Ernest G. Matteson, Fisherman, Dies at 76

Ernest George Matteson

Ernest George Matteson, age 76, a longtime Sitka fisherman, passed away peacefully in the early morning of May 20, 2019,  in Tucson, Arizona, with his wife Diane and daughters Mia and Cho by his side.
At his request, no services will be held.
Ernie was born in Salmon, Idaho, on December 16, 1942, the only son of Arnold and Helen Matteson.  As a child, Ernie spent many hours fishing  “in every pond, creek, or river that he could find.”  When he was 10, his family visited the West Coast and Ernie saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. He knew immediately that he wanted to be out on that water, fishing.
As a young man Ernie joined the U.S. Navy and served on the U.S.S. Midway. He was stationed at the naval airbase Atsugi in Japan.  After his military tour was over, Ernie flipped a coin with his cousin Butch to see if he would head to Alaska or Australia. Alaska it was, and he arrived in Sitka to look for fishing work in 1962.
 Ernie’s first solo experience in long-lining halibut was from a Boston Whaler, beaching the boat at night to sleep on various islands. An indefatigable worker, he woke at 3 a.m. most mornings for the rest of his life, and would work steadily until late evening. His hard work paid off, and he soon had a real fishing boat, the Vina.
Somewhere in those early winters, he also drove taxi cab to make ends meet, and would often stop at the Coffee Cup Café for breakfast. It was there that he met Diane Unterwegner, a young Sitka woman who was working as a waitress.  She brought him his coffee, they chatted, he taught her how to play cribbage, and the rest is history.  They were married in Sitka on December 21, 1973. Together they had many adventures, both at sea and on land. Two of their best adventures were their daughters, Amelia Laurel Won, born in 1979, and Hayley Lillian Cho, born in 1981.
Over the years, Ernie and Diane bought many boats, including the Annette, the O.B., the Majestic, and the Myra. During the summers that their two daughters were small, Ernie and Diane ran the fish-buying scow the WonCho, (named after their daughters), which was moored in Murphy Cove in Graves Harbor and later in Kalinin Bay near Sitka. During the winters they lived in Hilo, Hawaii, where Ernie bought a fishing boat, the Audrey Lynn, and fished mahi mahi, swordfish and other tropical fish.
After selling the WonCho, Ernie bought the Gota and returned to fishing. He fished it for 14 years and then bought the Shearwater, a beautiful boat built in 1977, and, finally, the Diane Lynn.
Ernie always moored his boats at the ANB Harbor, his favorite harbor, where he knew everybody, and everybody knew him. Many young fishermen stopped by his boat to ask for advice and share stories.
Although Ernie from time to time hired various deckhands, he was happiest when Diane was by his side, and she was his most consistent fishing partner. She made their boats into cozy second homes with beautifully decorated interiors and delicious meals. She was always his favorite fishing crew, although he also greatly enjoyed, as the years passed,  the seasons when  his daughter Hayley Cho would come along as a deckhand.  He was very proud of her hard work and skill as a fisherwoman.  His daughter Mia kept his boat stocked with homemade cookies, brownies, and other baked treats.
Their family fished a wide variety of fish, including halibut, salmon, black cod, and shrimp, and Ernie briefly worked with cucumber diving crews.
During 2011, Ernie and Diane bought a home in Tucson, where Ernie loved to tend their orange trees and swim in their pool. They also spent a lot of time visiting their daughters and their families.
Also during this time, Ernie sold the Shearwater, and planned to retire. But, old fishermen, they say, cannot stay away from the water for long, and Ernie was no exception. A year or so later, he bought a 25-foot pleasure craft, and tried fishing from it for a season. Frustrated at the limitations of its small size, he sold it, and bought a beautiful 40-foot fishing boat from Canada. When Diane arrived from Tucson to begin the fishing season, she passed a boat called the Diane Lynn. “That boat has my name on it. That should be our boat!” she said. “It is,” he said. They spent the last several seasons fishing her together.
  Ernie loved his family deeply, and was a devoted father to his daughters Mia and Cho, a wonderful grandfather to Mia and Kevin’s daughters Avila and Cambria, enjoyed his step-granddaughter Charlie Lawson, and was thrilled when Cho and her husband Chuck had Arlo George late last year. Arlo, named after Ernie, brought joy to the entire family.
Ernie also loved and appreciated all of his extended family, and was involved in the many adventures of his nieces and nephews and their children.
This spring, Ernie was diagnosed with cancer. Being a strong and tough fisherman, Ernie had quietly been fading away. He passed away ten days after his diagnosis.
Ernie was preceded in death by his grandfather Arthur Matteson, his parents Arnold and Helen Matteson, and his niece Jessica Baggen.
He is survived by his wife Diane, Tucson; his daughters Amelia (Kevin) Morgan, of Amesbury, Massachusetts, and Hayley Cho (Chuck Lawson) Matteson, Denver; and his grandchildren, Avila and Cambria Morgan, and Charlie and Arlo George Lawson.
He is also survived by his sisters-in-law Sandra Fontaine (Curt Ledford) of Sitka, Vicki (George) Baggen, and Kris Unterwegner (Robert Pappe) of Silverton, Oregon; and their children, his nieces and nephews, Keith Ledford (Christi), Janine Ledford, Trevor Harang (Tracie), Sonia Harang Kwon (Trevor Laib), Teresa Miller, Beth Fontaine, Daisy Casey; Cory Baggen, Melissa Turvey (Brent), Amanda Baggen (Jensen Yocum); Kathleen States (Andrew Pienkos), Carson States (Leah), Ryan (Toni) Pappe, Jacob (Meghan Clark) Pappe, and Tanya (Steven) Varner, and their families.
He is also survived by his cousin Art (Earlene) Matteson, of Santa Rosa, California.
His entire extended family deeply mourns Ernie’s passing. His dry humor, his stories, his natty way of dressing, his calm and dignified way of keeping himself erect and moving onward, (sometimes under the most difficult of circumstances), his deep connection and love of his family, and his love for the sea, formed an irreplaceable man.
His niece Kathleen long ago sent Ernie this poem, and Diane found it among his things:
“Love in all its forms is a many splendored thing,
Be it love felt by a peasant
….or love felt by a king.
But the greatest love of all,
Or so the poet wrote,
Is the all-consuming love…
Between a Viking and his boat..”
Fair sailing, Ernie……

Login Form




At a Glance

(updated 9-21-22)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 12:15 pm Wednesday, September 21.

New cases as of Wednesday: 646

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 282,372

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,329

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 3,911

Case Rate per 100,000 – 88.63

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "High.'' Case statistics are as of Wednesday.

Case Rate per 100,000 – 164.30

Cases in last 7 days – 14

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,114

Hospitalizations (to date) – 29

Deceased (cumulative) – 7

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






September 2002

The Shakin’ Not Stirred team stands still for a moment at the Klondike Trail of ’98 Road Relay. From left are John Hedden, Rob Woolsey, Tim Hockin, Brian McNitt, Dan McKeon, Terry Lovett, Cheryl Hedden, Stacey Woolsey, Grace Hwang and Alison Drietz. Other Sitka squads in the race were the Soggy Joggers and Sitka Volunteer Fire Department.



September 1972

The luncheon and relief cook at the Canoe Club at the Potlatch Motel is Vyola Bell, who has some new ideas – her next luncheon menu will be all Russian. Her previous special was Mexican.