On Jeno Paulucci

Jeno Paulucci died Thursday morning, just four days after his wife passed away. He was, as we like to say, quite a larger-than-life character.

“Once my mother passed, my father was determined to be with her,” his daughter tells the Duluth News Tribune. “That was his wish, to be with Lois.”

There isn’t a lot of romance in most of the public stories about Mr. Paulucci. The Duluth paper details many of the stories about the jobs he brought to Duluth, but also the temper he had with people with whom he disagreed.

For a man described by one Duluth official as “the most important person in Duluth in the last 50 years, MPR provided very few stories about him. But the one it did — a look at his plan to turn a Hibbing chopsticks factory into a pasta production facility — gave us a memorable — and, actually, enjoyable — glimpse of his temper.

It was May 1996 — the good times — and MPR was detailing “The War Between the States” and the fight for businesses that had states throwing globs of money at anyone who’d move their businesses to the states. Paulucci wanted some of Minnesota’s for the project.

“I think it’s a great thing for government to be involved in areas where unemployment and welfare rolls are loaded with people who are deteriorating in character because they get give aways from welfare,” he told MPR reporter Mark Zdechlik at the time. “As long as that company you are dealing with is going to create a base of steady employment.”

Jim Gustafson, an economic development official for Minnesota, spent four years trying to make a deal with Paulucci.

“It has not been a pleasant deal,” he said at the time.

The story carried a warning even back then from a Federal Reserve official who said Washington should step in to prevent so many situations where public money was being thrown at private businesses, urging that decisions be made on business fundamentals instead.

After the story, we heard from Paulucci almost every day. It wasn’t, as Gustafson said, a “pleasant deal.” But it wasn’t boring and we don’t run into that sort of fighter in Minnesota much anymore. Too bad.

Paulucci’s story was the stuff of legend. The son of a poor immigrant family, he was simply good at peddling things. “My mother said of her neighbors: ‘The Paulucci family was poor like the rest of us. Jeno just worked harder than everyone else,'” former congressman Jim Oberstar said in a pitch for a book about Paulucci some years ago.

“Repeating over and over again my new name with its distinctive spelling, I made a vow that ‘Jeno’ would show the world that the Paolucci’s were better than the life they were forced to live. ‘Jeno’ would find a way out of this mess,” Paulucci wrote in his book. And he did, obviously never forgetting his roots along the way.

His death — and a look back at his life — could easily rekindle a discussion about whether hard work and good ideas are still the pathway to the success he enjoyed and shared.

  • Jeno Michael Paulucci

    Jeno Paulucci was an amazing and wonderful man and grandfather as well. He was my hero. My grandma Lois was his amazing wife of 64 years and it was a truly amazing love story. He had the best stories to tell, especially from experience. He played a father role in my life and he did whatever he could to help others in need. This man was one of a kind. There will never be another. Sure his temper could get bad at times but he had a heart of gold. You couldn’t put all of the good things about him or what he’s done to change the world on paper without writing books about it.

    I loved m grandpa and my grandma so much and will miss them dearly.

  • Anonymous

    Some years past I, and my wife went through a period where we wrote letters to Jeno asking for advice, spaghetti donations from his Michelina’s food company for benefits, and help with selling a food service related product. Jeno answered every letter and in most cases contributed or closed the dialogue out with simple advice.

    I will always be amazed that a man that busy and important found time for me and my wife. I’ll never really get over it.

    It is wonderful that in the end Jeno and Lois love for each other really is the closing chapter and will be the best memory.

  • Carl Hill

    I worked for Jeno a number of times through the years..he fired me a couple of times..I quit a couple of times..but the truth of the matter is..I should’ve paid him for the opportunity! He was bigger than life in every way..Funnier at times..Relentless at times..but never one to take lightly. Lois was every inch his equal..they were made for each other. I am sorry to see that they are gone..but know in my heart..that they are both enjoying the moment! God Bless them both! I knew his children..and each of them, in their own way..will continue the wonderful legacy of the Paulucci family.

  • Mary Garvey Verrill

    Jeno was a hero to my family, and remote “cousin” to my grandmother, Frances Wolf, of Hibbing, who loved him dearly. We all knew how Jeno invented his recipes for Chung King from Italian seasoning experiments he did in his basement. While in college, cases of Rice a Roni, channeled from Gino to my grandmother to me and my family, kept my roommate and I alive. We ate it just about everyday. Thank you, Jeno–yes, I graduated and use my degree every day, but could not have done it without your generosity. I think of you and family each time I pass the Paulucci building in Duluth.

  • bob daversa

    Great man married to one great woman. My sympathy to Gina, Mickey, Cindy words cannot express.

  • Elly

    Conobbi Jeno e Lois quando ero solo una giovane ragazza di appena 22 anni. Mi sono trovata sola in un paese a me totalmente estraneo ma ho sempre sentito alle mie spalle di essere protetta da due angeli speciali. Ho sempre visto Lois come una donna generosa e materna, colei capace di ascoltare ma anche di dare i giusti consigli. Molto dolce, attenta ai bisogni altrui. Le ho voluto subito molto bene, mi ha insegnato a cucinare e quando le chiesi:”Lois ma il cheeseburger è il piatto tradizionale della cultura americana come per noi sono i ravioli o le fettuccine?” e lei, un pò divertita, mi disse:”Elly, il cheeseburger è per noi come la pizza per voi, ma ci sono tanti piatti che ci vengono trasmessi dai nostri nonni, come gli stufed mushrooms, il wild rise”. Mi scrisse subito le ricette ed io ero tanto orgogliosa di poter cucinare nuovi piatti americani ai miei amici italiani. Poi sono cresciuta, e quando mio figlio si ammalò a soli due mesi Jeno e Lois mi aiutarono a trovare le migliori cure per lui. Sono due Angeli capaci di avvolgere con le loro ali setate tutti noi. . Ho sempre visto Jeno come un marito affettuoso e premuroso, quando volgeva lo sguardo verso di lei, Lois suo unico immenso amore, gli occhi gli si riempivano di luce e tutto era tradotto in un unica parola “Amore”.

    Sempre nel mio cuore.

    Vi voglio bene

    I wrote it in italian because, for me it is easer.

    With Love