Lifelong Sitkan Eric Olsen, 73, Dies

Eric Kendall Olsen

Lifelong Sitkan Eric Kendall Olsen, 73, died of COVID-19 on Feb. 24, 2021, in Mobile, Alabama, while visiting family.

He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Linda J. Barker Olsen; his sister Dorothy M. Olsen of Sitka; and his daughters Shelley Gillaspey (Shawn) of Sitka, Victoria Echols (Vaughn) of Mobile, Erika Jones (Larry) of West Virginia, and Angela Olsen Mellen (Scott) of Troutdale, Oregon; and son Richard Mark Littlefield (Jenna), Sitka.

He is survived by a large family who truly loved him, including the above and many others: grandchildren Jessica Lynn, Lillian, Jessica Marie, Krysta, Joey, Eesten, Cade, Gage, Conner, Channing, Colton, Ariel, Jordan, Nathan, Ali and Jayden; great-grandchildren Jace, Halle, Audi, Bently, Gordon, William, Trystinn, Meredith, and Madelyn; and many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, and great-great-niece and great-great-nephews.

He was a beloved husband, brother, father, uncle, Papa and great Papa.

He was preceded in death by his parents Kermit Roosevelt Olsen and Hazel Margaret (Kendall) Olsen; his sister Virginia Erickson; and his in-laws Ernest and Delores Barker, all of Sitka.

Eric was born in Sitka on Oct. 18, 1947, at the Salvation Army. The only son of Kermit and Hazel, he learned the ropes of boat life at a very early age. He spent his first 7 years commercial fishing with his father and growing up on the family fishing boat, the Whale Bird. The family lived in Kalinin Bay until 1958. Eric learned from the start to navigate the waters of Southeast Alaska. This love of the water stayed with him his entire life.

Eric attended Sitka Baranof School, Washington School in Honolulu, Hawaii (3rd grade), Tumon High School in Agana, Guam, and Sitka High School. His father worked for C&R Builders construction company and the family traveled to many places including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Bangkok, The Philippines, Hawaii, Guam and China.

Eric loved to travel, and was looking forward to going to reminisce with his sister Dorothy about her times in Dutch Harbor and the Aleutian Islands. Unfortunately, this trip was canceled due to COVID-19.

When he graduated from Sitka High School in 1966, he was employed at Alaska Lumber and Pulp Company. He learned to run heavy equipment by day and played in a rock band at night. He was a self-taught musician and had played in a band since high school. He went to work at the Sitka Police Department in 1969. In 1971 he returned to Guam where he attended the Guam Police Academy, completing his training in law enforcement. He continued to work as a police officer in Guam until June 1972, when he returned to the Sitka Police Department and served as a patrolman sergeant until retiring in 1989 after 21 years.

While a police officer, he met and married the love of his life, Linda Jean Barker, creating a beautifully blended family of seven. This merged two huge families and he became a father and uncle to many, a role to which he devoted tons of love and energy.

After he retired in Sitka he served as a police officer for the North Slope Borough for 10 years, for a total of 31 years as an officer. He quickly became a key member of the communities he served and spent much time learning their culture as well as hunting and trapping. When away from his beloved family he kept in close contact by producing a newsletter he loved to write called “The Great Alone.” In the aftermath of 9/11, he served on the patrol team on the oil pipeline defense.

Serving the Sitka community went far beyond his duties as an officer. He was also in the Alaska National Guard; was instrumental in starting the gun club; and was a lifetime member of the Sitka Sportsman Association. He was an avid gun man and spent many years reloading his own ammo. He taught many how to handle a gun and gun safety, right down to his great-grandchildren. He was an active member of the Sitka Elks Lodge for nearly 50 years and would have received his 50-year pin just prior to his passing.

Typical of Eric’s Sitka PD career, he proposed stationing an officer at Sitka High, a post he then took on; never in uniform and always with an open door,  he counseled and encouraged teens as they navigated Sitka’s sometimes turbulent social waters. He also served many years as a driver’s education instructor, teaching many young people how to drive. He was always there to help whoever needed him. He was a talented carpenter, building 3 homes in his retirement, cutting the lumber on his sawmill. He was a backhoe operator, and loved to work outdoors. 

Eric was a master boatsman and shared his passion for being on the water with others. Whether it was a fishing, shrimping, crabbing, hunting or a camping trip, he was happy to be there. He shared his knowledge of running a boat and navigating the waters with many.

Born on Alaska Day he was truly an “Alaskan Man.” Through all those to whom he taught woodworking, hunting, fishing, crabbing, building, boating, music, driving and the love for family, his spirit and passions will be carried on. 

As part of Eric’s story, the family asked his lifelong friend Dusty Kidd to share some memories. They were “friends since diapers.”

“When I came back to Sitka to retire after a lifetime away, he put his big arm around me and said, ‘Dusty, I’m gonna teach you all the stuff you forgot after all these years.’ Every deer I got, every king I caught, every rock I didn’t hit and every motor that kept running right was because of the hours we spent together on the water and in the woods. He just knew stuff, Sitka stuff.

‘‘Long, long after we left our diapers, Eric and I were out hunting one day. It was a cold December Sunday, but the sun was out, with lots of snow on the ground. We nudged his Whaler up to a sandy beach, stepped out, and started one of what he called his ‘old man’s hunts,’ a lazy day with the shortest walk over the flattest ground. No hikes. No bushwhacking. If a deer showed up, fine. If no deer, that was OK too.

“Then we came back down to the beach to start a fire and cook some brats. That was our routine. 

“After the perfect lunch of burnt brats smothered in hot horseradish, and stale chips, we lay back in the snow in our survival suits. Me, with my thermos of tea, him with his cup that read ‘There is a good chance this isn’t just coffee.’ It was warm enough to chill out. True old friends have this propensity to enjoy each other’s company without saying a word. The warm sun, the deep snow, the smell of the woods behind us … it was perfect. And then after a time I heard him say, quietly, ‘Dusty, this is my church.’ 

“If that patch of beach was his church, the garage on SMC Road was his cathedral. Eric held court there just about every day. Random friends would drop by to see what he was up to, when the next shrimp trip was planned, or when the annual smoked salmon ritual would begin, using an old refrigerator he converted into a smoke house. There was always the next project to start: building more shelves for the Helems down at Sitka Electric, where he worked part time, pulling the Whaler for new bottom paint, building new brackets for the hinges on his dock. 

“He loved his family in a forward, visceral way. He talked about his daughters constantly; he was a ‘girl Dad’ before the phrase was ever coined and then a son was added into the mix! Bro-in-law ‘Big Pat’ Barker and Patrick Jr. were ever-present. When his sister Dorothy dropped by, it was clear from their banter that they had a special bond between siblings. He was also very proud of his pets: Molly, the rescued, battered garage cat, and Chancy, the resident bald eagle. Eric and his beloved Linda named this point of rock Eagles Landing for a reason. When we cleaned fish at the dock, Chancy would hop to within three feet, on the railing, eying lunch.

“Every once in a while we would have a Tequila Thursday. That was amusing. I had three sets of three tequila shot glasses acquired from a former Nike colleague of mine whose uncle brewed premium tequila in Jalisco. Eric volunteered to safeguard them with his life. I introduced him and a neighbor to the true Jalisco ritual of tequila drinking (sipping from the three shot glasses, in turn, fresh lime juice, tequila and sangrita). That was about the only time I was HIS teacher. 

“One day I pulled an old, dilapidated fiberglass boat out of the weeds. It had a cat living under the bow and a hemlock growing in the well. He happened to drop by that afternoon. ‘Whattaya gonna do with THAT thing?’ He wanted to know. I said I would strip it and maybe give it away. He said, ‘Well, OK, let’s just tow it down to the garage.’ Four months later it was re-powered, refurbished and ready for another 10 years on the water. Since I was working full-time, he did most of the work, including taking a beautiful slab of yellow cedar and fashioning a new dashboard. I tried multiple times to thank him, and each time he said what I heard a thousand times. ‘Hey. THIS is what we DO.’

“He was the single most generous man I have ever known. Giving of his knowledge, his craft, his labor, his love for this place and its people. No greater friend will ever walk this earth.” 

The family extended a “heartfelt thank you to Ray Majeski, Michelle Barker, Dusty Kidd, Sitka Police Department, Sitka Fire Department, and City of Sitka for honoring his police service upon his arrival. It was a beautiful way to welcome him home” the family said. “Also for every card, text messages, phone calls, FB posts, the amazing flowers, food donations; the response from this beautiful town of Sitka was so amazing we are so honored and overwhelmed for this outpouring of love and kindness…. we are forever grateful.” 

A celebration of his life is planned for the first week of August.

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