OPINION: Paul Johnson remembered
Western Alaska lost an Inupiat Renaissance
Man on October 14, 2011. This is a good title for
the man that was Paul Charles Johnson of
Unalakleet. His unique combination of skills
and abilities made him successful and accessible
to almost every sector of our region.
He was well known in professional circles as
an executive with Bering Strait Native
Corporation (BSNC), Norton Sound Economic
Development Corporation (NSEDC), Bering
Sea Fishermen's Association or the Alaska
Board of Game to name just a few.
He quickly moved from a very successful
early school career, culminating in his role as
1975 Valedictorian at Covenant High School, to
strong roles in local and regional organizations.
He was the youngest BSNC director ever
elected and led them through some difficult
years of bankruptcy and recovery. He managed
the Unalakleet Native Corporation for
years leaving them on much stronger footing
when he left. He maintained a strong voice in
fish and wildlife matters statewide with his
previously mentioned roles.
Paul was better known, and more visible, in
his life outside a boardroom or office. From an
early age he showed an affinity for the outdoors.
In the tradition of his grandfather
Henry Ivanoff, one of the original Serum Run
mushers, he loved dogs.
This love resulted in a long mushing career,
one that resulted in his running the Iditarod in
1986 and 2011 as well as many mid-distance
and local races.
He was an accomplished hunter and he
could fix almost anything with some baling
wire and duct tape. His hunting experiences
ranged from innumerable trips
supplying food for his family and many
others to his career as an accomplished
big game guide helping clients bag many
trophy bear and moose.
He learned to weld and became a premier
aluminum fabricator, building quality,
safe boats for many fisherman in
western Alaska. His methodical manner
of commercial fishing and crabbing
earned him some good-natured ribbing,
but his results were always good as he
adapted methods and continually learned
from others. This year his hard work was
rewarded as he had his most successful
crab season ever.
Paul was the cornerstone for his family
and friends. The fact that he'd have made
a first-class husband and father never
materialized but it was to the benefit of
the hundreds of lives he became a part of
and touched with his gentle spirit and
generous manner. This independence
allowed him to give of himself to friends,
neighbors, school, church and family.
And this he did in large doses.
"Putty" as he was affectionately called
by so many spent his summers ranging
from Huslia and Kaltag in the East for
hunt guiding to Golovin and Nome in the
west with his crab venture. The rest of the
year he spent in Unalakleet taking loving
care of his mother since his father passed
away. Wherever he was he found a way to
be helpful, rarely could you find him sitting
down and relaxing.
He always was looking for a way to
improve the situation he was in, whether
it was making a fancy driftwood outhouse
when camping or rigging some
new fangled drying rack at fish camp. He
was renowned for his extraordinarily
thorough packing for camping or hunting
trips often leaving little room for the
No one complained once camp was set
though as the "extras" made it as comfortable
as could be for everyone. Paul's next
skill usually showed up as performed
chef duties on top of that. His delicacies
ranged from salmon caviar and pate' to
his famous salmonberry syrup and, celebrating
his Scandinavian heritage, lefse.
Paul Johnson was a Inupiat renaissance
man. His diverse menu of skills and positive
character traits are rarely found. His
priority list of his God first, friends and
family second and himself third was genuine
and consistent. His presence in the
lives of all he touched was treasured. His
tragic passing is devastating, but his
memory will remain and lead us like he
did in life.
Jeffrey Erickson submitted this article and
obituary to the Arctic Sounder.