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Friends Bid Farewell to Vento
By William Wilcoxen
October 13, 2000
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Hundreds of mourners came to Saint Paul on Friday October 13, to pay a final tribute to Bruce Vento. The former school teacher and 12-term congressman was hailed as a champion of the environment, the working class, and the needy.

The casket bearing Bruce Vento lies in the Cathedral of Saint Paul during his funeral Friday. See larger image.
(AP pool photo)
MOURNERS BEGAN FILING into the Cathedral of Saint Paul about an hour before Bruce Vento's funeral mass. His casket, draped with an American flag, occupied the aisle leading to the altar. A number of people paused silently before it as they entered. At one point, a woman in Hmong ceremonial dress approached with a man in military fatigues who stood at attention and saluted the coffin.

People from various walks of life came to the funeral. Along with family and friends, there were scores of political and government leaders. A plane carrying 80 of Vento's Congressional colleagues flew in from Washington just long enough for the service.

There were also the modest. An elderly woman, wearing a sweatshirt and tennis shoes, sat alone in the back pew, farthest from the altar where Reverend John Malone, Vento's pastor, stood over the casket and remembered the congressman's weekly visits to Assumption Church.

"He sat way in the back," Reverend Malone said. "I think this is the first time he's ever been up in the front."

Reverend Malone spoke about the dignity Vento showed in the face of his diagnosis with a rare, usually terminal form of lung cancer associated with asbestos. Vento worked several factory jobs as a young man. Malone remarked on the aptness that Vento's death, like so much of his life, should be tied to the concerns of working-class people. He encouraged mourners to notice a building near the cathedral that was converted to low-income housing through Vento's efforts.

"Eighty people at any given point in time - and all of these rooms are always filled - people who don't know Bruce Vento, people who wonder what's going on up at the cathedral today , these people have been the beneficiaries of this good man's life."

Former Archbishop John Roach disagreed with Vento on a number of issues, particularly abortion. Roach acknowledged he found Vento more of a preacher than a listener, but said even through their differences, he developed an affection for Vento.

"He had a deep understand of the needs of all of God's people. And he responded in a remarkable way to those needs, especially the needs of the neediest," Archbishop Roach said.

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Learn more about the life of Bruce Vento.
Following the funeral, family members went to a Maplewood cemetery for a private burial. Outside the cathedral and at a luncheon reception later, Vento's friends and associates reminisced about the congressman, whose political legacy begins with his work on behalf of the environment.

Ginny Yingling of the Sierra Club says Vento watched over five million acres of public lands and worked to reduce pollution nationwide.

"Protecting our clean water, our clean air, we all have healthier lives and more fulfilling lives because of the work of Bruce Vento," she said.

Dozens of congressional representatives boarded two buses for their chartered flight back to Washington. Minnesota 3rd district Congressman Jim Ramstad, a Republican, said the respect among his colleagues for Democrat Vento is bipartisan.

"I guarantee you 40 members of Congress wouldn't come to my funeral," he said. "It says that people in Congress from both sides of the aisle respect Bruce Vento and like Bruce Vento and have a genuine affection for Bruce. On issues of the environment, the homeless, on issues of the Hmong, he transcended party politics."

Bruce Vento died at the age of 60. He is survived by his parents, his wife, and three sons.