Albin Evans Sundstrom
September 28, 1918 — September 10, 2014
Al Sundstrom passed away peacefully at his San Juan Valley farm early on Sept. 10, 2014, on the Harvest Moon – fitting for this life-long farmer.
Born and raised in San Juan Valley, he was the third of seven children born to John and Josie (Madden) Sundstrom, on Sept. 28, 1918.
He lived his entire 96 years on San Juan Island, and became our living link to the island’s rich agricultural past. He was an islander through and through, self-reliant, with true grit.
He was known as a kind man with a fierce work ethic, and was admired by everyone who knew him.
One of the first two draftees from San Juan County during World War II, he was rejected for being color blind, so stayed home and worked on the family farm during that time. In 1941, he completed a correspondence course on farm engineering and management sponsored by the Ford Motor Company.
He met Winifred Kuljis, who had moved to Friday Harbor from Bellingham to teach school, and they were married in September 1942 – for 48 years, until her death in 1990.
Al bought their first farm on Roche Harbor Road from Frank Wright in 1947. He saved the down payment by netting rabbits with Merle Boyce, selling them for $1 apiece in Seattle during the war years when there was a lack of meat.
He worked for Roche Harbor for many years cutting cordwood, together with his good friend, Merle Boyce. Al is the last living of the cordwood cutters for the Roche Harbor Lime Kiln, which closed around 1955.
When Reuben Tarte bought Roche Harbor they ended up working for him on various projects to build the resort, including putting the road in to Limestone Point so Reuben could develop and sell the beach property; as well as working as a carpenter for Roche Harbor for many years up until 1970.
Al was awarded Washington State Farmer of the Year in 1957 by Governor Rossellini. He leased the LaBar farm on San Juan Valley Road for seven years before he bought it in 1959, which has been his home for the past 55 years.
Working his own two farms and numerous leased farms, Al produced large volumes of hay, grain, sheep and cattle over the years.
Using his own farm equipment, he was hired to plow, put up hay, and cut grain for other islanders who did not have the equipment. He was feeding around 300 ton of hay during the winter.
He met Deanna Spooner through St. Francis Catholic Church and they were married in September 1994, recently celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. They enjoyed many trips, traveling both abroad (Sweden, New Zealand, train across Canada) and around the U.S.
Al physically retired in 1998, at age 80, but mentally he never did. His love in life was farming. It was his passion… with firewood running a close second. Al was also a huge boxing fan, and always watched as if he were personally in the ring.
He remained an active member of his community for many years: Master of the Grange 1954 and 1994-2003; he served the community as a county committeeman on the USDA Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Board from 1957 to 1982; he was active in the San Juan Historical Museum and enjoyed spending time there sharing old stories of the island. His love of island history and recollection for detail was amazing. He will be greatly missed.
Al is survived by his wife Deanna; his three children Jon (Phyllis) Sundstrom, Nicholene (Gary) Ottinger, and Paula Sundstrom; his three grandchildren Jeff (Valerie) Ottinger, Stephanie (Jeremy) Richards, and Dean Ottinger; with his first great-grandchild on the way; and a host of nieces and nephews and their offspring.
He was preceded in death by his sister Lenore (1996) and all five of his brothers Lindy (1953), Clyde (2006), Wade (2007), Dave (2009) and Fred (2011).
Memorials in Al’s name may be made to the San Juan Historical Museum, P.O. Box 441 or San Juan Island Grange #966 Deck Project, P.O. Box 2013.
—Family of Al Sundstrom