Radolph “Rod” Marion Chuka passed away Saturday July 28, 2018 surrounded by loved ones after a six-week battle with bile duct cancer.
Born on Jan. 14, 1933 in the family farmhouse in Eagledale, he was the son of the late Dinko and Milka Chuka, who emigrated to Bainbridge Island from Croatia in 1931.
Rod was a loving son, husband, father and grandfather. He was a dedicated family man, known for his passion for fishing, wonderful storytelling, and unstoppable drive to work.
Growing up on the island during the hardscrabble times of the 1930s and 1940s shaped his outlook and work ethic for the rest of his life. When someone needed a hand, he generously extended his, whether to tow a guy off the rocks, or give advice on engine repair over the VHF on Channel 6.
Rod attended Seattle University and Western Washington University and fished during the summers. Fishing was good and when he failed to register for fall quarter one year, he was drafted into the Navy. Rod spent his service time on the USS Hector, a repair ship, where he was in the optical department (he found the only place on the ship that was air-conditioned). He was very proud to have served his country and had stories of that time that were legion.
Rod was an avid fisherman his entire life, starting at age 9 fishing for smelt (which were sold commercially) in Eagle Harbor. After graduating from Bainbridge High School, he fished in Alaska and the Puget Sound with the Martinez family fleet of purse seiners, mostly as a skiff man. This was before the power block, and nets had to be hauled in by hand. In 1961 he built his first gillnetter, the Diana, a 32-foot wooden fishing boat, at Foss Boatyard in Eagledale. While driving to and from the boatyard, Rod stopped to say hello to Paula Nordberg. She was 17, and they have been together ever since.
After Paula and Rod were married in 1963, Rod sold the Diana and began his construction career to stay closer to his young family. He bought land on Ferncliff and built the family home, and they moved in in April 1967. At that time he was also a mate on tugboats for Halvorsen Towing, and was in Port Ludlow when he got the call about his first brand new baby girl. In 1964, with their 3-month-old baby Laurel in tow, they went to Ketchikan Alaska where Rod built a house on Tongass Narrows for Boyer Halvorsen’s son Kent. Over the next decade, Rod was a foreman on the construction of about 30 houses on Bainbridge and the Quay Bainbridge Apartments.
In 1969 Rod established a strawberry farm on Bainbridge Island. He cleared the land at Ferncliff and planted a large crop of strawberries. Paula and daughters managed the berry business each summer until 1985. Years later, Rod converted the crop to Christmas trees, and the family operated a seasonal Christmas tree farm on the property.
The allure of commercial fishing was always strong, so Rod built a second gillnetter in 1973, the Laurie Ann, and began salmon fishing in the Puget Sound and Hood Canal. After the Boldt decision took away his livelihood in Puget Sound, he began fishing in Southeast Alaska. In 1979 he and two partners bought another gillnetter, the Sunlight IV and fished in Bristol Bay until 1985.
The following year Rod took the Laurie Ann to Prince William Sound where he fished for Copper River salmon and spent the remainder of his commercial fishing career. After the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill, Rod continued to fish whenever it was open, while some fisherman decided to sit out and wait for an Exxon paycheck. The payout took 20 years, confirming that dad made the honorable and fiscally wise choice to continue fishing at the time. Rod and Paula made lifelong friendships with other fishing families. Paula was his crew and valet as he battled neuropathy in both legs until they retired in 2004. He used to say, “the fish don’t know I’m crippled up.”
After “retirement,” Rod enjoyed vegetable gardening, building furniture (including a craftsman-style dining table and six chairs), and built a 20-foot Renn Tolman Alaskan skiff. He also enjoyed traditional winemaking, and generously shared his wine with friends and family. Rod spent this past spring building the hull of a 22-foot boat as well as building four planters for his beans and lettuces.
Rod is survived by his devoted wife of 55 years, Paula Chuka, and his three daughters and their families: Laurel and Mick Shultz, Haley and Ben, Cheryl and Eric Mauer, Josie and Jamie, and Pauline and Dave Simon, Noah and Max. Rod is also survived by his sisters Yvonne Evjen and Millie Heeney and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.
A Celebration of Rod’s life will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, at the Boundy Farm, 8045 Fletcher Bay Road, Bainbridge Island. Remembrances may be made to Bainbridge Historical Society or Bainbridge Island Fire Department.