Photos from the interview with Ruth and Harry Johns on June 26, 1998 in Copper Center, Alaska, and photos from their personal collection.
Ruth Johns was married to Chief Harry Johns for 64 years and they lived in Copper Center, Alaska. Her father grew up in Copper Center and her mother came from Upper Tonsina. She married her husband in the 1940's, and they raised 8 children. She got her teaching certificate in 1975 from Juneau after going to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and used to teach in the schools. Ruth taught the Ahtna language, bead work, and traditional ways of life in the Copper Center school.
Chief Harry Johns was the traditional chief of the Ahtna People. He was born on the Klutina Lake Trail enroute to Copper Center. Chief Johns work career began when he was nine years old and he was hired to haul water for the Copper Center Lodge and as a stock boy and wood cutter. In 1929, when he was 20, he was hired by the Territorial Government Railroad Commission and eventually retired from the State of Alaska Department of Highways. In 1975, at the time of his retirement, Governor Jay Hammond invited him to Juneau where he was presented with a plaque commemorating his 45 years of employment with the State, although he actually worked there for 46 years. He didn’t rest for long, immediately going to work for Alaska Legal Services as a paralegal, and eventually retired after ten years of service. Chief Johns was chosen at the Ahtna Elders Conference as the Ahtna Region Traditional Chief after the passing of Chief Jim McKinley in 1991. Chief Johns was an avid advocate for his people and community. He instilled in his children a belief that one person truly could make a difference. As he did when he brought technology into Copper Center by buying almost all of the conventional phones put up for auction by the Alaska Road Commission, and installing a telephone line through the entire village, placing a phone in every home as well as lines for electricity and water wells. He passed away at the age of 94 in 2004 after 64 years of marriage to Ruth Johns. Download this tribute to Ahtna's Traditional Chief from the Ahtna, Incorporated website.