John Dapcevich Dies; Was 6-Term Sitka Mayor

John valued family above all else. He is pictured here with his great-grandson, Max. (Photo provided)

 

John Dapcevich, an Alaska resident since 1928, died peacefully on Sept. 1 at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau surrounded by family. He was three weeks shy of his 96th birthday. 

John’s life paralleled that of Alaskan history. His story is one of immigrant rags-to-riches after his parents – Sam (Savo) and Stana Dapcevich, known by many as “Baba” and “Tata” – came to the United States from Cetinje, Montenegro, by way of Ellis Island, New York. John was born in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, in 1926, and his parents traveled across the country, living in Minnesota and Montana before ultimately settling in Southeast Alaska to work in the mines. 

John was 2 when the family arrived in Juneau October 1928, and would spend the next nine decades gathering memories of growing up on Starr Hill in a family home built in 1933 that he shared with his parents, many siblings, and extended family. A captivating storyteller, John would often recall stories working as a young child in the early days of Alaska’s territorial history selling newspapers, cleaning bars, and learning English as an elementary-aged student in a school that didn’t offer additional educational services for Serbian-speaking children of immigrants. 

“Growing up on Starr Hill was not without the joy of children, who enjoyed each other’s company and who had a special feeling of community. The out-of-doors was our playground. In the summertime, we played kick-the-can or greenlight or hide and go seek. But in the wintertime it was special,” he would recall. 

He would later reminisce about riding a toboggan with up to seven other children, sliding “down 5th Street from Nelson all the way to Franklin Street.”

“We also made skis from barrel staves and inner-tubes cut up and made into bindings. We would build jumps halfway down the hill to add a little spice to the descent. We had a special place that is part of Juneau’s history, The Chickenyard, a basketball court at the base of Starr Hill.”

John’s memories spanned nearly 10 decades of Alaska’s history, including the Great Depression, World War II and the post-war recovery, the last decade of Alaska’s territorial status and the fight for statehood, the oil boom of the 1970s, and the settlement of the Alaska Native Lands claims. 

In his later years, he often sat at his dining table and shared first-hand stories with family members visiting from all corners of the globe. A favorite retelling was the 1935 miners’ labor strike against the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company, in which he recalled having witnessed miners striking over acceptable working conditions at the AJ Mine in Juneau.

After graduating from Juneau High School in 1944, John received his father’s permission to enlist in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17. He served on Kodiak Island and was awarded an overseas service ribbon for having been stationed on U.S. territorial land. 

Even in the most dire of situations, John could be relied on for a clever joke and a good time. With a twinkle in his glacial blue eyes, John often told about the time he and two of his Naval shipmates plotted to send their parents photographs of them enjoying themselves while stationed on Kodiak Island. They had a sailor’s love for beer, but didn’t want their parents to know they were drinking. So, the three bought a Coca Cola to share to show their parents they were drinking soda while their comrades were drinking beer – they passed the bottle of Coca Cola around and each took a photo to send their parents.

After the war, John fathered three children – John (Dick), Dave and Dayle – and continued his work for the Territory. He’s perhaps the only Alaskan to have served or worked in all six levels of government, including Federal, Territorial, State, and City levels as well as the Borough and Unified City and Borough. A recommendation for the lifetime achievement award – which he was given in 2002 by Gov. Tony Knowles – said he’d been “involved in all aspects of government in Alaska and ... made significant contributions to the future of the last frontier.” 

John found the love of his life on a ferry leaving Prince Rupert, British Columbia, in 1967 when he met Janice, who was coming to Alaska from the east coast to explore the possibility of working in the Last Frontier. She hadn’t yet decided where she would land, but John cleverly convinced the young nurse to get off the ferry in Juneau. She spent the summer working at St. Ann’s Hospital in Juneau and enjoying the capital city through John’s eyes. After returning to Maryland for the winter, she moved to Sitka the following spring to be with John. With a new job at Sitka Community Hospital, she married John in 1968 and would they became parents to twins, Marko and Bob, the following year. 

With a patient ear, John would spend the rest of his life proving to be a tireless public servant who worked across the political aisle. He was appointed by both a Democrat and Republican to the Alaska Pioneers Homes Advisory Board, where he served 16 years. Notably, he also served on the Alaska Public Offices Commission where, at the point of his retirement, he had consulted with and advised every governor since statehood on a variety of state and municipal issues. 

In 1960, John moved to Sitka where he served six terms as mayor, between 1971 and 1989. During this time, he worked to unify the City of Sitka with the Borough government and won election as the first mayor of the Unified City and Borough of Sitka in 1971. He was awarded Alaska Municipal League Elected Official of the Year in 1989 and was named Alaska Mayor Emeritus. 

Having served as the vice president for the Alaska State Small Business Corporation Board, John was supportive of local businesses and went on to open his own, Dapcevich Accounting Service. Sixty years later, the business is owned and operated by his sons Dick and Dave, and granddaughter, Diana. 

In 1995, John and Janice moved to Juneau to be closer to their extended family. Other than brief stints in Nome and at the Chichagof mining community, John lived his entire life in either Juneau or Sitka. 

John was awarded Alaska’s First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year award in 2018. Over his lifetime, he continued  his dedicated work for the communities he dearly loved. His resume, which can be found on Wikipedia, includes his position as chair of the Southeast Alaska Democratic Party and the State Central Council of the Alaska Democratic Party, and his work as the Service Officer Veterans of Foreign Wars, vice president of the Alaska Borough Mayors Association, and vice president of the Alaska City Mayor’s Association. 

He also held roles with the AARP State Legislative Committee, U.S. Crime and Public Safety Steering Committee, American Legion National Counter Subversive Activities Committee, Chamber of Commerce,  Statewide Economic Recovery Committee, Tongass Timber Task Force,  Alaska Statehood Commission, and Southeastern Alaska Community Action Program (SEACAP).

John served in the Territorial Teachers’ Retirement System and was a budget analyst with the former Alaska territory’s Fiscal and Budget Management Office. He also worked with the Alaska Statehood Commission, Alaska Day Committee Board of Trustees,  Sitka Borough Assembly, City of Sitka Finance Committee, and City of Sitka Utility Committee, Sitka Airport Committee, Southeast Conference Board of Directors, and the Sitka Charter Commission, and APOC Alaska Political Offices Commission. 

John was an active participant in a number of local organizations, including American Legion Post 13, Loyal Order of Moose, Legion of Moose, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Alaska Miners’ Association, and Sitka Historical Society. He was also a life member of both the Sitka Sportsmen’s Association and Pioneers of Alaska. 

John was one of the first non-Native members of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and was given the name Kaag Daa, an honorable designation that he was proud to wear.

An avid poker player and sports enthusiast, John knew when to set work aside and cut loose. Central to his life was his family, whom he prided on being extensive and close-knit. His love for his Montenegrin heritage was felt by the five generations that had grown to love his Serbian sayings and nods to “the old country.” 

His death is a loss felt by many, but also serves as a reminder to live life with integrity, authenticity, and honesty. Though he is gone, his memory, smile, and love of good cheese live on in the many lives that he’s touched, his family said. That includes his wife of 54 years Janice, his sister Natalie Alton, daughter Dayle, and sons John R. (Dick), Dave, Michael, Marko and Bob.

He left seven grandchildren ranging in age from 30 to 53, including (in order) Richard, David Lee, Steven, Sam, Sarah, Madison, Diana, and Joe. More than a dozen great-grandchildren came to know John, including Brittni, Pearl, Cece, Taylor, Kiersten, Kyle, Max, Kinsey, Annabelle, Alexandrea, Alexander, William, and Oscar. John’s first great-great grandchild, Luca, was born in Juneau in June of this year. 

John was preceded in death by his parents, Sam and Stana Dapcevich, his sisters Violet Cope and Mileva (Mae), and his brothers Robert, Paul, William, and Don.

John’s ashes will be interred 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9, at the Sitka National Cemetery. Friends and family are invited to attend.

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AK COVID-19

At a Glance

(updated 9-28-22)

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 Wednesday, September 28.

New cases as of Wednesday: 546

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 282,928

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,329

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 3,955

Case Rate per 100,000 – 74.91

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

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "High.'' Case statistics are as of Wednesday.

Case Rate per 100,000 – 117.30

Cases in last 7 days – 10

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,358

Hospitalizations (to date) – 29

Deceased (cumulative) – 7

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.

 

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20 YEARS AGO

September 2002

Photo caption: Bus drivers Derrell John and Sabrina Smith stand next to the new Community Ride buses at Crescent Harbor bus stop, which serves as a transfer point. The two public transportation buses will run two routes, one along Halibut Point Road, the other along Sawmill Creek Road. 

50 YEARS AGO

September 1972

 Photo caption: Bill Willis, the new owner-manager of the Dip’n’ Sip in the Triune Building serves up another ice cream cone for a pleased customer. Bill and his wife Dorothy purchased the business from JoAnne Harris. Along with the ice cream treats, sandwiches and soups will be added to the menu.

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