Remembering Paul Wellstone

Paul Wellstone - Senate Portrait

Paul Wellstone was born 73 years ago on July 21, 1944 to Leon and Minnie Wellstone, Jewish refugees from Russia. Best known as a beloved Minnesota senator, Paul was also a professor at Carlton College and an organizer, with a compassionate spirit that spoke to the needs new and old Minnesotans alike.

His advocacy reached far and wide, from ensuring economic justice for rural laborers to protecting the environment to getting his students politically active. To this day, Neighborhood House continues to feel Paul’s impact as a politician, advocate, professor, child of refugees, and friend.

As a grassroots organizer and child of Russian Jewish immigrants, Paul was committed to securing rights for refugees and vulnerable people. His work would sometimes bring him to Neighborhood House’s old facility, where he felt a strong affinity with the diverse community members of St. Paul.

In particular, Paul created a lasting impact on Hmong veterans and families. Due to language barriers, Hmong community members had trouble completing the United States citizenship test, putting them at risk of losing critical services. With Minnesota House Representative Bruce Vento, he helped push the Hmong Veterans’ Naturalization Act of 2000, which would help Hmong and Laotian Vietnam War veterans become full citizens and live more stable lives.

Wellstone's words, "We all do better when we all do better," written in Hmong. The art is featured in the Wellstone Center rotunda.

Paul Wellstone’s words, “We all do better when we all do better,” written in Hmong. Ten foreign translations of his famous quote can be found in the Wellstone Center rotunda.

He was often seen strolling through the neighborhood with his wife Sheila, who shared his philanthropic spirit and became a monumental advocate for women and families. She worked tirelessly to raise awareness of domestic violence, sexual assault, and international human rights crises including sex trafficking. Together, Paul and Sheila were an active presence in St. Paul, always speaking with the community about its needs, always authentic and compassionate in their service.

As Neighborhood House began researching for a new facility at the turn of the millennium, Paul sought solutions to help make this dream a reality, including suggestions for federal funding. His daughter Marcia was even involved in the process, touring the old location and speaking with staff about their needs.

Paul, Sheila, and Marcia would later die in a tragic plane crash in October 2002.

One month later, the United States Congress passed the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Building Act in their honor. $10 million would be awarded to the construction of the Wellstone Center, where Neighborhood House would continue to provide hope, opportunity, and dignity for all.

Wellstone plaque featuring congressional records

Proceedings and debates on the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Building Act from November 2002, with remarks from then-senators Dean Barkley and Mark Dayton, framed and located in the Wellstone Center lobby.

Paul’s famous words, “We all do better when we all do better,” are inscribed on the walls of the Wellstone Center rotunda in Yiddish, Swedish, Somali, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Hmong, Arabic, Oromo, and French in honor of the many different people who have found hope in his beloved city. New immigrants, refugees, and low-income communities continue to succeed at Neighborhood House through the generosity of Wellstone’s legacy.

As we reflect on our 120 years of service and decade of operating in the Wellstone Center, we’re honored to have been touched by the compassion of the Wellstone family and to continue helping other families thrive.


Further reading:

Paul and Sheila Bios – Wellstone Action

Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Building Act

MPR: New Wellstone Community Center Opens in St. Paul

Hmong Veterans’ Naturalization Act of 2000


Posted 7/21/17