The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Annette Shacklett
LOG Editor 

Citizens of the Century: The Urbach Family

 

Susie, Larry, Dorothy and Robyn celebrated the Urbach couple's 25th anniversary in 1975.

Every year The Seward Phoenix LOG seeks a person, club, organization or entity that shows, by their contributions, that they deserve recognition and a great big "thank you."

The LOG honors people who made an outstanding contribution to the community with little expectation of financial or personal gain. What sets the Citizen of the Year apart from the rest of us is that they do things that remind us what embodies good volunteer work.

Sometimes an individual stands out with their contributions. However, this year we find a family who values contributing to community and passes on the tradition down the generations.

The LOG has selected the Urbach family, as not just Citizen of the Year, but Citizens of the Century.

Urbach's Clothier has now been in business for 100 years. And as we look at those 100 years we find that the family has given their time, intelligence and heart to Seward, to Alaska and to the United States as citizens.

A Little History

Leon Urbach came to Seward from Idaho in the early years of the 20th century and at first worked at Seward Commercial Co. In 1915 he left Seward Commercial and started Urbach's store.

In the store he carried the necessities of life from food to tools, from clothing to stationery. Later they narrowed the stock to apparel for working folks.

In 1919 Leon married Dorothy Mizenheimer and they had two sons Larry and Kenneth. Dorothy died of pneumonia when the boys were young.

The store burned in 1941 in the fire along Fourth Avenue and Leon rebuilt it.

Kenneth went on earn academic degrees and served in the space program at California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Larry studied business administration at the University of Washington there he met Dorothy Weil from Portland, Oregon who was studying zoology. They married in 1950.

Leon retired from the business in 1954, and Larry and Dorothy, who also grew up in the clothier trade, returned to Seward to take over the business. Here they made their home with daughters Robyn and Susan.

Now 100 years later, the store is open every day and run by Dorothy and Susie.

Some of the Contributions

While running a successful business for 100 is not an accomplishment to be slighted, what stands out to us is the contributions to community.

Leon served as the president of the Seward Chamber of Commerce for years and came to be known as "Mr. Chamber of Commerce" for his community contributions. In 1938-39 he represented Alaska at the national Chamber of Commerce meetings in Washington D.C. Leon was a charter member of Seward's Masonic Lodge and the Eastern Star chapter. He served as worshipful master of the Masonic Lodge for several terms.

During the time when Seward did not have a newspaper, Leon transcribed news from his ham radio and posted it in Urbach's window.

In World War II Leon served on the Selective Service Board. The story is told that the first young man he called to the draft was his son Larry. Leon was called to Washington D.C. to receive recognition from President Harry Truman for his work.

Larry and Dorothy continued as community leaders and active in politics – Larry until his death in 1999 and Dorothy continues to serve to this day.

One would be hard pressed to find a local organization that hasn't had an Urbach involved – the Chamber of Commerce, the hospital board, the library board, municipal bond bank, and more. The Urbachs were involved with the creation of the Seward Silver Salmon Derby and have supported it for years. Dorothy fishes the Derby and won it in 1979.

The family has always been and remains active in the Republican Party. Leon's home was a meeting place for statesmen, no matter their political party. Larry served as district chair of the party for 25 years.

Leon Urbach.

After more than a century of community contributions, Susie carries on the tradition today. She is currently on the Seward Community Health Center board and president of the Seward Chamber of Commerce. She is also the mother of two – Greg a helicopter pilot in the Gulf of Mexico and Kaitlan of New Mexico who is the mother of two boys and soon expects a baby girl.

Robyn lives in Portland, Oregon and works in alternative medicine – herbalism, nutrition and so on.

When The LOG asked Dorothy about the Urbachs' civic involvement, she thought for a moment then smiled and told us, "If Larry wasn't involved in a group, I was." Looking though the old newspapers, the family's photos and talking with the old timers shows us that it very much true, and more.

 

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