Category Archives: Niilo health

Niilo Koponen 1928-2013

(an extended obituary is posted here)
Niilo Koponen
Niilo Emil Koponen, 85, died on December 3, 2013, in Fairbanks of natural causes.

Niilo was known and respected across Alaska as a homesteader, educator, community and political activist including 10 years in the Alaska State legislature.

Born in 1928, Niilo grew up in a Finnish cooperative apartment building in the Bronx, New York, worked as an office machine repairman and in a shipyard with his father. He volunteered at a Quaker work camp in Finland helping WWII refugees which, after graduation from Wilberforce University inspired him to drive with his wife, Joan, to the “Last Frontier”, arriving in Fairbanks in March 1952.

Niilo worked as an electrician’s helper for the F.E. Company, electrician for the University of Alaska, surveyor, independent contractor with his dozer, and homesteader. He was shop steward for the Electrical Workers’ union at the F.E. Company and helped organize the surveyors’ union and the NEA in Alaska. Earning a teaching degree at the University of Alaska, he taught 4th and 5th grades.

In 1966, Niilo earned a doctorate in education from Harvard. Returning home, he was a principal, grants administrator, and consultant for projects such as the development of village high schools, and Director for Head Start.

Very active in grassroots politics, Niilo helped organize or serve on volunteer and service organizations: Friends Meeting, Credit Union, Fire & Rescue, Fair Board, Humanities Forum, Alaska Civil Liberties Union, Democrats, Crisis Line, and others.

Niilo’s reading speed, range and recall were phenomenal. This enormous knowledge base served the people well when Niilo represented his district in the Alaska Legislature from 1983-1992.

After Joan had a serious accident in 1991, Niilo retired from the Legislature, but continued to work on human and civil rights, education, community, and peace until his health declined.

He is survived by his wife Joan; their children Karjala of Vermont, Sanni of Ontario, Canada; Chena Newman and husband Gary, Heather, and Alex of Fairbanks; grandchildren Katya, Saari, Wendy, Colin, Matti, Max, Ben, and Dane, step grandsons Peter and Danny, and great-grandchild Callie. [update 2016] Since Niilo’s death, Max has married Sophia Snyder and in 2016 had a daughter Theodora. They live in Boston, MA.

There will be a memorial gathering at 2:00 pm on January 5, 2014 at the Pioneer Park Civic Center in Fairbanks. See this website or contact 479-6782 or for more information.

Niilo believed we can make a good difference in our community and world. As he used to say, “Onward!”

The Koponen Family

Niilo passes on

Surrounded by his loving family, Niilo died peacefully this afternoon Dec. 3, 2013 at Pioneer’s Home in Fairbanks.

There will be a memorial gathering to honor his life at Pioneer Park Civic Center starting at 2 pm Jan. 5, 2014.

Thanks to all who were able to visit and help support the family during his last years.

The Koponen Family
710 Chena Ridge Road
Fairbanks, AK 99712

Niilo moves to rm 201; 1950s friends gather

As winter has finally arrived in interior Alaska, with snow staying just the past 2 weeks, Niilo and Joan continue in stable health.
To accommodate a new resident couple needing adjoining rooms at the Pioneers Home, Niilo moved yesterday to room 201, across from the Aurora wing entrance. His room has nice wallpaper and staff did a nice job hanging up all his pictures in and outside his room. Joan continues living at home on Chena Ridge.
In September, Joan rode the rails to Denali Park with Heather & Rob along for a day. She enjoyed the rich red, yellow, and green scenery, games, the museum, and delicious meals. Too bad Niilo couldn’t join us!
Also in September, prompted by the visit of Ben & Evelyn Zeller, former next-door neighbors, a potluck & singing party was held at Koponens, with old friends from the 1950s. Since only a portion of “songs To Be Sung In Case of Emergency” were sung, it must not have been a true emergency, but folks enjoyed catching up and remembering.

Niilo at 85 yrs old

Turning 85 on March 6th, Niilo was feted by his fellow Fairbanks Pioneers Home residents and staff at lunchtime and again by family in the evening. He was alert all but a few moments of 3 evening hours; I think he truly knew what was going on and enjoyed the warmth, singing, musical slide show, and – of course – ice cream. He nodded yes to more ice cream and tried to speak a couple of times.

Joan also enjoyed the occasion, especially the musical slide show and ice cream. She seems eager to catch up to Niilo, too, feeling sure she is 83, not just about to turn 82 in April.

HeatherJ-N horsebackParade1990?

Barbecue, Parade, Quilt, Dentist

Bagpipes, jigs, friends, family, and delicious food were some of the things brought together by the Pioneers Home last week one merry evening. Old friends not formerly seen for years were Hitchcock clan women, Barry Corell, and others.

Then 2 days later, the Golden Days Parade, with front row seats by the river – very picturesque. Mom noted that there were many cars (and several fire engines and tractors) but only One horse! Also unicyclists big-front-wheeled bicyclists, many dogs, numerous Fairbanks groups of which I had formerly been ignorant, and the usual Golden Days suspects. And various old friends came up to say hello to Joan & Niilo: Great to see Larry Irving, Jim Johnson, and Pat Kalen. And Pioneers Home staff helped everyone be comfortable by supplying juices, hats, & sunglasses.

Niilo & Joan were recently given a special quilt DeVonne made for them, featuring trains & horses of course! DeVonne has been wonderful. She visits Niilo frequently, taking him for strolls and bringing train books to discuss with him.

Not as fun, Niilo went to the dentist today. But that actually went fine too. Dr. Miears crew are very experienced with the blend of gentleness and proficiency especially important for people with special needs. Niilo agrees to go back for a cleaning in a couple of months.

The continued warm, dry, smokey weather we’ve been having is at unhealthy levels, but neither Niilo nor Joan seem to be bothered by it. And the garden is doing very well. Peas are Joan’s delight tonight!


Pioneers Home Rm 229

Tuesday was the big day for Niilo: He moved to the Fairbanks Pioneers Home, where he is now situated at the very end of the longest corridor in Aurora wing, in Room 229.

Visiting hours are 7 am to 8 pm. Sign in near the front desk as a visitor and ask at the office for directions. Please also sign Niilo’s guest book. There is actually a northeastern Aurora entrance to enter closer to his room, but some of us enjoy the historic and wildlife pictures and the exercise taking the longer route.

Niilo appreciates slow, listening conversation, strolling in his wheelchair looking at and discussing the pictures on the walls, having poetry or a little news read to him, shoulder massages, or just having someone sit with him holding his hand in silent meditation.

Joan is doing well with Niilo’s move, and has visited and eaten with him 3 times already. Guests can eat with him in the main dining hall (bigger, and with abler residents) or in Aurora – talk to Niilo’s Aide or nurse or kitchen staff.

Joan’s adjustment to Niilo’s absence includes family and helper Nancy being able to do more with her, including driving down to see Niilo, being home alone more again, and using the older kitchen/dining area more again. (Since Niilo stopped being able to negotiate stairs a year ago, family meals had been in the wheelchair-accessible remodeled former “upstairs barn” that stored the year’s supply of hay for years.)

Spring is probably a good time for this move to have come; brighter days and the approaching outdoors weather and activities should help with the emotional adjustment.

Any messages to Niilo (via mail, phone, or email) will be read to him.

Bright June Thoughts

Greetings to all of you –

I was so sorry to hear about Niilo’s fall and subsequent problems. I had some unfortunate fallout after spine surgery in April, so I Really sympathize with his troubles and all of your time, support, and care. Please accept my hugs, best wishes, and bright thoughts, especially at seeing Niilo out and about for some time in the sun.


June Pinnell-Stephens

2008/07/10 at 5:57 PM

Prognosis: “He will live until he dies.” June 27th 2008 Diagnosis: Deep Vein Thrombosis

Niilo spent some 7 hours in the emergency room tonight, due to left leg swelling and new-onset calf pain.  Heather, then also Chena, and before discharge, Gary, were with him. He got his blood drawn again, a full-leg ultrasound, and a lung ultrasound to check for blood clots.  Results: No pulmonary embolus, but a deep vein thrombus (clot) the length of his leg.

The prognosis is not good: With a history of a bleed in the brain from January 2008 and high risk of falls, Niilo is a very poor candidate for blood thinners, the usual therapy.  Blood thinners also wouldn’t dissolve the clot, only prevent it from growing while allowing the body to gradually (months or more) dissolve it.  With or without anti-coagulants, there is still a substantial chance of a piece of clot breaking off and lodging in his lungs, very possibly fatally.  As the clot has surely been months in the making, timing of such an event is unpredictable, if it happens at all.

In the meantime, Niilo was cheerful this evening.  He had only a couple of transient bouts of pain, and seemed to enjoy the atmosphere, talking and laughing far more than usual.  He even stated that he understood the diagnosis and prognosis and accepts it.  At home, he asked me to stay with him for a while by his bed as he goes to sleep.

The doctors say life can go on as before, just elevating Niilo’s leg to heart level whenever he’s not actively doing something.  The swelling and episodic pain may or may not get worse.  About how long Dad may be with us, the doctor said, “I predict he’ll live until he dies.”  What more can we ask for?  If Dad is as cheery most of the rest of his days as he was today with this stuff going on, he’s a lucky man.



Niilo expressed his condolences upon hearing of the passing of Karl Carlson.

Niilo has been sleeping a lot recently and hasn’t wanted to walk or go outside, telling me that he wouldn’t want to fall.  Reassurance that we helpers won’t let him fall seemed to help.


Brief Update

Niilo is sleeping a bit more and a little less verbal the last few days. According to Heather, this may be due to the recent introduction of Alzheimer’s drug Namenda, but it is hard to tell. Dad has been getting an Exelon patch daily for approximately a month; the Namenda is a pill which is being tried to help Dad.

During the day, he is often up at the table. If people are conversing around him, he occasionally says a thing or two. The family appreciates those friends who come up for a brief hello. We still understand, from people who have only recently heard about Dad’s difficulties, that we haven’t reached out to many of Dad’s friends. Often it is hard to know who to call to let them know. Readers of this site are encouraged to spread the word. You can also see the “about” post for further contact info.

Heather is trying to get back to some hours at work this week. Marilyn and Dot, hired caregivers at the house, each come some hours some days. Chena comes in most days mid-morning until some time in the afternoon. Heather lives there and coordinates care and household work, as well as doing much of it herself. Alex is in and out. Mom is doing OK, but we realize we are not doing a whole lot with her recently and we do appreciate Mom’s friends who drop in to say hello to her too.

And it looks like a beautiful day! The sun is out, the trees are green, and just think of that fabulous view from the homestead on out into the valley & to the mountains beyond….Chena