Vinko the Achiever

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.

Vince Sr 1941_preview
Vinko became Vincent Biskupic when he arrived in the United States in 1923.
I love this picture of Vinko and Mary from our wedding in 1987. They held hands everywhere they went.
He shared his name and his distinguished ears with his grandson Vince (and his great-grandson Vinnie as well)
Vinnie in Croatia
Vinnie represented the family and the Appleton Boychoir when we visited Croatia in 2006. He was assigned a song introduction, which he was supposed to memorize and recite in Croatian. He winged it and, when I asked our Croatian relatives how he had done, they diplomatically replied, “He didn’t really say any words, but he sounded good!” Hilarious.
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Plitvice National Park is beautiful..
In fact, most of Croatia is beautiful and we highly recommend a visit there.
We love the story and the beautiful water color pictures that make this book, which is written in English and translated in Croatian, so cool.
The book is a beautiful legacy not only for Vinko, but also for its author, Jim Kelly. An avid Packer fan and devoted family man, Jim visited Lambeau several times, including in 2016 with his son Patrick (pictured here with Jim and Vince). Sadly, Jim died on January 28th last year, which makes his whimsical story of a plucky fish who takes on the world, even more special to all of us who knew him. As a testament to his love for both the Packers and his family, Jim, suffering from pancreatic cancer, attended the 2017 NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome with his wife Paula, and sons Patrick and Jack just six days before he passed away.





7 thoughts on “Vinko the Achiever

  1. Sounds like a wonderful book. My husbands family came from Zlobin, Croatia. I will have to check where Mala Mlaka is in comparison. We had a big family reunion 1-1/2 years ago and I learned so much about the Croatian culture.

    1. Mala Mlaka is very near Zagreb. Hope you enjoyed some delicious Croatian food at your reunion 🙂

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