Friends of Mike Maki describe him as a loner - yet he's the kind of guy who everyone seems to know.
Now Maki, a longtime Silver Bay resident, is relying on support from those friends and family as he battles esophageal cancer.
"I think he's doing about the best he can," said friend Curt Gubrud, who has known Maki for about 18 years. "He's not giving up hope, but it's quite a cross to bear that he has."
Maki, 53, was recently diagnosed with advanced-stage esophageal cancer and has been battling deteriorating health since. He was hospitalized a few weeks ago at St. Luke's in Duluth, and doctors had to install a feeding tube. He will require chemotherapy to continue his fight.
While his medical expenses continue to pile up, Andy Fisher, a friend and the owner of the National Forest Lodge in Isabella, decided to organize a benefit for Maki, who has worked for Fisher in the past.
"Mike-A-Palooza" will take place from noon to 10 p.m. on Saturday, March 9, at the National Forest Lodge. The benefit will include live music, food and an auction, with proceeds going to help pay Maki's medical and personal bills. Tickets are available in advance for $25 at mikemaki.com, or for $35 on the day of the benefit.
The event will feature eight local musicians and bands, with live auctions between each set. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, an outdoor hot tub and lakeside sauna will also be available as part of the lodge's accommodations.
Fisher said its hurt him to see Maki sick, so he decided to do his part by organizing the benefit.
"I would do anything for Mike," he said. "I'm busy (managing the lodge), but I can't not make time for him."
Maki grew up in Two Harbors, where his dad was a land commissioner. He graduated from Two Harbors High School and has lived along the North Shore his entire life. Maki has held various jobs over the years, mostly those that have allowed him to be outdoors.
"He's a little bit of a loner, but he loves the woods, which I guess goes hand in hand," said Gubrud, with whom Maki has been harvesting balsam boughs near Beaver Bay for several years. "He's an avid fisherman and he's an excellent handyman. Any project he gets involved is done immaculately."
Maki has also done environmental remediation work, worked for local entities to plant trees in areas affected by wildfires and has been involved with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
"Mike has sort of lived his own life, worked on the days he's wanted to work and fished when he wanted to fish," Fisher said. "He's been my fishing mentor. My dad didn't fish much, but at my late age of 57, Mike got me to know which end of the hook goes in the fish's mouth."
Maki battled with alcoholism early in his life, but he has been in recovery for more than 20 years, his friend said. However, the drinking - and smoking that came along with the stress of quitting - probably contributed to his cancer, said Fisher.
"He was married a while and battled with AA, and like a lot of folks, he tended to smoke," he said. "I think that's how he's gotten where he is now."
Despite his tendency to be alone, Maki's friends say that he would still be there to help others dealing with similar circumstances.
"He's always one of those people that are willing to help others in that same problem," Gubrud said. "He would take them to AA meetings or have them call him if they're slipping. And he's a really spiritual guy.