SWEET – Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School students Karmen Kane, right, and Sophia Stark make chocolate-dipped strawberries Wednesday night during the Keet Family Night. Hundreds attended the event, which included a chili dinner, activities and heart-shaped cookies. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Kate Sulser, Longtime Sitkan, Dies at Age 92

Kate Sulser

Family matriarch, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother Katherine “Kate” Esther Sulser passed from natural causes, peacefully in her sleep on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, while lovingly surrounded by immediate family.
Kate was born May 1, 1926, the daughter of Scott Isaac and Martha (Shell) Hammock. She was one of nine siblings who grew up on a farm in London, Kentucky. Her father worked for Champion Paper Company while Kate’s mother stayed at home with the children and tended the farm. Kate worked at Decca Records when she was 16 and later worked at Johnson’s Restaurant where she met Harry Sulser. At age 20 Kate married Harry in Covington, Kentucky, on Dec. 9, 1944. After Harry completed his service with the Navy, they relocated to Sitka, where Harry’s parents Harry Sr. and Vi Sulser resided.
Harry and Kate came to Alaska as part of this country’s Greatest Generation, seeking employment, outdoor adventure, and the opportunity to establish a homestead for their young family. Arriving in Alaska in the days before U.S. statehood, Kate raised a family of seven children. Despite the austere conditions of Sitka in the 1950s and ’60s, Kate was a strong woman who always had a pioneering spirit and positive outlook on life.
Kate was the glue that kept the family together while Harry worked full-time at Standard Oil and moonlighted as a bartender at several local taverns, including the Columbia Bar and Pioneer Bar. Despite the rigors of Harry’s unorthodox work schedule, Kate and Harry were able to save enough money to become co-owners of the Pioneer Bar when it became available due to an ownership vacancy. As co-proprietor of the Pioneer Bar, she supported Harry as they elevated the Pioneer Bar from a second-tier establishment to one of the town’s primary taverns.
Further, Kate and Harry enjoyed entertaining. For many years they hosted the annual Duck Plucker’s Ball at their home. Harry and about a dozen of his hunting buddies would go duck hunting in Mud Bay every year. They decided to build a cabin for that purpose so they would host the ball annually  to raise funds for the construction of the cabin. Kate would spend countless hours in the kitchen preparing for the party. They also hosted many family weddings at their home.
Kate had a love of gardening. You would often find her outside weeding and sprucing. In the spring her yard would burst into many vibrant colors. Her indoor foliage would be much desired as well.
Another activity she enjoyed was orchestrating her Christmas light show for many years. She would hang thousands of lights throughout her yard and house. It was a spectacular sight. She also had a love for collecting. She collected clocks, stuffed animals, Beanie Babies, phones, and all kinds of trinkets. If there was an open space, she would fill it.
Kate lived life to the fullest, her perpetual smile, laughter, and sunny disposition always made others feel like part of her extended family. Generous to a fault, Kate regularly helped financially prop up folks down on their luck due to illness, bad fortune, or unforeseen family emergencies.
In addition to her support for fellow Sitkans, Kate provided refuge and shelter to many abandoned four-legged and feathered friends. She harbored many ferrets, birds, and cats. She regularly used local veterinarian services to heal and nurture abandoned domestic pets and injured feral animals.
She was preceded in death by her husband of 42 years, Harry Sulser; daughters Karen Howard and Sue Frank; grandchildren Shane Frank, Shawn Tisher, Jacoby and Mitchell Sulser.
Survivors include children Vickie (and Alan) Slade of Ketchikan, Linda (and Rick) Heim, Scott Sulser, Sandy (and Dan) Baird, and David (and Aftyn) Sulser, all of Sitka. Grandchildren include Ray (and Emily) Howard, Rhonda (and Mike) Whitmore, Dave Frank, Shannon Tisher, Chris (and Kasi) Heim, Janelle Heim, Ryan Allen, Brehanna (and Charlie) Johnson, David (and Shayla) Sulser Jr., Derek (and Saphire) Rennie, Mashaya Sulser, Dylan Sulser, Chloe Sulser, and Gatsby Sulser.
Kate is survived by 13 great-grandchildren, two great-great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews. She also is survived by her only remaining sibling, Helen Asher of Hamilton, Ohio.
A life celebration will be scheduled on her birthday, May 1, at 3 p.m. at the Elks Lodge. The family would like to give a special note of thanks to the overwhelming number of people expressing condolences in the days immediately following Kate’s passing. Those kind thoughts and prayers provided great solace and eased the grief associated with Kate’s death.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in her name be made to the Sitka Elks Lodge, Salvation Army, Sitka Animal Shelter, Pet’s Choice Veterinary Hospital, and Center for Community.

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