In 1950, Janis Robins, a recent immigrant to the United States, split all the money he had—$120—with a friend so they both could attend college.
That’s a story his daughters Zaiga and Laila Robins say exemplifies their father.
“My father was always generous and always gave to those who had less,” said Laila Robins. “A real philanthropist.”
Janis Robins, a longtime resident of St. Anthony Park, died on Dec. 14. The 88-year-old retired chemist lived on Ludlow Avenue with his wife, Brigita. There they raised four daughters, Zaiga, Laila, Daina and Baiba.
At age 19, Janis and his family fled Latvia to escape the Soviet-backed regime’s efforts to send Latvians to forced labor camps in Siberia. The family immigrated to the United States in 1949 after spending five years in post-World War II displaced persons camps. They settled in Tacoma, Washington, and in 1950, Janis helped Brigita’s family immigrate to the U.S.
After completing a doctorate in organic chemistry at the University of Washington in Seattle, Janis came to Minnesota to work for 3M. He later became an analytical chemistry professor at Macalester College, worked for Ashland, a specialty chemicals company, and Archer Daniels Midland before returning to work at 3M.
The family first lived on Hillside Avenue in St. Anthony Park, then moved to Commonwealth Avenue and eventually settled on “sweet little Ludlow,” Laila Robins said. “We played so many games on the street, as it was a dead end and traffic was very rare. The train tracks brought a certain romantic quality with the sound of the trains going ‘somewhere else.’ ” Janis is remembered by his family for his love of volleyball and his efforts to raise the caliber of the Fourth of July games at Langford Park. “I always think about dad bringing in Latvian ringers to the Fourth of July volleyball tourney, not so much to win, but loving volleyball,” Zaiga said. An active member in the Latvian-American community in the Twin Cities, he was awarded the three-star medal of honor from his homeland in 2005 for his extensive efforts to help the Latvian community during years of both Soviet occupation and after Latvia regained its independence. Janis is survived by his wife of 62 years, Brigita; daughters, Baiba (Glad) Olinger, Daina (Peter von Websky), Laila and Zaiga; two grandchildren, Maris and Kaija von Websky; and many nieces, nephews, cousins and loved ones in Latvia and the U.S. He was preceded in death by a son, Maris, who died at age 5 in 1962. The funeral for Janis Robins was held on Dec. 23 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.