Strong, chef, Native advocate, dies at 75


December 16, 2021

Tony Strong.

Tony Strong, an attorney who also worked as a professional chef, was memorialized at a Saturday service in Klukwan.

Strong died unexpectedly at his village home on Dec. 6 of an apparent heart attack. He was 75.

A long-time Juneau resident, Strong retired from law and returned home to the village in 2015, where he became an advocate for the Klukwan School.

Strong was born Nov. 2, 1946 in Eureka, Calif., the fourth of 11 children of Abbie and Jerry Strong. He earned his high school diploma while living with brother Ralph Strong in San Jose, Calif., but spent most of his youth in Alaska, including working at Strong's Café, his family's restaurant on Main Street in the 1960s.

After high school, he returned to Alaska, working as a waiter aboard state ferries to earn tuition for college classes. He also lived in Honolulu, where he waited tables at Michel's, a landmark French restaurant at Waikiki.

Strong graduated from Rutgers University with honors in 1974 and earned a law degree from Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C. While studying there, he served on the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs under U.S. Sen. James Abourezk, a South Dakota Democrat who authored the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Indian Self-Determination Act.

After earning his law degree, he returned to Juneau and set up a general practice that included Indian law, criminal defense, personal injury and family law. "His knowledge of the law and willingness to help had positive impacts on multiple levels in both Juneau and his home community of Klukwan," sister Lani Hotch said this week.

Attorney Jack Paulson met Strong in 1986 and kept an office bunk open for him to use during trips through town. Strong was "a natural at meeting new people" and also was outspoken on justice issues, Paulson said. Strong served for years on the boards of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Native American Rights Fund.

Strong worked summers as a chef aboard charter yachts sailing out of Juneau, Poulson said. "Cooking was his true passion. He'd regale you with every step in the making of some dish, down to every ingredient. He just lived for cooking."

Strong was called on to prepare meals at local events, Tlingit ceremonial feasts and fund-raisers. His variations of moose dinners were a draw for regulars at an annual dinner and auction to benefit the Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Heritage and Bald Eagle Preserve Visitor Center.

He also enjoyed foraging for mushrooms and harvesting wild foods.

Dedicated to the village school, Strong served on the Klukwan Advisory school board, volunteered to drive the school's bus and sometimes cooked school lunches. "Tony was very devoted to the school. He put in time for many different things, including (rebuilding) the school's playground," said Nicholas Szatkowski, who served alongside Strong on the school board.

Strong brought a shrewd mind and a positive demeanor to school efforts, including legal insights, Szatkowski said. "He was so willing to give so much of his time."

Strong was preceded in death by father Jerry Strong, mother Abbie Strong, half-sister Jerilyn Stedman, and brother Fred Strong.

He is survived by daughters Yvette Rifley of Dunnellon, Fla. and Jessica Elofson of Port Angeles, Wash. and by grandchildren Chelsey and Jordan Curry, Gillian Elofson, and Kodiak and Fisher Adkins. He's also survived by brothers Ralph and Chip of Haines; Jim, Jack and Henry of Klukwan; Dave of California, and Gene of Lafayette, Ga., and by sisters Lani Hotch and Kimberley Strong of Klukwan.

Tony Strong was buried in Klukwan.


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