Chuck Mitman has fostered more than 20 dogs and has adopted five since founding HARK. People often see Mitman driving his motorcycle with his canine companion riding in the side car. Photo courtesy of Chuck Mitman.

Chuck Mitman, who turns 64 this Sunday, has always been one to lend a helping hand. Helping others has been a personal mission, and one he’s incorporated into a local volunteer organization, for as long as he can remember.

Last week, he was one of 13 Alaskans to be recognized by First Lady Donna Walker as part of the annual First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Award.

Mitman was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2015. Doctors gave him 18 months to live. “I was supposed to be done a year ago,” Mitman said. “I’m doing pretty good in that respect, that I’ve gotten another year so far.”

It’s a common story for individuals who, facing their mortality, dedicate the remainder of their lives to others. But Mitman always remembers being inclined to service and said being diagnosed with cancer didn’t precede his desire to help people.

“My mom was like that,” Mitman told the CVN this week, during a break from making potato salad for one of the many fundraisers he volunteers for. “I remember when the ice cream truck would come by and my mom would say we could only have ice cream if she could buy ice cream for every kid that was around. She hated the fact that there was somebody sitting there without it.”

His personal mission statement, which is also now the Uglys of Haines’ mission statement, is “through brotherhood and teamwork we can enhance the lives of other people and thereby enhance our own lives.”

Mitman was a founding member of Haines Animal Rescue Kennel, the Uglys and Alaska’s chapter of the Wind & Fire Motorcycle Club, which supports 34 charities. He’s been a volunteer ambulance crew member and firefighter for 17 years, and he serves on the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation board. He is a current member of the Haines Public Safety Commission and the American Legion.

HARK has been instrumental in providing spay and neuter clinics, along with funding vet visits to town over the years. The Uglys host a number of fundraisers for causes throughout the year. “People have a hole in them they’ve got to fill it with something,” Mitman said. “I like motorcycles and dogs and doing things for people. I’ve always been like that.”

Mitman’s most recent drive is to secure funding for cancer patients to travel from Haines to see their doctors. Uglys member Dave Long said those funds have helped a few dozen locals with travel funds. “His energy is more than everybody else’s somehow,” Long said. “People come to see Chuck at these things. He’s an anchor for our group.”

Mitman said when a person shows love, those who give and receive it are rewarded with oxytocin, or as he calls it, “juice.”

“When you have to change the snow tires on the car your heart isn’t open and you don’t get any juice for it,” Mitman said. “I’ve noticed it especially since I got sick. I’ve got juice to do stuff, but I don’t get juice to do some of the more mundane things.”

Melissa Stepovich chaired the committee that chose Mitman from among the 90 nominees.

“We just loved him,” Stepovich said. “For somebody who’s going through what he’s going through, he just keeps on going and keeps on giving. That’s just amazing and inspiring and he is someone who needs to be celebrated.”

Mitman said he doesn’t want to draw too much attention to himself. He described the ceremony in Juneau where he had lunch with the governor and his wife as humbling. He said many people in Haines deserve the same award. He said if anything, being recognized shows that everyone has worth, even a “tattooed biker and dog-crazy guy.”

“This award just means that even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then,” Mitman said.