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Jane Arliss (Wright) Sturgulewski was born in Ferndale, WA Sept. 27, 1927, one of five children of Thomas Roe Wright and Henrietta “Gretchen”(Vanderlinden) Wright. The family struggled during the Great Depression; her only sister Pearl died shortly before Arliss was born, there was little work in their rural community, and their mother died when Arliss was 11. She grew up in the Northern Cascades logging town of Darrington, the only girl among four brothers, a self-described “lonely child” who buried herself in books. She is forever grateful for the grounding of her schoolteacher mother, and for teachers who saw her intelligence and urged her to pursue higher education.
Arliss’s father was an old-fashioned man who felt college for women was a waste of money, so Arliss put herself through the University of Washington. She worked as a nanny, a store clerk, and a waitress in construction camps. In 1949 she graduated with a degree in economics and business, and went to work as a bookkeeper for a Seattle cosmetics company.
In the spring of 1952 Arliss and a girlfriend drove the Alcan Highway on vacation. She got several bookkeeping job offers her first week in Anchorage, and stayed. She soon met Bernard “Sturge” Sturgulewski, an Army veteran and Chicago native recently graduated from the University of Alaska. They were married in 1953, and their son Bernard Roe was born in 1957. Sturge was an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and traveled all over Alaska. In 1968, he was killed in a plane crash over Lake Iliamna. Despite family encouragement to move Outside, Arliss determined to stay in Alaska to raise her son.
She had joined the Anchorage League of Women Voters in 1959, which was a vibrant group, active in school and government policy-making. Building on that experience, Arliss received an appointment to the Greater Anchorage Area Planning Commission. In 1975 she was elected as an area-wide commissioner for the Anchorage Charter Commission, helping oversee the merger of the borough and city of Anchorage. She served on the Anchorage Assembly 1976-78, and in the 1970s was involved with the Capital Site Selection Committee and Capital Site Planning Commission.
A moderate Republican, Arliss was elected to the Alaska State Senate in 1978 and served until 1993. In the legislature, she was known for her thoughtful deliberation and working across the aisle during Alaska’s frenetic oil boom. She is most proud of her work helping to inflation-proof the Alaska Permanent Fund during those years.
Arliss became the first Alaska woman to head a major party ticket when she was the Republican candidate for governor in 1986; she ran again in 1990. She won both primary elections, but lost in the general.
Although she retired from the legislature in 1993, Arliss continued her work with many organizations, especially those dealing with public policy and educational issues. She was a trustee for the Anchorage YMCA, a regent for Sheldon Jackson College, a member of the UA Foundation, and of the Advisory Council for the UA School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Among many other honors, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from UAA in 1993, won an ATHENA Award in 2000, and was named to the inaugural class of the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009. She also enjoyed mentoring young people, especially young women.
Arliss continues to reside in Anchorage, as do her son Roe and his wife Carol Murkowski Sturgulewski. She has three grandsons: Ben, Ted and Hugh.
Jane Arliss Wright arrived in Alaska in 1952. She met and married Bernard “Sturg” Sturgulewski and they had one son, Roe. In 1968 her husband died in a Wien Airlines crash near Pedro Bay, Alaska. Joining the League of Women Voters in1959 whetted Arliss’ appetite for civic issues, public policy and politics. Her first public official position was in 1965 serving on the City of Anchorage Board of Examiners and Appeals. She went on to be elected to the Anchorage Assembly in 1976 and then served four terms in the Alaska State Senate beginning in 1978. She was the first Alaska woman to head a major party ticket when she was the Republican candidate for governor in 1986, using the classic slogan “Let’s just call her Governor.” She ran again in 1990.
Her leadership won her appointments statewide as well as in the national and international arenas. She has served on countless non-profit boards, especially those dealing with public policy and educational issues.
Arliss has been honored as an Anchorage YWCA Woman of Achievement, received the ATHENA Award and Congregation Beth Sholom’s Shining Lights Award.
In a memo to a friend, she wrote that as state senator, she was most proud of sponsoring legislation to form the ARDORS, regional development organizations to address economic development, coordinate private and public resources and provide assistance in local economic infrastructure. Her second proudest accomplishment was playing a role in the re-write of the municipal code. She thought her most challenging and rewarding work was spent on permanent fund issues where she got the needed votes in the Legislature to inflation proof the fund.