Larry Calvin couldn’t imagine calling anywhere other than Sitka home. An entrepreneur, diver, and fisherman, Larry has contributed to the greater Sitka community and efforts to protect the Tongass—all whilst living an incredibly rich and adventurous life.
Originally from California, Larry moved from Huntington Beach to Sitka in late 1941 with his parents Frank T. Calvin and Gladys K. Calvin (née Henrickson) and brother James A. Calvin. His father Frank had heard from his brother and one of the original founders of the Sitka Conservation Society, Jack Calvin, about available jobs in town. The construction of a military base as part of the US action to defend the nation in World War II was ramping up and the influx of several thousand military personnel made the town a bustling place and workers with know-how were in high demand. Frank Calvin worked on a boat that supplied building materials, ammunition, and other supplies for the military in Sitka before taking on the very important task of managing the military’s fuel products before working at Sitka’s first bank and also serving as the city’s magistrate.
After arriving in Sitka at the tender age of seven, Larry attended the second grade. That spring, he recalls, the school flunked him because he couldn’t remember the alphabet. “And it’s been the same all my life!” laughed Larry of his poor memory. He also commented about that time that “There were so many cars in Sitka – ten!”
Larry’s disinterest in school, however, was overshadowed by his entrepreneurial spirit which became apparent at a very young age. He remembers Fourth of July during his preteen years and the town-wide activities and children’s competitions that were held. He and his good friend Jimmy Price noticed a need for refreshments and started selling hot dogs and soda pop, doing quite well for themselves. When Larry went out to troll the next summer, adults took on his idea and the tradition of refreshment stands on the 4th of July has been the tradition ever since. Fishing and trolling, skiing Harbor Mountain, and other outdoor adventures on the Tongass greatly enriched Larry’s childhood in Sitka.
Although he found little interest in his classes and instructors’ teachings, Larry attended Washington State College in Pullman, known as Washington State University today. With his keen and natural eye towards business, Larry identified an opportunity for a ski gear exchange for students. He bought skis, poles, and boots from graduates and rented them out to students. When it was time for him to graduate, Larry sold his business to the university, which continues this service today. Larry’s time spent in the Lower 48 also led him to his future wife, Maryann. While working at a ski area in Alta, Utah, he met Maryann who was visiting from Minnesota with her two brothers.
Larry and Maryann eventually moved back to Sitka where they were married at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. While Maryann worked as a medical technician at the Sitka Community Hospital, Larry did everything from working at the pulp mill to SCUBA diving. He was working at the Alaska Pulp Corporation mill as a boom man when the 1964 earthquake hit, narrowly escaping the dangerous effects of the tsunami as he was on the log rafts. From a connection made while working at the pulp mill, Larry bought an entire new outfit of SCUBA equipment for $100. At that time—the 1960s—SCUBA diving was not a common practice in Southeast Alaska, if at all. With next to no knowledge and no one to learn from, Larry went to the library to read up on diving. Thus began a dangerous but somewhat profitable business of providing diving services in Sitka, including ensuring the Sitka airport had enough material and rocks in its base, rescuing the ferry ramp with Porky Bickar, and freeing nets from the propellers of herring seiners.
In 1968, after Larry completed a particularly lucrative job for Standard Oil, Larry and MaryAnn were able to negotiate for the old Pyramid Packing Company cannery buildings. Larry then bought a fish trap in Sitkoh Bay, towed it to the Packing Company site and used its pile driver to drive pile to rebuild their dock, a necessary step in renovating the site to house the Baranof Building Supply company. In 1980, Spenards bought their business and moved it to its present location on Sawmill Creek Road. This allowed Larry and Maryann to open their next business, the Fisherman’s Quay, which continues to operate as their family business today.
Following the establishment of a stable and successful business, Larry bought his salmon troller F/V Morning Mist, once catching 107 king salmon and 45 coho in a single day. Besides fishing king openings on it, he loved taking his family on adventures around the Tongass, frequently taking his daughter and three boys to spots around Southeast for camping and fishing trips. Larry has hiked across Baranof Island, seen the icefalls of Glacier Bay, and enjoyed hunting, frequenting the backcountry around Camp Lake for goat hunts.
Larry’s love for the outdoors and the natural environment of the Tongass has led him to contribute greatly to the Sitka Conservation Society, in time, resources, and spirit. Larry has been a tireless supporter of SCS staff and has helped SCS’s incoming staff members learn about the history of the organization, the community, and the balance over the years in the community between conserving the resources that everyone cared about with the pressures from the pulp mill logging and economic uncertainty. He has worked to share the wonders of the Tongass with others through photography and filmmaking, including a trip to Admiralty Island with his uncle Jack to photograph bears, and Alaskan Holiday, a movie highlighting the unique environment of Southeast. Larry has felt great inspiration from his uncle Jack who founded SCS and from the young people who are increasingly stepping up to take on leadership roles in the community and across the country to work towards a more sustainable future.
When compelled to leave Southeast, Larry and Maryann traveled around the world, visiting the fjords of Norway, dive spots in the Pacific Ocean, China, the plains of Africa, and even South Georgia in the Antarctic. When they were nearing retirement, Larry and Maryann considered moving elsewhere, searching far and wide, but eventually concluded they would find no place better than Sitka.
Following Maryann’s passing in 2016, Larry has continued living in his three-story home, which he built, with its panoramic views of Sitka’s surroundings and abundant memories and photos from trips on the Tongass and beyond. He relishes caring for his property and sharing the abundant harvests of his beautiful raspberry, blueberry, and huckleberry bushes with the Sitka Conservation Society’s 4-H club and the community. Always quick to laugh, Larry has had a long-lasting impact on Sitka and the Tongass, and we are grateful for the decades of support he has given the Sitka Conservation Society.
If you would like to make a gift in honor of Larry Calvin, or to learn more about the Living Wilderness Fund, visit here.
You can watch Larry's film, Alaskan Holiday, below.