Birder, fisherman's Alaskan dream cost $20

Cordova resident Steven R. Smith, 71, died Oct. 20, 2009, in Anchorage, while engaged in one of his favorite pastimes: watching the baseball playoffs on television.

Steve was born Aug. 18, 1938, in the small farming community of Annawan, Ill., to Hugo and Irene Smith. The family, augmented by younger siblings Annette, Mark and Joan, made their home in Geneseo, Ill., for most of Steve's school years. He received a bachelor of science in soils and zoology in 1960 from the University of Illinois.

After graduation, Steve and his lifelong friend, Dave Law, came to Alaska. They and a third friend picked up a new Chevy wagon off the assembly line in Detroit and drove it up to Anchorage for Hertz. They got paid $100 by Hertz for the trip, which cost them $160. He was always proud that it cost them $20 each to get to the Alaskan dream!

Steve was a wildlife aficionado and was particularly passionate about birds. He met Pete Isleib, Alaska's leading ornithologist, in the early '60s and they became fast friends, fellow birders and fellow fishermen. Steve started fishing in Cordova in 1962 and, over the years, engaged in almost every kind of commercial fishery in Prince William Sound and later Bristol Bay. He seined herring, ran a herring-roe-on-kelp operation, gillnetted sockeye and silver salmon, seined pink salmon, fished Bristol Bay, pot-fished for Dungeness crab and engaged in more ventures than could be named. When he wasn't fishing, Steve pursued his passion for wildlife and birds. He was an accomplished photographer and made several films on Alaskan wildlife that were part of a lecture tour in the mid-'60s. A film about the bald eagle that he made for BBC in the mid-'70s is considered some of the finest documentary footage taken. Steve hunted, fished and filmed his way around Alaska and the world for almost half a century. A multitalented man, Steve was also an accomplished cook. His hospitality and storytelling were legendary, and friends and family enjoyed wonderful meals and good company at his beautiful home on Eyak Lake.

Steve loved his chosen hometown, Cordova, and gave back to the community in many ways. He was a member of the United Fishermen of Alaska, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the Wilderness Society, American Farmland Trust and the Nature Conservancy. He was a founding member of the Prince William Soundkeeper and the Cordova Kitchen Project. At the time of his death, he was a board member of Cordova District Fishermen United, Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. and Prince William Sound Science Center and served on the local Fish and Game Advisory Board.

Although Steve never had children of his own, he was like a father to his nephew, Brendon Welch, who had commercial fished with him in recent years. He was Grampa Steve to little Hana Marie Kohler and celebrated her first birthday with her just two days before his passing.

Steve was preceded in death by his parents and siblings Annette and Mark.

He is survived by his sister, Joan Murray, and her daughters, Cassandra Farlik, Amanda Butler and Irena Farlik. Steve also leaves behind many close friends who were his extended family. Smitty stories will be told around dinner tables and campfires for many years to come.

As he wished, Steve was cremated and his ashes will be scattered in his favorite places next summer.

There will be a remembrance celebration for Steve in early February in Cordova. Condolences may be sent in care of John Bocci, P.O. Box 1312, Cordova, AK 99574.

Visit the online memorial at