Aloma Kewania Gibson, a longtime cook at a University of Minnesota fraternity house who used his large personality and disarming humor to befriend students while bridging the gulf between his life story and theirs, died Oct. 5. He was 76.
Born in Minneapolis in 1942, he graduated from South High School and had success as the lead singer of Little K and His Internationals, a band that toured and had a hit with “The Squabble.” A record deal was offered, but only if Aloma would share lead singing duties, said his daughter, Anatha Kaye. “He said ‘No,’ and that ended his music career,’” she said.
Taking his mother’s advice to always have a backup plan, he trained as a cook and worked at hotels and a restaurant in San Francisco. He moved back to Minnesota and in 1996 became the chef at the Sigma Phi Epsilon house on the U campus, serving two meals a day to about 20 young men. The fraternity estimates he cooked for more than 500 students during his lifetime.
“He really enjoyed working with those guys,” Kaye said. “He loved being around people and socializing.”
The brass nameplate on the door read “Chief of Culinary Operations,” and there was never a question of who was in charge. Sporting a tall chef’s hat when he was on duty and a cowboy hat when he was off, Gibson employed a gruff persona that was all bark and no bite.
Coining nicknames for the frat members, sharing a well-timed joke, or sometimes a sharp piece of advice, he grew close to each year’s crop of students.
“Gib was so much more than our chef to everyone that knew him,” said the announcement of his death on the fraternity’s Facebook page. “He was the funniest, loudest, most unique man anyone has ever met, and more importantly, he was our brother, our father, and our best friend.”
Gibson tailgated with the guys during homecoming, dined at their family dinner tables during Thanksgiving or Christmas, and spent hours at the fraternity watching his beloved Vikings or just hanging out.
David McLaughlin, who had served as the fraternity’s alumni board president, said Gibson’s first name became synonymous at the fraternity with big-hearted gestures, kindness, and fun.
“There’s a million stories to tell that are so wonderful,” he said. Gibson had a habit of calling a long list of frat members during the holidays to wish them well.
He once beguiled an airport official into allowing him to board a plane, even though he wasn’t carrying identification. Instead, he pulled a copy of the fraternity’s national magazine from his back pocket and pointed to the cover article that featured him. “True story,” said McLaughlin.
Gibson’s heartfelt connection to the students meant he mourned with them, too, including when McLaughlin’s brother, Will, a campaign volunteer for U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, died in the plane crash that killed the senator.
“He was so, so worried about my mom,” McLaughlin said. “He would call all the time.”
At the Minnesota chapter’s 100th anniversary two years ago, Gibson was made a full-fledged member of the fraternity.
“I believe we all wish we were a little more like Aloma in that we touch so many lives. It’s what we all strive for, and he just did it,” said McLaughlin.
The fraternity plans to establish a permanent endowment in Gibson’s name.
In addition to his daughter Anatha, he is survived by four other children, Darnell Larson, Keno Larson, Alisa Gibson-Wiltshire and Victoria Walker, along with several grandchildren. Services have been held.