Monday, January 30, 2006

50th Anniversary of the Constitutional Convention and my father

This weekend I will be travelling back to Fairbanks to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the signing of Alaska's Constitution. My father was a part of this piece of history and we will be attending the festivities together with my two sons and their wives. My father has been very instrumental in shaping Alaska's history and I am honored to share this day with him.

My father, Jack, celebrated his 80th birthday on October 15th, in Nenana and will soon be recognized as one of several Junior Achievements of Alaska’s Business Hall of Fame. Below is the citation that Representative Woody Salmon wrote for my dad to recognize this latest achievement.

The Twenty-fourth Alaska State Legislature honors Jack B. Coghill for receiving the Junior Achievement of Alaska’s Business Hall of Fame Laureate. Jack Coghill can list many honors under his name: delegate of the Alaska Constitutional Convention, small business owner, entrepreneur, longest serving mayor in the state’s history, lieutenant governor.

Jack Coghill, the youngest of three sons, got an early education in business when his father, a Scottish immigrant, started a trading post in the new town site of Nenana in 1912. At 15 Coghill got his first job outside of the family business as a mess boy on the steamer Alice that ran the Tanana and Yukon rivers. Coghill served in the Army and was stationed in the Aleutians during World War II before returning to Nenana to take over the family store. He had many entrepreneurial endeavors in Nenana. In 1952 he was one of 10 winning ticket holders in the Nenana Ice Classic and used his $18,000 in winnings to buy a sawmill, cut lumber and build a hotel.

Ask Jack Coghill what he considers his greatest achievement and he answers easily, “The most important thing in my life is my marriage to Frances and the raising of our six kids.� Next to that, he says his greatest achievement was participating in the Alaska Constitutional Convention. “Fifty-five of us sat down and produced the finest document in the U.S. and it will probably be the finest ever conceived,� Coghill said.

Jack Coghill first entered politics in 1948 when he was elected to the Nenana School Board. He went on to serve as a territorial representative and a delegate to the constitutional convention before being elected mayor of Nenana for 22 years, the longest tenure of any mayor in the state’s history. He continued to rise in the ranks of state government by serving as a state representative, state senator, and as lieutenant governor.

Jack Coghill lived for many years in North Pole, but returned to Nenana in 2004 after his wife Frances passed away. He turned 80 in September and is still active and involved in the community. Coghill was elected to the Nenana City Council in 2004 and that same year received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He stays active in his church, and in January he was installed as the Potentate of the Alaska Shrine. He is still a partner in the family store.

The members of the Twenty-fourth Alaska State Legislature honor Jack B. Coghill for receiving the Alaska Business Junior Achievement Hall of Fame Laureate.

I chose to honor his one of his many accomplishments by naming a bridge after him.
In 1961, while serving in the State House, my dad worked on getting state funding to build a bridge over the Nenana River just south of Nenana at Rex. There were no roads going to or from the area at the time, so it was a tough sell. He said if the bridge was built, roads would eventually connect the Interior to Southcentral Alaska. Some legislators found humor in the idea of building a bridge with no connecting roads and called the bridge "Jack Coghill's Bridge to Nowhere." Despite the criticism, he proceeded in getting the funding for not only the bridge but the road that now allows Alaskans to travel between Fairbanks and Anchorage in six hours on the Parks Highway versus the twelve hour trip on the Glenn and Richardson Highways.