Valdis Muižnieks, an active member of the Latvian community in Kalamazoo who was known especially for his work in developing a Latvian language program at Western Michigan University, died July 10 while returning to his home from the eastern United States. He was 81.
Muižnieks was a founder of the American Latvian Youth Association (Amerikas Latviešu jaunatnes apvienība) and of the Latvian Foundation (Latviešu fonds), as well as a member of several other Latvian organizations.
In the late 1960s, Muižnieks worked with Western Michigan University to establish weekend Latvian language courses, which by the early 1980s evolved into a full academic program offering a degree in Latvian studies. A Latvian Studies Center was built to house students, but the facility was closed in 1996 as interest in the academic program waned after Latvia regained independence in 1991.
Muižnieks was born Dec. 1, 1927, in Rugāji, Latvia, the son of Aleksandrs and Beatrise Muižnieks. His father died in 1944 in Rīga during World War II. To escape the advancing Soviet forces, his mother and four siblings fled to Germany. Muižnieks, serving with German forces, reunited with his family after the end of the war, according to the online encyclopedia Latvijas ļaudies uz 21. gadsimta sliekšņa.
The family emigrated to the United States in 1949, spending a short time in the Latvian colony in Senatobia, Miss., before moving to Chicago in 1950. Muižnieks in 1957 earned a degree in chiropractic medicine from the National College of Chiropractic (now the National University of Health Sciences) and from 1959 until his retirement earlier this year practiced in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Muižnieks was involved in a number of Latvian organizations, including the American Latvian Association, the Daugavas Vanagi veterans group, the Valdemārija student organization and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran United Church of Kalamazoo. He also was involved in professional chiropractic organizations.
In 1985, Muižnieks received an honorary doctorate from Western Michigan University. In a letter to Muižnieks, then university President John T. Bernhard wrote, “You have devoted your life to the preservation of Latvian language and literature and without your gentle persuasion, Western Michigan University would never have been distinguished as the only university in the free world to offer a complete program of instruction in the Latvian language.”
For his work in the Latvian community, Muižnieks in 1996 received the Order of Three Stars (Triju Zvaigžņu ordenis), Latvia’s highest civilian honor.
Muižnieks is survived by his wife, Lalita Muižniece; their two children, Zintis Muižnieks of Callicoon, N.Y., and Sarma (Jānis) Muižnieks-Liepiņš of Boxford, Mass.; two grandsons, Julijs and Pēteris; his sister, Velta (George) Anast of Wisconsin; his brother, Māris (Mārīta) Muižnieks of Texas; sister-in-law Guna Muižnieks; and several nieces, nephews and other extended family in the United States and Latvia.
Preceding him in death were his parents and two brothers, Imants and Andrejs Muižnieks.
The funeral for Muižnieks was July 14 in the Langeland Family Funeral Home in Kalamazoo, with the Rev. Leons Vīksne officiating. Memorial contributions may be directed to the Dr. Valdis Muižnieks memorial scholarship to be established with the Vītols Foundation (Vītolu fonds) in Latvia.
Among accomplishments credited to Valdis Muižnieks, who died July 10, is development of a Latvian studies program at Western Michigan University.
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