David Estrem Dies at 80; Was a Sitka High Teacher

David Carl Estrem

Husband, father, grandfather, brother, author, actor, director, composer, musician, Shakespeare scholar, hunter, fisherman, and Renaissance man David Carl Estrem, 80, of Sequim, Washington, passed away on January 3, 2023, after a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

David was born on August 11, 1942, to Robert and Helen Estrem  in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. After David graduated from high school in 1960, he attended Concordia College for one year.  He then took an “unplanned gap year” in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He returned and attended Bismarck Junior College in Bismarck North Dakota.

In late December back in ’63, David met Merry Jean Heath at Minot State College. They were married in September 1965.

After several years of teaching at the University of North Dakota (where he earned his master’s degree) in Grand Forks and Ellendale, he packed up his family, which now included 2-year-old twin daughters, Sarah and Susan, in the Dodge station wagon and they camped their way to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, where they caught the Wickersham to Sitka. They arrived in this special place in 1970.

David taught English and speech at Sitka High School, and also taught classes at the community college there.

Son Tom joined the family in 1975. 

During his time in Sitka, Dave performed live at the Moose and Elks Lodges on weekends with his band mate Larry, and they recorded “Sitka Sound,” an album with songs written by them and including “My Southeast Alaska Dream.”

David earned his captain’s license and loved sailing his motor-sailer, the MERRY JEAN, around Southeast Alaska and beyond. He often said he had a sense that he had to live near water because of his Norwegian heritage.  He was a charter member of the Sons of Norway Lodge in Sitka.

In 1987, David retired from teaching in Alaska and moved with Merry and Tom to Sequim.  He taught speech and drama for 20 years at Peninsula College, directing theater during many of those years. His years there also included a 6-month stay in Kunming, China, where he taught English.

In 2008, after 40 years of teaching, David retired.  He told people when he was asked about retiring that it was like having a great meal, that he enjoyed every bit of it but couldn’t eat another bite.  

In retirement he enjoyed theater, playing music and singing, traveling with his wife, gardening, reading, and doing what he wanted when he wanted.   Of all the places he lived, he loved Sitka best, and he thought of it as home.

He was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by sisters Judy Dorwart and Susan Estrem-Scardino. He was a wonderful and supportive dad to children Sarah (Rob) Kankelberg, Susan (Alan) Johnson, and Thomas (Christina) Estrem.

He had special bonds with each of his grandchildren: Riley and Mia Kankelberg, Jacob Johnson, and Wesley and Adalynn Estrem. He was Uncle David to many who surely all have a story to tell.

He also leaves behind his best friend and “brother,” Larry McCrehin.

David’s family is forever grateful to Merry for her invaluable support, care  and  love for him in his last years, and also to Sherwood Assisted Living and Discovery Memory Care for their care of David with dignity and respect during the last four months of his life.

This is but a summary of a life “lived large,” as one of David’s friends recently put it.  It would fill volumes to write it all.

At David’s request, no services will be held.  His family will have a celebration of his life this summer.  The Estrem family can be reached at PO Box 502, Carlsborg, WA 98324.

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At a Glance

(updated 1-31-2023)

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 Tuesday, January 31.

New cases as of Tuesday: 792

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 291,060

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,436

Case Rate per 100,000 – 108.66

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

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 70.4

Cases in last 7 days – 6

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,264

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






February 2003

By GIL TRUITT: It seems like only yesterday that I was aboard the Alaska Coastal Airlines Grumman Goose, taking off from Wrangell, headed for my hometown, Sitka, in February 1947. I was a student at Wrangell Institute at the time but that was quickly forgotten when the “Goose” pulled up on the Japonski Island ramp. The big student movement to Sitka from Wrangell had begun. The creation of Mt. Edgecumbe High School was under way.



February 1973

 This year’s theme for the Sitka High School girls third quarter challenge is “Beat the Pudgies.” ... Becoming a member guarantees taking off or readjusting inches, taking off excess pounds, developing muscle tone and losing unnecessary flab.