Remembering Dad's birthday

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2005

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

Who is the most important person in your life? For many whose childhood was a happy time, that person is your father or mother. So it is with me, and I would like to celebrate the birth date of a man born 100 years ago in the pioneer Southeastern town of Wrangell. His name was Elton Engstrom.

This is the notice that appeared on the front page of the Alaska Sentinel on June 22, 1905:

"The Sentinel begs pardon of that little man at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Engstrom for not mentioning him sooner. He arrived June 6, but we did not hear of it until a day or two ago." Alaska was sparsely populated then so simple events were often highlighted in the news.

The July 6, 1905, edition said that Wrangell had a population of 800. The residents enjoyed electric lights, 11 stores, fine schools and good churches.

It was the "town of totem poles at the mouth of the Stikine River" with boats leaving for Telegraph Creek and for points on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island.

But not all was a sign of civic progress. The paper editorialized that Wrangell didn't need any water wells sunk. "The people can carry water half a mile from creeks or else go without."

Let me mention two incidents of my father's life that resonate. When he was 14 at Wrangell's July 4 celebration in 1919, he was on the public program. The presiding officer was Mayor J.W. Pritchett and the main address was given by Alaska's governor, Thomas Riggs Jr. My dad's topic was "the making of the flag."

When he went to the University of Washington in the l920s, he joined the track team. His coach was the legendary Hec Edmondsen. My dad's main event was the 880 yards, or half-mile. In one race he was supposed to be the rabbit to set a fast pace to pull the favored runner on in the early going, but he kept ahead and won. I believe his best time was 2 minutes and 2 seconds.

He went on to a wonderful career in the fish business and in politics he was a territorial and state senator from 1951 to 1963, when he passed away.

In praise of my dad and all the good men and women who have been part of Alaska's history, let me close with a personal reflection by Paul to his friend Timothy written almost 2,000 years ago.

"I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith."

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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