The dedication alone would have made Vinko the Achiever a fitting legacy for its subject, its author and its artist, a trio of talented dreamers.
“May you be graced with a vivid imagination as a building block for your life’s goals,” it reads. “May you come to have relationships with inspirational people and others who serve you as mentors, partners, and supporters. May you develop self-confidence, strength and the conviction to follow your dreams.”
Beautifully illustrated, the book traces the story of my husband’s grandfather, Vinko Biskupic, who came to the United States in 1923 after an occasionally perilous journey from a small Croatian village called Mala Mlaka (Little Puddle).
One of 11 children and the only one to leave Croatia, Vinko relied on a strong handshake and contagious smile as he worked his way from Europe, through Canada and eventually to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where he met his wife, the formidable Mary Malkoch.
Until his death in 1992 at age 92, Vinko remained a dignified gentleman who held hands with his wife whenever he could, bounced great-grandchildren on his knee while clicking his tongue to mimic the sound of horse hooves on pavement, ordered his steaks blood rare, and never forgot the family he left behind in Croatia.
He flew back the first time right after World War II on a trip he organized to check on his relatives, he helped build the Croatian Hall in Sheboygan, and he took a lot of pride in introducing his American relatives to his homeland on several subsequent trips back.
We visited Mala Mlaka in 2006 when we accompanied the Appleton Boychoir to Croatia and traveled to many of the places mentioned in Vinko the Achiever, including the beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park.
A later trip led by Vinko’s daughter, the Honorable Patricia Campbell (who also accompanied us to Croatia in 2006), inspired her son in-law Jim Kelly to write this book.
His whimsical story of a fish named Vinko, who escapes over a waterfall, became the delightful children’s book (though suitable for any age), Vinko the Achiever, illustrated by Vinko’s granddaughter, Portland artist Carole Campbell.
Its optimistic message of courage and adventure would delight any reader. But, of course, the book is especially special to us as it celebrates the story of Great-Grandpa Vince, whose cheerful spirit and admirable work ethic provided the roots upon which the American Biskupic family tree grew strong.