July 3, 1919 – December 8, 1979
By Judy and Susan Ohmer, daughters
Dave was one of the first generation of children born in Petersburg. He was reared there as the town was developing into a noted seafood producing areas in Southeastern Alaska. He had the typical freedoms of boys of the wilderness, almost expected to be packing a fishing pole, a basketball, or a .22-rifle.
Childhood summers included time at Greenrocks, rowing skiffs, picking berries, jigging fish, and chopping wood. As a teen he would entertain tourists by diving from Citizen’s Dock and swimming across Wrangell Narrows. Winters meant ice-skating and sledding parties. And basketball was king. In 1938 the Petersburg Vikings won the Southeast Alaska basketball championship. Dave, and fellow high school seniors Ernest Enge and Elder Lee, gloried in that distinction for the rest of their lives.
Dave quested after gold, sunken treasure, truth, and the meaning of life. He believed a people should “Always leave a place better than they found it,” and that “A man’s only as good as his word.” He was a seeker and a giver. He understood the struggle of the underdog, and he lived by a code that sometimes only he understood.
Dave was color blind, except for red. While he accommodated to that by forever buying red pickup trucks, Dave wanted to fly; and his colorblindness restricted him. One of his greatest life disappointments was that he couldn’t serve his country in the U.S. Air Force because of his eyes. Given that, he never thought he’d done enough in WWII, although he served in the merchant marines in some of the most dangerous missions during the war.
In 1945 his father called him home to work beside him. Dave always regretted not being able to complete college, but would not have considered refusing his father. Dave and Earl worked along side each other for 10 years, and then in 1955 with his father’s death, Dave became President and CEO of Alaskan Glacier Sea Food. During the 24 years of his leadership, he consolidated ownership and control of the company, still listed as “Earl Ohmer and Sons,” purchasing 100% of the outstanding shares. This period was marked by a growing interest and fierce competition for Alaska’s seafood by large outside companies.
Dave addressed the challenges of the seafood industry by pioneering other non-developed fisheries he believed offered opportunity. He was a major impetus behind the harvesting of naturally produced herring roe on kelp. He explored the possibility of sea cucumbers production. He was one of the first producers of Bairdi crab, making a commercially viable product from something that was considered a pest and routinely destroyed. Dave led Alaskan Glacier Seafoods through its most difficult period.
Dave’s office was the pocket of his Pendleton shirt, where he recorded loans and advances on one of many envelopes stuffed there. He did have a desk at the cannery on Main Street, and continued his father’s tradition of collecting memorabilia. Much of Dave’s treasure came from sunken ships and far-flung friends. A bulletin board covered his entire wall, displaying pictures and cartoons.
His standard dress was wool plaid shirts and white cords, later replaced with khaki pants when he couldn’t get the cords. Dressing up meant adding a string tie with an 1882 silver dollar cinch. Children liked to encourage him to do cartwheels, because coins fell out of his pockets – Petersburg’s version of a piñata.
Dave is remembered for his lyrical radio calls with the cannery boats, every morning at 10:00 and every afternoon at 4:00. “KWY 73 Petersburg” checked in like clockwork with “WD 8415 the Charles W” and the rest of the fleet.
And in his whiskey baritone voice he answered the phone “Dave talkin.’” Women were always “Darlin’ if they were younger than he was and “Mom” if they were older.
Dave had a sentimental side that preserved tradition and honored those who’d gone before him. He regularly visited with the town’s old-timers, having coffee and sharing stories. And he brought them home to dinner where Atomic Ole, Corbit Ship, Gainheart Samualson, Ralph Young and others became part of the family. Dave made sure the pioneers were properly buried and had a headstone commemorating their life.
He stood on principle. After many decades of service with the Petersburg Volunteer Fire Department, he quit when a decision was made to let a house burn because it was out of the city limits and didn’t pay taxes to support the department. Dave believed in helping neighbors throughout the community.
The hardest thing he ever had to do was to carry the news to the Japanese families who worked along side his at the cannery that they would have to be part of internment during WWII. He held their jobs, fought for their return, and helped them resettle their lives.
Dave served for many years on the Hospital board, the Salvation Army board, and was a member of the Elks and the Moose Clubs. He was grateful to be the Grand Marshall in one of the Fourth of July parades. He was honored to be adopted into the Raven clan of the Tlingets; his Native name meant “The End.”
He married Gloria Lucille Anderson on May 6, 1951, in Juneau, with a 35-cent dime store rink with a pink stone and glass diamonds…when the real ring from Fredrick and Nelson in Seattle didn’t show up. Maxine and Quentin DeBoer were supposed to stand up for them except Quentin couldn’t get there because of foul weather, so a man off the street stood in. The wedding took place at 1:00a to accommodate the three day waiting period and so Dave could be back in Petersburg later that morning to buy halibut. The line “and with this precious token” still brings a burst of laughter.
The Ohmer’s dining room table welcomed everyone – from the Catholic priests who passed through the mission town, to Coastal and Ellis pilots laid over due to weather, from children whose parents were ill, to salesmen who stopped by,from fishermen who were down on their luck, to guests who were touring the Great State of Alaska. There was always room for one more. And when the food supply was low there was always an “Ohmer Special:” an open-faced fried egg sandwich with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato.
He celebrated 60 birthdays, usually with chocolate cake and chocolate frosting. But he enjoyed it most after it had been in the freezer for months, at which time he’d pour canned milk over the top.
Dave and Gloria reared five children: Judy, David, Becky, Penny/Katelyn, and Susan.