Businessman, statehood bell ringer Derr passes away

Longtime Juneau businessman and Chamber of Commerce luminary Romer Derr passed away yesterday (Thursday) at the age of 75. He’s being remembered not just for his efforts to improve Juneau’s economy, but for his participation in the Capital City’s first ever statehood celebration. Casey Kelly has more.


Romer Derr. Photo courtesy Juneau Chamber of Commerce

Romer Derr was 23-years-old when Alaska became a state. President of the Junior Chamber of Commerce at the time, he helped organize a community celebration, where he ended up ringing the statehood bell, even though it wasn’t his job.

“I put together the celebration thing, and I had two girls – one to hold the Alaska flag, one to hold the new US flag. And I had another girl to ring the bell. They got busy at her work and she couldn’t come,” Derr explained in a 2009 KTOO interview. “So they kept saying, ‘Get it done!’ So I kept sending an emissary down there and finally they said, ‘You gotta do it!’ So I did it. So it was strictly an accident that I did it.”

50 years later, Derr rang the bell again at a ceremony marking Alaska’s golden anniversary.

Derr was on the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors when Cathie Roemmich was hired as Executive Director. She says the bell story was typical Romer.

“Just get out of the way, this needs to be done,” she says.

Roemmich calls Derr both a colleague and a friend, and says the Chamber wouldn’t be what it is today without him.

“I think his father was one of the founders of our chamber, which is the second oldest in the State of Alaska,” Roemmich says. “There was even a time when the chamber struggled here in Juneau and Romer actually paid the staff out of his own pocket. That’s how important the chamber of commerce and the organization was to Romer.”

Derr owned Harri Plumbing and Heating in Juneau for many years.

Former chamber president Chuck Collins served with him on the chamber board and says it’s impossible to think of Juneau without him.

“I don’t think the Juneau business community would be the Juneau business community that it is without Romer and his dealings here,” says Collins. “You know, Romer was one of those guys, he didn’t mind telling you how he felt, whether you made him happy or not so happy.”

Derr apparently died of a heart attack. He’s survived by his wife Laraine, two daughters, two grandson, and five great grandchildren. He’s preceded in death by a son, and his first wife, Carole. Services will be held Tuesday at Chapel by the Lake.

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