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OPINION: Paul Johnson remembered

October 28th, 2011 | Jeff Erkson Print this article   Email this article  

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.


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