Jeffrey Ernest Weltzin, better known as “Jeff the Great” or “Jeff the MVP,” suddenly left this Earth on March 22, 2022. Jeff was born December 3, 1955, in Chicago. 16 years later he met the love of his life, Denise Daniello in Cicero, Illinois. They were together happily for 48 years.
Jeff was an extraordinary renaissance man who lived a life of adventure, compassion, empathy, and curiosity. Jeff and Denise left Cicero when they were both 20 for the great state of Alaska, where they lived, loved and grew their family in Fairbanks. Jeff loved Alaska and its wild, unknown, untamed, bountiful and spontaneous qualities - qualities Jeff possessed as well. Jeff did not have a college degree. He was a self-made man. He taught himself about sustainability, technical grant writing, tax credits, entrepreneurship and renewable energy sources.
Jeff’s love for Alaska went further than responsible resource and renewal energy development. He eagerly seized opportunities the state had to offer, not for himself, but to help better others’ lives. He learned how to write grants to benefit Tribes and he created his own rural economic development consulting company, helping build opportunities in rural tribal communities. He raised millions of dollars for Tribes in Alaska and a few in Oregon.
Jeff had a strong entrepreneurial streak. He and his family owned and operated the Original Alaska Birch Syrup Company, tapping birch trees for the sap and cooking it down into delicious syrup. When others tried to replicate the recipe, Jeff treated them as partners rather than competitors and taught them tricks he had learned through trial and error. He practiced the belief that we are all in this journey to help and benefit each other. Jeff also produced gourmet jams and jellies out of Alaska wild berries, fireweed and spruce tips. He took a swing at raising Geoducks in Southeast Alaska and he tested out his green thumb by owning and running a small state-licensed marijuana growing operation. A true pioneer in many varying respects.
He believed public service was a duty and served as an elected member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. He was active with the Fairbanks (now Northern Alaska) Environmental Center and led the effort to prevent a massive dam on the upper Susitna River.
Jeff was an athlete. If you’re a friend of Jeff’s, or even just a business acquaintance, there’s a good chance he has challenged you to a wrestling match. He played on multiple hockey leagues over the years and was known as the “Ninja Faceoff Warrior” for his nearly perfect record of winning faceoffs as the team’s center.
Many younger professionals often referred to Jeff as their “spirt animal” because of the way he communicated with ease and without force, and more importantly the way he listened thoughtfully and paused before speaking.
Jeff loved his family with all his heart. Jeff and Denise raised two daughters – Maegan (husband Eli Sonafrank, and their two children), a neuroscientist at University of Alaska Fairbanks and Jana (husband James Stevens), a lawyer in Anchorage representing local businesses. His girls were always by his side. He incorporated the family in his pursuits, whether it was flying in small planes to remote villages, bottling and labeling syrup, picking blueberries for his jams and jellies, or making copies at midnight to make a grant deadline. He was a wonderful soccer coach to both daughters and was spirited at their games, as he always did everything with full energy and commitment. He will be missed. Jeff is survived by his wife, his daughters, his two grandchildren, and his three siblings, Teedee, Eric, and Daniel Weltzin and all of his beloved nieces & nephews. Jeff’s message to all is envision the desired outcome, create the path forward, and welcome the challenges, as new goals and discoveries take you to the places you end up cherishing the most.
Jeff will be buried at the Northern Lights Cemetery on June 3rd at 2pm, all who loved him are welcomed to join the family for the burial – shortly after the burial we will be hosting a party per Jeff’s wishes. The celebration of life will be held at Ken Kunkel Community Center (2645 Goldstream Road, Fairbanks, AK 99709) directly after the burial – we will have food, music & drinks – feel free to bring a dish to share and most importantly, bring your Jeff stories.
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