Pol-Am History - Governor Kulongoskiby Edward Pinkowski, Cooper City, FL
This story appeared in The Post Eagle
For the first time in a century and a half, the citizens of Oregon picked a person with a Polish name to head the state government. On his 62nd birthday, Ted Kulongoski, who started a political career in the early 1970s, was elected the 36th governor of Oregon, and it had a lot of ramifications. To start with, it dispelled the notion of some pundits that a long Polish name was a political handicap. In Oregon, Kulongoski ran eight times for political office and won six races.
There weren't half as many Polish people in Oregon as in Missouri, where he came from, and seeking support from them alone would not have brought enough votes to win. In 1990, Oregon had a Polish population of 48,414, and less than 24 other states. In the golden days of timbering and farming, very few Polish families scrambled to Oregon, and Protestants, both Republicans and Democrats, controlled the machinery of government. When the head of the Oregon Ku Klux Klan said, "the only way to cure a Catholic is to kill him," he got away with it. The practice of sending children to Catholic schools so angered the legislators that in 1922 they passed a law that required all children between the ages of eight and sixteen to go to a public school. Three years later, however, the law was declared unconstitutional.
Had Kulongoski known this history, perhaps he would not have brought his wife and children to Eugene, Oregon, on the Williamette River, between the Pacific ocean and the Cascade mountains, with a tiny Polish population. He was raised and taught by nuns in a St. Louis Catholic boys home from the age of 4 to 18. Then he lived for awhile with his mother and stepfather. After high school, he enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps. In his tour of duty he met Mary Oberst on the Pacific coast, where he was a guard at the Calaveras naval base, and later married her in Missouri. They had three children. With the assistance of the GI Bill, jobs as a truck driver and a steel worker, he paid for his education at the University of Missouri. He graduated in 1970, with a law degree.
No sooner was he at home in a new state than he became counsel for the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee and wrote Oregon's Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act. In 1974, he won the election for state representative of Lane and Douglas counties. Four years later he was elected to the State Senate. In 1980, he lost in the race for the U. S. Senate and again two years later in a bid for governor. But he did not quit. After picking up a lot of experience in three branches of government, including appointment as Insurance Commissioner and election as Attorney General and to the Oregon Supreme Court, he won the election on November 5, 2002, for governor of Oregon by a margin of 22,000 votes. Hardly anyone could match his record of fighting for workers, senior citizens, consumers, teachers, and children. Oregon's largest newspapers endorsed him.
The stubborn character of his grandfather, Alex, who came from Poland in the 1890s, had something to do with the present spelling of his last name. He spelled Kulongowski without the letter "w" and would not let anyone change it. The origin of the name is kulon and refers to a bird known as the purlew or petty bourgeois. Ironically, Poland has no person of the 10- or 11-letter variety. It has 697 Kulons.
When Alex and Mary Kulongoski bought a 160- acre farm just outside Cadet in Washington County, Missouri, where they had four sons and a daughter, tiff mining was more important than farming in the county. The farmers around them had shallow diggings on their land. Each hole had a hand-made windlass to hoist tiff, a white, chalky mineral, also called barite, and a "rattle box," made like a baby's cradle, to shake the clay off the lumps of barite. The diggers could not sell the stuff to paint and rubber manufacturers without cleaning it.
Instead of much farming, Alex Kulongoski and his sons dug holes in the ground, and when they found barite, one person worked with a pick and shovel in the hole, another one on the windlass, and the rest, especially the younger ones, rocked the clay and barite lumps back and forth over the cradle until the barite was clean. Many of the lumps were incrusted with lead. When one hole ran out of tiff, or was too deep to mine by hand, the windlass and rattle box were moved to another hole. No one knows how many shallow diggings they had on their farm. The tiff was hauled in a wagon from the farm to a weighing station. Each load was weighed and paid for right away. Most of the tiff mining by the Kulongoskis was carried on after their crops were harvested and until Christmas.
Just before prohibition, Alex Kulongoski and his oldest son, John, who was born 11 February 1896, left tiff mining and opened a saloon in St. Louis, 49 miles away, and attracted mostly employees of the largest freight and passenger terminal in the world. Alex's only daughter, Mary, came along as a barmaid. When they were forced by the prohibition act to close the saloon, the father and son went to work for the Terminal Railroad in St. Louis. Mary married a fellow who worked in a shoe factory. Exactly how long Frank, three years younger than John, stayed in the family nest is not certain. At some point, he married a Polish girl and moved to Wyandotte, Michigan. Then Theodore got married and he was too sick to move off the farm. He died shortly after the future governor of Oregon was born on 5 November 1940. The lead he came in contact with in tiff mining probably caused his death. His older brother, Charles (Eddie), who never married, also died of cancer on the farm in June of 1971. It was up to John's son, Arthur, who had previously served in the Marines, like Governor Kulongoski, and worked at the rail terminal in St. Louis, like his father and grandfather, to sell the farm in Washington County. Looking back on the farm in his youth, Arthur remembered going with the governor's father to hunt for wild turkeys and other small game in the woods.
The orphan boy from Cadet, Missouri, was too busy with his life to have much contact with the other Kulongowski families in the United States. Although they were in the Marine Corps at the same time, Ted Kulongoski and Arthur Kulongoski, a first cousin from St. Louis, never met in their tours of duty. Then, too, there were not many persons of the same name to meet. They were rare in the country. The Kulongowski families, who have retained the letter "w" in their last name, were mostly in the boundaries of Arizona, California, Idaho, New York, and Michigan. Out of the 49 persons of the same name, 38 were listed in Michigan, and one third of them in Detroit. Although proud of their father, the children of the Oregon governor, still in their 30s, look forward to a new era in the Kulongoski saga. The youngest one of the family, Justin, a graduate of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, has done more than his two siblings to spread the Kulongoski name all over the world. He has collected samples of volcanoes in Indonesia, studied water problems in the bushveld of southern Africa, and wants to educate the next generation of young scientists. Kristen is a curriculum specialist in Powell, Wyoming, and Theodore Edward started his family in Arcata, California, to which he moved.
Governor Kulongoski began his term with a promise that he would take a five percent cut in his salary.
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