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Niilo passes on — 16 Comments

  1. A true pioneer has left us. Politically, socially, intellectually, physically, and spiritually on one or more frontiers his entire life, Niilo, quite simply put, made a difference. Yet perhaps more telling than the countless achievements he believed in and set forth, the issues he stood and often had to fight for, Niilo Koponen inspired others to find it in themselves to make a difference in their own lives and communities as well. I will miss this generous and solid man – a man of considerable and considered thought, which often translated into direct action — a lover of his family, his home, his work, his Finnish heritage, his many close friends and associates, and of course the great State of Alaska.

  2. Sad to hear this. Niilo was always a model of one living the conscious life. I remember all the meetings and committees we served on together, his clear thinking and forceful ministry at Friends Meeting, his willingness to drop his political ambitions to care for Joan when she needed him. Our community and our state need more like him. Holding the family in the Light.

  3. My thoughts are with your family at this time of loss. Niilo was a giant of a man, whose influence in so many ways shaped countless individuals and the state of Alaska as well. Niilo will forever be in my heart.

  4. I went to U. Park with his son, Carl, and I can remember seeing Niilo just about everywhere I went in Fairbanks. But once, when I was at the Inuit Ciircumpolar Conference in Sismiut, Greenland, I saw him walk in, look around, and then he came and sat beside me. I felt like one of the most important people there. He was so warm, so kind, so hard-working, and held deeply to his convictions. He was an institution in Fairbanks. What a great man to have crossed paths with.

  5. Nilo was a gentle soul who warmed the hearts of countless Fairbanksans for many, many years. So sorry to hear of his passing. He gave so much. Deepest sympathies to the family.

  6. I send my condolences to all of Niilo’s family. He was a great man with a great family. I had the pleasure of meeting him several times when I first began working at Woodriver, 25 years ago, and I always enjoyed talking with him. Joan and Heather, like Niilo opened their home and hearts to my students several years ago when we did a project called “School of the Future” design contest. In this project we envisioned a school on the lower end of the Koponen property that embraced all that he stood for. He would have been very proud of the work my students did. I think a little of him was passed on to them as we walked the homestead, ate cookies with Heather and Joan and admired the campaign buttons on the ceiling and walls. Thanks Niilo, you will be missed.

  7. We were fortunate to work with Niilo during his time in the Legislature. His intellect, compassion and vision of Alaska inspired us all. He was a wonderful man, and a true leader.

    John and Cindy Adams

  8. I met Niilo nearly 30 years ago through Dick Ferris, IIRC. I’ve never forgotten him or the sauna evenings and I was so proud that he was my neighbor (a few miles down the road but still, at the time, it felt like a neighborhood). He was one of the quickest, best educated, most grounded people I’ve ever met. Even though I was younger, full of myself, and far more ignorant than Niilo, he was amazingly generous in all matters. He was one reason I’ve always felt a tinge of regret for leaving Fairbanks. I felt like I knew more or less the trajectory of his life but perhaps half of today’s obituary was new to me. Harvard, I knew about but somehow I missed that he got a PhD, I knew about the refugee camp but I completely forgot about the Bronx. Fairbanks, Dick, Joan, the kids, I am sorry for your loss.

  9. Rest in peace Niilo. I am honored to have known you even just a little bit. A man who walked this earth with vision and grace. We are all a little better for your life.

  10. Since Heather called us on Dec 3rd John and I have been pulling up our memories of the many times we have shared with Niilo and the importance of his life in ours – from a trip and research project he and I shared in northwest Alaska, the Sundays at the Koponen sauna, getting the first-hand accounts of early Fairbanks and the Alaska Party during the Constitutional Convention, the quiet presence at Chena Ridge Meeting, and later at our Juneau Friends Worship group, discussions of many legislative issues while he toiled in the Alaska House of Representatives serving the people of his district and the whole of the state. We have cherished all those times and more. He was a truly great man and friend and we loved him and will miss him.

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