Harriet Brakken, who along with older sister Lib Hakkinen donated her family’s collection of artifacts to help launch the Sheldon Museum, died March 22 in Seattle at age 94.
“Lib was on site and she was the one who started it all,” said Joan Snyder of the Chilkat Valley Historical Society.
“Harriet was certainly very aware of the value of the collection when she agreed to it, since their father had already donated a lot of it to a museum in Portland to pay their college education.”
The Sheldon family collection is worth about $1.5 million, or about half the estimated value of the museum’s offerings, said museum director Jerrie Clarke.
While Lib Hakkinen served as the museum director and eventually took up residence in a basement apartment in the building, Harriet left Haines after college. However, she maintained an interest in the museum and made regular donations, Clarke said.
“We even had a check from Harriet’s church. They wanted to honor her for longtime service, and she asked them not to give her a gift, rather to donate to the museum instead.”
Harriet Sheldon was born Aug. 19, 1918, the third of four children born to Stephen and Elisabeth Sheldon Sr. She graduated from Haines High School and Western College for Women in Ohio, now part of Miami University.
She worked in Homer for a year and for a few years in San Francisco before marrying Harold Brakken in 1947. They met through mutual friends as his brother had served in Haines at Chilkoot Barracks. They settled in Seattle where they raised a son, Steve.
Harriet worked for many years for DK McDonald, which later was Marsh McLennan, an insurance brokerage in Seattle, dealing primarily with Alaskan clients, especially canneries.
She was active in the Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church near her home in the Greenwood area of Seattle. At one time she was the superintendent of the Sunday school. She also was involved with the American Association of University Women, held season tickets to the Seattle Symphony, and was part of a women’s reading group that met weekly to discuss thought-provoking topics.
“She was a very intelligent lady, well spoken, highly organized, and responsible,” said niece Betsy Galloway. Brakken served in the auxiliaries for both the Ballard Hospital and the Foss Home. “I can remember her handling the financing for the annual bazaar and cooking donuts by the hundreds,” Galloway said.
Before Harold died, the Brakken’s celebrated their 50th anniversary in Seattle. In their retirement years they toured in their fifth wheel, often wintering in Arizona.
Here in Haines, Galloway said her aunt’s quiet generosity lives on in the museum. “She always had a great interest in the operation and the on-going success of the institution and contributed monetarily throughout the years. She was a great lady who put much energy and effort into many worthwhile projects.”
“Because of the group that started the museum, spearheaded by Lib and supported by Harriet, we have been able to preserve the history of the Chilkat Valley through the written word, photographs, and artifacts which is important because they teach us where we came from, and our visitors who we are,” Jerrie Clarke said.
Harriet Brakken leaves son Steve Brakken and grandson Tucker Brakken of Seattle; nephew Fred Hakkinen of Canby, Ore., and nieces Betsy Galloway of St. Helens, Ore. and Coralie Greenhow of Yakima, Wash.