|Birth: ||Jun. 23, 1883|
County Antrim, Northern Ireland
|Death: ||Feb. 22, 1972|
Fairbanks North Star Borough
Eva Montgomery was born in Belfast,Ireland in 1883.
In 1914, at age 31, Eva departed her native Belfast,traveling across the Atlantic by ship,then by train to seattle where she boarded a steamship bound for Valdez, Alaska. From there she traveled by horse-drawn sleighs and dogsleds, until she reached fairbanks, making the long journey all for the love of Arthur McGown, a part owner of the Model Cafe in Fairbanks. Eva arrived in Fairbanks on Feb. 26, 1914, and she and Arthur were married that same evening.
Five years after their marriage Arthur became ill, and spent the remaining years of his life as an invalid. Following her husband's death in 1930, Eva found herself almost penniless. She left the cabin she and Arthur had shared, and moved into room 207 of the Nordale Hotel, located on 2nd Ave, where she continued to live until her death.
She supported herself by selling magazines and taking odd jobs. She worked as a hospital visitor, and spent time visiting lonely women newly arrived to Alaska, doing what she could to make them feel welcome. When World War II arrived, her services as a greeter with an intricate knowledge of available rooms in Fairbanks became vital, and the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce put her on the payroll for $75 a month to help military wives, construction workers, and others find a place to stay.
McGown was the first woman to win the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce distinguished-service award.
In 1951, Eva was the subject of an article in the magazine Reader's Digest, and on April 22, 1953 she was featured on a broadcast of the NBC biographical television show "This is Your Life" with host Ralph Edwards.
In 1953, territorial governor B. Frank Heintzleman issued a proclamation naming McGown "Alaska's honorary hostess".
In her 1958 novel about Alaska, "Ice Palace",author Edna Ferber based the character of Bridie Ballantyne, official greeter of the fictional town of Baranof, on McGown.
In 1971 the University of Alaska Fairbanks dedicated a music rehearsal hall in McGown's honor.
Eva belonged to the Women Pioneers, Eastern Star, Salvation Army, Soroptimists, Fort Wainwright and Eielson Officers' Women's Clubs. She was a member of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church where she played the organ and led the choir.
On February 22, 1972, one of the deadliest hotel fires in Alaska's history destroyed the Nordale Hotel, killing 4 people, including 88 year old Eva.
Later, while sorting through the rubble, investigators discovered the hotel safe. Among it's contents was a small box belonging to Eva. Inside were a clump of soil and several pieces of dried Irish moss — wee bits of Ireland that Eva kept with her all those years in Fairbanks.
Eva was buried in Clay Street Cemetery in Fairbanks next to her beloved Arthur.
A stained glass window was created for St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in 1999. The window commemorates Eva McGown and the St. Matthew's choir of the early 1900s and depicts McGown playing the organ.
I only knew Eva for a few short years, but she were a wonderful, kind and loving woman. I will never forget how how she was there for me when mom was injured while we were staying at the hotel. Eva just stepped in and took charge and took me back to her room while mom was in the hospital and we had to wait for dad to fly in to be with us. Having "tea" with Eva and listening to her stories was a wonderful experience, as I am sure anyone who knew her would tell you. I don't think she ever met a stranger. To her, everyone was a friend to be had and more often than not, someone to watch over as well. I was only 8 when Eva died, but she left an impression on me that has lasted all these years. There are some people who make this world a better place just by being in it. Eva, you were one of those people, and I am honored to have known you.
Arthur L. McGown (1861 - 1930)
Clay Street Cemetery
Fairbanks North Star Borough
Plot: Masonic SE.General S.W.
Created by: Devil Kitty Designs
Record added: Feb 05, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 24410859