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Joseph Velikonja

1923 - 2015 Obituary Condolences
Joseph Velikonja Obituary
Joseph Velikonja

Joseph Velikonja, 92, retired University of Washington Professor of Geography, died May 23, 2015 in Slovenia. Born April 17, 1923 in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, his studies were disrupted by World War II and imprisonments by German-allied Croatian and Italian forces. He earned a PhD in Geography from the University of Rome in 1948, then taught at a Slovenian high school in Trieste, Italy, where he met his wife, Matilde Rus; they married in 1950 in Rome.

Emigrating in 1955, he worked two years in Cleveland as a drill-press operator, then entered the University of Chicago for post-doctoral study. He taught at Elmhurst College, Southern Illinois University and Yale before moving to the University of Washington in 1964.

He specialized in early 20th-century Italian migration. Fascinated by the American West, his research took him to California ghost towns, Idaho cemeteries, Colorado mining towns and other forgotten places to trace the paths and often tragic deaths of Italian and Slovenian migrants. He followed the progress of Slovenian immigrants, writing obituaries of prominent Slovenian-Americans, and in the early 1990s published "Who's Who of Slovenian Descent in the United States."

A 44-year resident of Bellevue, he became an expert gardener, and for nearly two decades regularly advocated for favorite issues - notably sidewalks and parks - at City Council meetings. Long denied entry to Yugoslavia due to his anti-communist views, he visited Slovenia regularly after its 1991 independence. In 2008, he moved to Brooklyn to live with his older son, and in 2014 moved to Slovenia. He died after a brief hospitalization. He is survived by son Peter of Brooklyn, NY; daughter Maria, and son Marko, both of Arlington, Virginia; ten grandchildren; and six siblings. His wife died in 2003. He is buried in Ljubljana's Žale Cemetery.
Published in The Seattle Times on June 7, 2015
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