Thursday, December 3, 2015

Elmer Quistorff (August 10, 1907-September 26, 1999)

I happened to run across document entitled “Quistorff Family History” written in 1990 in the Harbor History Museum Research Room and was immediately curious as to why although I had seen the name somewhere had never heard anything about the man.

A quick search on the internet immediately pulled up an article from The Seattle Times dated October 2, 1999,  Elmer Quistorff, 92, Pioneer Fisheries Expert.  Since Gig Harbor is known as a commercial fishing village by people all over the world I find it interesting that he isn’t spoken off when we discuss famous Gig Harborites.  

So what follows is a greatly condensed version of his history taken from that original Quistorff Family History paper I referred to earlier.  Elmer wrote his version of the family from his memories and it was to become part of a more lengthy history started by his nephew, Kirk Quistorff, which reaches back to 1841. 

“I was born on August 10, 1907, in Tacoma, Washington, where my mother, Tessie, had lived with her stepfather Fritz Mensing, and where she and my father were married.  We eventually became a family of eight:  Mother, Father, my older brother Wallace William (Born November 7, 1905), myself, Ralph, John, Helen, and Fred, in that order.

Our mother was born in the Dalles, Oregon, daughter of Wolfgang Shreder and Therese Rosencratz.  When he father died, her mother married Fritz Mensing, who adopted her.  My mother’s mother passed away when my mother was 12, and my mother and her stepfather moved to Tacoma, where he married Christina Nuschler.  All four of those who made up my mother’s family were immigrants from Germany.

My treat-grandfather Fred Quistorff was an immigrant from Denmark (later Germany), and a carpenter by trade.  The language he and his wife brought to the United States was German.  My grandfather grew up in the Michigan-Wisconsin area, and like his father, became a carpenter and millwright.  My father also took up the carpentry trade and was working in Tacoma when he met and married my mother.  Fritz Mensing, my mother’s stepfather, was a carpenter and building contractor.  To carry the coincidence of craftsmanship background further, my father’s brother Adolph, also a carpenter, married Lydia Miller of Tacoma, whose father, Henry Miller, was likewise a contractor and builder.  Adolph’s son Albert became a carpenter, and my brother Wallace worked several summers as a carpenter for my grandfather Mensing.  My brother Fred also worked briefly at the trade.  

My parents moved to a logged-off area in what we referred to as Gig Harbor (now referred to as North Rosedale) in the fall of 1907.  My father and his brother purchased 16 acres from G. H. Wood (who continued to hold as his home the area north of our property extending down to Henderson Bay).  My father and Adolph divided the property between them, the north eight acres being ours.  

…. In 1927, my father purchased the 40 acres of land containing the water-wheel site, which was located about a quarter-mile east of the home place.  Here he installed a large hydraulic ram taking water from a spring on the hillside.  This delivered water to a 5000-gallon tank, which released gravity water to our house and a number of neighbors’. (NOTE:  G. H. Wood had erected a waterwheel on a small creek that ran through his property to provide water for his and both the Quistorff properties.  Elmer’s father had tw wells on his property including a 300-gallon tank.)  

… My brothers Wallace and Ralph and I attended Booster Grade School, which was located about a mile and three quarters south on the Purdy-Rosedale Road.  …This school was consolidated with the Rosedale district in 1919, the year Wallace was due to enter high school.  This was favorable timing as there was no high school closer than Tacoma.  With the consolidation it was possible to add the ninth and tenth grades to the Rosedale School, so that Wallace was able to continue his schooling without interruption.  …

Our father had provided much leadership during the consolidation.  Two years later, in 1921, he was instrumental in organizing a high school district that consolidated nine grade school districts, including Purdy, Elgin, Rosedale, Crescent Valley, Lincoln, Midway, Arletta, Wauna, and Artondale.  The consolidate high school district was centered in a new two-story brick building in Gig Harbor.  For the first several years, it took in seventh and eighth graders from those schools which by then were overcrowded.  …..

….We children were aged 15, 13, 8, 6, 4 and 2 when our mother passed away April 19, 1921.  For the remainder of that school year, Mrs. Blomley, who lived near the Purdy bridge, came in six days a week to be with the younger children and to do baking and washing, as our father had to continue working.  He drove to Purdy each morning to pick up Mrs. Blomley, and took her back again in the evening after returning from his work.  Wallace did the farm chores, milking and feeding the stock.  I helped get dinner underway, and mind the younger children.  

When school was out that summer, I took over caring for the children during the day.  Mrs. Blomley came in one day a week to bake bread and wash clothes.  Wallace often helped our father at his carpentry work.  When school took up in the fall, we resumed our spring schedule, until our father married Mary Murray in October that year.

Wallace and I both went to high school in Gig Harbor from the start.  This school met in the newly built community hall in Crescent Valley until Christmas time, then moved to the just completed high School building, centrally located between Crescent Valley and Lincoln schools.  When we entered, Wallace was in the eleventh grade, and I in the eighth (Rosedale was one of the grade school districts to share the high school building at the same time.)

The first senior class numbered two:  Millard Blakesley from the Elgin district and Ovid Grant, who came from Fox Island.  Ovid and his brother came by skiff to Warren each day to meet the bus that started from Arletta.  In Wallace’s graduating class, there were five students.  He was the only male and had the honor of being valedictorian.

Elmer continues talking more about his father and how he had become acquainted with the Murray family, and of course, Mary Murray who became their second mother.  How difficult and much changed life was following their father’s death in 1929, a mere 8 years after she and Elmer’s father married.  Raising the four younger children during the Depression without accepting any public assistance.  And he shares his memories on his stepmother’s life following the last two children’s graduation from high school.   There is a delightful memory of Wallace and Elmer’s adventures while growing up such as learning to swim, the heavy rains and landslides in 1915, the blizzard of 1916 and, of course bits and pieces about his brothers’ lives as they grew up and married.  He then continues with more on his own life after high school.

“… After high school and before, during and after my trip through the University of Washington, I was a commercial salmon and herring fisherman in Puget Sound and Alaska, worked on patrol boats for the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service (then Bureau of Fisheries) in Bristol Bay, on the Kuichak, Naknek, and Egegik Rivers.  More of these experiences later.  

I married Anna Louise Sivesind at Cashmere, Washington, May 28, 1938.  She is the daughter of Claus William and Lena Sivesind of Seattle.  I met her while she was teaching school at the Gig Harbor Union High School.  We have a daughter, Nancy, born February 15, 1940, and a son, Ned, born December 2, 1942. ….

…. My work from 1937 through December 1949 was with the Washington Department of Fisheries, mostly at the Lewis River and Issaquah salmon hatcheries; from 1937 to 1938 it was connected with the fisheries problems created by the building of Grand Coulee Dam.  From Issaquah, I went to Okinawa, Japan, for three years, where I was in charge of the rehabilitation of the Okinawa fisheries.  This was followed by 2 1/2 years as a fisheries consultant for the Point Four program in Lebanon and Egypt.  Louise and the children were able to be with me during most of both tours.  Louise taught school at all three places.  She also taught for seventeen years in the Issaquah school system after our return from the Middle East in 1954.  

Back in Issaquah in September 1954, I undertook a project concerned with fisheries problems confronted in the proposed building of Puget Power’s Upper Baker River Dam.  These problems were unusual and called for solutions employed nowhere else where fish were affected by power dam construction.  The job lasted eight years, requiring an integration of my part as building of the dam progressed.

Following this, I went to the Department office, and I retired from the Olympia office in 1972.  While there, I was concerned with the planning and budgeting of a wide range of money sources for projects, such as my field work on the Baker River Dam, which were outside of regularly appropriated state funds.  For nine years, I drove back and forth from Issaquah to Olympia, a matter of 65 miles each way.

So, again we will skip a few paragraphs and jump down to his closing, and how his love of fishing dates back to his days as an eighth grader attending Gig Harbor Union High School (now Harbor Ridge Middle School) at the head of the harbor.  

“… When school opened each September, many small fishing vessels could be seen as they lay at their moorings on those calm waters below.  A mile from the school, the easterly and westerly headlands dipped toward each other to form a narrow inlet.  Through this gap could be seen a part of Puget Sound, the waters of West Passage (Colvos Passage) to the north, the Narrows to the south, and a part of Commencement Bay beyond.  Across these waters and further eastward, framed by the two headlands, the high school had an unobstructed view of Mt. Rainier and adjacent foothills.

Before the first week of school was over, we suddenly found that just overnight, the fishing fleet had vanished.  The first week in November, they were back again.  Again in December, they were missing.  These comings and goings were not as we saw them from our vantage point at the school.  Actually, during the latter part of the year, some of the vessels were back at their moorings again during the hours of darkness, these having been fishing in West Passage while we were at school.  

During the winter and spring, we seemed to take for granted the scene in the harbor as we saw it from the end of December to June.  Then, on a warm May day, we became aware of a stirring, that something was changing.  There was a faint fragrance drifting up to our heights on the hill.  The smell of newly tarred nets signaled the start of a new year of activity for the fishing fleet.

That wonderful smell will forever linger with me, as it became a starter for a series of activities and events that were to see  me in many out-of-the-way places, combined with unusual circumstances and people.  To cite a few:

  • Standing hip-deep in herring as I brailed 500 barrels of the fish, which filled up the hold and made a deck-load on the seiner Shenandoah, off the coast of Baranof Island in southeastern Alaska.
  • Alone on a 16-hour towboat up the Egegik River, tributary to Bristol Bay, a wide inlet from the Bering Sea.
  • A trip to the foundations of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, to be sure that salmon could continue to pass upstream as the construction of that giant continued.
  • Eating dried squid with Okinawa fishermen on an outlying island, while inspecting the progress of their bonito boat construction.
  • Visiting the Temple of Baalbek in the Baka’s Valley of Lebanon.
  • Snapping a picture of the Rose Red City of Petra from a Jordanian Air Force plane, while the pilot circled so I could get the best view.
  • Spending the night at Mersa Matruh on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, where Cleopatra is said to have seduced Mark Antony.

Elmer Quistorff died at age 92 and left behind a rich history as a pioneer fisheries expert.  He wrote a memoir for the University of Washington School of Fisheries, as well as technical books on fisheries biology.  I hope this brief view into his life as he recorded it spurs you on to find out more about his mark on fisheries around the world.  

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