Remembering Sitkan and Tongass Advocate Larry Calvin

Written by SEACC

April 26, 2023

By Marian Allen with help from Eric Calvin

In December 2022, the Tongass lost a man who did much to protect Southeast Alaska through his love of his home, his impact on Sitka, and sharing all that with his children, friends, and the next generation of Sitkans.

Larry Calvin moved to Sitka with his family in 1941 at the suggestion of his uncle, Jack Calvin, who played a critical role in creating the West Chichagof Yakobi Wilderness Area. Jack had the connections with national environmentalists necessary to build the momentum to get the bill into and passed in Congress. He was also one of the founding members of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Coordinating Committee — later, SEACC.

At 7, Larry struggled in school because of his inability to memorize, a story he loved to tell. At the end of his first year in Sitka, he failed second grade because he couldn’t remember the alphabet. “And it’s been the same all my life!” was how he always finished this story with a laugh. However, he excelled as an entrepreneur, a talent that manifested early. Before reaching his teens, he and a friend started a tradition that is still observed in Sitka — selling hot dogs and soda during Fourth of July celebrations. His love of this place also manifested at an early age thanks to fishing and hunting trips with Willis Osbakken, a lifelong friend and hunting partner.

Larry was a fisherman, diver, and businessman among other accomplishments. One story he enjoyed telling was about his diving business. He bought some old diving gear and taught himself to dive. Among the variety of jobs he did, many involved untangling nets on the props of seiners. His diving also was instrumental in ensuring there was adequate rock in the construction of the Sitka airport.

He constantly worked on construction projects. After becoming frustrated at not easily obtaining lumber, Larry began ordering it directly from suppliers down south. Eventually, he and his wife Maryann took some savings to negotiate and persuade funders down south to finance their purchase of the Pyramid Packing Company site, which he restored using Alaskan resourcefulness. Because of his and Maryann’s honesty, friendliness, and clear business sense, funders realized they were worth taking a risk on, and he was seen as a reliable source for other Sitkans. For years, he paid for his inventory after it was sold while also paying off his debt. The wharf, Baranof Building Supplies, served Sitka’s fishing fleet with storage space as well as construction. Eventually, they sold the business to Spenard Builders Supply and rented that space to Murray Pacific (now to LFS Marine Supplies).

Throughout his life, Larry contributed greatly to a healthy town, to the fishing fleet, to widening awareness of keeping the Tongass wild when taking friends on his boat, and to supervising activities to keep popular recreation spots usable — like Goddard Hot Springs. Sharing his passion for the Tongass while respecting it and the life it supported was an important part of his many adventures with his family. His children all trolled with him, hunted with him, and took many trips into the West Chichagof Wilderness Area. He showed the next generation of Alaskans what really matters.

Larry loved nothing better than helping others and sharing the fruits of his success, like his prolific blueberries and huckleberries, or helping friends with projects. He was a passionate, generous man who acted on what he believed needed to be done, spoke out and supported efforts to protect the Tongass, and was a great storyteller with a good sense of humor.

We miss his energy, his humor, and many stories, and continue to reap benefits from his actions.

Marian Allen is a former SEACC board member who was assisted in this writing by Eric Calvin. 

You May Also Like…