Friends and former customers remembered Rudolph "Rudy" Pusich as the friendly and funny host to their communal family Wednesday, a day after the former proprietor of Mike's Place died.
Pusich was known as owner of the restaurant that had been operating since 1937 on Second Street in Douglas until it closed in 2003. He was 86.
Former patrons and family members said that during its 66 years in business the restaurant was the gathering place in Douglas. Pusich's friendly smile and funny jokes were among the main ingredients for success.
"He is part of everybody's family in Douglas," said Fred Baxter, who has been friends with the Pusiches for 60 years. "He was always there to help. And he loved parties. As long as there was a party, he liked to be there."
Pusich's son, Pat, said the restaurant had served meals to every territorial governor and state governor since its establishment. It was home to the Douglas Lions Club for nearly 40 years. It was where the yearly Douglas Fourth of July Parade was first discussed. It also hosted the "wake" when Douglas was annexed to Juneau.
"When the pioneers died, it was the place for receptions and remembrance parties," said Kim Poole, a longtime neighbor and friend of Pusich's. "It was like a community hall."
Pusich's father, Mike, a Yugoslav immigrant, opened the restaurant. Pusich and his six siblings had worked at the restaurant since they were little. The few years he didn't work at the restaurant were when he worked in the mines and served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II.
"He went to work in the mines to be a man," said Pusich's daughter, Sharon Pusich Gill. "He was probably 16 or 17 years old. And everyone was surprised how strong and tough he was at a young age," he said.
When Mike died in 1953, Pusich, the oldest child, led the business and ran it with his family of eight children. Through the restaurant, he got to know many people in town.
"He used his sense of humor to warm up to people," Pat said. "He never wanted to takes sides. He was on all sides. He treated people as if they were his customers."
His daughter, Anna Marg Rear, said there wasn't anyone Pusich wouldn't BS with.
An avid fisherman, Pusich had participated in every Golden North Salmon Derby since the event started in 1947. He won the derby in 1961 with a king salmon weighing 43 pounds, 8 ounces.
"Dad took fishing very seriously," said Pusich's daughter, Lisa Pusich. "He would take the pole away from you and set up the hook. We only got to get the net. He just wanted to make sure we wouldn't lose the fish."
Pusich's wife of 57 years, Mary Elizabeth, said it was a hard decision for him to close the restaurant.
"It was his life," Mary Elizabeth said. "He enjoyed the friends he made. But it was the right decision."
Pusich was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago. He felt ill last Thursday and died Tuesday. Until the last days of his life, he had enjoyed the company of friends, family members and his favorite television show, "The Price is Right."
"He said he had a wonderful life," Sharon said.
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.