Range Funeral Homes


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.

17 thoughts on “Thomas “Tom” Martin Rukavina”

  1. Vern Lien says:

    I met Tom back when I was on strike at Erie Mining Company. Tom was the best supporter that Steelworkers had. Then I saw tom again at DFL conventions where he ran for Governor. His voice and integrity will be missed.

  2. Dorothy Korpela says:

    Ida and Vic, I was terribly sorry to hear of your father’s death. May your memories and love carry your through this difficult time. Dorothy Korpela (Your G’ma Viola and G’pa Ray were wonderful friends of my folks)

  3. Al Juhnke says:

    Miss you Roomie!

  4. Gayle Padgett says:

    Dan & Gayle Padgett, Calli Padgett & Miles Gardner

  5. Steve Rukavina says:

    Salute — to my beloved cousin, who I always admired and now more in awe of all he accomplished! What a life dedicated to fighting for the less advantaged and for jobs and always in passionate unique ways and with his warm eyes, disarming smile and sense of humor accomplished so much and found unique “Tommy” ways to get Republicans to the table to make a deal. May he rest in eternal peace … SR

  6. Peter Esala says:

    So sorry for your loss.

  7. Tim Ray says:

    Mere words cannot express mine and my family’s profound sorrow over the loss of my good friend Tommy “The King of Pike”. We have skied so many miles together, shared stories, argued (of course!) shared our joys and sorrows together. One of my fondest memories was being a RUKAVINA delegate to the DFL nominating convention in Duluth and hearing Tom’s concession speech, which to my way of thinking was one of the greatest speeches ever made at a Mn State nominating convention. Miss you friend!!

  8. Donald Smith says:

    Tom was a GREAT GREAT man, he will NEVER be forgotten. My heart goes out to the Rukavina family and to all of Tom’s friends. Rest in peace brother. Thank you for your dedication and commitment to the working folks in the trades and many others. You will never be forgotten. IBEW #242

  9. Peter Esala says:

    So sorry for your loss

  10. Steve Raukar says:

    The news of Toms passing has left us all with a void in our lives , a heavy heart & countless fond memories . He was as a one of a kind & his legacy of fighting for & with the people will be forever a part of our collective history .Few can say they left this place a better place for so many . He touch lives like no other . I & my Family feel honored to have known him & I to have served along side him . May his memories fill your heart & peace be with you & all his loved ones . I hope Heavan is ready for him .

  11. Todd & Vicky Merten says:

    So sorry for your loss.
    In time I hope the pain in your heart will turn to joy with all your memories.

  12. Mark Rodorigo says:

    So sad to lose a lifelong friend. Tom was a fierce Iron Ranger and always had a smile on his face. I was proud to call him a friend!
    Until we meet again…..

  13. Dennis Grigal says:

    My condolences for your loss. Tommy and I grew up on the North Side of Virginia. Every time I saw Tommy on TV or read about him in the Star Tribune, I thought about our time as altar boys at the North Side Catholic Church with Father Thomas McEnery. Tommy would torment him by getting the other altar boys laughing during mass. Father would take him aside and pass along his Irish immigrant philosophy to his namesake. Thomas, he would say, ‘Tis not the height nor the might but the mind that makes the man. Tom made both North Side and Father proud.
    Dennis Grigal

  14. William Denny says:

    To the Rukavina family and friends,
    My heart is with you and will miss Tom.
    I feel so fortunate to have known and befriended Tom.
    He was truly a one in a bazillion.

  15. Fellow "Northsider" says:

    Rest in Peace, Tommy. You’ll be missed!

  16. Mary Jo (Gregorich) Aleman says:

    I went to school with Tom, graduating with him in 1968. It wasn’t until our class reunions that we connected. Even though I was a Southsider, we were his Croatian or Slovian buddies. He always remarked about the “ich” on my last name! He will always be remembered being short in stature but a giant fighting for the Iron Range. Going to miss him at the reunions.😔

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01/19/2019 at 11:00 am
Holy Spirit Catholic Church Virginia MN

Visitation begins at Fri. 1/18/2019 5:00-7:00 pm Range Funeral Home Sat. 1/19/2019 9:30 am Holy Spirit