Ralph P. Johnson Dies; Longtime Sitkan was 85

Ralph Peter Johnson

Ralph Peter Johnson, 85, a longtime resident of Sitka, passed away at the Juneau Pioneers Home on December 1, 2023, surrounded by family.

Ralph was born on December 30, 1937, in Scammon Bay, Alaska, the oldest son of John and Mary Johnson. 

As a teen, Ralph came to Sitka for tuberculosis treatment at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital. During his time in the hospital, he decided to pursue a career in health care to give back to those who saved his life. He worked more than 40 years at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital, striving to care for others respectfully.

In the late 1960s, Ralph met his wife, Jill Johnson, also at the hospital. She had moved from Montana, planning to stay only two years, but instead made Sitka her home. Ralph and Jill were loving parents to Amy, Mary, and John. Later in life, they happily welcomed the titles of grandpa and gramma to seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Ralph shared his love of fishing, berry picking, boating, clam digging, and camping with his family, and was happiest out on the boat. In his later years, he would look out to the ocean and say he missed going out in his playground. He continued to make nets and halibut skates from his room at the Pioneers Home so his friends and family could work on catching the next big fish.

Ralph knew it was important to pass his life stories to his family. He was born before Alaska was a state, entering into adulthood when he was shamed into not sharing his Yupi’k culture with his children, but ending up as an elder, where he could share his cultural knowledge with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He would spend endless hours telling his many fishing stories, which included herring season, derby time, dip netting, halibut spots, boating mishaps, and the great wildlife of Alaska.

He also shared his love of good food and conversation and his love of animals with his children and grandchildren. Ralph spent many hours telling the importance of a good education, how to live a life of purpose and prepare for the seasons, or making everyone bend over in laughter at his funny jokes and stories.

He was always ready to learn and try something new. Not only did he know the best fish hooks, but he could also tell you exactly how to replace an electrical outlet successfully over the phone. At age 65, he was excited to try the slingshot ride at the state fair, bringing a sense of excitement to all who were there to witness it and those who heard the story later on.

Ralph was happy to share his subsistence lifestyle with family and friends. He offered to fish for those who could no longer get out on the water, climb over rocks, and hold the heavy nets. He kept his older sister Eula well-stocked with the herring eggs she loved each spring.

Ralph was preceded in death by his wife, Jill Johnson, parents John and Mary Johnson of Scammon Bay, sisters Sophie Johnson Joe, Eula Johnson David, Emily Johnson, and nephew Benjamin Johnson.

He is survived by his children, Amy Jacobs (Phil) of Fairbanks, Mary Johnson (John Carrion) of Juneau, and John Johnson of Fairbanks. His grandchildren are Darrin Johnson, Michael Johnson, Gustavo Carrion, Scott Jacobs, Ty Jacobs, Jill Jacobs, and Quinn Jacobs; and his great-grandchildren are Jadyn, David, Tristyn, and Carver of Sitka.

Ralph also is survived by his siblings, Eli Johnson of Tuba City, Arizona, and Laura Eben (Vince) of Anchorage; beloved nieces Salena Reid of Great Falls, Montana, Eva Malvich (Bryan) of Bethel, and Suzanne Johnson of Anchorage, as well as other numerous nieces and nephews. His two little dogs, Ginger and Pepper, are left in the loving care of his grandson Gustavo.

A celebration of his life will be held at the Juneau Pioneers Home 1 p.m. December 7. Funeral services will be announced and held at a later date, with a burial in Montana.

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