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Admirers remember Veda Ponikvar, the 'Iron Lady' of the Iron Range

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Veda Ponikvar, the publisher of two newspapers on Minnesota's Iron Range who was considered one of the most influential people in that area of the state for decades, died Tuesday in her hometown of Chisolm. She was 96.

The Hibbing News Tribune noted that Ponikvar was a strong supporter of Iron Range workers and DFL politicians in the area throughout her long career.

"Veda was an absolutely incredible force for the Iron Range,” Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm told the News Tribune. “No one can replace her. It’s the end of an era, and she will be missed.”

Newspaper pioneer

Veda Ponikvar started up her own newspaper, the weekly Chisholm Free Press, in 1946 on borrowed money. She was the first female newspaper publisher in Minnesota, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

The paper became a voice for miners on the Range, and Ponikvar took on the powerful mining interests by calling for better working conditions, health care and retirement benefits for workers.

Some folks thought she'd go broke. But her paper was so successful that a decade later she bought out her rival, the Chisholm Tribune Press, and published both of them for the next 40 years, according to the Duluth newspaper.

The 'Iron Lady'

From the stories being told about Ponikvar, not much got done on the Iron Range without her blessing – hence the nickname "the Iron Lady."

Northern Minnesota writer Aaron Brown posted a heartfelt remembrance of Ponikvar, calling her "arguably the most powerful person in Iron Range politics of the latter 20th Century."

"No one had as much influence or ability to affect progress, garner funding or impact community attitudes through a long, full life than Ponikvar," Brown said.

DFL politicians on the Range, including members of Congress and legislators, sought her out and valued her support. And her opinion of them often held sway with voters in the region.

Ponikvar also fought to make Chisholm a better place, and her influence is cited as the main reason the small town has attractions like Ironworld – now called Minnesota Discovery Center; the Iron Man statue along Highway 169; and the Bridge of Peace, the News Tribune notes.

"Field of Dreams" connection

You may remember the character of "Moonlight" Graham in the 1989 baseball movie "Field of Dreams," who gave up playing the sport to become a doctor in Chisholm, Minnesota. Turns out he was a real person – Dr. Archibald Graham. And Veda Ponikvar knew him well.

In the film, Ponikvar is played by Anne Seymour, and her character helps Kevin Costner's character find out more about Moonlight.

MPR News blogger Bob Collins has more about Veda's connection to the film on his News Cut blog.

When the Minnesota Historical Society compiled a list in 2007 of the 150 most influential people, places and things in state history, Ponikvar was on that list.

Ponikvar sold her two newspapers in 1996 but continued writing editorials for another 10 years – and wrote an estimated 4,000-5,000 over her entire career, the News Tribune reports.

Visitation is set for 9:30 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Chisholm, with a funeral Mass to follow at 11 a.m.

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