The beautiful life of Al Mal
How advice from one wise friend changed everything
Al “Al Mal” Malinowski is amiable and functions with a kind of ease that is found in people who help shape things. In his case, he helped shape Big Sky. Still, he gets a little uncomfortable when asked to talk about himself and would rather discuss other people, projects and the lost history of the community.
At the time of the interview, he was reflective, pondering the decisions and people that have helped form his life. He began discussing a pivotal moment when the wise words of his former roommate and longtime friend Tom Benoit caused a shift in thinking, a different path, a new adventure and faith in the future.
Twenty-six years ago, almost to the day, Malinowski packed up his car and headed to Big Sky for a job he almost did not accept because it was not exactly what he wanted. Benoit told him to be open, to take the leap.
With the recent death of Benoit, he is grieving but also feels grateful for the friendship – and for the life his friend guided him toward.
If that advice had gone unheard or unheeded, Malinowski’s life would be completely different and he guesses, far less amazing. He would not have met his wife, had his children, or made the countless friends he has in the community. One of those longtime friends is wildlife photographer Michael Haring, with whom he has trekked to Alaska on eight different occasions. He has done daring things so Haring could capture scenes with his camera – like standing in frigid rivers while surrounded by grizzly bears feasting on salmon.
So, his adventurous, busy and vibrant existence boils down to a multitude of decisions big and small all stacked-up. In all the words and sentences that he forms to present a picture of his life, he continually credits other people, without acknowledging that perhaps some credit is due to himself – for having the courage to step into the unknown when he was 24 years old.
“I never realized that little bit of advice changed my life,” he said. “We all have those moments where you look back and realize it was a bigger decision than what you knew at the time.”
Malinowski was raised in the northeast corner of Detroit by a father who was in the Detroit Police Department. Basketball proved the saving grace for the Malinowski boys.
“I feel like growing up there, being involved in sports as a kid helped me get involved in some positive things as opposed to some of the trouble I could have found,” he said.
While he knows that Big Sky kids do not function with many of the same kind of struggles and temptations as inner-city youth, he loves that he has been able to volunteer with the basketball program all these years. Life lessons are learned in athletics.
He enjoys keeping kids focused on positive things: being a good teammate, learning their role in a situation, supporting each other through wins and losses, he explained. He can recite stats for nearly every player he has ever coached.
“It’s something I take great pride in, being involved in that for so many years and in the process developing relationships with teachers, parents or players,” he said. He has seen kids he has coached get married and have their own children – and he has coached the next generation, too.
“I feel like being part of a community means assisting where you can,” he said.
There is a certain mentality that pervades Big Sky – and always has. The generosity of spirit – a willingness to share talents and labor to create and solve problems is ever present in the history of Big Sky.
“Many people recognize that even as an unincorporated entity we are capable and very successful at getting things done in our community. That mindset of being the community that gets things done – and gets things done successfully – has grown from the beginning,” he said.