Slovenian Influences in Minnesota
by Edward Gobetz, Ph.D.
As you well know, Minnesota, too, is a mosaic of many ethnic groups and one of them is Slovenian. At this time, Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar, the daughter of popular journalist and author of over twenty books Jim Klobuchar, is the best known Slovenian Minnesota politician, following Congressmen John Blatnik and James Oberstar and U.S. Civil Service Commissioner Ludwig Andolsek. Yet, who knows that from 1866 to 1896, a Slovenian immigrant Jernej Pirc or Bartholomew Pirz (the nephew of the prominent missionary Francis X. Pierz, after whom a Minnesota town is named) built roads, bridges and schools west of St. Cloud in Stearns County, serving as mayor of Eden Lake, Justice of Peace, superintendent of schools, state representative and county commissioner.
Slovenian missionaries include Bishop Frederic Baraga, whom Vatican's Enciclopedia Cattolica, 1949, describes as "one of the greatest missionaries of North America in modern times," an official candidate of the Catholic Church for beatification and an amazing linguist whose Dictionary of Ojibway Language was reprinted by Minnesota Historical Society more than a century after its original publication; James Trobec (Bishop of St. Cloud (1897-1914); Msgr. Joseph Buh, founder of the Diocese of Duluth; and more recently, Bishop James Rausch, who in 1970s gained national prominence as secretary general of the Conference of Catholic Bishops and of the United States Catholic Conference, while his Slovenian aunt, Sister Mary Anastasia Ohman, was in 1942 elected Mother General of the Franciscan Sisters of Immaculate Conception and became a prolific builder of schools, hospitals and nursing homes. In 1890s, Bernard Locnikar served as abbot of St. John's Abbey and president of St. John's College (later University) in Collegeville. Dr. Jack Grahek, the legendary mayor of Ely for 27 years was, in 1987, unanimously appointed to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota, as was also Frank Furlan, mayor of Chisholm. Numerous Minnesota towns which elected scores of Slovenian or partly-Slovenian mayors are listed in the enclosed Attachment.
Chisholm, in addition to contributing two U.S. Congressmen and editor and civic leader Veda Ponikvar, also gave America nationally prominent physicians of Slovenian parentage, Dr Leonard K. Lovshin, former head of the Department of Internal Medicine at the famous Cleveland Clinic and past president of the American Association of Medical Clinics; and Dr. James Pluth, acclaimed as one of the best surgeons in the United States, who was Professor of Surgery and Head of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at the famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Dr. Anthony Baraga, radiologist, was president of the Iron Range Medical Society and was elected Chair of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents in 1999, while David Baraga, Ph.D., served for over 30 years as director of the Central Minnesota Mental Health Center in St. Cloud. Matthew Banovetz was president of Reserve Mining Company, and many Slovenian prominent inventors from Minnesota are included in a well documented and richly illustrated book Slovenian American Inventors and Innovators, by Edward Gobetz (2016), And please note that we could here mention only some of the many known Slovenian achievers.
Yet, as you can easily see by reading this short letter and the enclosed attachment, Slovenian contributions to Minnesota and to America surpass expectations and deserve to be better known and recognized. Thank you, fellow Americans, for the freedom and opportunities that Minnesota and America provided so that hard-working Slovenians, too, coming from a small Alpine country with a population of hardly about two million souls, have been able to become an active and vibrant part of U.S. progress, culture and history.
Edward Gobetz, Ph.D., 92 years young Professor Emeritus, KSU, Ohio; and Director of Slovenian American Research Center; author or editor of 17 books; Outstanding Educator of America, 1971; elected member of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1984