Paul Drasek

Obituary of Paul Von Drasek

It is with broken hearts that we share that Paul Von Drasek unexpectedly died peacefully in his sleep of natural causes on Sunday May 16. A linchpin and a beloved member of the Twin Cities literary community, Paul, 71, was a fierce advocate for writers and readers of all ages. Paul, the oldest of four boys, was born January 4, 1950 in Mankato, MN to a family practice doctor, Joseph (Doc), and a registered nurse, Lois (Lowee) Von Drasek. He graduated from Mankato High and received a Bachelors at the University of MN in Humanities and a Master's in Education at Minnesota State University/Mankato State. And while he never worked in a classroom, Paul was a natural teacher in many ways, sharing his interests with us and mentoring young publishing professionals. He would point to his assistants and say that they'd be his boss someday. Paul's first job in books was at the renowned Strand bookstore in New York City where he immersed himself in music, poetry, and a diversity of writers. After some time in the city, he returned to Minnesota to work at B. Dalton Books (store number one in Edina!) and proudly opened the store in Alexandria. From there, he went to work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee bookstore. While in Milwaukee, he served on the board of WUWM public radio and Woodland Pattern Book Center where he fell in love with independent book presses and poetry. He then was recruited to work as a sales rep with Viking/Penguin in Rochester NY where he became part of the independent bookstore and sales rep community. When he was transferred to the DC area, his territory ranged north to NJ, west to Pittsburgh and south to Virginia. It was on a sales call in Philadelphia that he met the love of his life, Lisa, who, in the words of Ann Patchett, was "the girl behind the register." They married two years later. At the wedding, his brother's wife (not really joking), remarked "all the Von Draseks bring their wives back to Minnesota." Lisa and Paul spent most of their married life in New York City where he worked at a number of publishing houses. Paul was known for his droll sense of humor. He would joke, "just one more merger and I can retire." In New York, Paul also taught publishing at Columbia University School of Journalism and served as president of the board of directors for Curbstone Press, one of the leading literary presses in the country. Capstone Press, a Mankato, Minnesota children's publisher, recruited Paul to be their inaugural trade sales director. And in 2012, when Lisa got a job as curator of the University of MN's Kerlan Collection they moved to Saint Paul from Brooklyn, NY. So it was true: all Von Draseks do return to Minnesota! When Paul retired in 2015, Capstone's Ashley Andersen Zantop said, "Paul is the genuine article. He has a deep love for books, their creators, their supporters, and the people who curate and sell them. His dedication to the ideal of connecting the right book with the right reader shows in every relationship he's nurtured in the industry." Hearing the news of Paul's death, Leonard S. Marcus, who curated a show at the University of MN in 2019, wrote "I have always thought of Paul as one of the truly good people of this world–kind and caring and generous, and focused on the things that matter. I paid close attention when I was around Paul because I felt he was ahead of most people in the things that interested him and the things he cared about, and that everything he thought and said and did came from a deeply human place. It seems to me that he was a kind of artist at being himself and that he enjoyed so much about life." Retirement offered Paul the opportunity to engage with nonprofits centered around books and literacy. With 826 MSP, he spent three years embedded in Twin Cities schools facilitating young people's writing and helping them transform their first drafts into published books. His latest position at Rain Taxi was chair of the board of directors. He took full advantage of his final sojourn in Minnesota going to live music performances, plays, and literary readings. His favorite thing to do was listen to writers and poets share their work. Some people believe Christmas is the best day of the year; for Paul, it was the Twin Cities Book Festival. Paul was a kind, sweet, smart man. As the young writers of 826 MSP said, "Paul was a gentleman and a gentle man." Paul is preceded in death by his parents, Dr. Joseph and Lois Von Drasek, his stepmother Laverne Von Drasek and his brother David Von Drasek. He is mourned by his wife Lisa, brothers Frederick and Joseph (Marty), cousins Nelle (Jerry) Moriarty, Kay, Megan, and Jeremiah Moriarty, Mark (Joyce) Peavey, nieces and nephews Nicholas, Lydia, Elizabeth, and Jacob, step siblings Barb (Kenneth) Neihart and David (Gloria) Olsen, and friends too numerous to count. A celebration of life will take place Sunday, May 23 at 11:00 am at Willwerscheid Funeral Home, 1167 Grand Ave., Saint Paul, 651-228-1006. Family and friends are invited to arrive any time after 10:00 am to be together. A Zoom memorial is being planned for later in the summer. In lieu of flowers, people can remember Paul by supporting organizations that he cared so deeply about: 826 MSP, Rain Taxi, and the Kerlan Collection Endowed Chair Fund at the University of Minnesota. A celebration of life will take place Sunday, May 23 at 11:00 am at Willwerscheid Funeral Home, 1167 Grand Ave., Saint Paul, 651-228-1006. Family and friends are invited to arrive any time after 10:00 am to be together. A Zoom memorial is being planned for later in the summer. In lieu of flowers, people can remember Paul by supporting organizations that he cared so deeply about: 826 MSP, Rain Taxi, and the Kerlan Collection Endowed Chair Fund at the University of Minnesota.
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