John Charles Ellis, 64
John Charles Ellis, 64
John Charles Ellis, the youngest of four children was born to Chet and Margaret Ellis on May 20, 1947 in Juneau, Alaska.
The Ellis family lived near the Mendenhall Glacier, homesteading behind Auke Lake. Young John spent his first ten years subsisting with the family in the lifestyle of wood stoves, coal oil lamps, outhouses, and water buckets. They survived on a menu of venison and fish in addition to vegetables grown in a big garden. Early on in John’s life he spent summers trolling with Chet as they kept a watchful eye out for creek robbers for the USFWS. His Dad passed away in the fall of 1956 when John was just nine years old.
The Ellis sisters, were off to school when widowed mother Margaret remarried a salmon troller named Pat Gilkison who owned the F/V Tina Mae. The couple and her boys moved south to Wrangell where she was employed at the Wrangell Institute. It is said both brothers marked this as “the beginning of their lives. Out of the dark woods of the north and into the open vistas and balmy winters of Stikine Country.” The Ellis boys fished and ice skated at Pat’s Lake and would walk to town to catch a movie on the weekends.
By 1960 they had moved to town and each boy owned their own skiff, the Ellis brothers were allowed to “spread their wings wide”. Margaret worked at the Bank of Wrangell and because she was familiar with most everyone in town she supplied them with a surplus of odd jobs to purchase gas motors, guns, props, cars and motorbikes. They were active, sociable and visible.
John rambled the roaring inside waterways surrounding LeConte, Anan, Thom’s Place and Telegraph Creek. It has been said that John was such a “go-getter” that he would fabricate his age to get hired because he was so young. His interests included bounty hunting seals, trapping for fur pelts, and deck-handing on a gillnetter. As a high school student, in the early 60’s John was employed at Buness Brothers as an outboard motor mechanic. He serviced engines under Ole’s watchful eye. At WHS John was a starter for the Wolves Basketball team. When Johns step dad, Pat, required open heart surgery, in 1965 John moved in with the Gordon Buness family for his senior year. He graduated on May 24, the same year. After graduation John remained with the Buness family until he joined the Alaska Army National Guard in 1966. He remained on active duty status until 1970 when he was Honorably Discharged.
In the mid 70’s John was renting a downstairs apartment from Gordon when he met Marilyn and 6 year old Danny entered his life. Danny became a son to Big John and the two have been inseparable ever since. John and Marilyn were wed in 1976 and John purchased the property on Shoemaker Loop where he built his home for the last 40 plus years.
John was an opportunist, a real Alaskan and a trailblazer. In no particular order, his many endeavors included but were not limited to hauling freight to the Johnny Mountain Gold Mine, the Iskut River as well as supplies to the Tyee Hydro Project at Bradfield Canal. He salvaged timber from the beach and towed log rafts out of Canada with his boat the “Snowflake”. He also hauled barges of gravel off the flats. One entire winter John spent trapping on the lower river; story has it that with his friends he made the first roundtrip ever to Telegraph Creek in BC on snow machines. He slashed boundary lines on the British Columbian and Alaskan border and lived in a float house while they would snag trees for the USDA Forest Service.
John purchased the “Boundary House” in the early 70’s and the boys started an annual moose hunt in 1971. John was an avid outdoorsman. He exalted in the Alaskan wilderness lifestyle and had a heart as big as the Great State he cherished. He married his next wife Kathy in 1996 and John lovingly took her two boys, Josh and Jacob, under his protective wing. Kathy stated, “What impressed me most about John was his big heart for any stranger. He would gather food and magazines and make sure a homeless chap living in a tent at City Park was ok. He didn’t do this once he did it numerous times. He really had a big heart and cared about people.”
John passed away peacefully at his home in his favorite recliner with his remote in his hand and his dog by his side. John was preceded in death by his parents, Chet and Margaret, step father Pat Gilkison and sister Jean Boone.
John is survived by his sister Trudy Jones of Gig Harbor, Wsh., brother Dave of Petersburg, Alaska, Danny DeBoer of Palmer, Alaska, Josh St. Clair of Palmer, Jacob St. Clair who is currently deployed in the Middle East, as well as numerous grandchildren nieces, and nephews.
A Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, February 18 at the Alaskan Sourdough Lodge, 1:00 to 4:00 pm. Friends are encouraged to bring photos to display and stories to share. John’s ashes will be scattered by the moose hunting crew later this fall at the Boundary House.