Mike Minista lived in Manokotak all his life. He was an avid hunter and fisherman who also fished commercially for decades.
One of his long-time friends, Jerry Liboff, met Minista 50 years ago at the Ekuk Cannery. Minista was commercial fishing at the time, and a storm kept him at the cannery for several days.
“I tried to stumble around with a few Yup’ik words,” Liboff said. “Once I started mis-saying Yup’ik words, that sort of broke the ice and we became actually very good friends at the beginning.”
Liboff said that during their many visits over the years, Minista would teach him Yup’ik.
“Mike would, with his patience, over and over again, ‘Say it again Jerry, say it again.’ And I would say it,” said Liboff. “He would crack up and laugh and he would do it enough times until I finally picked up and I said, ‘You should be the Yup’ik teacher for all the dumb people like me that are trying to learn it,’ and he would just laugh.”
Minista was an active member of the community, serving on the Manokotak City Council and the Village Tribal Council for several years. He volunteered for his church, and he often supported the school.
Louie Alkiak, one of Minista’s childhood friends, said that Minista stayed positive despite issues with his health.
“It didn’t affect his personality,” Alkiak said. “He was the same old guy. He was a good man, humble and jokes and would always laugh with people.”
Judy Itumulria, Minista’s sister, said that while Minista didn’t have children of his own, he loved spending time with her grandchildren.
“He was with them and he’d always give them something,” she said. “He would share with food and all that kind of stuff.”
Liboff, his friend, said Minista’s death is a loss for the community, and that his happy spirit will be missed.
“Everybody in the village of Manokotak liked Mike. He was one of those guys you couldn’t help but like – he did not have an enemy,” Liboff said. “I think everybody is going to miss him because he was always laughing and always enjoying himself so he was always a fun-loving and happy-go-lucky person.”
Minista moved to an assisted-living facility in Anchorage earlier this year due to health concerns unrelated to COVID-19. He died earlier this month. He was 66 years old. Minista is survived by his two sisters, and his nieces and nephews.