In sprawling Williams Arena, where University of Minnesota maroon and gold gave
way to Wellstone green, people of many places, stations and leanings came together
Tuesday night for U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone.
A huge and sympathetic crowd of more than 20,000 people, a mass of state and
national media, signs and songs and shouts of unrepentant liberalism -- it would
have been a spectacular late-campaign rally.
Campaign staff members link arms and greet incoming people before the start of
the memorial service for Sen. Paul Wellstone. The green bus is in the background.
(Star Tribune Photo/Judy Griesedieck)
But despite the hoots and whistles and proud smiles, despite the fist-pumping
and the "Wellstone for Senate" banner that hung along one railing, it was a memorial
for the spirited senator, killed in a plane crash Friday along with his wife,
Sheila; their daughter, Marcia Markuson; three campaign aides, and the two pilots.
They gathered, former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer said as he opened the program,
in hopes of "putting aside crushing grief in order to celebrate the lives that
have been taken from us."
During the showing of a video of Wellstone highlights, to the sounds of Bob
Dylan's "Forever Young," members of Wellstone's staff wept, some with their heads
on others' shoulders.
As the video ended, a hush fell across the arena, broken only by the sounds
of sniffling. Many wept, too, at poignant descriptions of the Wellstones and their
love for each other, and of the style and wit and commitment of the people who
died with them.
But much of the night was upbeat, raucous and sometimes acidly partisan, a
campaign rally that left some Republicans and other non-DFLers squirming.
Thousands of mourners stand in line to attend a public memorial service at Williams
Arena in Minneapolis for U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and five others who died Friday
in a plane crash near Eveleth, Minn.
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
"Paul Wellstone wouldn't have it any other way," Latimer said.
Doors opened to the public at 4:30 p.m. In little more than an hour, the arena
was declared full and people were directed to the nearby Sports Pavilion.
Before the memorial started at 6:30, that overflow seating was gone, too, and
many hundreds of people still waited outside.
"I'm disappointed they didn't have this in the Metrodome," said Howard Smith,
45, of White Bear Lake, who worked on Wellstone's 1982 campaign for state auditor.
"They could have filled this place five times."
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerry, D-Neb., walked along the line of people who weren't
likely to get inside even the overflow hall, shaking hands and thanking them for
Cheers, a few boos
Former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and many members
of Congress were among the last to take their seats -- to the strains of "Love
Train," sung by Sounds of Blackness. As their faces flashed on a big screen, the
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a close friend of Wellstone's, gave a fighting
wave to the crowd as he walked to his seat on the floor, and the crowd cheered
as if for a star's return to a basketball game.
The biggest cheer was for Walter Mondale, the former senator and vice president
who is expected to announce today that he will seek to take Wellstone's place
on the ticket. Moments later, scattered boos greeted Senate Minority Leader Trent
Lott, R-Miss., as he entered the arena. Lott smiled and waved.
The hall quieted for the Wellstone sons, David and Mark, who talked of sharing
baseball games, wrestling meets and quiet, serious talks with their parents.
"I could go on all night," David said. "I've got a little bit of my dad in
He talked about his father's integrity and intensity and the values of social
justice that he instilled in his children.
"He was a wonderful father," David Wellstone said. "When the going really got
rough, there was no one else you wanted in your corner. That goes for us, and
it goes for all of you."
He shared memories of his mother's love for the music of Buddy Holly. He remembered
"the wet washcloth on the forehead" and the long Saturdays she spent in wrestling
David Wellstone eulogizes his father, as the big screen displayed a photo (Photo/David
"Strong," he said. "That's what she was. My dad wouldn't be what he was without
Mark Wellstone had a message for his father, a message that started personal
but, like many of the night's speeches, turned political:
"Dad, we're OK," he said. "Dave and I are OK. . . . We will carry on. We will
see this legacy carry on."
The memorial-turned-rally ended -- more than an hour later than planned --
with a stemwinder by Harkin.
Wellstone "made a miner up on the Iron Range know that he was as important
as the president of the United States," Harkin said, and "the decency he demanded
of our society, he lived out in his own life."
Through all of Wellstone's work, "there weaves a common thread: helping people,
especially ordinary, average people. He empowered them. He lifted them up."
Invoking the spirit of Wellstone's green bus, Harkin shouted out a boarding
"We must continue Paul's journey for justice in America!" he said. "Will you
stand up, join together and board that bus? Say yes! For Paul Wellstone, will
you stand up and keep fighting for social justice? Say yes!
"For Paul!" Harkin repeated, as the crowd took up the chant. "For Paul!"
Rick Kahn, one of Wellstone's closest friends, had set the tone earlier, urging
the crowd to "stand up for all the people he fought for . . . for working men
and women . . . for all those who lack the strength to stand up on their own."
His words brought thousands to their feet including Clinton, who smiled, clapped,
put a fist in the air and mouthed the words, "That's right."
TV cameras then panned to a beaming Mondale, which brought more cheers.
"If Paul Wellstone's legacy comes to an end, then our spirits will be crushed
and we will drown in a river of tears," a clearly emotional Kahn said. "We are
begging you, do not let that happen. We are begging you to help us win this Senate
election for Paul Wellstone."
In a move that brought gasps of delight from some and stony silence from a
few, Kahn then began urging select Republicans to drop their partisanship and
work for Wellstone's reelection.
To U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., Kahn said, "You know that Paul loved you.
He needs you now. . . . Help us win this race."
For the little guys
It was a crowd flecked with celebrity and importance, but the mass was decidedly
"little feller" -- the term Wellstone sometimes used for the people, not Rockefellers,
he wanted to represent.
Josiah Titus, 23, one of the first people in line, said that he and his wife,
Jamie, cut short their honeymoon in New York and drove home to Minneapolis to
attend the memorial.
On the way, they read a copy of Wellstone's book, "The Conscience of a Liberal,"
which Josiah found Friday afternoon in a Manhattan bookstore.
Mark Wellstone chants, "We will win!" during a speech in which he reminisced
about his childhood, and how his father would "take care" of schoolyard
bullies. (Photo/Jerry Holt/Star Tribune)
"I grew up in a conservative community and I resented a lot of it," he said.
"I thought I resented politics. But watching Paul Wellstone, I realized I was
just seeing the wrong side."
He was a teenager but already tall when he met the new senator at the Minnesota
State Fair in the early 1990s.
"He's tiny compared to me, but I left feeling that I had met the biggest person
in the world." he said.
"Even if I never pursue a career in politics, I know from him that I can do
something. Organizing, volunteering -- that will be a part of my life no matter
if I'm a baker or a teacher or whatever."
People began queuing up outside the Minneapolis arena mid-afternoon, five and
six abreast in a line that snaked out for blocks in the damp October chill.
Matte Kinsey, of Minneapolis, afraid she wouldn't find a parking space, pulled
up near where the now-famous green campaign bus was parked, festooned with flowers,
and pleaded with a traffic officer: "Please take a picture of the bus for me?"
The venerable 1968 bus, a sentimental touchstone especially for Wellstone staff
members and volunteers, bore a single empty chair -- the riderless horse -- and
messages from a rainbow of constituencies: the Ethiopian community, the Vietnamese
community, Minnesota's American Indian tribes, neighborhood organizations, social-action
groups, veterans organizations.
Veterans caps and union jackets were common.
"He wasn't just pro-labor," said Jerry Waller, 42, a United Auto Workers member
from Dodge Center, Minn. "He was proud of being pro-labor."
Gerry Castagner, 51, retired president of a steelworkers union local in the
Virginia-Eveleth area, was on one of two chartered buses that brought more than
100 steelworkers from the Iron Range, then gathered more in the Twin Cities. Other
steelworkers came from throughout the country.
"Paul was our friend," Castagner said.
There were no separate lines for big-shots, and that suited state Sen. Linda
Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, just fine.
Mark Wellstone, left, his wife Jessie Silva Wellstone, center, and Sylvia Kaplan
respond to a speech by Senator Tom Harkins, D-Iowa, during a public memorial service
for U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., Tuesday, Oct. 29 2002, in Minneapolis.
Wellstone, his wife, daughter and two staff members were killed, Friday, Oct.
25, 2002, when their plane crashed in Eveleth, Minn. (AP Photo/St. Paul Pioneer
Press, Scott Takushi, Pool)
"I've been in line since 3:30," said Higgins, stamping her feet. "This is just
a whole bunch of people from every walk of life who wanted to pay their respects,
and we're all in this line together. That's pretty special and I think that's
who Paul was."
Allison Dobson, a campaign staff worker, said that aside from seating for family
and the congressional delegation, there would be no special VIP areas. "It's pretty
much the first 20,000 people who get in," she said, before the service started.
Inside, former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton sat a few rows above
two workers for homeless vets.
"This is just the kind of crowd he would have wanted," she said, smiling. "I'm
not surprised by the enormity of it. Paul was loved."
Jesse Jackson talked about Wellstone working as Minnesota coordinator for his
1988 presidential race, and he joked about his absent-mindedness. "Paul would
have a blue and green sock on if Sheila didn't dress him," he said.
People made their way to the arena individually and as families or in groups
of friends. They were mayors, farmers, pipefitters, office workers. They came
by bus and bicycle and on foot, from the neighborhoods of cities and from cities
smaller than neighborhoods.
State Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, was there. It's a matter of honor everywhere
but seems especially true and vital on the Iron Range: You attend memorials for
your friends and for people who shaped and inspired you.
Wellstone was on his way to Virginia, Minn., Friday to the funeral for Rukavina's
father, Bennie, a man who organized steelworkers in the 1930s, when his plane
Although the tone of the memorial was often defiantly partisan, the audience
included a number of Republican and independent figures, including Lott, Health
and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, representing the Bush administration,
GOP gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty, Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura
and Tim Penny, the IP candidate for governor.
Wellstone probably would have understood how they felt. In "The Conscience
of a Liberal," he wrote about being the odd man at the funeral for U.S. Sen. Barry
"I think many Republicans were surprised," he wrote. "They enjoyed giving me
a rough time -- they even gave me Goldwater's 'The Conscience of a Conservative'
to read on the plane."
Person after person waiting in line said that Wellstone represented better
than anyone else what they want in a political leader: someone who is engaged
and engaging, tireless on behalf of the weak, passionate and compassionate, able
to laugh, able to cry.
"A man without tears is a man without a heart," Hubert Humphrey said in his
last major speech in Minnesota before he died of cancer in 1978.
Humphrey's funeral in Minneapolis was the last time that official Washington
came to Minnesota to honor a fallen statesman. The president who came then was
Jimmy Carter, the senators named Javits, Percy, Muskie, McGovern, Church and Moynihan.
Walter Mondale -- then the vice president -- gave voice to the combination
of grief and joyful gratitude that so many felt. "Hubert's heart kept its course
truly," he said, borrowing a line from Shakespeare.
And for that, Carter said of Humphrey, "The joy of his memory will last far
longer than the pain and sorrow of his leaving."
But there were great, heart-rending differences between the farewell of nearly
25 years ago and Tuesday's goodbyes.
"We knew he was dying," a friend of Humphrey's wrote in 1978.
It didn't much soften the blow to those who loved Humphrey, but the suddenness
of Wellstone's death, at the relatively young age of 58, seemed to make this wound
even deeper, even more raw.
And Humphrey's wife, Muriel, soon to take his place in the Senate, was there
to hear Mondale say, as if speaking to his mentor, "With her here, your spirit,
your joy, your good heart remains with us."
On Tuesday night, the people said goodbye to Sheila Wellstone, too.
As she waited to get into the arena, Delrita Rudnitski, of the Minnesota Coalition
for Battered Women, stood in line behind a banner thanking the Wellstones for
"We're going to carry forward with the work in memory of them and in honor
of them," Rudnitski said.
She caught sight of Lynn Rosenthal of the National Network to End Domestic
Violence in Washington, D.C. The two women hugged, then cried together.
"Paul and Sheila were our heroes," Rosenthal said.
© Copyright 2002 Star Tribune