ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — The renewed effort to catch the bear that killed Michael Soltis in June comes as small relief to his friends and family, who lost a brother, fiancé and father-to-be.
Friends and family of Soltis remembered him at a fundraiser event Wednesday evening at the Eagle River Alehouse.
Three long-time friends started a memorial fund, raising money to help support the unborn daughter of Mike Soltis and his fiancé Elizabeth Claus.
As friends of Soltis’ for over 20 years, these men feel it's their duty to pick up where he left off, because they say he would have done the same for them.
"Mike would have been the best father, and provided so much for his baby girl,” said Sean Rheault. “And the little that we're doing tonight is just to help do what he can't be here to do anymore."
“We love Mike. He's a brother. And he knows that we have his back,” Mike Conner said. “Whether he's here or not, we have his back."
They say Wednesday night was more than a fundraiser, it was a chance for the many who loved Soltis to say goodbye.
"Have a few beers, tell some stories, socialize with a lot of his friends, and remember the good times, and celebrate his life,” Kerwin Fairbanks said. “He's a phenomenal guy, and none of us are ever going to forget him."
All $6 beer purchases Wednesday night went directly to the family. The Eagle River Alehouse owner Matt Tomter, who donated the beer, says Soltis was a frequent and welcomed guest of the restaurant.
"Mike's got a daughter on the way. It's not really about money. Some way to bring everybody to the place where he spent a lot of time, and have a beer together and say goodbye,” Tomter said. “But at the same time, do something nice for a kid he never got to meet," he added.
Friends of Soltis say he defended bears, saying not all are overly aggressive predators. But after the tragic accident, they say something needs to change in the way bears are managed.
"So we have an overpopulation of bears. Mike loved bears too,” Conner said. “But at the end of the day, we need proper day management instead of it turning into a bear sanctuary, and that is exactly what I believe is taking place."
Soltis' fiancé Elizabeth Claus, who is due to deliver the couple's baby in November, said the support she's received from the Anchorage community is helping her manage her grief.
And while money alone can't fill the void left from the death of her fiancé, she knows family isn't far away.
"Mike and I, years ago, we made kind of a pact over a few beers that if anything ever happened to me he was going to be there he promised to be there for my wife and children,” Sean Rheault said. “And I told him I would do the same for him. And unfortunately, I have to do that. I wish she was here, but I'm going to be here for his family for the rest of my life."
Eagle River Alehouse said at least $10,000 was raised Wednesday, money that will be delivered straight to Elizabeth Claus. For those who would like to provide additional support to the family, visit the Friends of Michael Soltis Memorial Fund page.