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BSNC chair Henry Ivanoff Sr. remembered for leadership and service

portrait of Henry Ivanoff
A memorial portrait of Henry Ivanoff Sr. Photo from Bering Straits Native Corporation. Used with permission.

Bering Straits Native Corporation board chair Henry Ivanoff Sr. of Unalakleet passed away on March 30, 2022, after a brief illness. He was 78 years old. Ivanoff left a legacy of leadership and service to the people of Western Alaska.

Ivanoff’s son, Henry Ivanoff Jr., said the first thing that came to mind when he thought of his father was Ivanoff Sr.’s work ethic.

“He was a hard worker. … When he was younger, his father would put him to work around the house, you know, doing chores like getting wood. They didn’t have running water back then, so he’d have to go out there also to chop ice for water. And that’s how he started his younger life — working,” Ivanoff Jr. said.

Ivanoff Sr. spent over 50 years in the broadcasting industry, providing radio service to several villages in Western Alaska. He founded KNSA in his hometown of Unalakleet in 1982, but he also worked for some time at KYUK in Bethel. Sam Towarak, who worked with Ivanoff at KNSA, shared a story about Ivanoff’s early days in radio.

“He was assigned to a live broadcast for the tugboat coming in, that first barge of the season, and we had a good laugh about that. If you could imagine trying to cover a tugboat coming in — what you can do to describe that,” Towarak said.

Most in the broader region will know Ivanoff by his accomplishments as a member of the Bering Straits Native Corporation. He served on the BSNC board since 1978, and as president and CEO from 1985 to 1989. He then served as chairman of the BSNC board from 1989 until his death. Ivanoff is both the longest-serving board member and board chairman in the corporation’s history, according to a BSNC press release.

BSNC president and CEO Gail Schubert praised Ivanoff’s leadership and vision, which she said she noticed from their first meeting.

“The first time I really met Henry was in 1978, when I’d graduated from college and took a summer job in accounting at the Unalakleet Native Corporation. And he started his job as president of the Unalakleet Native Corporation on the first day. … As we stood outside the office waiting for it to open, he turned to me, and we started talking about things that he should do or could do as President of the Unalakleet Native Corporation. And he really had a vision for what could be,” Schubert said.

Ivanoff’s leadership was a key component in BSNC’s growth, Schubert said.

“I really think that in terms of being able to kind of grow an organization, you really need a strong board chair, and someone that someone like me, as President and CEO of the company can turn to for advice and guidance,” she said.

Ivanoff was also involved in the creation of NOAA Fisheries’ Community Development Quota program, which allocates a portion of fishing quotas in the Bering Sea to coastal communities, Schubert said.

Ivanoff served on many other boards, including those of the Alaska Federation of Natives, Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation and Unalakleet Native Corporation. He was also the longest-serving Mayor of Unalakleet, a position which he occupied from 1994 to 2006.

KNOM joins BSNC in offering our condolences to Henry Ivanoff’s family and loved ones.

Image at top: A memorial portrait of Henry Ivanoff Sr. Photo courtesy of Bering Straits Native Corporation. Used with permission.

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Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.