Gallagher: Remembering Ray Kogovsek

Author: Dennis Gallagher - May 19, 2017 - Updated: May 23, 2017

Dennis Gallagher
Dennis Gallagher

I am so glad I was able to make Sen. Ray Kogovsek’s funeral Mass at St. Mary Help of Christians Slovenian Catholic Church in Pueblo May 5. It was Friday morning in his hometown and in the parish he grew up in. And a hometown occasion it was — a warm spring day with flowers bursting forth in the small yards of homes near the church.

People from across our state, but mostly from Ray’s lifetime hometown friends and family journeyed to pay their respects to this truly public servant. They were all there for Ray, to say their farewells and console each other. Ray embodied the title of “public servant” his whole life. He never lorded his office over people like the many rulers we have elected to serve us today.

Father Ben Bacino, church pastor, announced he went to school with Ray’s brother at Pueblo Catholic High. Everybody knew everybody. That’s how Pueblo is, and it reminds me so much of North Denver, politics and all.

I sat next to Lucky Vidmar, no relation to the Vidmar’s of Pueblo. Lucky was born in Slovenia and followed in Ray’s footsteps serving as Honorary Slovenian Consul. Lucky said “Ko-gov-check,” proper Slovenian pronunciation which folks had trouble saying. Ray served as consul for a while when he left Congress. Ray was always amused when I reminded him that in high school at Holy Family in North Denver, I took the Slovenian language course offered by Father Leopold Mihalich at Holy Rosary Church in Globeville. We learned songs, prayers and basic conversation. For instance, Moy Slovenski Dom means My Slovenian Home.

After the Mass, St. Joseph’s Hall in the Grove, hosted a farewell reception for Ray. On the way to the hall I stopped at Janessa’s Gourmet Potica, pronounced “potitza,” with the accent on the second syllable and the “i” pronounced like a long “e.” Potica mirrors a sort of Slavic baklava passed down through the centuries from Slovenia, a county with an over 90 percent education rate. Potica is a thin cake bread wrapped around layers of ground and honeyed walnuts. Janessa’s is located at 421 South Santa Fe, also in the Grove, and Janessa herself helped direct me to St. Joseph’s Hall in the Grove around the corner on B Street.

I point this out because that business address is where my father’s grandparents, John and Mamie Davin lived when he worked for or slaved away at the infamous CF and I. They left Pueblo after Ludlow. Janessa remembered my great grand folks living in her establishment in early 1900s.

At St. Joseph’s Hall, an accordion player regaled the crowd with Slovenian songs and tunes. Ray was known in Pueblo as an outstanding accordion player. A man sitting at my table at the lunch chimed in that Ray had played the accordion at his aunt’s 50th wedding anniversary. Stories like this in mind, it is no wonder why Kogovsek did so well in politics in his hometown.

The lunch included pasta, Polish kielbasa sausages, fried chicken and potica for dessert, At the end of the lunch, not one piece of potica remained. I checked.

There was about a half-hour of sharing favorite Kogovsek stories. Kathy Farley waved a copy of the memorial card handed out earlier at the church. “Where’s the union label on this hand out?” she chided the crowd. What kind of Democrats are we?

At the church former state Rep. Bob Kirscht shared a famous story about Ray and Sen. Vince Massari, which I shared. I hope Bob did not mind.

Then-state Sen. Ray Kogovsek, left, makes a pitch with fellow Pueblo Democrat state Rep. Bob Kirscht to the Joint Budget Committee for more funds for the community college in Pueblo in this photo from the 1970s. (Photo by Morgan Smith/The Colorado Statesman)
Bob Kirscht, right, and then-state Sen. Ray Kogovsek, both Pueblo Democrats at the time, make a pitch to the Joint Budget Committee for more funds for the community college in Pueblo in this photo from the 1970s. Kogovsek was memorialized in Pueblo on May 5, 2017. (Photo by Morgan Smith/The Colorado Statesman)

Sen. Massari was the other senator from Pueblo who was serving alongside Ray. Massari was born in Italy in 1876. Ray showed great deference to the older Sen. Massari and drove him home to Pueblo every Friday afternoon down I-25.

I remember a story that on one particular Friday, Vince was angry with Ray over an issue in the Legislature.

“I’m a never gonna to speak a to you again,” Vince informed Ray.

By the time they got to Colorado Springs, Sen. Massari began to have heart spasms. Ray quickly pulled the car over and got out to help Massari, getting him ready for the ambulance. As the he was being loaded into the ambulance, Massari repeatedly shook his right index finger, “I’m a still never gonna to speak a to you again.”

They eventually made up, as they always did, but Ray’s deference to his aged and occasionally crotchety colleague is something one might not see today in the shiny well-polished marble halls of our state Capitol.

I hope the angels, your parents and grandparents welcomed you to the gates of heaven and Sen. Massari had lots to tell you. Dom e spali, Ray, home and rest, old friend.

Dennis Gallagher

Dennis Gallagher

Dennis Gallagher, a career public servant, was first elected as a Colorado state legislator in 1970 when he ran for the House of Representatives as a Democrat. He served in the state House and Senate for a combined period of 24 years and was later elected to Denver City Council in 1995 and later as Denver Auditor in 2003 where he served until 2016.