Obituary: Deedie Pearson

Deedie Pearson was best known by her childhood nickname, Deedie, because no one could pronounce (or spell) her given name: Geneneiva. She was born in Seattle in 1933 and left this world Oct. 11, 2020. She loved Alaska, especially Kodiak, and will be missed by her family, especially her husband, Jim, who cared for her during her last challenging years.

Deedie was the fifth of seven children and is survived by her husband James Pearson, sister Hazel Jones of Kodiak, and older brother Bud Owen of Tacoma. Siblings Jack, Bob, Viola and Fred preceded Deedie in death. Kodiak nephews include Brandon and James Jones and Marty Owen. Her niece Tina Owen lives in Willow. Many more relatives are sprinkled throughout the Lower 48. Extended Kodiak family includes the Sutliffs. She was very close to Barbara (Sutliff) Zimmerman, whom Deedie cared for as an infant.

Cooking, music, commercial fishing and gardening were her passions. And she was devoted to her faith — Christian Science. Deedie had a beautiful voice. She once took voice lessons from an opera singer and frequently “soloed” at church. She also treasured singing with the Golden Tones and performing with the Balalaika Players.

Deedie helped establish the Kodiak Maritime Museum (KMM), believing that Kodiak should preserve its nautical heritage. She and her former husband once owned a small wood seiner that sank, and she was passionate that one should be conserved and displayed. She sat on the KMM board of directors when the F/V Thelma C was donated, then supported the restoration effort and was pleased to live long enough to see the 20-year project completed.

In 1939, Deedie’s father moved his family from Seattle to Ketchikan. Times were tough as they struggled to find work during the Depression years. Her parents, Al and Hazel Owen, were always up for a new adventure, and in 1941 headed across the Gulf of Alaska to Kodiak. Deedie, a 4th grader then, remembered her little brother, Freddie, riding his tricycle around the deck of the Alaska steamship Denali.

Arriving in Kodiak, they discovered a muddy frontier town where housing was primitive and scarce. They rented a tar-papered shack, which had dirt floors and no plumbing. Adding to life’s challenges were 30,000 contractors, sailors and GIs preparing to defend Alaska from the Japanese.

 Not long after arriving in Kodiak, Deedie’s father was befriended by Bob Chamberlain, a former employee of Wyatt Earp in Nome. Chamberlain needed a trapping partner, so the family moved once again — this time to the remote and uninhabited Marmot Island. Chamberlain had imported fox years before, and the timing was right to harvest furs. Deedie had fond memories of living on Marmot, where she and sister Hazel tended the garden and helped put food by. There was no electricity or running water — not even a radio.

Deedie’s life took a fateful twist in 1943 when her father found another partner. He and Norm Sutliff started a lumber yard and cabinet shop. That business blossomed into a hardware store, but in those early days it could support only one family. Sutliff bought out Deedie’s father, so they moved once again, this time to Anchorage where Deedie graduated from high school.

The war years were difficult, but World War II spurred growth and jobs, which brought the family back to Kodiak. In the 1950s, the family actively campaigned for statehood. Deedie was proud of her father, who served in the Alaska Territorial Legislature and was Kodiak’s first state senator in 1959.

In the late 1950s, Deedie came back to Kodiak and Uganik Bay, where her parents lived in Mush Bay. They eventually relocated to the nearby Village Islands, where they built a home and a small cannery. They were now “West Side” salmon set netters.

Deedie lived continuously in Uganik for many years, eventually alternating seasonally between their fishing site and town, where she worked 27 years as the buyer for Sutliff’s Hardware. Jim seined and Deedie set-netted summers until 1997. For decades, the Pearsons had the only sideband radio on the “West Side,” and Deedie was famous for broadcasting weather forecasts so critical to everyone’s safety and livelihood.

In the 1980s, Jim, Deedie’s husband, built her an “in-town” home high above the city where, today it overlooks the harbor. Deedie loved the view and never complained about the 100 steps. Her New Year’s Day waffle parties were a delight for those brave enough to trek up the icy stairs! The sourdough waffles and holiday ham were always worth the effort.

Per her wishes, there will be no public service. Contributions, in Deedie’s name, can be made to the Kodiak Maritime Museum, P.O. Box 1876, Kodiak, AK 99615.

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