Michael Chase Remebered as Advocate, Musher

by Ben Matheson on February 19, 2015

The late Michael and Eliza Chase stand in front of his race sled at the Fur Rondy sled dog race in Anchorage. Photo courtesy of Chase family.

The late Michael and Eliza Chase in Anchorage. Photo courtesy of Chase family.

A YK Delta elder, Michael Chase, passed away Tuesday. The 88-year-old is being remembered for his leadership, service to his community and his contributions to the region’s health in a difficult period.

He was born at Nunacuaq, and later lived in nearby village of Nunapitchuk. In the early 1950s when the tuberculosis epidemic was killing thousands of people, Chase, one of the first health aides in the state, inspired a treatment program in villages. Doctor Beryl Michaelson hoped to bring a new drug to the ravaged villages, but many adults struggled with the concept of microscopic germs.

Chase works at his fish camp. Photo courtesy of Chase family.

Chase is remembered as a community-minded provider. Photo courtesy of Chase family.

According to stories in the book “Bethel, The First 100 Years” 26-year-old Chase asked to borrow a microscope, which he had learned to use at Mount Edgecumbe. A microscope was flown out to Nunaptichuk and he convinced elders of the presence of germs. That paved the way for sanitation improvements and successful treatment of TB in villages. The innovative idea inspired a statewide program for TB prevention and treatment in rural villages.

Sharon Lindley is Chase’s daughter.

“That kind of innovative effort by dad, with help by Dr. Michaelson, helped to get the medication implemented in the villages,” said Lindley.

Daughter Margaret Chase said that was one of many ways he used his energy to help his community.

“He cared about the well-being of people, not only at home, but the whole community. He had a great attitude; he wanted the best for the Native people,” said Chase.

Chase was also an accomplished sprint musher who competed at several Fur Rondy races in Anchorage. Mike Williams Senior, from Akiak, recalls Chase having a very fast team and being a good mentor to up and coming mushers. Chase served in the Alaska Territorial Guard in the Aleutian Islands during World War II and worked as a teacher for the Bureau of Indian affairs in the Bristol Bay region.

He later worked as a maintenance worker in schools and was active in the Kuskokwim Fishermen’s Cooperative, local government, and his church. Chase was married to the late Eliza Chase. They had 11 children, of which seven are still living. Funeral services are set for Saturday at  2:00 p.m. at the Bethel Moravian Church.

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