The chairman of Alaska’s only operating coal mine and a pioneer of the industry has died at age 83.
Joe Usibelli Sr. died Thursday after an unspecified long-term illness, according to his company. He was in Tucson, Arizona, with his wife Peggy Shumaker, according to the company’s announcement.
Born in Suntrana, near Healy, Usibelli was 25 when his father, Emil Usibelli, died unexpectedly in 1964. Joe Usibelli Sr. found himself in charge of the company that now supplies about 1.2 million tons of coal per year, according to the Department of Natural Resources. During his career, Usibelli modernized the mine’s equipment and introduced new mining techniques.
“My dad was a visionary and a pioneer in Alaska’s mining industry,” said a statement from Joe Usibelli Jr., who has been the president of Usibelli Coal Mine since 1987. “He was known for his ingenuity, generosity, and his deep love for his family, employees, and community.”
Charlie Boddy worked with Usibelli for 40 years before retiring as a vice president of governmental relations. He said that Usibelli was a mentor to him, who showed him that leadership also means listening, challenging and helping your employees.
“No matter what your job was, no matter what you were doing, he was always, always looking for a way that you could do your job better, that you could help the company,” Boddy said. “He is without a doubt one of the kindest people I’ve ever known in my adult life.”
Besides serving as a president of the company and then chairman, Usibelli was known for his philanthropy and contributions to the University of Alaska. He and his family helped with fundraising for the University of Alaska Museum of the North addition and with renovating the Gallery for Alaska. The Usibelli Foundation and the members of the Usibelli family donated more than $8.5 million to the university through scholarships, faculty awards and capital projects, University of Alaska President Pat Pitney said in a prepared statement.
“You give back. You have to,” Usibelli said to the University of Alaska in 2011. “Either that or you’re not doing it right.”
Details regarding Usibelli’s funeral are to come.