Job Center celebrates 50 years
The 50th anniversary of the Alaska Department of Labor involvement in Seward was celebrated at the Friday’s meeting of the Seward Chamber of Commerce, complete with a birthday cake and a history lesson related by its first office manager, Willard Dunham.
It was in 1962 that then Commissioner of Labor Gil Johnson decided to open an office in Seward. He asked Dunham, who he met earlier during workmen’s compensation hearings, to run the office. Dunham was caught off-guard, saying if he were to take a full-time job he would be making less than on the waterfront as a longshoreman. He agreed to work 17-1/2 hours a week and the office opened on Oct. 2, 1962, handling unemployment insurance cases.
The office furniture included a wooden desk from the former U.S. Marshal’s office and other court surplused equipment. The first office was in the old abandoned U.S. Post Office lobby where the wall décor was the old brass boxes of the old post office. The location of the office changed several times in the early years, including in a building that had housed a former morgue. Funding for the office came from the U.S. Employment Security Trust Fund and had to be approved by the U.S. Congress and then placed into the state for allocation.
Dunham’s part-time job instantly became full time following the 1964 earthquake with added staffing to handle the huge workload that included putting people to work searching for bodies, manning the honey-bucket brigade and beginning the massive cleanup efforts.
Then the office staff moved into Manpower projects and job skill placement. Then in 1969 the office began involved with establishment of the Alaska Skill Center, now AVTEC.
The program no longer processes UI claims. The scope of today is more modern and the name has been changed to Job Service. It is now at the Second Avenue AVTEC building
Norm Casagranda has been Job Service manager for many years. He and AVTEC Director Fred Esposito cut the anniversary cake Friday to hearty applause and a healthy round of good-natured kidding.