Orletta (Letty) Willemina Unterwegner

Orletta (Letty) Willemina Unterwegner

Orletta (Letty) Willemina Unterwegner, 91, passed away peacefully on the evening of June 27, 2017, at Sitka Community Hospital. She had lived in Sitka for almost 55 years, and was able to live at home independently until only a few days before her death. Many family members were by her side during her short stay at the hospital.

Letty was born to Charles Ryker and Gertrude Fountain near Reva, S.D., on Nov. 23, 1925, the youngest of five children. She was delivered at the home of a midwife, her aunt Gertrude Rice, who at that time lived on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Letty loved to share stories about her family’s small farm and the many challenges faced in surviving the harsh weather of the Dakotas. When she was 9, Letty’s family, including her grandparents, left South Dakota for the green grass and cool air of Chehalis, Wash.  Her family bought a small farm on Pleasant Hill, near Adna, a tiny community near Chehalis. 

A boy from a neighboring farm, Ron Unterwegner, became friends with her older brothers, who all called her Pee Wee. That boy became her husband on March 28, 1941. Like many of their generation, they married just before Ron entered the Navy, to serve during WWII. A year after he returned from the war, their first child, Sandra, was born, followed by sisters Diane, Vicki and Kris. Throughout their marriage of 61 years, which ended when Ron died in 2002, he would often call Letty by her nickname, “Wee,” a term of endearment from their childhood.

Having grown up on farms, Letty and Ron wanted to live differently. They knew farm life ties a person down, and Ron had a wandering soul. He worked for logging shows in Washington and Oregon, and then he and Letty ran their own small logging operation near Chehalis. Letty could run most of the equipment, and enjoyed the challenges of doing a “man’s work.” 

In 1956, Ron took a job in a logging camp on Dall Island, Alaska. He built a one-room cabin, and Letty and the three oldest girls lived in the cabin for the summer. While the girls loved the entire adventure of flying in an airplane, playing in the tidepools, eating blueberries, and playing paperdolls on rainy days, Letty had the work of cooking on a Yukon wood stove, with no running water, no kitchen, no electricity, and having to haul the laundry down to the camp each week. She showed her daughters how to play “catalog” paper dolls and also sewed each of the girls a clothespin pioneer doll. Letty had also brought surprise toys for the girls to enjoy throughout their stay. In fact, Letty had a true pioneer spirit, and handled the challenges beautifully. When  the family left camp at summer’s end, the girls were told a new baby was on the way, who turned out to be sister Kris.

In 1956, they moved to Seattle where Letty and Ron worked for Boeing Aircraft Company for seven years. Letty’s mom Gertrude lived with the family and helped take care of the girls.

In 1962, Ron took a job as a machinist for Alaska Lumber and Pulp Co., and the family moved to Sitka in October. Letty stayed at home a few years, then took a job in ALP’s Purchasing Department. She enjoyed her job very much, and held it for almost 20 years.

After retiring, Letty and Ron moved back to Washington, bought an RV, and made many enjoyable trips around the United States. In 1996, they returned  to Sitka where three daughters and families lived. They enjoyed boating, family picnics and being outside with their family.

Letty was an accomplished seamstress, and made most of her children’s clothing. Even while working, she made all of her daughters’ wedding dresses and the bridesmaid dresses, and also beautifully decorated their wedding cakes. She later took up quilting, and joined the local quilting society. She and daughter Vicki enjoyed working on quilting projects together. Letty also knitted and crocheted, and when her vision finally lessened, she still crocheted potholders for her many family members, until entering the hospital.

Letty was preceded in death by her husband Ronald; her father Charles and mother Gertrude Fountain; brothers Tunis and wife Vera Fountain, Charles and wife Ruth Fountain and Milton Fountain; sister Velva and husband John White; and her granddaughter, Jessica Baggen.

She is survived by a sister-in-law, Grace Fountain; and her children,  Sandra Fontaine (Curt Ledford), Diane (Ernie) Matteson, Vicki (George) Baggen, and Kris Unterwegner (Robert Pappe).

Her grandchildren are Keith (Christi) Ledford, Janine Ledford, Trevor (Tracie) Harang, Sonia Kwon Harang (Trevor Laib), Beth Fontaine, Daisy Casey, Amelia (Kevin) Morgan, Hayley Cho Matteson, Cory Baggen, Melissa (Brent) Turvey, Amanda Baggen (Jensen Yocum), Kathleen States (Andrew Pienkos), and Carson (Leah) States. 

Her great-grandchildren are Kemji and Mekam Ledford, Evan, Sandy, Neil and Nelson Ledford, Justin, Brady, and Grace Harang; Leo and Aiden Laib, Bram and Luna Duifhuizen, Gianna Casey; Avila and Cambria Morgan; Joey and Sophia Mudry, Savanna, Gavin, Teagan and Quinlyn Holder; Courtney (Kurt) Ainslie, Jamie Abbott, and Garrett Eliason; Jorin and Elsie Yocum; and Colton, Sawyer and Gwendolyn States. Great-great-grandchildren are Esme and Ryker Ainslie.

At Letty’s request, there will be no memorial service. Her family will hold a private service when her remains are interred at Sitka National Cemetery. 

 

 

 

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