By Tatjana Mustac, 2021 Rudy Perpich Fellow
For an assignment during my Rudy Perpich Fellowship, I interviewed a member of the Minnesota Croatian community, Mark Rubin.
Please share with me a little bit about your career and life in Minnesota.
Mark was born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota. For his undergraduate studies, he attended the College of Saint Scholastica, a private Benedictine college in Duluth, where he majored in History. With a history degree, there were limited career options that included either becoming a teacher/professor or librarian but Mark decided to attend law school afterwards.
Mark attended Hamline School of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His father’s advice was to finish a year of law school before he got married and he followed his father’s advice! After his first year law exams, he married his wife, Nancy whom he dated for 4 years! This June, he will be married for 45 years. During our interview, he praised his wife and was beyond thankful for her!
Additionally, he had two sons with his wife – Tony and Jeremy. Tony is currently one of 34 Assistant Attorneys at the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office. Jeremy has a Masters in Education and is the father of Mark’s two grandchildren: John Angelo and Julia Lynn and is married to a pediatrician in the Duluth area.
Mark began his career in law at 23 years old in the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office where he was a Prosecutor and an Assistant Attorney. He worked there for nine years then left to work in private practice for two years in civil litigation and got criminal defense experience along the way. He also did some maritime law for the big ships that regularly come into Duluth.
After, he returned to work for the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office where he came back to working as a Prosecutor since he missed working in the law enforcement area. In 2010, Mark ran for the job of St. Louis County Attorney and won! He is currently in his third term with a year and a half left.
Where is your family originally from in Croatia and what was their experience with immigrating to the United States?
Mark’s father’s side was from Croatia and his mother’s side was from Ukraine. On his father’s side his grandmother was from Gospic while his grandfather was from the Lika/Sveti Rok area.
His grandmother, Sophie, came to the United States when she was around 16 years old since she was set to be married to a man from Trinidad, Colorado. Upon getting married, they had two children and moved to the Duluth area, specifically the Gary neighborhood. The neighborhoods in the Duluth area had different sections as to where certain immigrant groups could stay; the Gary neighborhood was welcoming to many Croatian immigrants. However, after sometime, the man she had married had passed away.
Sophie met Mark’s grandfather, Anton Rubcic, who switched his name to Rubin. Upon speaking with Mark, he mentioned to me that it is not known why the name change occurred. Anton Rubcic worked as a rigger at the United States Steel Plant in Morgan Park. Sophie and Mark had two children, Mark’s late father and his late Aunt Mary.
Mark’s father unfortunately lost his father quite early on in life around four to five years of age due to a work accident in the 30s. But, Mark’s father, John Rubin, was mostly raised by Mark’s grandmother and John’s step brother. Eventually, Mark’s grandmother remarried a man named George Tomic, who was also passionate about his Croatian heritage. When he was 17, he skipped his senior year of high school and went to serve stateside in the Navy at the end of WWII. At the time, many Croatian immigrants had served. After serving, John trained to slice meats and continued for most of his life.
Mark’s mother, Annette, was a stay-at-home mom who raised him and his two sisters: Monica who currently resides in the Twin Cities area and Susan who currently resides in the Duluth area. Additionally while growing up, Mark’s father was very passionate about maintaining his Croatian heritage through making wine in the basement and preparing lamb outside on the spit with the whole family! Mark expressed to me that he was truly thankful to have been able to experience a taste of the old world with his family!
How do you and your family uphold your Croatian heritage here in the USA?
Mark and his family uphold their Croatian heritage mostly through food related traditions. Mark’s favorite was their traditions for Easter. On Good Fridays, they prepare fresh bakalar to eat with some red wine. While on Easter Sundays, they prepare plenty of sarma for days of delicious leftovers! Additionally on Easter Sundays, Mark and his family enjoy upholding their Ukrainian heritage through having perogies and participating in Easter egg cracking. Mark even expressed that he and his family enjoy preparing other Croatian delicacies such as cevapcici and povitica with ham.
Outside of food related traditions, Mark grew up going to many Croatian picnics in the Gary neighborhood and has enjoyed going to events with the Croatian Cultural Society of Minnesota. Another way Mark recently has upheld his heritage was through visiting Croatia a few years ago with his wife. They were able to visit various cities such as Zagreb, Dubrovnik (where they attended Carolyn and Fred Bruno’s multi-day wedding celebration, including an evening cruise around the Old City and a Klapa Band at their wedding reception!), and Makarska, where they stayed at the Villa Rubcic for a few nights! Additionally, he was able to explore the Lika area where he met a few locals who had the same last name as his grandfather, Rubcic.
Furthermore, while serving as the County Attorney, Mark told me he was very fortunate to develop a warm friendship with the late Tom Rukavina, Steve Rukavina’s cousin who was serving as County Commissioner. Tom would often refer to Mark as the “Other Croatian Sensation” and always had a new Croatian word or phrase each Tuesday when they met at County Board meetings. Mark expressed how much he misses him but was also very appreciative and thankful of all of the fun times they spent together.
What kind of advice could you share with young Croatian Americans such as myself?
Upon speaking with Mark a piece of advice he was able to share with me was to continue to pass down the traditions and learn as much as possible about your family history. Unfortunately, his grandmother and father did not want him learning Croatian or Ukrainian growing up because they wanted him to learn and know English. Knowing the English language was how you were able to fit in as an immigrant.
Additionally, Mark emphasized continuing to be involved with our close knit Croatian communities both locally and back home in Croatia. Since his father was born in the United States, he was only able to go back once in 1972 with his mother and uncle Nick and his wife. Upon visiting, he met one of his uncles; however, it was the only time he was able to go back.
Mark expressed to me that he wishes he had the opportunity to go back with his father to see the country through his eyes. A big piece of advice Mark emphasized to me was all Croatians should go back home at least once with their immediate family and learn their roots back home! Having had the privilege of going back each year since I was two years old with my parents and grandparents, I agreed!