Thomas “Tom” Martin Rukavina
0/23/1950 - 01/07/2019
Thomas “Tom” Martin Rukavina, 68, of Pike Township, died on Monday, January 7, 2019, at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis after a battle with leukemia. The family would like to thank the talented staff at the University of Minnesota Medical Center for their extraordinary care of Tom during his stay. Funeral services will be on Saturday, January 19, at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Virginia, at 11 a.m., with visitation beginning at 9:30 a.m. Visitation will also be held on Friday, January 18, from 5-7 p.m. at Range Funeral Home in Virginia. In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to the Tom Rukavina Scholarship Fund c/o Mesabi Range College Foundation, 1001 W Chestnut St., Virginia, MN 55792.
Tom was born to Martin “Benny” and Martha Rukavina in Virginia on August 23, 1950. He grew up on northside in an ethnically diverse neighborhood with a close immediate and extended family which positively shaped his life forever.
He graduated from Virginia High School in 1968. He attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus where he graduated magna cum laude in political science, with a minor in history, and graduated in 1972. While at UMD, he met Lenore Lampi of Palo; they married in September 1973. They lived for nearly 30 years north of Virginia where they homesteaded in Pike Township and built a house together with their family and friends, using lumber they milled themselves. Tom and Lenore had two children, Ida and Victor. Tom later married Jean Cole in October 2012, adding three stepdaughters to his circle of love.
Tom was proud to have been a steelworker at Minntac like his father before him. He was also a milk truck driver in the Tower and Soudan area, which he credits as one of the reasons a Croatian/Italian learned to speak Finnish. For many years he worked as a part-time logger alongside his friend Roger Manning, in a venture they named Pike River Logging.
He also worked at Ironworld, where he recorded the oral histories of hundreds of early Iron Rangers, establishing a rich resource and legacy for generations to come. Giants Ridge in Biwabik was another employer of Tom’s and the development of the ski hill held a special place in his heart.
He began his life as a public servant on the Virginia School Board and as a Pike Township supervisor. In 1986 Tom was elected state representative to the Minnesota legislature, representing the 5A district of Virginia and the East Range, a position he held for 26 years. After ‘retiring’ from politics to help with his first grandchild, Delia, he took a job with Congressman Rick Nolan. In 2014 Tom was elected as a St. Louis County Commissioner, a job he held until he passed away on his last official day in office.
Tom loved the Iron Range of Minnesota – its history, its natural resources and above all, the people of the Iron Range. He was a devoted public servant, answering phone calls and emails at all hours, doing his best to serve his constituents – even responding to constituents these past months from the hospital.
Tom believed that as a politician and legislator it was his duty to improve people’s lives. Throughout his career, he defended workers’ rights and union rights, seniors, education, and youth. As testimony to his dedication and hard work, the building which houses the Iron Range Engineering Program at Mesabi Range College bears his name.
He enjoyed participating in DFL politics, visiting people, incessant story-telling, cross-country skiing, camping, and tending his organic garden. He liked to travel and made special trips to meet his relatives in Italy and Croatia. He loved his family and friends and would do anything for them. His greatest wish was to spend more years with his granddaughters.
Tom will forever be known for his quick wit, his intelligence, his hard work and effectiveness, his passion, his heart, his integrity and honesty, his humor, and his dedication to improving people’s lives. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, constituents and colleagues who worked with him over the years.
Tom is survived by his wife, Jean Cole; daughter, Ida Rukavina (Jesse Dahl), of Palo; son, Victor (Michelle) Rukavina, of Minneapolis; granddaughters, Delia, Lucia and Serafina; sister, Chris (Dennis) Rudy, of Washington, D.C; brother, Mark (Barbara McQueen) Rukavina, of Boston, MA, and their children Ben, Nate and Sara; brother-like cousin, John “Butch” Folman and his wife Anne, of Pike Township; step-daughters, Katie (Nick) Calvert, of Mancos, CO; Kelsey Cole, of Jackson Hole, WY; and Christine Cole, of Ely; sisters-in-law, Liz (Paul) White, of Crossville, TN; Marie (Joe) Hallett, of Columbus, OH; brother-in-law, Sid (Marilyn) Tregillis, of Sylvania, OH; numerous cousins and their families; former spouse, Lenore Lampi (Chris Soares), of Duluth; and an enormous multitude of friends.
Tom was preceded in death by his beloved parents, Martin “Benny” and Martha; aunts and uncles: Louis and Helen Mordini, Laura and Bob Carlson, Gloria and John Folman, Michael “Mela” Rukavina, Catherine “Katie” Rukavina, Anne and Roy Thornton, Joseph (Joey) and Arlene Rukavina; cousins, Kay Marie Rukavina and Roberta Louise (Bobbi Lou) Sisler; and his beloved in-laws, Reino and Viola Lampi.