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Marie Darlin demonstrates what an individual can achieve in a lifetime — in her case more than 89 years. City and Borough of Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford said as he presented a proclamation honoring her in 2013, Marie’s “volunteering in organizations that make Juneau and the entire state of Alaska better places to live make her an exemplary model for all citizens to follow” (KTOO, June 27, 2013).
Darlin was born in 1925 and has been a lifelong resident of Juneau. Her maternal grandparents came from Finland to Oregon in the 1880s and moved to Juneau in 1894. Darlin graduated from Juneau High School in 1943 and married Kenneth Wingate in 1944. They had two children, and then she was widowed in 1952. She married Bill Darlin in 1953 and he died in 1984. They owned Triangle Cleaners. Darlin worked more than 30 years in human resource management for the federal, territorial/state and local governments. For 18 years she worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs promoting education, economic and quality of life improvements for rural Alaska and as the training officer for the Juneau Area.
The years Darlin was raising her two daughters (Sue Nielsen and Jean Eichman) she was active with the PTA and then served two terms on the Juneau School Board, including serving as president. In 1975 she was appointed to the Juneau Community College Advisory Committee and was president of it for a term and a member until 1983.
After retiring in 1983, Darlin continued her career as a volunteer. She said she was busier and worked harder than ever. In 1985 she led the group starting a Juneau chapter of the National Association of Retired Federal Employee, and followed this with starting an Alaska federation of chapters and serving four years as its president. In 1987 she became the spokesperson for the AARP’s Women’s Initiative and worked five years on issues affecting midlife and older women.
After serving nine years on the state Alaska Medical Care Advisory Committee, Darlin was appointed to the Alaska Commission on Aging in 2010. She has been instrumental in getting the State of Alaska to enact a missing vulnerable adult response plan and senior citizen protections and to extend the Alaska Health Care Commission. Darlin is an effective advocate because she prepares in advance, attends hearings, speaks up, and follows up with personal visits to legislators. For years every Alaska state legislator has known Darlin by name. At a committee meeting in 2013 Senator Bert Stedman would not hold a vote on a piece of legislation until he had heard from her about it.
Local and state historical societies and museums also are very important to Darlin, and they have benefitted from her volunteer work. For the Juneau-Douglas City Museum she leads walking tours of historic places in downtown Juneau and answers questions at the front desk of the museum. She is a member of the City and Borough of Juneau’s Historic Preservation Commission and serves as program chair for the Gastineau Channel Historical Society. For the statewide Alaska Historical Society, Darlin started the local societies group and served on the organization’s board of directors. Darlin was one of the steadfast leaders who advocated for 10 years acquiring property and securing funding for a much-needed state libraries archives and museums center in Juneau expected to open in 2016. She saw the need for a building to securely conserve the state’s records, historical photographs, manuscripts and business records, and museum artifacts, with exhibit and research spaces for the public to see and use the materials.
As a member of the Juneau Igloo #6 of the Pioneers of Alaska, Darlin co-edited its three-volume Gastineau Channel Memories and its predecessor Gold Rush Pioneers of the Juneau-Douglas Area. She also co-authored a book about Juneau’s schools that recounts experiences of teachers who worked in them between the 1930s and 1950s for the Juneau Retired Teachers Association. She served as a member of Juneau’s “Empty Chair Project” that in 2014 established a memorial to recognize the Japanese moved from Juneau to internment camps during World War II.
In 1996 Marie received a First Lady’s Volunteer Award, and in 2002 a Lifetime Service Award from the Juneau Chamber of Commerce. She has received the Federal Women Employee of the Year Award. Darlin received Alaska’s AARP Andrus Award for Community Service, the organization’s most prestigious and visible volunteer award, in 2008. The City and Borough of Juneau passed a proclamation recognizing Darlin in 2013 for her tireless advocacy. In 2014 she received the Alaska Historical Society’s Evangeline Atwood Award for her significant long-term contributions to saving, celebrating and advocating for Alaska history broadly and for Juneau history specifically.
Darlin’s 30-year volunteer career, with an emphasis on the interests of seniors and the importance of preserving Alaska’s past, has benefitted Alaska. She continues to be an inspiration to the people who have worked with her, and has helped many of them learn to effectively advocate for important social and cultural issues. She has made a difference in the lives of many other.