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Murkowski Remembers Reverend Doctor Walter Soboleff

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sen. Murkowski, R-AK, released the following statement regarding the passing of Reverend Doctor Walter Soboleff:

"Reverend Soboleff wanted to be remembered as one who tried to do his best in a time of changing culture and one who took positives from both the Native and Western worlds.  I think I can speak for all of Alaska when I say he achieved that goal. 

"I would like to offer Reverend Soboleff's family and many friends my heartfelt condolences.  Know that he served the Native people and our beloved State of Alaska over the course of his entire life, 102 years; and it is my hope that his life will continue to serve as an inspiration to all of us."

A reflection on the passing of Reverend Doctor Walter Soboleff has been entered into the Congressional Record by Sen. Murkowski and follows.







HONORING THE LIFE OF REV. DR. WALTER SOBOLEFF
Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, it was only a few short years ago, in October of 2008, that I stood before this body to honor one of Alaska's most cherished elders, the Reverend Doctor Walter A. Soboleff, in commemoration of his 100th birthday. Today, I come before you with a heavy heart, to share with you news of the passing of that distinguished and revered Tlingit elder and leader.  On this day I ask that we honor the life of an extraordinary man and remember his inspirational journey. 

At 102, on Sunday May 22, 2011, during the breaking light of that morning's first dawn, the Reverend Doctor Walter A. Soboleff quietly stepped from a restful sleep into the Northern winds, into the budding spring of the Southeast forest, to begin his final flourishing journey from Earth to Heaven. 

Rev. Soboleff is often described as a man of God.  His encouraging and often humorous words and outlook on life served as a beacon of light to so many who had the honor and privilege to know him.  His consistently positive words were not only eloquent but also inspirational, and one could say they were truly words inspired by God.

Rev. Soboleff was active and present during most of Alaska's history.  In 1957, he was in Juneau to open the Republican Convention Invocation.  He was our state's eldest Republican and indeed more than just a witness, the living embodiment of the history of our great state.  He recognized and believed that one of the qualities that made our Nation so great is that our Founding Fathers were God fearing and led with their hearts and minds open to the Creator.

The passing of Rev. Soboleff leaves a void that we can never hope to fill.  The Native elders of Alaska are unique culture bearers of our history, land and people.  They are a vital link between the past and present; the connection between two worlds, the old and new.  They also have a significant responsibility to ensure that future generations know who they are and from where they came, by telling the stories and passing on the oral traditions of Alaska Native cultures that have struggled to maintain survival. 

Rev. Soboleff was born November 14, 1908, on Killisnoo, a small island village near Admiralty Island, north of Angoon in Southeast Alaska.  His mother was Tlingit Indian and his father was the son of a Russian Orthodox priest serving in Southeast Alaska.  In his home four languages were spoken: Russian, German, English, and Tlingit.  Rev. Soboleff's life was one of sacrifice and public service.  But he certainly would not have viewed his service as a sacrifice. 

Rev. Soboleff was appointed to serve as minister of the Tlingit Presbyterian Memorial Church in Juneau.  He ventured from his village on June 14, 1940 on a steamer and landed in Juneau well before the era of civil rights.  To his dismay he was greeted with signs in restaurant windows that said "No dogs or Indians" and turned away when he tried to rent a room.  But he was not the kind of man to let a bad situation get the better of him.  Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he felt sorry for the innkeeper.   

In response, and in his way, he decided to open the doors of his church to any and all who sought to worship God.  In the midst of a time of racial bias, Rev. Soboleff created within his church, a wonderful diversity of people from all races.  His greatest message was for people to love one another - he often said that the greatest gift of civilization is for people to know who they are and to love each other regardless, because when there is love, there is peace. 

Rev. Soboleff  received a bachelor's degree in education in 1937 from Dubuque University in Iowa, and a divinity degree in 1940.  He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity by Dubuque University in 1952 and an honorary Doctor of Humanities by the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1968.   He was also the first Alaska Native to serve on the Alaska State Board of Education, where he served as chairman.

He was truly a man of distinction and grace and a pillar of traditional and modern society.  He served seven terms as President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood as well as Grand President Emeritus.  In 1952, the Reverend accepted a commission in the Alaska Army National Guard, serving as Chaplain for 20 years, retiring with rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  He then went on to found the Alaska Native Studies Department at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Over the course of his life he served God and his people well and was a leader of extraordinary courage, inspiring a hope for love and peace in all who knew him. 

On Wednesday, May 25th Alaska's Governor Sean Parnell has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in Rev. Soboleff's honor.   Reverend Soboleff wanted to be remembered as one who tried to do his best in a time of changing culture and one who took positives from both the Native and Western worlds.  I think I can speak for all of Alaska when I say he achieved that goal.  I would like to offer Reverend Doctor Walter Soboleff's family and many friends my heartfelt condolences.  Know that he served the Native people and our beloved State of Alaska over the course of his entire life, 102 years; and it is my hope that his life will continue to serve as an inspiration to all of us.

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