SHARING LANGUAGE – Coho clan leader Herman Davis speaks to about two dozen people attending a Tlingit language lesson Sunday afternoon in Centennial Hall. Davis is one of about 100 remaining Tlingit speakers who learned the language as children from relatives. Lance Twitchell, University of Alaska Southeast associate professor of Alaska Native languages in Juneau, hosted the free lesson, which was the second of three. The third lesson will be held Saturday noon to 2 p.m. at Centennial Hall. Twitchell is in Sitka teaching at The Outer Coast Summer Seminar. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Virginia May Erickson


Virginia May Erickson

Virginia May Erickson, 83, a longtime resident of Sitka, passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, on Dec. 28, 2016.  

Virginia was born in 1933 in Bala, Kansas, to Kermit and Hazel Olsen. Her early years were spent in Nebraska and Idaho until 1942 when her father, Kermit Olsen, took a job working in the Washington shipyard during World War II.  In 1945, at the age of 12, she and her mother traveled to Sitka, via Alaska Steamship, to join her father, who had come to Sitka to fish.  He fell in love with Sitka, so he purchased a commercial fishing boat. The family then lived and fished out of Kalinin Bay, on Kruzof Island, during the summer seasons.

During the next few winters, Virginia attended school in Nebraska, where she met Charles Erickson, who had served in the Army during WWII. After marrying in Ong, Nebraska, in 1949, the couple moved to Sitka, where they purchased the salmon troller Talatchee, which they operated from their home base in Kalinin Bay.  In 1956, as a family of four quickly becoming five, it was time to give up the Kalinin Bay homestead and move into Sitka permanently.

She owned and operated Ginny’s Yarn Shop and was a lifelong member of the Women of the Moose.

During her long life in Sitka, Virginia served as a volunteer for nearly 50 years at the White Elephant Shop and was a recipient of several awards acknowledging her exemplary contributions to the community of Sitka. 

At the age of 5, in Pocatello, Idaho, she became an accomplished violinist and was already playing in the school orchestra.  As a young woman in Kalinin Bay, Virginia’s favorite place to be was out in her row boat.  As a young mother, she would pick berries to make her delicious jellies and huckleberry liquor.  She drafted her own knitting patterns that she would use to knit amazing sweaters and blankets for her family and friends.  As she got older and the grandchildren came, she easily reverted back to the role of young mother and helped to raise her first born grandchildren, SueAnn and Michael.

Besides knitting, her talents included baking and cake decorating.  She lovingly baked and decorated all the family birthday and wedding cakes, along with the cookies and candies for every holiday.  Christmas was her favorite holiday and she went above and beyond to celebrate it with her loved ones.  From the cookies and treats, to the beautiful decorations and amazing food, down to her special egg nog recipe. She even created her own special blend of homemade Kahlua.  She also did ceramics, out of Sitka clay, and created beautiful works of art.

She had a variety of interests which included movies from the ’80s and archaeology.  Her sister, Dorothy, surprised her with tickets to see the King Tut exhibit, in Seattle, in 1978.

Virginia loved to travel, especially road trips! Growing up, her parents took her on many road/camping trips, including skiing, hiking and horseback riding, throughout Idaho and Wyoming.  This love continued throughout her adulthood and the family camper was born.  She packed her children and her grandchildren into whatever car, bus or camper they had that year and off on many adventures they went. 

Her family and friends knew her as a very devoted mother and grandmother, who was always there for her family.

“She had a ready smile and was quick to find humor in any situation,” her family said. “She would tell it like it is, with a smile on her face, and then hand you the shirt off her back. She liked to act tough but, in reality, she had a heart of gold.  She is missed more than she could ever believe.  She was the glue that held us together.”

She was preceded in death by her parents, Kermit and Hazel Olsen; her husband, Charles Erickson; and their son, Archie.

She is survived by her siblings, Eric Olsen (Linda) and Dorothy Olsen of Sitka; and her children, Geraldine Wirta (Frank), Debra Cushing (Greg), and Gayle Erickson (Diana), all of Sitka, and Nancy Biesen of Mukilteo, Washington; and her grandchildren,  SueAnn Mudry (Joe), Michael Penman (Nikole), Johanna Kinnear (Rob), Rebekah Cushing (Clarence), Aaron Cushing (Christianne), Guenevere Whipple, Barry Biesen (Sarah), Hannah Biesen, Nicole Rioux (Jonah), Daniel Erickson, David Erickson, Abigayle Erickson, Elias Erickson, Ahna Cushing, and Maia Cushing.

Her great-grandchildren are Gabriel Sexton, Shiloh Sexton, Samantha McBryde (Connor), Sophie Mudry, Joey Mudry, Noah Penman, Caleb Kinnear, Asa Kinnear, Cooper Kinnear, Haley Sweet-Cushing, Taylor Cushing, Casey Cushing, Sequioa Cushing-Wadkins, Jonna Rioux, Josiah Rioux, Tremaine Whipple, Izabella Whipple, and Isaac Biesen.


In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Sitka White Elephant Shop.

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