Ladi Stanisha's life as an accomplished member of the Minnesota Orchestra can be traced back to a sugar bowl in the kitchen of a working-class immigrant family in Depression-era Pittsburgh.
Stanisha, a violinist with the orchestra for more than 30 years until the late 1990s, died of lung cancer on Feb. 22, one day after his 85th birthday.
Young Ladi cleaned the machines every Sunday at his father's dry cleaning business in the Steel City. The other days he brought his father lunch as the immigrant family from Slovenia scrimped to ensure that Ladi and older brother Lou would have an education.
"His mom had a sugar bowl, where Ladi said she could stretch $2 into $5," said Moe Aschenbeck, a stepdaughter-in-law to Ladi. "This sugar bowl paid for Ladi's violin lessons."
And those lessons helped Ladi earn a spot in the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony and eventually admission to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York.
"He made that violin come to life," Aschenbeck said.
The value of a dollar and a strong work ethic stayed with Ladi Stanisha throughout his life. To provide for his own young family, he turned to selling insurance, shoes and vacuum cleaners, because the orchestra seasons in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Dallas didn't pay enough.
"Those orchestras had very short seasons," said Mike Hipps, a retired Minnesota Orchestra trumpet player who became close friends with Stanisha. "He had to quit orchestra playing because he wasn't able to support his family."
Once he joined the Minnesota Orchestra, Stanisha was a salesman no more, thanks to a longer season.
Hipps said his friend "really shone as a section player. If you have 17-18 players, and they are all trying to be soloists, well, that doesn't work. Ladi was a team player."
After retiring, Stanisha continued to perform on Sundays at St. Agnes Catholic Church in St. Paul and also was honored to play in 2005 at the funeral for fellow violinist Hyacinthe Tlucek. They joined the orchestra about the same time and played together in a string quartet at schools across the state.
"He spent hours visiting her before she died," Hipps said.
Tlucek's family requested that he play her Amati violin at the service.
"He was nervous about playing," Hipps recalled, "because it was a different violin and he wasn't used to it. But Ladi went ahead and did it."
Daughter Roni Last, of Apple Valley, said her father "was humble about his talent" and was reluctant to play during a second-grade grandparents day at her son's school.
" 'I'll play, but I don't want to be in the front,' " she recalled him saying. "He wanted to do it, but he didn't want to be highlighted or singled out."
Stanisha was preceded in death by his daughter Carol. Along with daughter Roni Last, he is survived by his wife, Joan; a son, Mark of Dallas; another daughter, Noreen Oswalt of Pittsburgh; a stepdaughter, Audrey Myers of Plymouth; two stepsons, Jeff Aschenbeck of Shorewood and Gary Aschenbeck of Chaska, and a brother, Lou of Pittsburgh. Services have been held.