Bob Thibodeau: “Ambassador” for Juneau


Robert Jean Thibodeau, Feb. 4, 1922 to Sept. 22, 2012. Photo courtesy Celeste Thibodeau Becia.

Lifelong capital city resident Robert “Bob” Thibodeau has died at the age of 90.

Thibodeau was well-known around Juneau and active throughout his life in civic affairs, his church, and business.

A Rosary will be said at Tuesday at 7 p.m., at the Cathedral of the Nativity on 5th Street in Juneau.

A memorial mass is scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in the Mendenhall Valley. It will be followed by a reception at 4:30 p.m. at St. Ann’s Parish Hall on 5th Street.

Our Town

Bob Thibodeau liked to talk about his town of Juneau. In the early 1990s, he even had a radio show on KTOO called Our Town.

That was in his retirement years, when he wore out some shoes between the family home across from Juneau-Douglas High School to downtown, often to do research on a favorite Juneau subject.

“He had his walking path and he would say hi to the people along the way, stop down at Foodland and chat, and then he would get down to the library,” said daughter Therese.

And when he wasn’t out and about, people missed him.

“You know I would walk around town when he and my mom would go on vacation or something, and they would be saying, ‘Is your dad OK? We haven’t seen him in a while, you know. Where is he?'”

Thibodeau also greeted and got to know lots of visitors to town over the years.

“Anybody who came up to him, he had a smile for them and he was ready to tell them about his city. I think he was just a great ambassador for Juneau,” said his oldest son, John.

John and his sister Therese are part of one of the largest families in Juneau. Bob and Aurelia Thibodeau had 12 children, all of whom are still living and in Juneau this week to remember their dad.

Thibodeau was three months old when his parents Joe and Rose moved to Juneau from Yakima, Washington. He grew up in his father’s grocery store businesses.

And his kids were part of the workforce at the Douglas Shop-Rite Market, which Thibodeau owned and operated for 22 years, beginning in 1963.

“I remember Dad telling people there’s 12 kids in the family and a grocery store and he says he never could have had 12 kids without the grocery store and he never could have had the grocery store without the 12 kids,” John said.

But school and sports came first.

“He had lots of young people working for him so that he never had to deny anybody any time to do what they wanted to do at school or outside of work,” John recalled.

And Thibodeau seldom missed a school event himself, even when there were no more Thibodeau kids in Juneau schools.

Anybody who came up to him, he had a smile for them and he was ready to tell them about his city. I think he was just a great ambassador for Juneau.

Thanks to their father, son Tom said, the Thibodeau children know how to work.

“The work ethic that we learned, we learned from my dad. He was the hardest worker I have ever known,” Tom said.

The family home on Glacier Avenue is also across the street from the Augustus Brown Swimming Pool. Perhaps Bob Thibodeau made its sauna famous.

“We’re thinking of naming the seat in the sauna the BTS – Bob Thibodeau sauna,” said Jim Carroll, who and his family lived next to the Thibodeau’s for about 16 years. He also saw Bob nearly every morning at the sauna, where some days the conversations would range from Juneau to world events, to science, religion and politics.

“He always had something to say, that’s for sure,” Carroll said.

Bob Thibodeau was not shy about his opinions or challenging others to defend their own opinions. He loved politics and ran for a number of local offices, though he never won a campaign. That, he once said, was probably a blessing.

And while he had a reputation about town as being outspoken on most issues, he also challenged his children at home to study the issues and form opinions.

“You know in the family, he was always trying to get us to think,” Tom said.

He knew the value of family and when he retired from the grocery in 1985, he set a goal of writing letters to family members every week, whether in Juneau or out of state. They were signed “With Love, Bob, Dad, Uncle Bob, Brother, Grandpa & Cousin.”

“It was just a great way to keep up with what was going on in town and to get some of Dad’s thoughts about growing up, to hear his stories about his parents and his brothers and sisters,” Tom said. “I think most of us now are looking forward go going back and reading them again.”

Bob Thibodeau and his wife Ril celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary this year. He is survived by Ril, their 12 children, 30 grandchildren, 9 great-grandchildren, and numerous friends, who now have the last word. Here’s a message from a close friend:

“Bob, I will miss you. The times of discussions at your home and at the sauna bath I always enjoyed because you always agreed with me. Jim Carroll. I got the last word in.”

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