By Leif Arvidson
For the Cordova Times
Cordova recently lost a great fisherman. Carl Godfred Arvidson passed away during the evening of Feb. 21 in the arms of his wife, Suzanne Arvidson, in Carson City, Nevada.
Carl was born in Cordova. His family entered the local fisheries in the early 1900s, when his father, Gus (John Gustav) Arvidson, made his way from Sweden to Alaska. Gus married another young immigrant, Minnie (Philomena) Matkovich, who hailed from the southeastern portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in modern day Croatia. The two of them set about raising a family in Cordova. Carl was born to the couple on Jan. 4, 1938.
Gus Arvidson plied his trade in the waters of the Copper River Delta. When he started fishing, he had to row his boat to the fishing grounds and haul in his net by hand — both formidable feats. At the young age of 38, he suffered an injury while at sea, returned to town and passed away. He was survived by his wife and seven young children. At the time, Carl was a tender 5 years old.
Carl started his fishing career as a youth. As a young boy, he wanted to enter a fishing derby, but he didn’t have a pole. He found himself a simple string, used it to catch the largest salmon, and won the fishing derby.
When Carl and his three brothers, Gus, George and Bob, came of age, they knew their best opportunity for success in Cordova was in the commercial fishing industry. They all entered the treacherous industry.
Carl was a prototypical Alaskan fisherman. He was of Scandinavian descent. His thick, long beard complemented his rugged, stoic appearance. Although he stood no more than five and one-half feet tall, he was as tough as nails and as solid as a brick wall. His arms grew massive through years of manual labor hauling in nets full of fish. For his entire life, he waged war against the elements — fierce winds, heavy rains and turbulent seas. And he won.
Carl was a successful salmon fisherman. He had a special talent for gillnetting for Kings and Reds. He homesteaded in Steamboat, on the Copper River Flats, often fishing alongside his brothers, Gus and Bob Arvidson. He also seined in the Prince William Sound, where he favored Windy Bay, Sheep Bay and Port Gravina, where he taught his sons how to chase pink salmon and chums.
Carl had an exemplary career playing basketball as a point guard. In high school, he and his buddies led the Cordova Wolverines to the Alaska State Championship, only to lose to Nome. Carl then went on to play basketball for the U.S. Army, touring and playing in Germany and throughout Europe. Later in life, he spent many-a-day playing basketball with his sons in their driveway court.
During Carl’s youth, a golden gloves U.S. Navy boxer came to town and Carl, without any training outside of schoolyard beatings of others, volunteered to step into the ring with the boxer for a Fourth of July match. The skilled boxer had him outmatched in finesse and beat him up badly, laying blow after blow. Frustrated and looking to put an end to the match, Carl put all his might into one crushing blow to the mid-section of his assailant. The golden gloves boxer fell to the floor of the ring and remained there past the 10-count. As with his battles with nature, Carl endured a beating, but his strength pulled him through in the end.
Suzanne Marguerite (Kemnitz) Arvidson, was a Catholic girl from Wisconsin who traveled to Alaska to work as a Jesuit volunteer, serving as a third-grade teacher at Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Fairbanks, where she eventually met and fell in love with Carl, who was attending university in town. They wedded at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in Cordova and began to raise a family. Their four children, Carl Joseph (and Margaret) Arvidson; Anna Michelle (and Nelvin) Vinluan, of San Antonio, Texas; Lars Christopher Arvidson, of Carson City, Nevada; and Leif Erik (and Karen) Arvidson, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, were all born to them in Cordova, baptized at the local parish — Saint Joseph’s — and raised in the fishing industry.
Carl was full of life and energy. He loved to dance, sing and act. He was a one-man entertainment system for his children and grandchildren. He always had a joke and a smile. Carl never met a stranger; he always loved to talk to people from different places and hear their stories. He had a generous spirit. He knew many homeless people on a first-name basis. He didn’t just give them a few dollars; he visited with them, got to know them, and returned later to see how they were doing.
Carl chose beautiful places to live. In addition to Cordova, he followed his brother, George, to Bandon and Bend, Oregon, on the beautiful Oregon coast and in the Cascade mountain range. After retiring from a fishing career, he lived in Elko and Carson City, Nevada, being surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and only 15 minutes from Lake Tahoe.
Carl was preceded in death by his mother and father; older sister, Rosie Phlueger; and brothers, Gus, Bob and David (who died as a small child). He is survived by his wife; four children; 17 grandchildren; his brother, George Arvidson, of Bend, Oregon; and his younger sister, Ellen Shields, of Chandler, Arizona (formerly of Fairbanks, Alaska).
As he neared the end of life, Carl made a simple act of faith: “Jesus, come get me.” He died in the arms of his loving wife of 57 years.
Carl’s son, Lars, stood by his side as he passed away. He placed Carl’s Peter Pan Seafoods fishing cap on Carl’s head. Medics then draped an American flag over Carl, a U.S. Army veteran. As he was taken out to the hearse, Lars held the Alaskan flag high and the medics processed under the flag with Carl’s body.
May God bless Carl with a little corner of heaven with calm seas, nets loaded with fish, and a nice court where he can shoot some hoops.