Longtime Sun-Times Library Assistant Zigis “Ziggy” Ulmanis Dies at 83
When Zigis “Ziggy” Ulmanis worked at the Sun-Times library before the Internet, he didn’t like to mark “NG” on a piece of paper asking for information, which meant “no good”, or that he couldn’t find . a newspaper clipping or photo requested by a reporter or editor.
Mr. Ulmanis was also known in the newspaper’s newsroom for bringing any research results he found straight to reporters’ desks instead of expecting them to return to the library to retrieve them.
“He had a respect for journalists,” said his 60-year-old wife, Charlotte Ulmanis. “He knew they were trying to make their stories up, and he didn’t want them to stop.”
Mr Ulmanis died on May 21 at the age of 83 at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove from metastasized cancer. He had been battling bladder cancer since 1984.
Zigis “Ziggy” Ulmanis as a boy (in white shirt at left) in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the Soviet Union invaded Latvia in 1940.
Charlotte and Zigis “Ziggy” Ulmanis were married in 1961.
Zigis “Ziggy” Ulmanis
Mr. Ulmanis, christened Zigismunts, a name he changed to Zigis after arriving in the United States, was born in 1938 in Riga, Latvia. After the Soviet Union invaded Latvia in 1940, Mr. Ulmanis, his mother, older brother and younger sister fled to Germany, separated from his father, who remained in Latvia.
They first sailed on a ship across the Baltic Sea as bombs landed around them, then they climbed into a cart under which they slept at night. They eventually ended up in a displaced persons camp near Nuremberg, Germany, where they remained until after World War II.
Sponsored by an American family, Mr. Ulmanis’ family came to the United States when Mr. Ulmanis was 11 or 12 years old and moved to Fennville, Michigan, where they lived in a garage and picked produce, including cauliflower, which gave Mr. Ulmanis a lifelong distaste for the vegetable. When he was a teenager, they moved to several places in Chicago before moving to the Lincoln Park neighborhood. In Chicago, Mr. Ulmanis got a floor cleaning job for 25 cents an hour.
As a hobby, he took up weightlifting, starting by lifting pipes in his basement, and he placed third in a statewide junior weightlifting competition in 1958-1959. Charlotte Ulmanis recalled that he made $25 an hour posing for magazines while she made $1 working the soda fountain at a Walgreens.
“He was a quiet person and he had a lot of friends,” recalls Mr. Ulmanis’ sister, Sarmite Patterson. “He was a very nice and warm person.
Mr. Ulmanis attended Lincoln Park High School, then known as Waller High School, where a friend introduced the couple. He then attended Wright Junior College, now known as Wilbur Wright College.
In 1959, the Sun-Times hired her as a copyist, and a year later the newspaper also hired Charlotte Ulmanis as a copyist. The couple married in 1961. Mr. Ulmanis was drafted into the US Army in 1961, but his snag ended a month before his unit was sent to Vietnam. He returned to the Sun-Times and then went to work in the newspaper’s library. Charlotte Ulmanis then became a longtime editorial assistant in the Editorial Page department.
Sometimes Mr. Ulmanis and other people who fled Latvia would get together to talk about their experiences decades ago in Europe, which often brought tears to some people present, Charlotte Ulmanis said. Mr Ulmanis could never bear to wait in restaurants because of his memories of queuing for a bowl of soup in a camp for displaced people, she said. He also remained uneasy during thunderstorms because of the sounds of artillery fire he heard in the camp, she said.
During his career at the library, Mr. Ulmanis has witnessed the transformation of seeking information from bundles of yellowing newspaper snippets and Manila folders filled with photographs to online data sources. The couple volunteered to retire in 2002 when the newspaper announced they would be making layoffs.
Mr. Ulmanis has had a lifelong interest in history. He read history magazines and followed events in Ukraine in the last weeks of his life.
The burial will be private.