Thorstenson, Icicle Seafoods founder, dies

Petersburg company now based in Seattle

Posted: Sunday, August 02, 2009

PETERSBURG - The man who played a principal role in founding the company that would become Icicle Seafoods has died.

Robert Thorstenson Sr. died Tuesday at age 77.

Icicle Seafoods, now based in Seattle, grew from one plant in Petersburg into processing facilities throughout Alaska plus Washington and Oregon.

Thorstenson had survived Parkinson's disease for more than three decades but died of the effects of a fall related to his illness, his family said.

Thorstenson was born Dec. 23, 1931, the grandson of Icelandic immigrants.

According to information provided by the Thorstenson's family to the Petersburg Pilot, Thorstenson served two years in the Navy and graduated in 1956 from the University of Washington, where he was co-captain of the crew team.

He worked as a deckhand on purse seiners and as a tender operator before beginning work in fish processing.

He rose from assistant cannery superintendent in Petersburg to general superintendent of all Alaska operations of Pacific American Fisheries.

When Pacific American decided to sell out in 1956, Thorstenson formed a group of fisherman to purchase the company's Petersburg plant. The company was founded as Petersburg Fisheries, Inc., and eventually was renamed Icicle Seafoods.

Thorstenson, partners Tom Thompson, Magnus Martens and Gordon Jensen, and dozens of commercial fishermen owned the company and formed an Employee Stock Option Program. When Icicle was sold in 2007, 62 percent of the company was owned by employees. The rest was owned by management and several original investors.

Thorstenson was CEO and board chairman from 1965 to 1981 and board chairman from 1982 to 1991. He retired from Icicle in 1990 but remained a board member from 1992 to 2007.

Thorstenson served on both local and national bodies. He was chairman of the Petersburg School Board and the Chamber of Commerce. Four presidents appointed him to the International Pacific Fisheries Commission.

Thorstenson is survived by his wife of 46 years, Pamela, a twin sister, Sylvia Thorstenson Schonberg, and three children.

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