Portrait: Rudi Vecoli Please leave your memories and thoughts of Rudi Vecoli here to share with family, friends, and colleagues.


Joel Wurl remembers Rudi Vecoli (PDF).

When I was asked to write a “short" memorial tribute, the very first thing I thought of was Rudi so often prefacing his presentations by saying “I’ll be brief." Many of us fondly remember what would then transpire….

Rudy Vecoli was well known to the Ukrainian-American community, not just in Minnesota but also in many other centers, such as Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. He was highly respected for his recognition of the contributions of our community, as well as the other ethnic communities of Central and Eastern Europe, to the culture and values of America. And he was admired for his deep dedication to the preservation of the heritage of our and the other ethnic groups. His passing is a great loss to all of us, and he will be sorely missed and long remembered. On behalf of the Ukrainian-American community, I would like to express our condolences to Rudy's family and the staff and Friends of the IHRC.

As the Armenians say, "May the earth rest lightly upon him."

-Lou Ann Matossian, IHRC Collections Committee

On behalf of the Armenian community, please convey our sympathy to the family of Rudy Vecoli.

-Peggy Merjanian, Armenian Cultural Organization of MN (ACOM)

It is a sad day for the IHRC and Friends! May he rest in peace.

I wanted to share these photos with you of my visit with Rudy last Sunday (6/15/08)...we talked about the long struggle to bring the IHRC from a condemned building way back when, and his pride in having collected and preserved stories otherwise forgotten from people who often doubted whether their lives had any historical significance, and how pleased he was with having passed on the project to such competent (and public outreach-minded) folks. On behalf of the Emma Goldman Papers, we send you our condolences and also these pictures...classic especially in front of his 'anti-war' house! With comradely regards to all, Candace. Candace Falk, Editor/Director, The Emma Goldman Papers, University of California, Berkeley, CA

I share your sense of loss over Rudy's death. It was my privilege (and delight) to partner with him over the course of more than three decades in establishing both the Sons of Italy and the NIAF Archives.

Dominic R. Massaro
June 27, 2008

The world is a darker place without this kind man in it. He was someone I respected, grew to admire and care about as I worked on the NIAF archives and studied under him. The man paid me to help him clean out his office at the IHRC when he retired! He cooked me una bella frittata and we chatted about our families and antenati. May he rest in peace.

Sorry to hear the passing of Rudy. He was a good friend of the University of Turku, Finland, he was always ready to help and co-operate in our common projects, and we used to call him sometimes an Italian American Finn. I also had the honor of taking his history classes while in Minneapolis "a few years ago".

Un saluto ad un grande studioso dell' Altra Italia oltreoceano. Grazie per i suoi studi e le sue ricerche.

I have known Rudy from the time of his work on Italian anarchists and through his many travels to conferences in Europe introducing the more ethnically oriented colleagues to more migration-centered approaches. His 1964 critique of The Uprooted remains a master piece. We will miss him.
Dirk Hoerder, Univ. of Bremen and Arizona State Univ.

On behalf of the American Italian Historical Association Officers, Executive Committee, and Members, we honor Rudolph Vecoli through a memorial. As the Founding Member of our organization, Rudi has inspired countless professionals in and outside of academia to strive for excellence in the field of immigration and ethnic history. We humbly honor the memory of his generosity, guidance, and loyalty. His own achievements as a first-rate historian, the founding director of the Immigration History Research Center, and the American Italian Historical Society illuminate the breadth of his talents and commitment to scholarly study. An indefatigable researcher and scholar, Rudolph Vecoli has taught by example how to resurrect the ancestral stories of our cultural pasts in order to enrich American history and our own lives. We thank him deeply for all his excellence and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends.

It was with great sadness that I read of Rudy's passing in the IHRC latest newsletter. My husband, Harvey, like myself a great supporter of the IHRC and a friend of Rudy's, passed away on June 22. I grieve for the loss of these two dynamic men, but their legacies will live on.

Thank you for your notice. We appreciate your thinking of us. We share your sense of loss of this very excellent man and are planning to attend the Rudi Vecoli life celebration tomorrow.

It was a personal pleasure to have known Rudi from the mid-seventies when I was the Director of Physical Planning at the University an visited with him to talk about the physical needs of the IHRC (at that time called: the Immigrant Archives). I was amazed (and appalled) at the minimum space (both in extent and quality) utilized to accommodate such a potentially vast subject matter. Later, I was proud that the Office of Physical Planning and I was able to facilitate a process to satisfy the space need of what became the IHRC.

Rudi was a long-time friend of the Minnesota Hungarians (MH). Many of the organization's leaders, such as Tibor and Olga Zoltai, Paul Rupprecht, Ralph Gracza, Robi Fisch and others knew him well. When I was the President of the MH in the latter part of the seventies, he called our attention to a program in which we could have PhD theses of Hungarian immigrants reproduced and filed to be preserved on microfilm. In the eighties a noted Hungarian historian Julianna Puskas came to the US to study history of Hungarian immigrants. She was graciously accommodated in the (still) modest quarters of the Immigrant Archives and even when we met her years later, her first question was to inquire about the IHRC and Rudi.

Rudi Vecoli and Joel Wurl supported the MH's proposal for a Louis Kossuth Exhibit in October 2002 and gave space to display the material of Kossuth's historic visit to the United States. As you may know Kossuth was an outstanding Hungarian statesman and Governor during the 1848-49 Freedom Fight, revered as a champion of liberty, fraternity and equality anywhere. The exhibit celebrated his visit to the US in 1852 when, among other notables, he befriended Abraham Lincoln.

It was befitting for the MH and we felt honored to support and host the ceremony in which the coveted Lincoln Award was bestowed upon Rudi by Dr. August Molnar, President of the Hungarian American Foundation on April 28, 200.

At his retirement celebration and farewell party held in the Hubert Humphrey Center Rudi talked about his proud feelings of his Italian heritage and carrying the "red-white-and-green" colors in his heart. Among others, our President, Agnes Fulop also said a few words of appreciation about Rudi's accomplishments as the leader of the Immigration History Research Center, whose influence helped the institution to become a "harbinger of a new and integrated world history" and said: "...we hope this will be recognized and followed, as the IHRC may lead the way to a better understanding of each other and together we may be able to build a world that is less quarrelsome and more appreciative of each other’s values." - and further: "This is the wish I convey from the Minnesota Hungarians who appreciate you sincerely - for we are also “born to carry in our heart the colors of ‘red, white and green’?.

His friendly demeanor toward all ethnic groups indeed facilitated our working together for the success of preserving immigrants' records and to support the IHRC.

We send you our best regards and hope to see you tomorrow, Laszlo and Agnes Fulop.

At opening of the Kossuth Exhibit, Agnes Fulop, President of the
Minnesota Hungarians presents book of Kossuth's speeches to Joel Wurl,
Curator and Asst Director, Rudi Vecoli looks on, 2002 Oct.

Agnes Fulop, President of the Minnesota Hungarians presents book of
Kossuth's speeches to IHRC Director Rudi Vecoli, 2002 Oct. Lt. Governor
May Schunk looks at her copy;

Director Rudi Vecoli and Laszlo Fulop of the MH at the 'Friends of IHRC' annual dinner in November 2005;

Conferring the Lincoln Award, Prof. August Molnar (left) President of
the Hungarian American Foundation, Dr. David Good, Chair Dept. of
History(?), Assoc. Director Kathy Tezla (Carleton College, Library),
accepting the Award Dr. Rudolph Vecoli, Director of IHRC, Agnes Fulop,
President of the Minnesota Hungarians, Donald Pafko, President of the
Friends of IHRC, April 28, 2001.

Ms. Novak, Rudi Vecoli and Laszlo Fulop at the Friends of Immigration
History Research Center annual dinner, November 2005

For a sobering moment I have to "date" myself to say that I first was influenced by the man who arrived at Rutgers in 1962. I had started out as a student wishing to study colonial history and intended to do my research re indentured servants. (yes I started out with working class sensibilities). then I learned that Rudolph Vecoli had joined the faculty and he had studied and written about Italian immigrants in Chicago. until then I had no idea that immigration was a "field" and as a true believer graduate student, even had I known about the field, I would have worried whether one could be "objective" in studying one's own group. Rudy helped to focus my understanding by illustrating how personal experience could serve as a guide to interpreting the immigrant experience.
He helped to lighten my dark days of the then too typical male dominated graduate school anti feminine attitudes by treating me with respect and cheering me up with his twinkling blue eyes and wonderful sense of humor. His Tuscan Forza emboldened him to challenge giants. First Oscar Handlin, then the University of Minnesota’s dean who questioned the efficacy of the IHRC. He walked the talk as he rehabilitated the role of the Italian American radical left and working class. He shaped the American Italian Historical Association as a tool to awaken the community to an appreciation of their immigrant past. The spark he ignited will continue to influence scholars of the future. Rudi demonstrated his Tuscan forza again during these last months of his life as he reached out to others and invited them to join him in a May day tribute. The personal style and spirit Rudi brought to all his endeavors brings us here today to salute a special person who made a difference.

Like many of you, I had the privilege to be part of Rudi's comprehensive life. In particular I am indebted for "Rosa". Rosa, the life of an Italian Immigrant. Rudi was so proud of his accomplishment. When our group in Cuiggiono, the Ecoistituto della valle del Ticino decided to translate and publish the book that told the life of a migrant woman precisely from Cuggiono, Rudi was ecstatic. Everybody in Cuggiono remembers with affection his various sojourns in Cuggiono. Last Fall 2007 Rudi insisted and invited me again to visit him in Minnesota. He wanted to talk about Celso Caesar Moreno, whose life we had discussed so many times. And therefore I decided to make the trip. I stayed in St. Paul and spent a few unforgettable days together. At the center there was a display of Rosa's books. Rudi was happy about it, and me too. He took me all around the archives and showed me his life. Then we flew together to Denver for his last appearance at the American
Italian Historical Association annual conference.

Please convey my greetings to all the reconvened friends.

Love and peace,
Ernesto R. Milani

Dear Friends of Rudi Vecoli,

We join with you in honoring the life and memory of our colleague and friend, Rudi. In 2001 the American Hungarian Foundation was privileged to honor him with the Foundation's Abraham Lincoln Award in Minneapolis for his scholarly work and for his role in establishing the Immigration History Research Center. We are grateful to him for the impact he has had upon all scholarly disciplines in reassessing with understanding the full spectrum of the role of the immigrant and immigrant life in American history.


Prof. August J. Molnar
American Hungarian Foundation

I want to express my profound sense of loss--and of appreciation for that all Rudy did for immigration studies. I first met him in 1983 as part of an NEH summer seminar at the IHRC--the Berry Street IHRC. I made a friend and mentor for life in Rudy and also got to meet a number of other wonderful people, including the late Bob Harney and the great labor historian Peter Rachleff. Rudy described himself as an ethnic entrepreneur, which was both true and an underestimation of his real role in all this. For those of us lefties who are suspicious about entrepreneurs, he gave new and wonderful meaning to the word enterprising! Rudy, rest in peace.

Peter Kivisto
Richard Swanson Professor of Social Thought and Professor and Chair of Sociology
Augustana College

I was greatly saddened to learn of Rudi's passing. He was my doctoral advisor back in the early 70s and we became the best of friends. I learned to appreciate his deep dedication to his students and to his professional responsibilities as a major historian of immigration and ethnicity. I will unfortunately not be able to be at the memorial to pay my respects in person, but I will truly be their in mind and spirit. Please greet Rudi's family from me.

Odd S. Lovoll

The following tribute (PDF) was read by June Granatir Alexander at Rudi Vecoli's life celebration on Wednesday, July 9, 2008. "I have been asked—and am honored—to comment on Rudi Vecoli’s impact on the field of immigration and ethnic history. There is not enough time to touch on—let alone do justice to—all the various ways in which he had an impact and why it was so far-reaching."

Rudi was an inspiration to all who treasure their Italian-American heritage. Because of his research and essays, he contributed significantly to the history of our migration to this crazy but wonderful country. And as the driving force in the creation and growth of the Immigration History Research Center, he left our nation with a profoundly important treasure for generations and generations to come. He was a warmhearted person with a delightful sense of humor, and many besides myself will mourn his passing.

Dan A. D'Amelio

I was shocked to learn about the passing of Rudi Vecoli whom I considered a friend and colleague. He was indeed one of the leaders of the New Pluralism/New Ethnicity movement in the 1970's. No one has done more to advance Immigration History studies in the U.S. than Rudi. I recall how in the early 1970's the Polish Institute of Arts & Sciences, The Kosciuszko Foundation, and the IHRC collaborated on the microfilming of the "Nowy Swiat" Polish Daily Newspaper in NYC. In 1972 Rudi together with Michael Novak, participated in a conference on "The Forgotten Ethnic Americans" which we organized at New Jersey City University in Jersey City. Thanks to his efforts, students and scholars will be able to do serious research on immigration in the archives of the IHRC. He was a scholar and a gentleman without any pretensions. I will miss him.

Thad Gromada, Professor Emeritus of History, New Jersey City University;
President and Executive Director of Polish Institute of Arts & Sciences of America.

When I learned of Rudy's death, I reread his Forward to "Rosa," to listen again to his wonderful and distinctive voice. In all his work, but so beautifully when introducing Rosa, Rudy wrote with deep humanity and reverence for the lives and experiences that he called "one of the grand themes and mysteries of the American past." My wish for him, and us, is that his many articles could be collected and published, as well as his still seminal and unsurpassed dissertation. Our students of American history deserve no less.

On behalf of the Polish American Historical Association I would like to express our most sincere condolences to Rudi's Family and Friends. We are very saddened by His death. Rudi had been a great friend of things Polish. A few years ago PAHA awarded Him an Amicus Poloniae Award, granted to individuals of non-Polish extraction, who significantly contributed to Polish American culture and scholarship. Rudi was present to receive the award in the Embassy of Poland in Washington D.C. I cannot imagine a more deserving recipient. Rudi's passing leaves a great void in our hearts. May He rest in peace.
Anna D. Jaroszynska-Kirchmann, President
Polish American Historical Association

Rudi Vecoli was my mentor, my role model as a scholar and a leader, my boss for many years, and my friend. His illness and his passing filled me with grief. I am glad to have this opportunity to remember him not through his many scholarly achievements, but as an individual, who loved life and people around him.

When I think about Rudi as a professor I think about him taking us, his graduate students, seriously. While not the most hands-on advisor, Rudi was certainly inspirational. He looked for motivation on our part and offered encouragement. Sometimes he also offered criticism, which he neither hid nor dressed up, but deep down we always knew it was deserved. On the other hand, we rarely knew what he offered in his written comments on our papers, because nobody could really read his handwriting…. Rudi also made an effort to include us; for example he had his grad students at his house together with famous visiting scholars, and talked us up to them. He also knew how to create a spirit of camaraderie. Sometimes he cooked for his seminar or ordered pizza (his choice was always a “purist’s pizza", which meant nothing but tomato sauce and cheese). Most importantly he showed us how to be curious, provocative, and open to ideas.

I enjoyed watching Rudi interact with members of the Friends of the IHRC, or any ethnic community members, for example during a trip with his seminar to the churches (and restaurants) of North East Minneapolis. He always seemed happy and at ease with immigrants and their decedents. He genuinely liked people, approached them with an open mind and good humor and they always reciprocated. To me one of Rudi’s most important lessons was his call to serve ethnic communities as well as study them. He often used to say that we needed to be very respectful to the memories these communities had entrusted us. He himself exemplified this respect.

Perhaps one of the most memorable moments for me had become an unplanned dinner, which I and a couple of other of his former Ph.D. students had with him after a day of sessions during a conference in Chicago. Rudi took us then to the neighborhood where he did research for his dissertation, which was going to become a basis of his now famous “Contadini" article. The evening turned into an absolutely delightful event, with Rudi making fast friends with a jovial owner of the Italian restaurant, ordering food and wine for us in fluent Italian, and exuding so typical for him joy of life.

At the same time, immigration and ethnic history was for him much more than an academic pursuit or a trip to nostalgia land. I remember how he regularly brought to class tons of current newspaper clippings, and commented on the most recent developments in law, politics, economy, and culture as they pertained to immigration and ethnic issues. He wrote letters to the editor and chose to be a participant in what he saw as developing history, to which he actively responded.

He was quite a character as a boss. Sometimes he could be intimidating, and he had his bad days as well as good days. But the IHRC he had created in that old building on Berry Street was the most unique and unforgettable place. With impromptu talks, slide presentations, and – most importantly – get together’s with lots of excellent food, that dingy lunch room was all of a sudden the most stimulating place, where ideas were born and memories were made. Almost as unforgettable became of course days of frantic mopping of the floors after the heavy rain storm and clogged toilets, or trapping a mouse under my desk… . Things were fun in that old building, and visitors to Berry Street felt that special spirit. Still Rudi worked tirelessly to provide suiting safety for his beloved archives. And when he called for action, we all wrote dozens of letters to the legislators, made phone calls to the governor’s office, and went en mass to the capitol. He was a leader to be reckoned with and a leader it was a joy to follow.

Rudi knew how to keep in touch. He never forgot to ask about my family in Poland, even when I called him a few weeks before he died. He knew how to focus on other people so that they felt that the moment fully belonged to them, without divided attention or superficiality. A few years ago, at the conference honoring his retirement, somebody took a photograph of Rudi and a sizeable group of his former Ph.D. students. Rudi sent copies of it to all of us with a generous hand-written note. The photograph now stands in my office, reminding me of Rudi’s intellectual prowess and curiosity, as well as the generosity of his spirit. Thank you, Rudi – I will miss you.

Ania Jaroszynska-Kirchmann
Professor of History
Eastern Connecticut State University

I first met Rudy when he came to a historical conference at Northern Illinois University in the 1980s. I was an older working-class graduate student at the time, and, until then, I had not met any scholar who seemed to understand the ethnic working class that I came from and studied. I was delighted with his thoughtful, refreshing, and inspiring views on class and ethnicity, and I appreciated not feeling so alone in my work. We talked at the conference, and he encouraged me to apply for a grant to come to the IHRC to pursue further research on my doctoral dissertation. I did, I came, and I found marvelous documents that I used in my 1996 book, The Miners of Windber: The Struggles of New Immigrants for Unionization, 1890s-1930s (Penn State Press). At the IHRC I was fortunate to find marvelous letters from Windber’s ethnic miners in the foreign-language newspapers I perused. I continue to use them and hand them out when I give occasional public talks or visit classes. Rudy Vecoli believed, as I do, that scholars who wrote about immigrants often neglected the foreign-language sources that gave working people a genuine voice in their own history.

From the start, I felt a kindred spirit with Rudy. Over the years we corresponded occasionally, and I admired his work at the IHRC, a unique and important institution. News of his death made me stop; I had lost a good friend, a kindred spirit. I am sorry that I missed all the comments people must have made at his memorial service, and I certainly hope that family and friends are finding peace and recalling happy memories of him.

Rudy was a friend from the moment I met him at a conference honoring his major professor, Merle Curti. Rudy said that Merle was open to his studying Italian Americans, his people, at a time when such studies were demonized by elders in the historical profession. Rudy and I consulted on a number of projects and his essay on the ways Italian immigrants used print to define themselves was the lead chapter in Print Culture in a Diverse America that Wayne Wiegand and I edited.

Rudy Vecoli was one of the four or so people I met during my time at Harvard in the early 1980s that I thought really made a difference in Italo-American studies. He graciously accepted my invitation to come to Australia later that decade and astonished people here with his erudition and humanity. His work will live on.

Robert Pascoe, Victoria University, Melbourne