Thelma Garcia Buchholdt

    Former Alaska legislator, civil rights leader, author and attorney Thelma Garcia Buchholdt, 73, died at home November 5, 2007, of pancreatic cancer.  

    Thelma was born August 1, 1934, in Claveria in the northern Philippines and completed her elementary and secondary education in seven years.  She came to the United States in 1951, graduated from Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles and enrolled in graduate studies at the university of Nevada in Las Vegas.  There she met her husband of 50 years, Jon Buchholdt.  They were married June 14, 1957 and started a family.

    Thelma taught elementary school until the family moved to Anchorage in 1965.  Thelma was active in the Anchorage community through the March of Dimes and the League of Women Voters, and she helped found the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alaska.  She became involved in politics as a member of the Ad Hoc Committee of Young Democrats.  George McGovern named her Alaska coordinator for his 1972 presidential campaign.  She was appointed to the Alaska State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  In 1973, Thelma was elected the first woman president of the Filipino Community of Anchorage, serving two consecutive terms.

    Alaska in the 1970's faced the political riddle of protecting the environment and the rights of indigenous peoples during the construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.  A second major challenge was the equitable distribution of billions of dollars of new revenue.  Thelma was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1974 as an Ad Hoc Democrat.  She was the first Filipino-American woman legislator in America.  She was re-elected in 1976, 1978 and 1980.  She served on the House Finance Committee, later becoming vice-chair of the committee.  

    She championed funding for the Spenard Community Recreation Center, the Dempsey-Anderson Ice Arena, the Asian-Alaskan Cultural Center in Spenard, the renovation of the Filipino Community Hall in Juneau and many local roads, trails and parks.  And Thelma sponsored and won funding for an underwater biocoustical survey of Alaska's bowhead whale population.  Thelma also won funding for the Alaska Commission on the Status of Women.

    In 1980, Thelma was elected the first Asian-American president of the National Order of Women Legislators, and in 1994, she was appointed director of Alaska's Office of ty.  

    Thelma became an expert on the history of Filipinos in Alaska. She produced a 30-minute documentary film on the subject and wrote a 200-page book, "Filipinos in Alaska" 1788-1958."  Thelma was a three-term national president of the Filipino-"American National Historical Society.  Its national conference will be held in Anchorage in 2008.

    When their four children were grown, Thelma and Jon enrolled in the District of Columbia School of Law, graduating in 1991.  Both became members of the Alaska Bar Association.

    Thelma is survived by her husband, Jon; their four children, a daughter Titania (Gary Ray) of Richmond, CA; sons, Chris (Julia Sadowski), Hans, and Dylan (Cara Elton), all of Anchorage; two grandchildren, Ryan of Anchorage and Rocco of Richmond; sisters Jeannette (John) Svihra of Anchorage, Rhoda McFadden of Las Vegas, and Nancy Evangelista of Los Angeles; and brothers Melvyn Garcia of Los Angeles and Eloy Garcia of Claveria; and numerous nieces and nephews.

    Services were conducted by the Rev. Fred Burgarin at St. Anthony's Catholic Church, Anchorage.  Interment was at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.

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