the history of Sitka, especially basketball, never failing to give credit to those who contributed to education and community. He told how within an hour of arriving in Sitka from Wrangell, Sitka teams were inviting them to play, and how the ANB team loaned them uniforms and a ball. He documented genealogy of the Cottages and shared the “good times,” the musical talent and sense of community.

He led a successful campaign to induct Herb Didrickson into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. Didrickson had turned down offers to play pro, and so his unbelievable talent had to be documented in alternative ways.

Gil Truitt did the trimming and artwork for the MEHS framed class photos, starting with his own graduating class. In the mid 1960s, a superintendent decided students were spending too much time looking at the pictures and had them all taken to the dump. Gil Truitt and a friend retrieved them from the dump and repaired the glass and frames; the pictures are now on view in the appropriately-named Gil Truitt Activities Center on the MEHS campus.

The naming of the center was only one of many honors the school bestowed on “Mr. Edgecumbe.”

“Gil Truitt’s contributions of thousands of hours, countless weekends and endless fundraising efforts earned him accolades on many fronts,” said Bernie Gurule, the current academic principal.

“One he was most proud of and mentioned often was that the Mt. Edgecumbe students honored him with a total of five MEHS Yearbook (TAHETA) dedications in 1961, 1966, 1972, 1975 and in 1990,” Gurule said. “He was also the first student athlete to be inducted into the Mt. Edgecumbe Hall of Fame.”

Truitt was also involved in youth baseball as a coach/manager for many years and was a basketball referee for 18 years. As an active participant in civic affairs, especially involving education, Truitt was instrumental in the creation of the Mt. Edgecumbe Advisory School Board.

He received an honorary doctor of law degree from the University of Alaska-Anchorage, a Meritorious Award from the University of Alaska Southeast, and a citation and commendation from the Alaska Legislature, and a Sitka street is named after him.

The Alaska School Activities Association inducted Gil into the very first cohort to be honored as members of the prestigious ASAA Hall of Fame, in 2001. In 2009, the Alaska Federation of Natives named him “Elder of the Year.” And in 2018, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska presented him with the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

For several years, Gil wrote his column, “Gilnettings” for the Sentinel, in which he recounted stories, illustrated by photos, about the Sitka he’d known since the early 1930s, the places, individuals, sports and historical events. His last one appeared May 20. The autobiographical column, “A Sitka Story: Widow and Her 7 Children,” ran March 20.

Gil’s influence on MEHS runs deep, Gurule said.

“Routinely, MEHS alumni come on campus to visit their children and grandchildren. One of the first questions they ask is ‘How is Gil Truitt?’” Gurule said. “Stories often follow of how he instilled in them the values of high standards and high expectations in the classroom, in the dorms and on the playing courts. Many stories carried the same theme: when I was a junior or a freshman... Mr. Truitt did not give me a break when I earned demerit points. He never allowed me to make excuses for my behaviors, he never accepted my hardship alibis, he never accepted my academic weaknesses as reason for failure in my studies. Instead he disciplined us appropriately without making it personal. He encouraged us to accept our challenges with more dedication and hard work. He convinced us Mt. Edgecumbe High School is a special place and we were encouraged to make our families proud in everything we do. We are a family here, too. We are the Mt. Edgecumbe FAMILY.”

Even as recently as this year, Gurule said, “when we informed Mr. Truitt of the recent alumni visitors, his recall of the specific person was unbelievable. He could recite personal details about the student and the brother and sisters who also were students at MEHS at one time or another. With pride he could inform us of their accomplishments later in life. He was aware and spoke with paternal admiration of the leadership roles they assumed at the local, state and even national levels. This little example may serve as an indication of the true relationships he had with his students and their families.”

In February 2019, Mt. Edgecumbe High School designated Thursday of Founders Week as “Mr. Gil Truitt Day.”

Gil was preceded in death by his parents and eight siblings.

He is survived by his wife Shirley Ellen Truitt, Sitka; his children and their spouses, Phil and Eileen Truitt of Snoqualmie, Washington, Ken and Charlotte Truitt of Juneau and Laura Truitt of Vancouver, Washington; grandchildren Kristina and Clay Ercolin of Stanwood, Washington, Joseph and Alexis Truitt of Newberg, Oregon, Natalya Truitt of Snowqualmie, and Madison, Marissa, Sydney and Elena Truitt all of Juneau.

The family requests no flowers at this time and suggests donations to these organizations, which either supported Gil throughout his life or Gil supported throughout his life: the Sitka Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood, Sitka Lions Club, Sitka Elks Lodge, Sitka Moose Lodge, Sitka American Legion, Sitka Fine Arts Camp, and the Salvation Army.

Because of COVID restrictions, a small private graveside service was held. Public services will be scheduled when it is safe for travel and large gatherings. 

Family members expressed thanks to all those in the Tribal health system who cared for him in his final days – too many to list for fear of omitting some, they said. They also thanked the many friends who supported both their parents personally these last few years.

In addition, they recognized two important communities: the Mt. Edgecumbe High School students, staff, and alumni past and present, and the entire community of Sitka. Both have provided the family overwhelming support since Gil’s passing, they said, and both communities had his entire devotion.

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At a Glance

(updated 5-30-2023)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 12:15 pm Tuesday, May 30.

New cases as of Tuesday: 165

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 298,078

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,468

Case Rate per 100,000 – 22.64

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 58.70

Cases in last 7 days – 5

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,424

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






June 2003

Sitka Community Hospital board of directors has asked SEARHC to stop providing most health care services to non-beneficiary patients. “During the collaborative process SEARHC has said they’re happy to do anything they can do to help,” said SCH Administrator Bill Patten. “This is one of the things they can do – not provide services to non-beneficiaries.”



June 1973

What began 50 years ago in a Methodist parsonage in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, will be celebrated Sunday in Sitka. Les and Caroline Yaw’s four children invite the couple’s many, many friends to attend a golden wedding anniversary reception at the Centennial Building.