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Dick Palmer: Raleigh Street 'gang' is still going strong

Now, fellow Northlanders, we are almost in the home stretch again as summer is breezing by quicker than we can keep up. It's true that the older we get, the faster time seems to be flitting by. With age, however, many of us are willing and anxious to stop, look and listen, and that is a good sign.

For those of us who grew up in much simpler times, showing pride in our old neighborhoods and the "good old days" is a proud tradition. The fond memories of our parents and neighbors makes today's earthly challenges more bearable as the clock on the wall keeps ticking.

Did you know, as the former editor and publisher of the Budgeteer, I wrote more than 300 profiles of area residents from all walks of life? The history that unfolded in those articles was mind-boggling. (Yes, I do have a book in mind but, again, that clock on the wall is always staring at me.)

Duluth is generally known as a Scandinavian paradise featuring Swedes, Norwegians and Finns galore. Indeed, our Scandinavian roots remain in constant focus and we are the better for it. But there is more, much more. We have a strong Italian heritage particularly on the Central Hillside as well, but let's not forget our Polish ancestry and the Jewish neighborhoods.

And now the subject of this article, that Raleigh Street bunch of yesteryear, the Italians, Serbians and a wide mix in-between that produced many a success story intermixed with some very astounding experiences few of our younger folks have ever been subjected to.

They came to the United States and to Raleigh Street near the end of the 19th century, reported Duluth author Claire W. Schumacher in her book "The Raleigh Street Saga." Things in Europe were unsettled, the economy was questionable and the longing to come to America was widespread throughout Europe. Obviously, language variations attracted whole neighborhoods of Greeks, Serbs, Swedes, Norwegians, Hebrews and, of course, Italians.

Few had any money. Working together was the glue for survival, neighbors working and helping each other and, above all, looking after each other. On the negative side, however, was the aloofness between neighboring communities. Language, customs and religion were all factors keeping these communities isolated from their nearby neighbors, and class distinctions easily surfaced. Most negatives were because of ignorance or self-preservation.

But, most importantly, in later years, that Raleigh Street "gang" of roughnecks produced some remarkable, successful community leaders and some very positive community contributions.

Equally important, old country traditions were primarily responsible for the growth, diversity and strength of Duluth and area. Those proud traditions of Raleigh Street, Morgan Park, Gary-New Duluth and the Central Hillside were primarily based on honesty, goodwill, concern for others and a strong religious base. Indeed, we here at the Head of the Lakes owe much to this diverse heritage.

Today, some of the Great Depression guys from the Raleigh Street neighborhoods get together monthly for breakfast and up to 50 show up. They even invited this West Duluthian to join them.

Indeed, life in Duluth is good.

And on the lighter side

Ole and Lena are both staunch Lutherans. Ole was discussing religion with Knute, who happened to be a Baptist. Said Ole, "Vell, dere's vun ting about it ... being Lut'eran von't keep you from sinning, but it sure keeps you from enjoying it."

-- Red Stangland's Ole and Lena

E-mail Dick Palmer at rpalmer341@aol.com.

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