NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, STINEBAUGH COLLECTION, KLGO 0028

By TOBEY SCHMIDT
REPORTER

“I think if a woman in this community is wise, they would take a look around them and they would find opportunity and knowledge in every woman that they’re shoulder-to-shoulder with,” said Jaime Bricker, one of six senior managers at the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad.

Skagway – both in its history and today – is filled with women who have broken molds, taken leadership roles and undergone risks.

The first article in this series, published in the Aug. 11 issue of The Skagway News, which focused on women of the past in Skagway; this report will focus on women here today – three in particular.

The Social Butterfly

During the Klondike Gold Rush, Bea Lingle’s grandfather came up to Skagway as a gambler. He did so well that he built a house for his wife and little girl, Lingle’s mother.

In 1927, Lingle’s mother already had three girls above the age of 13 and didn’t realize she was pregnant again. After terrible pains, Skagway’s local doctor came to Lingle’s parents’ house on the corner of Ninth and Broadway and broke the news. He told Lingle’s father that he could only save one, either the mother or the baby.

“‘We’ll save the mother because I still have a 13-year-old daughter here at home and I’m gone, you know, two days and a night,’” Lingle recalled her father saying about her birth.

Lingle’s father worked for the railroad, and was often gone to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Lingle was born a breathing baby, although the doctor and the nurse predicted that she would not make it through the night.

“‘Wrap her up good and warm, put her on the oven door in a cardboard box, keep her comfortable, but she won’t live through the night,’” Lingle recalled. “I’m still here, they’re all dead.”

During the Great Depression, Lingle moved with her mother to Seattle where she attended school, while her mother cleaned women’s bathrooms for 42 cents an hour. Lingle’s mother worked until her late 50s, when her legs started to bother her and she retired. After graduating high school, Lingle moved back to Skagway where she was married for 13 years with four children.

Lingle separated from her husband after being fed up about money.

“The poor guy didn’t want to work steady or pay bills, which is kind of bad when you got four children,” Lingle said.

She was on her own for a few years before marrying Benny Lingle. Together they bought the Skagway Hardware Store in 1961. Before that, Lingle had cleaned hotel rooms, houses, baked birthday cakes and done many other odd jobs.

For years Lingle worked behind the cash register at the hardware store.

“She was involved in the hardware store and she sure did a whole lot more than my dad ever gave her credit for,” said Kathy O’Daniel, Lingle’s daughter. “She thought it was my dad that everybody liked, and when he passed away it took her a while to realize that it was really her.”

Lingle recently turned 90 years old, and her family threw a party for the occasion. O’Daniel said that more than 200 people dropped by to see Lingle throughout the day.

Lingle worked hard at the store, but O’Daniel said that her mother was also a big part of the social scene in Skagway.

“Back in the days when she was raising kids and everything, she pretty much single-handedly held off cabin-fever for a lot of women,” O’Daniel said.

About once a week Lingle would organize an event for women to come together and play games and hangout.

“For some women, that was the only time of the week they got out,” O’Daniel said. “And it helped a lot of women get through the dark days and cold days and days of being stuck.”

Lingle and her girlfriends started “WAGS” which stood for “Women’s Afternoon Gab Session.” WAGS still happens today, although now it includes men and stands for “Wednesday Afternoon Gab Session.” O’Daniel said her mother never excludes anybody.

Years ago Lingle wanted to take a city friend of hers, who was afraid to even drive off of a paved road, on a picnic near a moose trail to get her more comfortable with the outdoors.

“One of these days I’m going to ply you with champagne, pack you a picnic lunch and take you up picnicking,” Lingle recalled telling her friend. “So, I did that to her one day. I took a bottle of champagne to her house – she did a good job of putting it down – and she was finally just real relaxed.”

Lingle drove her friend up the pass and parked next to a river off a dirt road. She got a card table out of the back, covered it with a lace tablecloth, two folding chairs, a plate of sandwiches and an ice bucket with champagne in it. She showed her friend a moose trail and gave her a basket to collect “eggs” – moose turds. This was known as the first Moose Turd Champagne Picnic, said Lingle.

Another woman found out and wanted to join the picnic the next year. The year after that, there were 27 women who joined the Moose Turd Champagne Picnic. Last year there were 32 women. It’s been more than 20 years since the first picnic, and they now have it at Lingle’s family cabin in Carcross.

Lingle is an honorary member of Chamber of Commerce, has a lifetime membership with the Emblem Club and is involved with many other clubs and organizations around town.

“You know, I would really throw myself into whatever organization I was involved with because that’s what keeps the little town growing,” Lingle said.

The Business Reviver

When Jan Wrentmore moved to Skagway in 1978, she said that it was mostly men who worked on the railroad and the wives who ran the businesses.

“I think women were always very prominent in the business community,” she said.

In the same year, Wrentmore bought the Red Onion, which was a gift shop at the time. The Red Onion was built in 1897 by William Moore, and used for a few years as a saloon and brothel during the height of the Gold Rush. The Red Onion has been many things since then, including an abandoned building for some years.

In 1979, the Igloo Bar across the street from the Red Onion burned down and Wrentmore decided to buy that liquor license and transfer it to the Red Onion.

“The rest is history,” she said.

The Red Onion is now a restaurant and bar, with a brothel museum upstairs. Its modern day “madams” also do walking tours throughout town and tours of the brothel. Wrentmore thinks the brothel museum is really the heart of the building.

“I fell in love with the building, and it was so old, but perfectly preserved and all the old wallpaper was there,” she said. Before she even had the liquor license, Wrentmore had created the brothel museum. There were 10 cribs upstairs that the 10 women worked out of.

According to George Rapuzzi, who was a lifetime resident of Skagway and friend of Wrentmore’s, the bar at the Red Onion had 10 dolls – one for each of the madams working upstairs in the brothel. He told Wrentmore that when a girl was busy with a customer the doll would be laid down on its back, then stood up when that girl was available again.

For Wrentmore, she said the toughest part of building the business was the beginning, because she had to borrow everything.

“It took a long time, a lot of long, long years to crawl out from under that debt, so I was pretty poor for many, many years,” she said.

Wrentmore even lived in the building for many years, with only a little wood stove and no central heat.

It’s been almost 40 years for Wrentmore and the Red Onion, which she describes as her biggest accomplishment.

“Also, I love working with the women, really strong-minded, talented young women and it’s just really been fun to be in that culture of being part of a sisterhood there,” Wrentmore said.

Liz Lavoie, the Operations Manager at the Red Onion, has been working with Wrentmore since she started there in 2002.

“She’s certainly an enigma here in town and even at the Red Onion, but I myself feel very fortunate to have her as a mentor, and friend and boss all these years,” Lavoie said. “She’s a pretty phenomenal woman in a lot of different ways.”

Wrentmore more said that eventually she’ll have to sell the business and she hopes that she can find someone who will preserve the historical authenticity as she has.

“Without her vision and her love of this building I don’t know that it would still be here,” Lavoie said.

The Self-Made Woman

Jaime Bricker grew up in a hard-working family, the members of which were always busy. She said her mom was always working at least two jobs, which meant helping out at home at a young age. Bricker thinks that children who grow up in Skagway build on their independence at an early age because of the freedom they have in such a small, safe community.

“I think I was head-maid at 13 or 14 years old, and surrounded by young ladies my age running the housekeeping side of the hotel business,” Bricker said. “I’m definitely a product of my environment.”

Recently, Bricker received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Southeast Alaska. Her degree was in business administration with an emphasis in human resources management and she graduated cum laude. Bricker was nominated by a professor for the “outstanding graduate” award and ended up being the first person to win the award in her particular focus.

Bricker is a fifth-generation woman with the White Pass railroad. She’s been with the company for 10 years and is now the director of contracts and land management, making her one of six senior managers.

Before the railroad, Bricker worked for eight years at Wells Fargo Bank, holding just about every position the branch offered. She started as a teller and ended as the branch manager.

When Bricker started at White Pass, she was an accounting assistant before she became the executive assistant to the president.

“At the time that I became the executive assistant, there wasn’t anybody managing our lands and we had some issues that came up and I just saw an opportunity to get a little more organized and to do some things with our land that we hadn’t done before,” Bricker said. “So, the president at the time gave me a title change.”

Bricker presented the idea, what she called a contact registry, to the president.

She took all of the outstanding leases, easements, contracts, agreements and more, and categorized them into a spreadsheet, since they did not have a comprehensive list or a place where they could go to find associated documents.

“So, I had begun this hunt for all these documents that we didn’t necessarily have at our fingertips and built a filing system for those and a link to the filing system,” Bricker said.

In addition to being a full-time mother and employee, Bricker is also a member of the Skagway School Board, the chair for the Skagway Traditional Council, a volunteer and current member of the Skagway Chamber of Commerce, junior past president and member of the Skagway Emblem Club and a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and the Elks Lodge.

“So many people in this town wear so many hats, it’s like our culture,” Bricker said. “It’s amazing how many people chip in to make this place what it is, and I think that’s why we’re such a well-oiled machine.”

The hardest part of Bricker’s career is finding a balance between the job and her family, she said, although right now she feels the most successful she’s ever felt.

“I hope to continue feeling that with every year that passes,” Bricker said. “It’s my goal to keep learning, to keep succeeding, to keep building tools and resources and becoming a better employee, so I hope I always feel more successful tomorrow than I do today.”