Monday, February 6, 2017

Irish in Fairbanks

In 1910, while visiting her family in her native town of Dublin, Jessie Spiro was introduced to her second cousin, Robert Bloom. He was eight years her senior and had spent the last decade in Alaska, starting out as a prospector for gold but finding prosperity after opening a hardware store in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Although born in Lithuania, Bloom’s family had moved to Dublin when he was a child.)

Jessie Spiro was not daunted by Robert Bloom’s unusual residence. She herself had chosen an independent path by moving to London (2 years earlier, at age 21) and becoming active in the suffragette movement.

In 1912, Robert and Jessie were married and, shortly thereafter, set off for Alaska. They settled in what was then the fledgling town of Fairbanks (established in 1901) and became actively involved not only in the city’s development but also in the development of the greater state of Alaska as well.

In 1918, Jessie opened the city’s first kindergarten. Several years later, she formed the first girl scout troupe in Alaska. Robert was a founder of the Alaska Agriculture College and School of Mines, a forerunner of the University of Alaska, and a charter member of Igloo Number 4 of the Pioneers of Alaska fraternal organization.

In the early 1920s, the Blooms founded the Fairbanks Aeroplane Company. Their affinity for airplanes was not limited to business. Robert was actively involved in establishing the Eielson Air Force Base. During World War II, the Blooms provided outstanding support for the Jewish servicemen stationed in Alaska. They opened their home for services and invited soldiers to their Passover seders.

Bloom actually had a long history of assisting his coreligionist, acting as a lay rabbi in his early years in Alaska and helping to establish Congregation Bikkur Cholim, which met in his home in its early years. Bloom was also chairman of Alaska’s Jewish Welfare Board.

In addition to helping build Alaska and foster the small Jewish community there, the Blooms raised four daughters. The Blooms eventually retired to Seattle, Washington. Robert passed away in 1974, Jessie in 1980.

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