Veda Ponikvar, America’s ‘Iron Lady,’ dies at 96

On her 92nd birthday, Veda Ponikvar received her birthday cake from former Congressman Jim Oberstar and then Congressional candidate Rick Nolan. Photo: Dan Kraker/MPR News.

By all accounts, there’ll never be another force on Minnesota’s Iron Range like Veda Ponikvar, of Chisholm, who died yesterday at 96.

She started the newspaper as a counter voice to the mining company’s newspaper, according to the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

With printer’s ink running deep in her veins, she continued to write for more than a decade as the newspaper’s publisher emeritus — a title she still proudly holds. During her career, she had written more than 4,300 editorials.

“Some people called her the Iron Woman, and she was exactly that,” said (Sen. Dave) Tomassoni. “… She was extremely intelligent and when people spoke to her, they knew she was someone you should respect and was committed to whatever the issue was at that time that day.”

“If it’s something that was on the Iron Range, Veda most likely had something to do with it,” said Tomassoni.

Aaron J. Brown, who writes about all things Iron Range on his Minnesota Brown blog, calls her the Range’s “most authoritative journalist.” It’s one of the most touching tributes you’ll ever read.

Ponikvar wrote more than 5,000 editorials in her career, though the exact number varies and the task of figuring it out is monumental. She was guarded and strategic in what she told readers, always fixated on putting the best face on Chisholm and the Iron Range. Nevertheless, she tirelessly reported everything if you paid close attention.

In one piece, Ponikvar wrote the obituary for Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, the town doctor who had played briefly in Major League baseball. When novelist [W.P.] Kinsella found Graham’s entry in a book of baseball statistics, he was inspired to travel to Chisholm to find out what happened to him. The exchange he had with Ponikvar ended up in his novel, which was turned into the Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams.”

To quote that now famous editorial about Graham:

“As the community grew, Doc became an integral part of the population. There were good years and lean ones. There were times when children could not afford eyeglasses, or milk, or clothing because of the economic upheavals, strikes and depressions. Yet no child was ever denied these essentials, because in the background, there was a benevolent, understanding Doctor Graham. Without a word, without any fanfare or publicity, the glasses or the milk, or the ticket to the ball game found their way into the child’s pocket.”

Ponikvar was at her best talking about the good in her community. She took an active role in describing and creating good in that community.

On its Moonlight Graham night at the Metrodome 10 years ago, Ponikvar threw out the first pitch.

It’s quite possible that had W.P. Kinsella not made a visit to Chisholm, “Field of Dreams” might never have been written.

(Video link)

“Every one of them was important to me,” Ponikvar said of the projects she spearheaded in Chisholm. “Our town was successful because everyone worked together toward our goals.”

More: KFAI interview with Ponikvar (audio).