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Six-term Hibbing legislator Jack Fena dies

Six-term state Rep. Jack Fena, age 86, died this afternoon at the Benedictine Health Center in Duluth.

"He was a tremendous orator and one of the brightest lights in the Legislature," said George Perpich, a former senator from Hibbing, of his DFL colleague and friend.

Fena also hailed from Hibbing and represented House District 63 from 1959 to 1963 and then again from 1965 to 1973.

He was a primary author of the taconite amendment passed in 1964, which collects production taxes from Minnesota mines.

A lieutenant in the U.S. Marines, Fena saw action in World War II in the Pacific, where he was seriously wounded.

"They recommended cutting his leg off, but he didn't let them," said Harry Sieben, a longtime friend and fellow lawmaker. "That was a good thing, too, because he regained use of it."

"He was a great American," said Sieben of Fena. "He felt strongly about his country, but he didn't wear it on his sleeve that he was a combat-decorated veteran who served with distinction."

Fena returned to civilian life on Christmas Day 1945. He went on to earn a law degree at Notre Dame University then returned to his hometown to join a legal practice.

Fena married Kathleen Kaim, a fellow Hibbing native, in 1949, and the couple raised 11 children -- five sons and six daughters.

"His first dedication in life was his family, from start to finish," said Sieben.

Fena's political savvy and ability to work across the aisle with Republicans were highly regarded, according to Sieben.

"He was called on by governors and legislators for advice repeatedly. He had a wonderful sense of history and how things fit together in our society."

After retiring from the Legislature in 1973, Fena served as an assistant St. Louis County attorney. Four years later, Gov. Rudy Perpich appointed him a Minnesota tax court judge.

Fena suffered a stroke 11 years ago and spent the last four years of his life in a nursing home setting.

"The stroke didn't destroy his spirit," said Sieben. "He didn't lose his sense of humor, his sense of humanity and his desire to do good in the world."

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