Thursday, January 12, 2017

Eugene (Gene) Pearson (1927-present)

Eugene (Gene) Pearson (1927-present)

Once again the calendar reveals one of our local residents, born and raised in the community, will be celebrating his birthday on February 27th when he turns 90 years old.

So following in the footsteps of the early Romans who were the first people to celebrate the birthdays of the common man, the Harbor History Museum and the greater Gig Harbor community want to celebrate Gene, his life, and a few of his many contributions to our community.

First and foremost, Gene is known as a banker.  As many of you know, he started his career in banking during his junior year at University of Washington.  According to Gene’s oral history (which can be found in the Clifford and Anna Pearson Resource Center at the museum) he tells us “The year before I was to graduate, I went down to the local bank here in Gig Harbor — Carl Nielsen ran it —and my father had known him for years.  … I asked if I could come and see him.  He liked to work at night so I met him down there at night.  I said “I’d like to come and  work for you this summer.”  He said “Well, what can you do?”  I said “Anything you need me to do.”  He said “Only problem is, I don’t have any money in the budget.”  I said “Well, I guess you didn’t hear what I said.”  He said “What do you mean?”  I said  “I said I’d like to come to work for you this summer.”  He said “Well.”  I said “I would like to come work for you this summer.”  “Oh.”  It finally dawned on him.  I wasn’t asking to get paid.  I was just trying to find out.  He said “Why?”  I said “I want to know whether I want to work in a bank.  I’m able to graduate with all the banking courses that the University of Washington has and I don’t know if I’d like to work in a bank or not.”  So he said “I guess I can’t refuse, can I?”  I said “You’re the one making the decision.”  So I went to work.  Of course, when he found out I would work, and did work very diligently not just because of that - I work all the time doing something.  I have too.  I’m driven.  So that’s the start.  A few years later one of the friends  of Carl Nielsen had a daughter , Barbara, and he made her have a job in the summer and she came to work and guess what - we got married and here I am.”   The marriage took place in July 1955; is it possible that Barbara’s parents, Charles and Marjorie Ogden and Mr. Nielson had designed a matchmaking plan?

The 1927-The First National Bank of Gig Harbor originally was located in the building occupied now as Gallery Row.  When it first opened, the southern 2/3 of the building housed the bank; the northern third was leased to Louis Dodge for his “Sanitary Tonsorial and Bath Parlor”.  The bank was liquidated in 1933. The bank paid off 85% under a forced liquidation and some believe that payoff in itself indicates that perhaps the bank should not have been liquidated.  In 1946 Carl Nielsen opened the Peninsula State Bank, and by 1981 it merged with Puget Sound Bank.  When Nelson died in 1969 Gene became president of the bank.  A fitting honor to a young man who had worked every position in the bank from sweeping floors to cashier, and then some.

Gene remained as a consultant for the bank for a number of years following the merger.   

Gene Pearson - Photo provided by Krista Pearson

But now let’s concentrate on Gene and his life outside the banking world.  

His paternal grandfather, Oliver Wendell Pearson (1857-1930) arrived from Chicago with four of his children in 1905.  His maternal grandmother, Mary Nelson Pearson (1871-1934) followed in 1907.   They settled halfway between Warren and Sunny Bay, just 1500 feet east of the Warren Dock.  It was here the family farmed; he built three large greenhouses where he grew mostly tomatoes and pickle cucumbers.  Their children included Clifford, Paul, Olive, Edna, Phillip, Benjamin, and Elizabeth (Betsy).  

His maternal grandmother’s family (Andrew Ahlberg (1856-1928) and Maria Ahlberg (1863-1937) settled on Fox Island around 1906.  They didn’t buy property on Fox Island but instead stayed with family friends that used to live in Des Moines when they did, the Wahlquists.  Andrew had been working in the coal mines and was developing Black Lung disease didn’t like Fox Island.  He soon felt landlocked as he couldn’t go anywhere unless he rowed a boat to wherever he wanted to go.  So he bought an 18-acre property in Warren too.  

Both farms, as well as many of their neighbors grew strawberries as a main crop until in 1915 when they  suffered a weevil infestation destroying the crops.  Whereas Pearson concentrated on his vegetables, Ahlberg concentrated on fruits expanding his orchard to include cherries, peaches, walnuts and loganberries.  Remember, the families were not only growing food for their own families but also as a means to earn a living.

Clifford N. Pearson (1889-1972) is Gene’s father, and he married Anna Ahlberg (1888-1981) on June 28, 1911.  They had four children:  Ralph, Carl, Doris and Gene.  Gene always gets a kick out of the fact that he was born in Dr. Monzingo’s hospital on Soundview Drive, and now he lives in a condo on the same site of that hospital.  “Not many people can say they live at the same location where they were born, … But I do.”

But his childhood — that was spent growing up on a farm, and attending the Arletta school for the first seven years of his education.  Gene says his childhood was easy compared to Ralph’s his oldest brother (Carl had been killed in Belgium during WWII).  During both WWI and WWII, Gene’s father worked in the Tacoma shipyards as well as farming, some naturally the children did a lot of the farm work.  According to Gene’s oral history, his father had developed a market for tomatoes and they grew them in the greenhouses.  The greenhouse was heated by a special bench-type wood furnace.  And because his father was working in Tacoma, this became Gene’s chore.  They sold both plants and the tomatoes.  I don’t know, but I think growing tomatoes (or any other food) in a greenhouse is a lot less work than growing in an open field.  As a child who did weed in an open field, it wasn’t the most fun…except for the occasional eating some of the tomatoes, or strawberries, or … while weeding.
Gene Pearson and his dog Rex.  Gene's constant companion in the woods.  Kenny Dulin accidentally fell on Gene while running and playing at Warren.  Dr. Densler set his arm in Gig Harbor  - Photo provided by Krista Pearson

Gene also had a hand in helping with the canning and butchering.  He mentions his satisfaction in acquiring the butchering skills.

After his seven years in Arletta School (the last in the new building, now the community hall) Gene started the 8th grade at Gig Harbor Union High School on Prentice Street; now Harbor Ridge Middle School.  He graduated in 1944.  In his senior year is was elected Class Vice President.  According to the 1944 Perclawam Yearbook his favorite activity was hunting; his motto “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, to argue freely”; He participated in Track, Band, the Senior class Minstrel Show, and Valedictorian. In the class will, he “Left his brains to the Junior Boys.  We hope there are enough to go around.”
Gene Pearson and his older brother Ralph drove to the Columbia River numerous times to fish salmon, just upstream from Astoria.- Photo provided by Krista Pearson

Both his parents were active in the community:  his mother was on the 1944 High School Board, an honorary member of the Horsehead Bay Garden Club, and an Associate Member of the Tacoma Orthopedic Association, Kopachuck Guild.  His father was on the Arletta School Board District 39, active in the formation of the Union High School District and the building of the school in 1923.  When all the schools consolidated into Peninsula School District 401 he ended his service in the school district.  He was elected to the Peninsula Light Company Board in 1927, and in 1940 President of the Peninsula Light Company and remained in that capacity until 1941.

After Gene’s graduation he attended University of Washington until he turned 18 in 1945.  He, like so many of the 18 year old males in the US, he was drafted and served in the Army.  This Army career is another amusing part of his history.  His Army career was short:  19 months, 20 days but the way Gene tells it, an interesting time.

He was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco almost the entire time.  The way he describes his duty was: “I was running a photostat machine.  I made — I did make blueprints.  I did a lot of developing in the darkroom - photographing stuff.  You probably don’t know the thing that was in photographic fixer that took the unexposed stuff off, but it’s sodium sulfate.  We used so much of it, we bought it by the ton.”

Gene Pearson - Presidio of SF - Photo provided by Krista Pearson 

Gene also mentions that he never missed a Christmas at home during his time in the Army.  He learn out to maneuver around the rules and regulations, as well as studying organization.  Gene worked for a full colonel before a one star general was assigned to base.  One of his friends was a clerk, “so if we wanted something, we’d have him put it on the General’s desk when the executive officer was out or gone so we could get most anything done then because anything he put on his (general’s) desk - he’d put his big “D” - General Davidson was his name and we got no problem.  For a long time we’d be able to call up the motor pool and have cars with a driver to take us downtown.”  Two additional Army bases were located next to or near The Presidio; Fort Winfield Scott and Fort Mason.  

When Gene was discharged and he had taken some classes in the College of Engineering at Stanford University but unfortunately he was having too much fun enjoying the life outside of school.  So his grades suffered, and he had to meet with the Dean of Engineering, Dean Lowell.  The Dean suggested Gene start all over again.  Gene got a transfer and he returned to Seattle and reenrolled at the University of Washington.  This time in the arts and sciences and started taking all the finance course offered undergraduates.  And that lead to our opening of this blog, and Gene’s thirty year career in the banking industry.

In the 1960s, Gig Harbor had need of an additional doctor due to growth.  Gene and other local businessmen conducted a successful search, resulting in doubling the number local doctors.  Went from one to two doctors.

Gene always had time for his family - wife Barbara, children Erik, Krista and Garth.  Boating, clam digging, fishing, camping, with family and friends.  The family especially enjoyed Sunday exploration drives on forest service roads, small country roads, lunch from the tiny markets along the way.

He also served on a number of local boards in Gig Harbor and belonged to several local service organizations; Emergency Food Bank, Tacoma Community House, WA Trust for Historic Preservation, Fish Food Bank, St. Anthony’s Hospital, YMCA, Gig Harbor Methodist Church and many others.  Gene is a Board Member of Gig Harbor BoatShop, and of course, instrumental in the establishment and growth of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Historic Society which operates under the name Harbor History Museum.  As mentioned above (3rd paragraph) the majority of the blog came from Gene’s oral history in the Clifford and Anna Pearson Resource Room at the museum named for Gene's parents.  Feel free to ask to read the entire document next time you visit.  Also if you attend the current special exhibit "Arts and Artifacts An Excellent Little Bay" :at HHM you will see a few Pearson family items in the current exhibit.  Dad’s army uniform, Anna Ahlberg Pearson’s wedding dress, a quilt from Anna and Clifford Pearson’s home, my great grandmother Mary Pearson’s dress

Gene and Jake Bujacich are members of ‘coffee club’, a group of guys that get together to chat and have coffee.  They have been meeting for over fifty years, although Jake and Gene were not in the original group.  When I first came to Gig Harbor, the group met where El Pueblito Restaurant is, but in 2009 when Gene recorded his oral history, they were meeting at the Sunset Grill.  Whenever the members are in town, they show up.  Some of the members no longer with us included George Borgen, George Ancich, and others.  They still roll dice to see who will pay for coffee; the loser of course.

Gene Pearson - Photo provided by Krista Pearson

Gene's Retirement Years:  

Traveled with family and friends, often with Barb’s parents Mij and Chuck Ogden:  East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell; Russia before Glasnost; South America; Trans Siberian Express, to fill Gene’s wish to see Lake Baikal and Ulan Batar in Mongolia;  Sweden numerous times to visit cousins and research his Swedish heritage; Norway; Scotland for Barb’s heritage, numerous cruises, including Panama Canal on the stately old SS Rotterdam;

Numerous Elderhostal adventures; numerous vintage rail journeys throughout the US;  traveled the US, Canada, and Mexico by motorhome, including Alaska and the Yukon.

Devoted much time and effort to his favorite cause - Gig Harbor.  
Helped to transform Peninsula Historical Society [a group of women collecting stories, photographs and artifacts, many stored in Gene and Barb’s basement] into today’s Harbor History Museum, both financially and with financial expertise/advice/guidance.
Guided United Methodist Church finances for many years.

Grew vegetables, berries and fruit at home with Barb.  Throwback to his childhood.
Enjoys his Hood Canal beach house with family and friends.  Fresh oysters and clams from the beach are a favorite food.
Enjoys time with his three children:  Erik, Krista and Garth, along with spouses, six grandchildren, one great grandson and a second great-grandchild due shortly.


  • Interview with Eugene Pearson, Harbor History Museum (HHM)
  • Gig Harbor Swedes, Gig Harbor’s Scandinavian-Immigrant Pioneering Families (HHM)
  • Krista Pearson - Pictures and Reminiscences
  • The Presidio of San Francisco, Wikipedia 
  • 1944 PERCLAWAM YearBook
  • SCW Little Histories, Gig Harbor Washington by Jack R. Evans
© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Gene was best man at my parents wedding! Lee and Joanne Hanson, Dec. 5, 1953, in Gig Harbor. Joanne was dau. of Axel and Manila Ahlberg.