New memorial scholarship honors commercial-fishing siblings from Wrangell

A young man and young woman posing for a family photo on a beach
Sig and Helen Decker (Photo courtesy of Julie Decker)

A new memorial scholarship aims to connect Southeast high school students to the seafood industry — and to the legacies of two commercial-fishing siblings who were killed in a crash in 2020.

Sig Decker, 21, and Helen Decker, 19, grew up commercial fishing with their parents on the family boat.

“That was a really fun time as a family. It’s sort of the most genuine family time you can get is all being in a little tiny boat in the middle of nowhere and working together,” said Julie Decker, Sig and Helen’s mom. “At a certain point, I think they wanted more. You know, to expand off Mom and Dad’s boat, and so Sig when he was 16 went to work on a seiner out of Petersburg. And Helen, when she was 18 did the same. So then they started crewing on seine boats and were on a couple different boats, and then eventually were in the same boat, the summer of 2020.”

A young man standing on the deck of a boat holding a very large king salmon
Sig with a large king salmon. (Photo courtesy Julie Decker)

On July 27, 2020, Sig and Helen and two other crewmates — 29-year-old Ian Martin of Petersburg and 37-year-old Dennis Lord of Elmira Heights, New York — were killed in a car crash on Mitkof Island south of Petersburg while on a break from commercial fishing.

Decker said that within hours of finding out about the accident, friends in the commercial fishing community stepped forward to provide support and started a GoFundMe fundraiser. Within 48 hours, more than a thousand people had donated.

Some of the money went to cover funeral expenses for Sig and Helen. Another $50,000 was donated to help complete Wrangell’s Mariners Memorial. Now, Decker said the rest of the funds will go toward the Sig and Helen Decker Memorial Scholarship Fund. She said she and her husband, Gig, want to honor their kids’ legacy.

“We were really struck by all the stories that came forward after the accident,” Decker said. “People we didn’t even know, that we had never met before but they were friends with Sig and Helen. Stories of them helping them in the middle of the night, just going the extra mile to help somebody out, in this wide variety of ways, anything from academics to their family lives to social issues or their love life. They were just always ready to help support a friend. And so I guess this follows that thread, continuing to help people out.”

A young woman standing on the deck of a boat holding a very large king salmon
Helen with a large king salmon. (Photo courtesy Julie Decker)

Each year, the $3,000 memorial scholarship will be awarded to one Wrangell senior and one Petersburg senior, and is administered through the Alaska Community Foundation.

Qualifications are pretty simple: Recipients have to be graduating high school seniors from either Wrangell or Petersburg. They have to enroll at least part-time in a post-secondary program like a trade school, college or university. And applicants have to have experience working in commercial fishing or seafood processing.

“I think the fact that the majority of the funds raised from this came from people that are active in the seafood industry made us want to connect it to the seafood industry,” Decker said. “And the fact that the kids were fishing that summer. Fishing had become a big part of their lives, even as they were becoming adults and moving into their own version of their adult lives, they still felt that connection to commercial fishing. So we thought that that seemed like a good, natural connection.”

It’s a one-year scholarship, with the possibility of a second-year extension. For the first year, the application is open to graduates from 2021 and 2022.

Decker says she hopes the scholarship can connect Southeast students to commercial fishing, and to Sig and Helen, carrying on the immense positive impact they had far into the future.

There’s more information about the scholarship and the siblings it honors at the Alaska Community Foundation’s website. Applications are due by March 17.

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