Barbara Ellen (Duncan) Northup (1934 - 2016)

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Ellen Northup, artist, humanitarian, and former longtime resident of Juneau, passed away at her home in Seaside, CA, on August 22.

Born in Templeton, CA, on August 25, 1934 – in the midst of the Great Depression – Barbara Ellen (Duncan) Northup came through a hard childhood smiling, dancing, singing and creating art.

She dreamed of being a ballerina, but at age 12, she was already six feet tall; too tall for ballet. So it was not dance, but art, her children, and her commitment to living her faith and helping "the least of those among us" that became the main themes of her life, as a young woman in California, and during the 40 years she lived in Alaska.

She did have one grand adventure with dance, however, when she was just 16 and still in high school. She and her best friend, Jo Hobbs, joined the USO and were chosen to tour S. Korea with the Bob Hope Troupe, entertaining US soldiers as part of a song and dance comedy routine. Ellen continued singing throughout her life, on stage, in sound studios and with family. She loved all types of music, especially jazz, and she played the autoharp.

Because of her family's frequent moves, Ellen had attended public schools in California, Texas, Ohio and post-war Japan. Her response to childhood experiences with poverty, racism and social injustice was to become a life-long advocate for the poor, the disadvantaged, and the vulnerable. She focused her efforts especially on assisting low-income elderly persons, those in prison, the homeless, and the mentally ill. She worked tirelessly, relentlessly, and humbly – and with great respect, and laughter, and joy – on their behalf.

Ellen loved art galleries and museums, and studied many art forms. She especially enjoyed Murano style tabletop glass-blowing, which she learned from John Burton, and taught to many others during her lifetime. As a young woman in California, she had many artist friends and helped start the Arroyo Grande Art Association, besides owning two art galleries. (She also marched against the Vietnam War, enjoyed acrobatic dancing on roller skates, and sometimes dyed her platinum blonde hair pink, blue or green for holidays.)

In 1971, divorced and with her two youngest daughters in tow, Ellen drove up the Alaska Highway to Eagle River, where she landed a job running Independence Mine Ski Lodge (Hatcher's Pass) for a year. After moving to Chugiak, she spent nine years painting signs, driving school buses, moose hunting, mountain climbing, salmon fishing and picking berries. She loved making jams and jellies, and learned the name of every wildflower she came across in Alaska.

As owner of North Star Signs, Ellen painted murals, restaurants, billboards, trucks, boats, and all kinds of signs, but was perhaps best known as "The Christmas Window Lady" for the holiday windows she painted in Eagle River, Anchorage, Juneau, and as far north as Bethel. Ellen painted signs for almost 50 years.

Ellen made significant contributions to Alaska and Alaskans building and enriching communities wherever she lived.

While in Chugiak, she taught drawing and painting classes to prison inmates in Anchorage and Eagle River. She eventually started the "Arts in Prisons" program in Alaska, with a grant proposal that secured $100,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

She played a lead role in raising funds to build a new homeless shelter and soup kitchen in downtown Juneau and worked there as a volunteer; and served as the shelter's executive director for seven years. As director, she made changes to treat the homeless with more dignity (making the soup kitchen more like a restaurant, for example) and to help them connect to job training and other social services. She collected food from restaurants and grocery stores and also gutted hundreds of salmon at the Auke Bay weir to feed the hungry. During this time, The Glory Hole was recognized as one of the top ten shelters in the country.

Ellen was also one of seven founding members of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Juneau. She helped start the Southeast Alaska Food Bank; served on the Alaska State Food Coalition Board; became a Certified Alcoholism Counselor; and served on a state site review team for JAMHI.

She was well known for her testimony on homelessness and mental health (before the Alaska State Legislature). She was honored for her advocacy and humanitarian work with several legislative citations and an award from the City and Borough of Juneau for her advocacy and humanitarian work. She also received Phillip Morris Company "Citizen of the Year" award.

Ellen served as director of the Juneau Senior Center and the Meals on Wheels program for eight years, overseeing the Juneau, Valley and Douglas sites. In 2009, she "drove" the Alaska Highway one last time (this time, the Alaska Marine Highway) when she and her daughter Melissa moved back to California.

An artist through and through, Ellen was still painting until shortly before her death at age 81, just three days before her 82nd birthday.

Ellen raised three young daughters, and three foster daughters. She was also lovingly reunited, later in life, with the two children she had given up for adoption.

Ellen and her daughter, Sara Goese, who preceded her in death, are both remembered with much love by Ellen's surviving children: Linda Parker (Big Sur, CA), John Bakker (Sedona, AZ), Laura Contois (Las Vegas, NV), and Melissa Goese-Goble (North Pole, AK).

She is also survived by her ten grandchildren (Jenny Graziano, Natalie Van Allen, John Sedillo, Dena Ignacz, Jessica Hill, Blue Bakker, Robert Contois, Sarah Bowers, Stephen Contois, and Alex Goese-Goble); fourteen great-grandchildren; her beloved collection of fine art; and many of the likely-countless persons whose lives were enriched by her friendship, her community art, her social service work and the giving life she modeled.

The family is thankful for the assistance of Carolyn Mary Kleefeld, caregivers Connie Sapiens, Laurie Schutz and Hospice of Monterey. In honor of Ellen, please donate to your local homeless shelter, senior center, food bank or Hospice. Send your memories of Ellen to Melissa at [email protected].
Published in The Juneau Empire from Sept. 18 to Oct. 17, 2016
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