Remembering George Perpich, special era of Range politics

George Perpich

On Sept. 26, former Iron Range State Sen. George Perpich died at age 85 in an Arden Hills, Minn., care center. He had suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for the past several years.

Perpich was one of four brothers, sons of poor Croatian immigrants in Hibbing’s Carson Lake location. Rudy, Tony, Joe and George all became dentists. Three would serve in the state senate. Eldest brother Rudy remains the longest serving governor in Minnesota history.

George became known as the most colorful member of the political family. The story that stands out to me was the newspaper ad he ran during a State Senate primary election. He took a picture of his opponent’s Lincoln town car and ran it next to a picture of his rusty pickup truck. The gist was, “Who do you want representing you in St. Paul?” On an Iron Range still dominated by labor the ad proved devastatingly effective.

Sen. George Perpich, approx. 1979

George is the only Perpich brother I’ve ever met and speak with at length. My friend former State Rep. Tom Anzelc was a close friend to George and his late wife Connie Perpich. My family and I dined with them on election night in 2006. I wish I had been able to talk to him more in recent years, but his health was poor.

George Perpich is survived by just one brother, Dr. Joe Perpich, the only of the Perpich boys not to seek elected office. A private family service will be held at the Fort Snelling cemetery.

What’s remarkable about the Perpich brothers is how much they achieved given where they started. They spoke Croatian in the home. Their father was a miner; their mother a homemaker. And yet all four achieved academic and career success, becoming some of the most influential people in local and state politics.

It reminds us of the social mobility of an Iron Range political system that, at the time, fixated on equal opportunities for all. Schools provided tools to level the playing field; parents openly demanded that their children do better in life than they did.

We remember that immigrants can bring intangible benefits to a community in the form of ambition and new blood.

And we also must remember that Rudy Perpich’s rise to governor had a way of sanitizing the divide that has always existed on the Range. It’s manifested as a conflict between Republicans and Democratic-Farmer-Laborites, but also within the DFL itself. There have always been those who wanted to play it safe with the mines, to not rock the boat. The Perpich Brothers were not in this camp, especially not in the 1970s when labor and local governments had to exert political power to survive the leap into the taconite era.

Mining automation and corporate consolidation came and rendered much of this world. We live now in new times, ones in which phenomena like George Perpich and his brothers seem less likely to repeat. But change will come on the backs of those with their courage and conviction.


  1. There was one steel company that wanted to build a taconite plant in the early 70’s near McKinley, J&L Steel. They had a choice of this project or going in on the Tilden project in Michigan. They chose Tilden.

    J&L’s president at the time was quoted in the Marquette MI paper as saying that the political climate in Minnesota was too unstable for a large investment. This was at the peak of the Perpich years.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.