This tribute was written by David and Margaret Steward and by Joan Vanderwerp.
Bob Ellis is a life-long conservationist. He is also a fish biologist, a boat captain, a seaweed gatherer, a wine and seaweed medicine maker, a garlic and potato grower, a Russian language learner and traveler to Russia, a recorder musician, a daily walker, a clear thinker, a widely read practical scientist, and a uniquely valued member of our Sitka community.
Bob came to Sitka in 1982 with Natasha Calvin after many years work and residency in Juneau. Both were marine biologists and together they did underwater environmental impact work throughout SE Alaska, diving off the back of their workboat/classic cruiser Nakwasina.
There are many interesting corners of Bob’s life. He has built two sailboats “from scratch!” He was one of the NOAA divers NASA used to study the psychology of scientists living and working together for long periods in a confined habitat. He discovered Alaskan dulse, a seaweed preparation that helps hundreds of people with the pain of shingles and herpes. When the Alaska DEC chose not to acknowledge the polluted water from the pulp mill, Bob did his own study and sent the results to DEC so the condition could not be ignored.
The Nakwasina took Bob and Natasha, and their friends, all around what Sitkans now call their “community use area.” During one of their annual fishing trips to Redfish Bay, Bob spotted an unusual pattern in the mud. He and Natasha uncovered the first of five ancient baskets, carbon-dated to over 5,000 years of age. People have been on Baranof Island that long!
After Natasha died in 2001, Joan Vanderwerp entered his life, bringing a multitude of family, friends, and infectious laughter— and the only cat that Bob has ever tolerated.
Bob lives off the land in his own unique way. Besides fishing and gathering seaweed, he cultivates an extensive garlic and potato patch. He begins with seeds; many of them have come from Russia. He gathers buckets of red and blue huckleberries in his yard. He has extended a long tradition of Calvin winemakers, and has branched out from huckleberry wine to stink-berry and banana wine made from the last store banana offerings “bought for a nickel.” He has noted that these wines are white, like Sitka Slugs, which is the icon he has placed on his wine labels. Friends find his wines “variable” and sometimes with the effect of “white lightning.”
Bob is a past president of and is now an elder statesman at the Sitka Conservation Society. He prepares for the issues to be discussed and comes up, regularly, with the phrase to catch an idea or the critique to quash it. He speaks slowly and softly, and with great effect. He is a man of good humor and good judgment with abounding patience. We are glad that he is our friend and neighbor.