Bob Ellis, Former Sitkan, Dies in Portland at Age 91

Category: Obituaries
Created on Friday, 08 March 2019 13:36
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Bob Ellis

Robert J. “Bob” Ellis, a former Sitka resident, died February 5, 2019, in Portland Oregon. He was 91.
Bob was born Nov. 17, 1927, the oldest of four children of Elton and Ethel Ellis. He grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and during his childhood he delivered newspapers and spent summers working on relatives’ farms in Michigan and Iowa, often hitch-hiking to get there.
After graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, he went to work at General Motors. GM had a cooperative program where they paid employees’ college tuition. Bob wasn’t sure what he wanted for his future, but he did know he liked learning.
In 1946, after a year of college, Bob joined the U.S. Army. He attended basic training and clerk typist school, and worked as a location clerk, which meant that he was in charge of knowing where every man in his unit was at all times.
He was discharged on March 14, 1947. He used the GI Bill to continue his education, earning a BS in zoology in 1951 from Michigan State College and a master’s in zoology in 1955 from the University of Michigan.
In 1953 he married Rosemary Barthel. Their first child, James, died in infancy. In 1958 he and Rosemary moved to Astoria, Oregon, with their young daughter, Jane.  While in Astoria Bob worked for the Oregon Fish Commission and taught at Portland State University.
In 1961, shortly after the birth of their son Carl, they moved to Juneau where Bob worked at the National Marine Fisheries Service. During his time at “The Lab,” he worked as a research biologist, studying the life history of sockeye and pink salmon in freshwater, aquatic insects in salmon streams and various aspects of life histories of kelp.
He spent his summers supervising field research in Bristol Bay and later in Southeast Alaska. He was also the scientific editor at The Lab and taught scientific report and thesis writing at the University of Alaska Southeast.
Bob became a scuba diver, serving for several years as the Diving Officer at The Lab. He also was chosen to live underwater in the Caribbean Sea, in a project run by NASA to determine how a group of people respond to living in a confined environment. The under-sea habitat known as Tektite II was at Great Lameshur Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.
In 1982 Bob left the National Marine Fisheries Service and moved to Sitka. He and his second wife, Natasha Calvin, formed a private consulting firm that primarily dealt with marine biological issues associated with log transfer facilities. Bob discovered a red algae that has been used by many people for relief of cold sores and shingles.
Following Natasha’s death in 2001, Bob married Joan Vanderwerp. She brought out the softer side of Bob.  Sadly, their marriage was cut short by her untimely death.
Bob was a true Renaissance man. He could fix or build anything, including furniture.  He  taught himself how to build boats, starting with a book he purchased titled “How to Build a Boat in Your Own Back Yard.” He built several skiffs and sail boats. Most of his life he owned boats that he used to explore Southeast Alaska.
Bob learned to speak Russian and traveled to Siberia (Yakutsk). He and Natasha hosted an exchange student from the same region.
Bob loved to read and was a member of a group that played the recorder. He was also an avid gardener, growing most of his own food during the time he lived in Sitka, even making his own wine and baking his own bread. He also enjoyed wild berries and local seafood.
He was an avid skier and a runner, and rode a bicycle to work long before it became mainstream.
Bob was an active member of the community. In addition to his conservation work he was a season ticket holder to the Sitka Summer Music Festival, attended WhaleFest every year and always enjoyed the 4th of July parade. 
Bob cared passionately about the environment and social justice, generously supporting various causes with his time and financial contributions.  He served on the Sitka Conservation Society Board for 27 years.  He also held the conservation seat on the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association Board for over 20 years.
In 1993 Bob became a grandfather for the first and only time.  He was a loving, proud and supportive grandfather.
In 2014 Bob entered a new phase of his life when he left Sitka and moved to Portland, Oregon, to be near his family.  While in Portland, Bob continued to be an avid reader and gardener.  He also enjoyed playing cribbage with a local club. He walked two hours a day and at the age of 87 took up Pilates.
Portland was Bob’s first experience of living in a city but he adapted quickly. He enjoyed the benefits of living in a neighborhood where having a car wasn’t necessary. He especially enjoyed Portland’s numerous parks and public gardens.
Bob was predeceased by his parents, his son James, and his sister, Ruth.  He is survived by his sisters Flossie and Nancy; his former wife, Rosemary Ellis; his daughter, Jane Ellis (John Peters); son Carl Ellis (Freya Bennett) and his granddaughter, Morgan Ellis Peters.
Donations may be made in Bob’s name to the Sitka Conservation Society’s Living Wilderness Fund, P.O. Box 6533, Sitka, AK 99835.