County Leaders Reflect on Friend, Colleague Tom Rukavina

Updated: January 08, 2019 06:25 PM

They admitted their hearts were broken, as they assembled for the first meeting of 2019. Newly selected board chair Patrick Boyle gave each leader a chance to share about their friend and fellow commissioner, Tom Rukavina.

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 "What a loss," Mike Jugovich started. "I've struggled with this. Obviously we've all known Tom's been sick for some time." He added that something they've been working on as a group, is getting an endowment to support scholarships for students. "It would only be fitting that we name that endowment for Tom. He was the impetus behind this, and something he felt really strongly about."

Beth Olson added, "He invested his heart. He invested his whole heart. I respected his fight and respected his wisdom, most of all loved his heart and how he was always all in." She added she had the pleasure of sitting next to him for the last two years, and got to hear his thoughts and under his breath comments, which drew a chuckle.

His sparring partner on the board, Keith Nelson, praised Rukavina's work ethic, by sharing his experience from when Rukavina was a legislator. "He was always the first lawmaker there, at 7am. If he was in the office, and there was a lobbyist in his office, and you were an elected official and showed up, he immediately kicked the lobbyist out and brought the elected official. He didn't care if you disagreed with him. You were more important, because you were from his district."

Nelson said that he enjoyed fighting with Rukavina, and he thought it was important because that passion and dialogue oftentimes made for better decisions.

Commissioner Frank Jewell was at the MPCA when he heard the news. "All of these people in the room, he had fought with them, at one point or another. But yet, they all liked him. That piece of him, that fighter, the person who went out to fight for the little guy. Mining was always right up there."

He also pointed out that Rukavina was the same age as him, and that it brings mortality to the front of mind.

Newly elected Paul McDonald, who now sits in the 4th district spot Rukavina once did, said, "The last time I talked to him, he told me that no matter what, Mac, I've lived a good life." McDonald said he's going to miss him, and he will never be replaced.

County Attorney Mark Rubin added, "I'll always remember his passion and courage. I'm going to miss the voicemails he'd leave me. More than anybody, he made me so proud of my Croatian heritage."

Chair Boyle mentioned that there a couple of things he'll always do, because of Rukavina. One is that he buys things made in the U.S., and the second is he always tries to tip with cash.

"I remember our first heated debate, and leaving the county board meeting, and saying, "I just debated the great Tommy Rukavina, and survived," he remembered.

And County Administrator Kevin Gray shared, "He was honest, sometimes brutally so. In all of his struggles, he served until the end of his term this year. He literally died on the last day of his term. Our condolences to Jean, his kids, and the rest of his family."

Rukavina was 68 years old.


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