by Cathy Engstrom Munoz
The Engstrom family first came to Alaska in the early 1890ís. John Engstrom, a whaling ship captain, immigrated to Wrangell from the eastern United States. He was originally from Karlstad, Sweden, and got his start working as a dory fisherman along the Grand Banks of Nova Scotia. He traveled all over the world as a deckhand and ship captain. The U.S. Census records indicate that he lived for several years at the village of Shakan near the Stikine River, captaining boats, fishing and living an independent lifestyle. In his middle years, he married the daughter of a Skagway hotelier family, Ella Catherine Lindstrom, and they had two children, Stanley and Etolin (named for a prominent landmark near Wrangell).
Johnís brother, Adolph, a fisherman, sailed to Wrangell in 1894 on the SS Borland out of San Francisco. He fished by sail for a salmon packing company near Anan Creek. In 1896-97 he traveled back to Gloucester, Mass., where he married Amelia Nilsson, a native of Donso, Sweden. Amelia and Adolph settled at Wrangell and raised four boys, Adolph Jr., Elton, Lennie and Andy. Amelia, a beautiful woman with dark hair and large eyes, wore beautifully tailored clothing. She missed her family very much, and never adjusted to Wrangell. She died of influenza in 1914, when her youngest boy, Lennie, was two years old. The family has a photo of the four boys taken shortly after the death of their mother, where they are seated on the steps of the church following their motherís services.
Adolph opened a grocery store around this time in the building currently occupied by the law offices of Robin Taylor. An old safe with ďAdolph Engstrom - proprietorĒ still occupies a space in the building. He sold grocery items, as well as cooking ware, fabrics, clothing, tailored suits and shoes. The boys grew up helping around the store. The oldest, Adolph Jr., left Wrangell for Seattle when he was about 18 years old. He was an intelligent, resourceful man, who eventually made a million dollars in the stock market and became one of the founding officers of the Kenworth Motor Company. He and his wife, Gladys, had one son, Wallace, who lives in Seattle.
The next son, Elton, moved to Juneau in 1929. He married school teacher, Thelma Wait, and they had two children, Elton Jr. and Allan. Elton Sr. became a successful fish buyer and territorial legislator. His company, Engstrom Brothers, had fish buying stations throughout Southeast Alaska. He is remembered by many as being very generous. On many occasions he helped individuals, giving money to bring a loved one to Alaska, or helping pay the cost of a favorite sonís education. He served a term or two as Mayor of Douglas in the early 1930ís, and was elected to the Territorial Senate in 1950, serving three terms until his death in 1963, at the age of 57. A graduate of U. of Washington, Thelma had a remarkable career in politics on her own right, serving on the Douglas School Board and the Territorial House of Representatives in 1947. She taught French and Literature at the Douglas High School from 1929 until 1934.
Lennie Engstrom was also active in the fish business. As a partner of Engstrom Brothers, he oversaw operations in Wrangell and Sitka. He married Petersburg native Inez Hammerquist and they had one daughter. The fourth brother, Andy, lived in Wrangell. He worked with his father in the family grocery business. Andy died in 1950, of heart failure after working all night with his friends and neighbors to put out the massive fire that destroyed much of the Wrangell business district.
In 2000, most of the Alaskan Engstroms live in the Juneau area. Elton Jr. and his wife, Sally, raised three children, Elton III, Cathy and Allan. The children are all involved in their own businesses and Cathy is serving her second full term on the Juneau City and Borough Assembly. Two of Allan Engstromís children also reside in Juneau, Andy and Ann. Both are married and raising families of their own.