Bristol Bay Elder Hjalmar “Ofi” Olson Dies at 75

Bristol Bay elder Hjalmar E. “Ofi” Olson passed away at an Anchorage hospital at the age of 75. Olson was battling kidney failure, and his health was deteriorating in recent months. He was medevaced to Anchorage Sunday, and according to a family friend, was taken off dialysis mid-week. He succumbed late Wednesday or early Thursday, surrounded by family.

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This picture was taken early June, after Ofi and some friends gathered for dinner around a first king salmon of the season. Credit Hannah Colton, KDLG
This picture was taken early June, after Ofi and some friends gathered for dinner around a first king salmon of the season.
Credit Hannah Colton, KDLG

“I think we all knew that he wasn’t in the best of health, and I just learned very early this morning that he had passed,” said Bryce Edgmon Thursday morning. “A big shock to everyone, even though we all knew his health was in decline. Very sorry to see him go.”

Edgmon spent Saturday evening with Ofi, driving around town, the harbor, boat yard, and visiting subsistence sites all the way down Kananakak Beach.

“We watched a number of the set net boats being launched, and listened to the Fish and Game announcements, and really just had a very nice, quiet, reflective evening,” he said.

Ofi and Anuska Olson Credit Clark James Mishler
Ofi and Anuska Olson
Credit Clark James Mishler

Olson remained in good spirits and his mind was sharp, even as his health grew worse and he spent more time at a hospital in Anchorage.

“We were down in the boat yard, and he was naming off all the boats that were still there, and why they weren’t going out, engine problems, whatever was the case. He was absolutely very sharp up until the very end,” said Edgmon.

Ofi Olson was a Bristol Bay fisherman, and was the longtime president, CEO, and chairman of the board of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. He also sat on a number of other boards, commissions, and panels throughout an active career as one of the region’s most prominent leaders.

“I think his legacy is so rich, and so profound, that it’s only going to grow over time,” said Edgmon. “Ofi was the chairman of the BBNC board, I think, for the longest tenure of any chairman in the history of the state. As iconic figures are known, all you had to say was “Ofi” and people knew who you were talking about.”

As of Thursday morning, there was no information about funeral arrangements. A family friend did say there was consideration of delaying a funeral until after the commercial fishing season.

“I think as time goes on, and his service is held, we’re going to find that a lot of people throughout the state, a lot of Alaska Native leaders, a lot of people in the Native Corporation world and elsewhere, are going to be coming to town and paying their respects to Ofi,” said Edgmon.