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Sheila Wellstone - a partner in activism
By Roger Alford
Associated Press
October 25, 2002

Paul and Sheila Wellstone
Sheila Wellstone was a tireless advocate for various issues, particularly involving domestic violence.
(MPR file photo)

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) Sheila Wellstone, who died in a plane crash Friday in Minnesota with her husband, U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, and their daughter, was a Kentucky native who campaigned against domestic violence.

The Wellstones and their daughter, Marcia, were among eight people killed when the plane went down in freezing rain and light snow near the Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport.

Minnesota State Auditor Judi Dutcher said Wellstone always had his wife at his side.

"Sheila was a remarkable speaker," Dutcher said. "She was very passionate - equally passionate to Paul."

The daughter of an attorney, Sheila Wellstone spent her early childhood in Lexington before her father and mother, Delmar and Ellen Ison, moved to the Washington, D.C., area, said her aunt, Lovell Day of Letcher County.

"I've been in front of the TV all evening," the 84-year-old Day said. "It's sad news."

Dutcher said Sheila Wellstone was an outstanding public servant.

"There was a lot of talk, frankly, that if Paul decided not to run, would Sheila run? She was that competent and that smart and could generate just as much passion as her husband."

Wellstone had been an advocate for Appalachian coal miners.

"It's a tragedy for coal miners," said Tony Oppegard, attorney for the Kentucky Department for Mines and Minerals in Frankfort who had planned to spend next week in Minnesota helping with the Wellstone campaign. "Senator Wellstone was the true champion of the coal miner in the U.S. Senate."

The Wellstones toured eastern Kentucky in August 1997 at a time when the senator was considering a possible run for president. Wellstone said he came to the region to learn about people's needs, fears and hopes.

Wellstone and his wife, whose family was from the Letcher County community of Kingdom Come, visited several communities. He promised to help make working conditions safer for coal miners, to bring affordable housing and to improve living wages.

"He was a voice for strong enforcement of mine safety laws and a champion for miners," said Steve Sanders, director of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Prestonsburg, which helps eastern Kentuckians with mining associated health and environmental problems.

Joe Main, health and safety administrator for the United Mine Workers of America, said Wellstone had a place in his heart for coal miners.

"He's one of the greatest friends that coal mines had," Main said. "I think he had a deep concern for workers in this country, and miners, he understood, had a difficult way of life."

Oppegard said its ironic that a senator from Minnesota, a state without coal mines, would be a key player in coal mine laws. He said his wife's roots in Letcher County likely played a part in his concern for miners.

Tom Gish, publisher of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, said Wellstone used his stop in Letcher County to call for more federal mine inspectors to enforce safety regulations.

"I told him we needed a champion for coal mines," Gish said. "He became that champion."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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