Joseph Thomas Rukavina
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Rukavina, Joseph Thomas Beloved Husband and Father Grandfather and Teacher Croatian Humanitarian Democratic Activist Joseph Rukavina, 91 years old of White Bear Lake, MN died on June 10, 2013 at Southview Acres Health Care Center in West St. Paul after five months battling cardio-renal syndrome and congestive heart failure. He was preceded in death by his beautiful wife of 61 years, Arlene Rukavina. He was born in Virginia, MN February 4, 1922 to Croatian immigrant parents, Thomas and Lucy Rukavina. He attended local Virginia schools and then two years at Virginia Junior College. Joe served in the US Navy for three years and earned a commendation for heroism on Iwo Jima. He graduated with two undergraduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and College of St. Thomas. He also, earned a Masters Degree in Education. He taught at Swanville H.S. for two years before starting his thirty plus years of extraordinary teaching and coaching at White Bear Lake H.S. Joe was a long time activist within the Democratic party and so proud of his work with three Croatian American groups: Croatian Fraternal Union, MN Croatian Cultural Society and the National Federation of Croatian Americans (co-founder). He was honored with awards from both the Republic of Croatia and The White House for his outstanding humanitarian work during the 1990s war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was a founding member of St. Pius X Church in White Bear Lake and was active there for 59 years. Joe Rukavina, Mr. Ruk to many of his students and Deda to his many grandchildren and great-grand children was an unforgettable man who loved people and life to the fullest and was loved by so many. He is survived by children, Kay Marie (Steve Gavin), Joanne (Mark Fenner), Patty Bergstrom, Steve (Diane), John (Vickie) and Teresa; 13 grandchildren, Michael (Julie), & Tony (Jennifer) Barger, Eric (Greta), John (Keri) & Bridget Bergstrom, Jason Rukavina, Lisa (Todd) Rukavina Schwartz, James Rukavina Fenner, and Joy, Joseph, Jacob, Daniel and Faithanne Rukavina; 8 great-grandchildren; many nieces and nephews. The family extends a very special thank you and appreciation to all the staff at Southview Acres for their loving care over the last four months. Memorials in his name can be donated to: CFU Scholarship Foundation (501) (c) (3) For the Joseph Rukavina Family Scholarship Fund and sent to: Mr. Bernard Luketich, Croatian Fraternal Union, 100 Delaney Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15235. Mass of Christian Burial Saturday, June 15 at 11 AM at ST. PIUS X CHURCH, 3878 Highland Ave., WBL. Visitation Friday, June 14, from 4-8 PM and one hour prior to Mass at church. There will be a 7 PM Sharing Time set aside as part of the Friday night visitation. Interment at Evergreen Memorial Gardens. 651-429-6172

This obituary was originally published in the Star Tribune.

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Published in Star Tribune from Jun. 12 to Jun. 13, 2013.
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Memories & Condolences
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72 entries
April 24, 2020
I first met Mr. Rukavina in his golden years, later I found out when he was 85. It was in September of 2007 at the Croatian Fraternal Union (CFU) 22nd Quadrennial Convention in Las Vegas, NV. What struck me immediately was his warmth, congenial nature, optimism and sincere effort to hear what you had to say. It was very enjoyable speaking with him. We became friends talking over the phone occasionally. The best way I could describe Joe is as a "Perfect Neighbor." Yes, you'd want Joe Rukavina living next door. R.I.P Friend.
Vedran Joseph Nazor
December 8, 2019
June 12, 2014
I'll miss the great conversations that we had . Don't worry I'll tie it up
September 14, 2013
Good Bye Mr. Rukavina! I was the french Amity Aid of class 1978 in White Bear Senior High;
i choose your social studies class to learn about US life and you taught me about humanity...
we had great conversations about the world and politics; i remember your great sense of humor, your endless curiosity and the kind open-mind gentleman you were towards the impatient young person i was!
You will certainly meet in heaven Luis Charamelo, the spanish Amity Aid from Uruguay who left us 10 years ago... He, too, loved you very much...
So long Mr Ruk and thank you so much for having shared with us your beautiful mind....
July 7, 2013
My Friend and Neighbor Joe and I pontooning on White Bear Lake.
Patrick Casey
July 7, 2013
My most sincere condolences to the Rukavina family. Joe was an inspiration to my brother who was his neighbor and friend, God took home another angel
Georgeen Casey
July 7, 2013
I am so sorry to hear the Loss of your Father Joe was a great man and neighbor and Friend. Our Mother also went into the Hospital on June 10th. Our Mom Passed away on June 18th, Our Lord and savior also took MOM home. We are so sorry to hear the loss of Joe, he was an amazing man, like a father to me I learned so much from him about life. RIP My friend, Our Prayers and thoughts are with you and your Family. GODS BLESSINGS.
Patrick & Annette Casey
June 27, 2013
Joe was a friend of my father, Pierre Mattei, and he got me a teaching job at White Bear Lake High School in the fall of '82. He took me under his wing and we became fast friends. Lots of great memories from that time in my life.
Paul Mattei
June 22, 2013
Joe, you will be missed and there will never be another like you. I was a lousy sketer but you always treated me kindly. You taught ne patience in politics for those who disagree.You showed us how to stand up for what is right. Thank you for all that you were.
Joel Holstad
June 20, 2013
Aaaaw, Mr. Rukavina, we will miss you SO. Thanks for everything in the past ... the lessons, the laughs, the gossip, all of it. You will be missed.
Jody Michaud Janski
June 19, 2013
My most sincere condolences to the Rukavina family. We had some wonderful teachers in 59'. Mr. Rukavina was at the top of the list. It must give the family so much pride to read how much he was respected. He was loved by many and will be missed by even more.
Ruth Lindbeck West
Ruth West
June 18, 2013
Kay and family,
I know how hard it is to lose your parents, but remember – now they are together. I remember Mr. R. as my teacher but mostly as your dad. Reading his obituary tells me he left a tremendous legacy – a large family and many friends who loved him.
Jan-Marie (Breault) McCabe
June 17, 2013
Bon voyage Mr. Rukavina. You taught not only history but life lessons as well. The world is a better place because you were here and poorer now that you are gone. Your classes were the best. Kathy Bucher Lyksett Jones
June 16, 2013
I graduated in 1962 from White Bear Lake High School. Mr. Rukavina knew EVERY student by name and made every student feel important. I had him for Social Studies. I also helped him with the audio-visual club. He came to our 50th reunion last year. I became a social studies teacher and taught 34 years in high school. Mr. Rukavina was a wonderful role model for me. Because my high school experience was so fulfilling, I wanted it to happen for my students as well. I salute my wonderful teacher and thank him for the great memories all of us graduates had. Prayers and blessings to his family.
Laurie Houdek Hill
June 16, 2013
Mr Rukavina was one of the teachers I met in 1977/78 when I was the German Amity Aide at White Bear HS. I remember him as a very warm, friendly and helpful person who helped to make our stay in Minnesota so wonderful. Thank you so much for that. It was the best year of my life.
I send my deepest sympathies to his family.
Annette Santally, née Bux, Germany
Annette Santally
June 14, 2013
one of the more recent memories I have of coach rukavina was at his 90th b'day celebration and he was talking about his teaching career at WBHS and he said "it wasn't a job, it was a joy". knowing him as a teacher and a coach it was always evident that he truly loved what he did and those of us who he taught.we will all miss him.
grover stauff
June 14, 2013
I know him from 1994, and it is privilege to know him, special from party in the Croatian Hall!
Stipe Hlaca
June 14, 2013
duane strauss
June 14, 2013
Our deepest sympathy to your family. Our parents always treasured their friendship with Joe and Arlene and we were honored to have Mr. Ruk as our teacher.
Kari and Lori Eklund
June 14, 2013
John and all of the Rukavina family, I know your Dad & Mom are together forever now and their legacy (All of you and all of us that had the privilege to know this great man) Will and are forever changed by him being here on this earth. I was grateful to be able to spend some time talking with him at the reunion and we picked up just like I was back at school and he took the time to connect with me, It was a great experience for me and I will cherish that time catching up with him. Mr. RUK God Bless you! God Bless your family during this time But most of all Thank You!!!!
Terry Zerwas
June 14, 2013
Mr. Ruk was one of the warmest people I know! We will miss him. He was so supportive of me in high school and told me stories about the Iron Range and my Grandpa Nolan.
Kay Franey
June 14, 2013
He was a wonderful Uncle. We will miss him greatly. I have so many fond memories of him growing up and also great times in Maui. Love to you all.
Sheryl and Jim
June 14, 2013
A remarkable man and to his wonderful family, my sincere condolences.

Jim Dunn
June 14, 2013
Mr. Ruk was a wonderful teacher. His goal was getting us to think and emphasized thoughtful assessment rather than just the material we were studying. Thanks Joe.
Jeff Bonsell
WBHS '71
June 13, 2013
To the Rukavina Family. Joe was a very special person. I have had the pleasure of seeing him at our (class of 59) reunions and sometimes at our monthly lunches. He never forgot a name or person. He was such a great man.
You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers. Your Dad will never be forgotten by his students and friends. You are in our thoughts and prayers. God Bless.
Barbara (Boogren) Roettger
June 13, 2013
I don't know life without you in it JOE.
I grew up with you and Arlenr,lived a few houses down. No one lived life as fully as you did! You raised a beautiful family.You are already missed and will never be forgotten,
Linda Oliverius-Olson
June 13, 2013
Joey was a "one of a kind" member of our nation's greatest generation. May the beautiful memories of him bring a smile to you face and comfort to your heart. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
David Tomassoni
June 13, 2013
Dragi moj prijatelju Joe
Od svih nas koji smo te cijenili I postivali jer si volio svoju rodnu Hrvatsku zelim ti lahku zemljicu iz Tvoje domovine. A ucinio si toliko dobroga jer si bio dusom I tijelom Hrvat. Zauvijek odan Tebi nasem Poglavniku Boris Miksic
boris miksic
June 13, 2013
Family Kittelson; David Vesna and Andrei will always remember Mr. Rukavina as community person with a great mind and heart.
June 13, 2013
Great memories, Mr. Rukavina. Thanks for being part of my childhood and life. Prayers of peace to your family in this difficult time.
Dan Young
June 13, 2013
A wonderful Teacher, great Coach and friend to all. I will always remember our conversation following the loss of your wife. Enjoy your perfect and new life together untill we meet again.
Lee Lamprecht
June 13, 2013
He was a great guy and will be missed by many! I enjoyed being able to visit with him at the class reunion. You're all in my thoughts and prayers.
Karen Olson
June 13, 2013
Very sorry to hear of your loss. He was a wonderful teacher and individual. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Susan Wasowicz Lee
June 13, 2013
Mr. Rukavina was the most beloved teacher in White Bear by all his students. I graduated in 1959 and will never forget him.
Betty Danner-Mueller
June 13, 2013
Sorry for your loss. I always enjoyed your father. When I saw him he always asked about how my parents were. Now my dad and he are in Honsa together.
WB class of 61
Robert Black
June 12, 2013

Joe and my dad were very good friends,even though my dad was about 10 years older. Joe was a great guy. We went and saw him at the nursing home 4 weeks ago today and he looked very good even though he had heart surgery and his leg amputated. He was sleeping so John said don't wake him. I thought to myself, you never know what could happen, might not ever see him again if I don't. He was very glad that we woke him. We Had good memories about my mom and dad,and he surely loved my grandma too. He was surely the best Croatian friend of my dads' even if they didn't see each other very much. they had the same strong love of their heritage and had the same ideas on all things. In 1962 my dad wanted them to have Croatian Days in SSP, but the clique said it would not make a go of it and poo pooed my dads' idea. Even though Joe was in the WBL group ,he joined my dad and got the entertainment from all over, did the advertising ,etc. and it turned out to be the biggest Croatian day ever had. Shuttle busses went back and forth to the Hilton and other hotels. People came from all over for the 3 day event and thousands were there. They never got the credit for it but they enjoyed it so much anyway.Joe was a dear friend of our family. My sympathy to his whole family. Oh, I bet my dad is so happy to see Joe. Talking in Croatian in Heaven. Love, Kathy Chalupa Whitson ---------- Mike(Medo) and Mary Chalupa's daughter.
Kathy Chalupa Whitson
June 12, 2013
A super guy, and so much fun to spend time with.
Paul Ebel
June 12, 2013
Dear John and family,
I am so sorry for the loss of your wonderful father who has made such a difference in the lives of so many people. My thoughts and prayers are with your family.
Val Wilkerson
June 12, 2013
Steve and the Rukavina family, you have my sympathy with the loss of Mr. Ruk, he was a mentor to many and a WBL Icon.
Kent Beckstrom
June 12, 2013
I was at White Bear High but one year. Yet I remember this guy vividly. Outgoing, gregarious, outspoken, inappropriate sometimes, and so much fun. Sail on, Joe.
Kathleen Scully
June 12, 2013
Thanks for the memories. We will miss you.
Richard Rajcic
June 12, 2013
To the family of the most amazing teacher I had. You are all in my prayers. Just remember he is in a far far better place then we. He taught us all to respect each other in and out of the classroom. This has stayed with me these last 55 years
Joyce Revoir Langness. Class of. 59
June 12, 2013
I remember Mr. Rukavina from High School, class of '59. Loved working with him in Audio Visual. He was a kind man and outstanding teacher. Wish there were more like him in the world.
LaNette Hugger Claussen
June 12, 2013
My thoughts and prayers are with you during this time.
Laura (Olsen) Carlson
June 12, 2013
Truly an unforgettable teacher
June 12, 2013
Mr Ruk - a sweet caring man with a remarkable memory, always making us feel special because he remembered each one of US! An unforgettable smile and a fantastic sense of humor! We love you and we'll miss you! Our thoughts and prayers to his family.
Sue Emerson Kriens
June 12, 2013
So sorry for you loss, Steve and family. Mr. Rukavina was a wonderful teacher - taught me about respect and integrity. Blessings to you all.
Betsy (Beth) Marvin
June 12, 2013
To The Rukavina Family;
When I was in High School, I used to go around to the different schools and helped him with various audio visuals. We shared many happy moments.
The world has lost a very "helpful" individual.
Bill Beaman
June 12, 2013
I second everything folks are saying about one of my favorite teachers! I spent hours "carrying arguments" between Mr. Rukavina and my dad -- being convinced by them both in a double-socratic learning experience! I'll always be grateful for his input. and will miss him at our reunions.
Sheryl Lee Olsen
June 12, 2013
Steve and family, I am so sorry for your loss. Mr Ruk was one of the best! I, too, have fond memories of that Chicago trip. He was a great teacher and a good man. I feel privileged to have known him.
Jen Long-Sharp
June 12, 2013
Steve and family, Mr. Ruk was a delight to converse with and such a positive influence on so many lives. My sincere condolences to you all.
Jude Hartzell
June 12, 2013
I loved listening to his stories of old White Bear Lake he often told us in class. My mother worked with him at the high school. Whenever I saw him, at either a reunion or some random place in town, he always remembered me and asked me how my mother is doing.
Sherwood Bergseid
June 12, 2013
In addition to teaching Social Studies at White Bear, he was the advisor for Bear Tracks, our student paper. He never once interfered or tried to censor us, and as a result, we never tried to embarrass him - not that we would ever want to.

A kind, wonderful man.
William Norton
June 12, 2013
Steve- Your dad was one my favorite teachers. My deepest sympathies to you and your family.

class of '72
Robert Coad
June 12, 2013
One of the best has been put to rest....
randy sorenson
June 12, 2013
Patty and family,
Your dad was a very special person. I enjoyed learning from him as a student and, a few years later, as a teaching colleague. He always had an interest in other people and was so genuine with each person. My condolences to you and your family.
Linda (Kraft) Olson
June 12, 2013
Darling picture from the Class of 72 reunion
We will miss you, Mr. Ruk! There are thousands of students in the world who will never forget you!
Pat Berger
June 12, 2013
A very wonderful man has gone Home, He was such an awesome teacher and he loved to take time to talk to you. To his family, I was proud to have know your father he will be missed.
Anna Sparrow
June 12, 2013
Steve and family, I had the pleasure to get to know your dad at several mini-reunions and at our 40th. What a memory and a delight to talk to. He spoke to me as though he had known me all through high school. Remarkable man, teacher and an inspiration to all. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Karen L Bracht
June 12, 2013
Steve and all of the Rukavina family, I'm so sorry for the loss of your father. You are in my thoughts and prayers.
Dan Arend
June 12, 2013
I'll never forget the trips to Chicago- he let me borrow his cigar for what turned out to be my senior picture. God bless, Mr Ruk.
Rob Sheild
Rob Sheild
June 12, 2013
Dear John and extended family,
I am so sorry for the loss of your Dad, Mr. Ruk. He was a wonderful and kind man. He will be missed by many, but remembered by thousands whom he touched through his teaching, his church and the Croatian organizations he was a part of. Peace to you.
Laurie Perron
June 12, 2013
Steve and family, Your dad was such a inspiration to all his students, making us "think" from all perspectives, a truly remarkable teacher and mentor and dear fiend.
Terry Domrese-Crain
June 12, 2013
June 12, 2013
Mr. Ruk Dec 2010
June 12, 2013
John and the rest of the Rukavina family, Your Dad was an amazing man. I am glad that a group of us were able to have lunch with him last fall and reminisce about the old school days. He always had such great stories. Ron and I along with the "Miller clan" send our thoughts and prayers.
Sue Miller Dailey
June 12, 2013
I graduated from WBL 1965 and will never forget Mr Rukavina...he was a wonderful teacher and exceptional person. He came to our 46 year reunion last year and it was special to see him again and to tell him "thank you!" . Jean (Matson) Bundt
June 12, 2013
A Lovely Man
My wife, Livvie, and I visited Mr. Rukavina in October of last year and had photos taken that will be cherished forever. His mentoring during our lives will never be forgotten.
Tom Brown
June 12, 2013
Thinking so much of my father's dear friend, Joe Rukavina. Our Dad died in April, so the pals are together again. What an extraordinary man was Mr. Rukavina. And what a proud legacy he left. My condolences to the entire Rukavina family.

Susie French, White Bear Lake HS, Class 1969
Susie French
June 12, 2013
A great teacher
David Bain
June 12, 2013
It is a sad day for us here, but a wonderful day for him to be reunited with his beloved. Mr Rukavina was an incredible individual. I enjoyed hearing his stories of the Knights of Columbus and how he named the White Bear Lake council's newspaper "Fratres Notres". He was a great inspiration to many.

May his family here know he is at peace and a place where he can watch over all of us and help us get to the pearly gates... His family is in thought and prayer.
Richard Hogan, PGK #4145
June 12, 2013
Dear Rukavina Family, So sorry for your loss.Such an amazing man. Rest in peace Mr. Rukavina.
Vicki Stoll
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