by Nancy Nygard Sewell
Asborn T. Nygard was born September 9, 1905, in Oslo, Norway, in a family of eleven children; he was the youngest. He immigrated to Canada at the age of 17 following four of his older brothers. A few years later he immigrated to the United States to Minnesota where a brother was living and then to Seattle where another brother lived. This is what he told about arriving, living and leaving Alaska.
There was no work in Seattle in those days. There was a padlock on every shop and “No Help Wanted” signs everywhere during the height of the Depression. I hauled wood from Fourth and Lander near Sears in Seattle for the poor people. There were big stacks of wood for free. We loaded one cord at a time and hauled it to places like Ballard for $1 a cord. Not bad because gas was only 18 cents a gallon.
There was a bootlegger at every other door in those days. It sold for 25 cents a drink. My brother sold bootleg out of his basement. Maybe 8 or 12 people at a time bought it by the glass. My brother died at 47 from liver trouble!
I started whaling in 1932, and again in 1934, for four months out of each year. We didn’t make any money, but it was better than nothing because that was during the Depression years. I was hired out of Bellevue, Washington. One boat was the Patterson and the other was the Kodiak and were both owned by Schupe. I didn’t like the whale boats because I didn’t like the way they killed the animals. Whales are very powerful animals. The whales were harpooned and then pulled the boat until they wore out. I quit after the second season.
My wife, Eva, was born in Anaconda, Montana. I met her at the Avalon Dance Hall in Seattle in 1933. She came out to Seattle with another girl. I moved to Juneau, Alaska, in 1935, to get a steady job in the Alaska- Juneau Gold Mine Co. They folded up in 1944. I mined for four years until 1939, when I quit because mining was very dangerous work. When I first went into the mine, I had to sharpen bits for a couple of months. Then I got a job as a skip tender, riding up and down the shaft about a thousand feet 50 times a day to get things for the workers down below. Then I got a job bulldozing. That was also very dangerous because we used dynamite. It paid $6.85 a day which was top wages then. I eventually quit that line of work.
Eva and I were married February 8, 1936. She went to work at the George Brothers Store in Juneau as a bookkeeper for $100 a month, pretty good money then. We lived on her money and all of my wages went in the bank. She worked there for four years and in 1941, we started our own grocery store, Harbor Market, on 10th Street. Juneau was a likable place but it rained a lot. We went out in any kind of storm because we were young. Juneau only had 7,000 people and it was very pretty.
The Japanese started the war and the U.S. started building bases in Dutch Harbor. I left Juneau for Dutch Harbor on New Year’s Eve 1940, where I worked as a carpenter for $10 a day. Eva and I had only been married four years and I hated to leave her all alone. I stayed there for seven or eight months and sent every check to Eva so she could start our grocery store business single handed in 1941. Eva wrote and said they were building a base in Sitka and suggested I come to Sitka to at least be closer to home. I did and got a job working on the base in Sitka until I moved back to Juneau where I worked on a military base as well as worked in our grocery store hauling freight. I worked eight hours a day as well as opening the store at 7 a.m. and closing it at 7 p.m. In Juneau, the road went as far as Eagle River and there was a ferry from Juneau to Douglas as they were just finishing building the bridge in 1935. There was nothing going north.
I was a stream guard for two or three months for two summers. It was dangerous going up the creek with all the bears. One time when we had our little dog, Frisky, and my daughter Nancy Kay, who was about 8 years old, we ran into bear cubs. Luckily, the dog didn’t bark so we made it out before the mother bear showed up. It was a dumb thing to do, to take a child in that area. We were at Freshwater Bay that year near Tenakee Springs.
The Alaska State Highway Department forced us to move out of our home at the bottom of 12th Street so they could put in a new highway. Our house was bought by someone who moved it to Auke Bay. We decided we had enough of Alaska. We sold the store and the land that we had and moved to Edmonds, Washington, first and finally to Sequim—the sunshine and retirement capital of Washington. In the year 2000, we have been in Sequim 30 years—another nice place with less rain!
Daughter Nancy writes to update about her parents and how they are doing. Eva is 93 now and reads and clips coupons, postage stamps, and newspaper articles. She still loves to watch the Lawrence Welk show, listening with her cordless stereo TV headphones; she can hear a little. Asborn is 94 and enjoys listening to his many history books-on-tape and television history and news programs. He has become a good cook and does the laundry and makes the bed although he gets very tired.
They are nestled in a cozy, quaint sunbelt town right off the main highway on the sunny side of the street in a yellow house with two recliners where any given time of the day or evening you might find Asborn and Eva enjoying life together. When they get the whim, Asborn pushes Eva in her wheelchair one block to the neighborhood diner for a midweek breakfast. He often pushes her in the wheelchair to her doctor’s appointments three blocks from home. He says the exercise is good and mom needs the fresh air. The Nygards used to come faithfully to Seattle for the Juneau-Douglas Annual Picnics but recently have not been up to making it. They are sorely missed by their many friends.
As for me, the daughter, I just turned 50 this year and my husband Ron and I home school our 9 year old son Eric, and 12 year old daughter Kristin. This keeps us busy taking classes at a nearby home school resource center through our school district. We live in Edmonds, Washington.
Asborn "Al" and Eva Nygard camping carrying the toilet.
Our two story house Dad built on 12th Street across from the elementary school.