:::: UPDATE AT BOTTOM ::::
How would you feel about your life if someone told you that 25 years after it ends, a person will write a tribute to you and describe you as the “savior” that turned them around.
Pretty good, right? Because as far as I can tell there aren’t many things more important than relationships like that.
So I was extremely touched to recently read a column about my grandpa entitled, “Nashwauk’s George Raskovich: My mentor, friend, savior.”
I never got to know George too well, unfortunately. Both he and his wife Mary died when I was five, so my memories are limited to vague recollections of a burly, friendly, mustachioed man who lived in the cozy Nashwauk home my mom grew up in along with her rambunctious and sometime trouble-making brothers. (The nickname George gave me, “Ace,” still endures on that side of my family. I’m not sure about its origins, though I’m sure my parents could fill me in.)
Only later did I learn that when George was 17, he lied about his age and enlisted in the military. He deployed to Europe, where he was among the first Allied waves to land on the beaches of northern France on D-Day. He later spent more than three decades working in Iron Range mines during the peak of the area’s iron ore boom before retiring in the early 1980s.
I might not’ve been able to ask George about any of those things, but thanks to Joe Legueri’s column, I now have a pretty good idea about his remarkable character.
Back in the summer of 1956, Legueri wasn’t getting along with his parents and was considering running away from home. But on the night he was thinking of bolting Nashwauk for good, he saw a light on in George’s garage and decided to see what was going on in there first.
“George was a mechanic of the finest sort. He had a grease pit in his garage and he often repaired cars for the townspeople of Nashwauk. He worked days in the mine; he worked afternoons and evenings in his garage. His garage was the friendliest place I had ever been,” Legueri writes. (Sadly, George’s handiness wasn’t a trait passed on to me.)
George seemed to perceive young Joey was in a tough place and in need of a helping hand. So after working together on the engine of a ’48 Ford for a bit, George tried to tried to figure out what was the matter.
“I finished my tasks and then sat in the front seat and talked with George for the 20 minutes that he ran the car. ‘You looked sad when you walked in, Joey. Did you have a rough day?’ That was all he said, but it’s now obvious to me that based upon that observation, and at that very moment, he devised a plan for me.”
The plan involved having Joey come over after school and help him work on cars. In exchange, George would pay him a little bit, but more importantly, he’d also use that time to teach Joey life lessons he still remembers all these decades later.
From the column:
In spite of the bad things I had done earlier in my life, he treated me in a way I had never been treated before: as if I were a worthy human being, not some kind of a brat kid. He accepted me. He trusted me. All of that helped me to gain confidence in myself. I can see now that his plan worked just as he had wanted it to. What puzzles me is how he knew enough about adolescent psychology to get through to me like that.
As we worked, we talked. Without correcting me, he taught me how to understand the weight of my words. He taught me how to appreciate other people rather than shun or criticize them. He taught me empathy—how to respect the feelings of other people. By his example, when our female customers came in, I learned the proper way to treat a lady. He did all this as we talked randomly and as we met with many of his customers, the townspeople of Nashwauk.
He taught me patience and persistence, once again without telling me in so many words. He became intense when a repair went bad…I watched that and learned. When I broke a part, or when a bolt stripped and we were unable to remove or attach a necessary part, he didn’t lament fate; he got tougher. What an eye-opener that was for me.
Throughout all those years, he completely changed me from an angry, sneaky kid into a self-confident, knowledgeable young person. Because of him, my home life improved; my school life improved. I was happy with myself for the first time.
The lessons George taught young Joey stayed with Legueri after he became a man. In fact, Legueri credits George for putting in him position to have a successful career and be a good husband and father.
And whatever good I was able to do during the 35 years I taught the school kids of Biwabik and Aurora, it was because of George. Whenever I sensed a kid in trouble, I could hear George’s voice whisper in my ear: “See what you can do…” And if I were a good father to our kids, it is because of George. If I am a good husband, it’s because of George. If I am a good grandfather…
After I left town to marry, work, and start a family, I went to visit George in his garage every time I came home to visit my parents. George and I talked a lot, and for old time’s sake he let me grind some valves and valve seats. However, I never had a chance to thank him for the gifts he gave me because by the time I realized exactly what he had done for me and how he had done it, he had passed away.
Legueri’s column serves as that overdue “thank you.” In turn, I’d like to thank him for publishing his piece and thereby helping me get a better idea of how incredible George was.
My grandpa may not have run for office or made a lot of money, but I couldn’t be prouder of the headlines he’s generating long after he’s gone. Being a mentor of that sort is something for all of us to aspire to — even if we aren’t gifted with George’s ability to fix cars.
:::: UPDATE ::::
After reading this post, my mom sent me a photo of the following newspaper clipping, which was published just months after George’s death.
It’s more evidence that it’s better to say “thank you” late than never:
— Welcome to my new blog project. To begin with, each week I’ll be publishing a couple pieces spanning the gamut from columns like the one above to short nonfiction stories to the occasional sports hot take. I’m also planning a weekly podcast hosted by yours truly and featuring topical interviews with notable Twin Citians, so stay tuned!
As always, thanks for reading, and your feedback is appreciated.