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Sen. Jay Kerttula dies in Juneau, age 92

Former Sen. Jalmar Kerttula, who was a legislator for 32 years representing Palmer, died Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Juneau. He was 92.

Kerttula, a Democrat, began his political career in the State House in 1961. While he did not serve in between 1963-64, after that he was in office until losing reelection in 1994.

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Up until 2019, Kerttula had the distinction of having the longest service in the Legislature. Sen. Lyman Hoffman overtook him last year.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on April 6, 1928, to Finnish immigrants. In 1935, the family were part of the original “colonists” who were relocated to the Matanuska Valley under the New Deal agricultural resettlement program after the Great Depression.

Kerttula graduated from Palmer High School and went on to study at the University of Alaska and the University of Washington. He returned to Palmer and became the manager of a dairy cooperative, and worked as a real estate developer in the Mat-Su. In 1955, he married Helen Joyce Campbell, who preceded him in death in 2015.

In the Legislature, Kerttula served as both speaker of the House and president of the Senate.

“Rose and I extend our condolences to Jay’s daughter Beth and the entire Kerttula family during this time of grief,” said Gov. Mike Dunleavy. “As a farmer, businessman and Palmer legislator for 34 years that included being the Speaker of the House and Senate President, Jay was a leader and advocate for the Mat-Su Valley and served the entire state with honor.”

Dunleavy has ordered that Alaska state flags fly at half-staff sunrise to sunset on Friday, Nov. 20, in honor of Sen. Kerttula.

Survivors include former State Rep. Beth Kerttula and her husband, Jim Powell, of Juneau, Alaska; Anna Kerttula de Echave and her husband John Echave, grandsons Mathew Echave, Chris Echave and his wife Emily Cohn Echave, great-grandson Joey and great-granddaughter Megan, all of Washington D.C.

He is also survived by Joyce’s sister, Lois Pillifant, who has always been like a sister to him and who worked tirelessly on his behalf, as well as her children, Robert, Marilyn, Frankie, Laura and Tom Pillifant, their spouses and children.

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Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.


  1. Working in the State Senate as a young man I met Senator Kerttula, a kind and sincere Gentleman. My parents were divorced and I never saw my Father, Jay knew my Father and our family situation and frequently would call my Father with a good report about my conduct at work. This meant much to my Father.
    Jay was an Old Time Alaskan, a good man, my condolences to Beth and Jim and all of the Kerttula family.

  2. Today’s generation 90 and older the last remaining Great Depression and WWII generation, their leaders were more decent than today’s leaders. They actually cared about this country.

    Too bad their children and grandchildren couldn’t learn that deep level of care and love this generation held for America.

    I admire their conservatism and fixing what is broke before going out and replacing it or undergoing continual remodels to keep up with the jones.

  3. The late long-time Senator Bill Ray wrote about his relationship with Senator Kerttula in a book published in 2003. It is an interesting read.

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