Eugene “Gene” Sundberg

(October 28, 2010) Eugene Sundberg, known lovingly to many as Gene, was born Sept. 14, 1933. He passed away last Thursday morning at the Alaskan Native Medical Center in Anchorage. He will be deeply missed by so many who love him.

He considered himself to be a very lucky man to have lived during what he considered to be perhaps the best period in history. Gene left us with his own words:

“I know a lot of people have said the same of their own periods of life. There were good times and bad times but it seems my life fit into more of the good times.

“I was born just after the Great Depression, and if there was one in Kodiak I grew up through it. We were not rich but we didn’t seem to lack for much. My dad, Fred Sundberg, worked from the time he married my mother, Edith ( Norton) Sundberg, and so was able to provide the basics for me, my sister Marilyn and youngest sister Glenace. We rented several places in Kodiak before my dad built us a permanent residence on Cope Street. We went to school in Kodiak and I graduated from high school in 1952. We played basketball and took the Fur Rendezvous Class B Championship three of the four years and one year in second place. When I was in the sixth grade, I spotted a cute girl from Idaho and Phyllis Sullivan and I began walking home together as we lived in the same neighborhood. It wasn’t long before we walked home holding hands.

“My mother died when I was 16 and my dad in 1952 leaving me to become the head of the family. On May 1, 1954, Phyllis and I got married and now with my immediate family I set out to provide for us all. I went to work after graduation for O. Kraft and Son, a general mercantile firm, as a stock clerk, working up to freight hauler and eventually as warehouse man, responsible for ordering the groceries. In 1969, I became the acting general manager until I left the firm in 1976 after 24 years.

“In the meantime Phyllis and I started our own family with the birth of our first son, David. A year later I got drafted into the Army. When I reported to my new company commander he asked what I was doing in the army with five dependents. He asked (basically, ordered) me to get paperwork from my place of work, bank and others asking for my release from the army. He thought I was needed more at home and within three months released me from the active Army with a hardship discharge and I filled out my military obligation in the National Guard. I ended up as a weapons instructor for everything from a .45 caliber pistol to the 105 mm recoilless rifle and earned the rank of sergeant first class. The Guard was good for me as I had duties to the public as well as the military. My unit was in charge of putting on the King Crab Festival parade one year. Kodiak had a local TV station and we would have programs to bring the locals up to speed on what was happening in the Guard. We had a recruiter on board who built the company up to 110 men. It was an exciting time.

“During my work at Krafts I had an opportunity to join the Kodiak Elks. I served 50 years in this organization and went through the all the chairs to the top position. I also began serving on several boards of directors including the Kodiak Electric Association (37 years) the hospital board ( five years) the Afognak Native Corporation Board (24 years) the Elks board of trustees (six years) and a couple of others for short times for a total of 75 years of service to the Kodiak community.

“After I left Krafts in 1976, I joined the Koniag Regional Corporation as their land manager where I stayed for seven years. While my job was to get lands conveyed to the corporation I became a part of a team to attempt a land exchange with the federal government. We worked four years and traded lands we owned on the mainland for the north half of Afognak Island. On Dec. 2, 1980, I and other members of our team were at the White House in Washington, D.C., to witness President Jimmy Carter sign the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which contained the Koniag Amendment. It was a very interesting and exciting process to go through. I returned to my regular work in getting land conveyances until I left Koniag in 1983.

“It wasn’t long before I had an opportunity to go to work for the Kodiak Island Borough School District as the purchasing supervisor for the district. I was responsible for keeping the central stores supplies on hand for the teachers and kept the fixed asset records. I, not being the best at my computer, asked people better than I to help me develop our manually kept records onto the computer. Within a year I had an automatic ordering system for central stores and a program for keeping fixed asset records — a gigantic change. Other accomplishments were made to make things easier. I worked there for 12 years and retired.

“I felt proud of my three careers. In each I felt I had accomplished something good for the people of Kodiak. And at home because of Paul, our youngest son, we became a fishing family and we prowled the rivers and beaches. When he was 13, he wanted us to get a boat and be able to catch Halibut at Buoy 4 and fish and picnic at other beaches. This was all well and good but I had no idea how to run a 17-foot Boston whaler— but I (we) learned — somehow! When we first launched the boat in the town side boat ramp I backed it into the water. Shortly Phyllis yelled at me that the boat was taking on water. I knew that couldn’t be so because we had plugged the three holes in the bottom. So I pulled the boat out of the water only to find water coming out of the stern. I had forgotten to put the plug in the little round hole. I learned a good lesson. Its never happened again in over 50 years.

“Phyllis and I have had fun watching the boys grow up and have been very proud of their progress in becoming men. However, Phillip joined the Coast Guard and was killed in 1977. It will be great to see him again. David became a gas/diesel/refrigeration mechanic and retired from Horizon after 30 years. I thought I took early retirement at 63, David took his at 52! Our son Paul graduated from Seattle University in 1984. He is now in real estate in the Seattle area living in a new house with his wife. He is the first and only Sundberg who graduated from Seattle University. Phyllis and I are very proud of them.”

Gene is preceded in death by his parents Fred and Catherine, his sister Marylin Lyle and his son Philip. Gene is survived by his sons David and wife Mary, Paul and wife Gina; grandchildren Malina, Justin and Jared; great-grandchildren Caitlyn and Austin Hacker; sister Glenace and husband Ed Perkins; and many nieces and nephews. Gene is related to many of the old Kodiak families too numerous to mention by name.

In lieu of flowers donations can be made to Saint Innocent’s Academy or St. Herman’s Theological Seminary.

And a final word from Gene:

“So this life is ended and it is now time to check out the new adventures that are surely in store for me. I hope to see a lot of the people I have known in this life and I hope to see the rest of you, my friends, someday … somewhere nice. Goodbye and God bless you, and as one of our old friends used to say, we’ll see you when the wind shifts.”