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Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.
Will you be my friend? Elton Engstrom, Jr. 050912 NEWS 1 Capital City Weekly Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.
Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Story last updated at 5/9/2012 - 1:16 pm

Will you be my friend? Elton Engstrom, Jr.

Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.

You can often find Elton Engstrom sitting behind a glass display counter he uses as his desk, in a gallery on South Franklin Street. He has a kind and soft demeanor that appears as if it has rubbed off on his Portuguese Water Dog, Pepper, who walks the grounds of the gallery as Engstrom goes about his business.

Engstrom was born in Juneau in 1935. His dad was also born in Southeast Alaska, in Wrangell, in 1905. His mother heralds from Seattle, and moved up to Wrangell to start her teaching career. Engstrom Senior was in the fish processing business, and the couple moved to Juneau around 1927.

The children attended school in Douglas, where the family lived until Engstrom was in fourth-grade, when they moved into Juneau proper. At the time, Douglas and Juneau were separate municipalities; it wasn't until statehood that they were incorporated.

The house that his father purchased in Juneau in 1944 is of historical importance. Gustave Stichley, a famous exponent of the arts and crafts movement, designed it.

Engstrom was heavily involved in basketball in high school, and he loved to read.

"I was never that much into fishing," he admitted, though his father ran the General Cold Storage plant, just a block away from the gallery where Engstrom and Pepper now spend their time.

After high school, Engstrom attended the University of Oregon and then Harvard Law School. After law school he spent two years in the Army in Fort Benning, Georgia. In Georgia he met his wife, an Alabama farm girl named Sally Hudson, at an officer's club on the military base.

Engstrom had spent his summers during college fishing. His father died in 1963, and after his time in the Army, he moved back to Juneau and starting working in the "fish business." Engstrom moved to Yakutat in 1972 for five years, and then on to Dillingham, running cold storage plants in both locations.

He described his work in the fish business as very "stimulating," and said that once, during a particularly heavy run of silver salmon, he cut 160,000 heads of salmon off in one week.

"My hand was pretty raw. I said 'Boy, I'm going to get someone to try and help me.'"

He hired a professional head cutter and the next week Engstrom's plant received 230,000 pounds of silver salmon.

Engstrom had three children, Cathy, Elton and Allan. The entire family worked in the plant in Dillingham. He has a hardbound book, "Life on the Nushagak," sitting on his glass desk about time spent with his family there.

Cathy, now Cathy Muñoz, is in the state legislature. Her mother-in-law is Rie Muñoz, the well-known local painter, whose works are featured in the gallery where Engstrom and Pepper work. Elton is a real estate agent and property manager, with properties in the Juneau area. He lives in Seattle in a house that Engstrom and his wife bought in 1972. Allan has a hand-troll fishing permit, and fishes around Southeast Alaska, mainly in the Pelican area. Engstrom and Allan collaborated on a book about Alexander Baranov that was published six years ago.

Engstrom used to write a column for the Juneau Empire called "On the Water Front," about 55 to 60 years ago - and again between 2002 and 2008.

It wasn't until recently that Engstrom began practicing law.

"It never consumed me. My career in the fish business was more fascinating than my career as a lawyer would have been," he said. "I met more interesting people, encountered more interesting situations and had the advantage of traveling around Alaska. I represented a fellow down here on this street who had been accused by the state of misrepresentation. He had signs in his store windows that said 'come in, I'll give you a good deal.'"

Engstrom recently suffered his "third or fourth" heart attack, he said. He was flown to Anchorage and underwent surgery and received eight heart stints.

"That's quite a few," Engstrom said. "I feel stronger (now)."


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