The Day Trees Bent to the Ground

The Day Trees Bent to the Ground

The Day Trees Bent to the Ground

Posted on 04/16/2019 Evan Swensen
The Day Trees Bent to the Ground

“Mr. Swensen, you go to hell!” Vera Stribling shouted. When morning came I returned to the Gambell Street store. I had intended to just get reports from everyone about their families, but instead, upon learning that all were okay—and after hearing many of the individual miracles each person related about their family’s safety—the employees wanted to go to work. So we did. We worked throughout the day and put the store back in some sense of order. The employees from the Spenard and Downtown stores hauled all the customer orders to the Gambell Street store. By day’s end we were ready for business and on Monday morning we were open, almost as usual.

Radio stations announced that people could pick their packages up beginning Monday morning. Among the customer orders were many items that they needed to get their lives back to normal. Within just a few days nearly all the orders were picked up—and new orders were placed.

When communication was established with my superiors I learned that ten rail cars of boats and motor were on the way to Alaska, but could be diverted to other stores. We were a catalog store, but unique in the Montgomery Wards system. We also did a great amount of retail—and boat and motors was an experiment. Top management wanted to divert the ten rail cars to other stores and take their losses. I insisted that they keep the boats coming. I remember my boss’s forceful response, “we’ll keep them coming, but if they don’t sell, it’s your job.” I told him I’d take the chance. As it turned out we had to order another three carloads of boats and motors. Alaskans had a lot of work to do after the earthquake, but they also had money, and they wanted to recreate. We sold all our boats and motors and a huge amount of recreation and outdoor gear from the catalog. It didn’t cost me my job. As it were, I kind of became a hero with the company. We had the best year of any Wards store—anywhere—ever.

But the miracle of it all was that none of our employees or friends or their families were injured. I’ve never known better people than those who worked for me at Montgomery Wards when the 64 Great Alaska Earthquake shock the city. They were real Alaskans—everyone.

Vera always enjoyed telling the story that she had told her boss to go to hell and she didn’t get fired for it.

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