Mark Libby Banks was born on July 19, 1932 in Onigum, Minnesota, on the Leech Lake Reservation, in Anishinabe Territory. The son of Frank Dick and Annie Banks, Mark’s traditional Ojibwe name was Ogemahwahjewabe, and he was a proud member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. He endured Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools in Pipestone, Minn., and Flandreau, South Dakota, then served in the United States Air Force.
Mark attended Brown Institute in Minneapolis and became a successful disc jockey, opening radio stations across the Midwest. His distinctive on-air presence, endless sense of humor, intelligence and articulate voice allowed him to cross over into acting in television and film, and Mark moved to Southern California. Under the stage name Johnny West, he got his start from legendary comedian Jonathan Winters, and Mark’s TV credits include “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Barney Miller,” and “The Bob Newhart Show.” He was a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
As a savvy, seasoned broadcast journalist, and the older brother of American Indian Movement cofounder Dennis Banks, Mark delivered the true, behind-the-scenes stories of the Wounded Knee occupation of 1973 to the mainstream media, facilitating multicultural understanding, and celebrity support for the Native side of the story. Mark loved to enlighten and educate people on Native issues, and traveled to the United Kingdom, where he spoke in Parliament.
Mark loved singing with a big band, playing basketball, baseball and cribbage, and traveling. Most of all, Mark loved to make people laugh – and he was legendary at it. He is survived by daughters Lori Kuester (Charlie), and Wishelle Banks; a son, Todd Dale Banks; a sister, Charlotte Banks Wagner; three grandchildren: Dawn Roethler; Ryan Roethler (Dawn Willingham Roethler); Gia Banks; and 3 great-grandchildren: Ashleigh; Andrew; and Jude; many beloved nieces and nephews, and his longtime love, Cherie Leni. He was also loved by those who knew him as “Papa Mark” – Jody, Wayne, Sunday, Lars, Cherie, Steve, Dion, Franco, Brennen, Jade, Jaclyn, Mike, Tristan, Emma, Ean, McKenzie, Nathaniel, Elijah, Jason, Kevyon, Natalia, Gianna, Gabriel, Mia, Dion, Giovanne, Berlin, Alyla, and Wilder. Mark was a proud member of the Church of Christ, and loved Jesus, and the Bible.
Mark made his journey to the spirit world on Tues., August 24, 2021, in Deer River, Minn. A private burial service will be held August 28 at Battle Point Cemetery; at a later date, the family will gather for a celebration of Mark’s life. He was a sweet, kind, intelligent, generous, highly-accomplished, hilarious and happy man. Mark will be forever missed by his family, friends, and sweetheart … he has earned his Eternal Salvation, and rests in the arms of God!
Mark’s care has been entrusted to Northern Peace Funeral Home of Walker, MN. Online condolences for the family may be left at www.northernpeace.com
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