Tom Rukavina, Longtime Iron Range Leader, Dies at 68

Updated: January 07, 2019 06:40 PM

Longtime Iron Range political leader Tom Rukavina has died at the age of 68.

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Sources told KSTP-TV political reporter Tom Hauser that Rukavina had been at the University of Minnesota hospitals to receive a bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia and died Monday morning.

Reaction from Minnesota Lawmakers and Friends

Rukavina, a DFL'er from Virginia, was known for passionate speeches during his 26 years in the Minnesota House of Representatives.  He ran for governor in 2010 but dropped out during the state convention, and didn't seek re-election to the legislature in 2012.

Before being elected to the state legislature in 1986, Rukavina worked as a miner at MinnTac and also served on the Virginia School Board and the Pike Township Board.

More recently, Rukavina has served on the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners.  He did not seek re-election to the county board in November, and his term is due to end Tuesday. Paul McDonald, who was elected in November, was sworn in Monday.

Friend and former lawmaker Tony Sertich shared this with us on WDIO News at 5.

"I will remember most, his real passion for his history and his culture. Tommy was Croatian and Italian. And that came up all the time. Spoke the languages, knew the people of the region, and cared a lot about his family. And that sometimes that gets lost in all the politics. But he was a real good family man, in that way."

Sertich joked, "I have a few memories I can't share on the air. But something that was a lot of fun to do was to be on the parade routes with him. He knew so many personally. They'd have conversations as the truck would be driving down the road. Good natured spars back and forth. He always stood up for the little guy, and we're going to miss that."

St. Louis County Administrator Kevin Gray said they are "deeply saddened" to hear of his passing. 

"His legacy will live on in many places - perhaps the most notable from his time as county commissioner was the establishment of a scholarship fund using iron ore royalties to assist students at community colleges in St. Louis County," Gray wrote. "Our county is a better place because of Tom's dedicated service, and we will miss him." 

Rukavina was married and had two children.

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