International Institute Of Minnesota Creates the Olga Zoltai Award for Outstanding Service to New Americans

Saint Paul, Minnesota, March 13, 2016

The International institute of Minnesota (IIM) has created an award to be given annually called the Olga Zoltai Award. Its purpose is to acknowledge outstanding service within the community to New Americans. It was awarded for the first time on March 13, 2016. The inaugural recipient is Zoltai herself, in honor of her extraordinary contributions to helping new Americans flourish.

Zoltai worked at the IIMN from 1971 until 1993 and initiated many of the programs that have blossomed into the wealth of services IIMN provides today to help refugees get a strong start to a new life. Upon her retirement, the Minneapolis Star Tribune dubbed her the local “Patron Saint of Immigrants” in a front page tribute to her career.
Born in Sopron, Hungary, Zoltai learned the struggles of being a refugee at the young age of thirteen, when her family fled their homeland minutes ahead of advancing Russian troops. Crossing the Alps predominately on foot, her family spent several years in Austria where multitudes of refugees streamed in from many countries, food was scarce, and the fear was palpable that the cold war between the Allies and Russia would explode around them. Her family eventually immigrated to Canada, hoeing sugar beets for two years as indentured agricultural servants to repay the Canadian government for their passage. While in Canada, Olga married a fellow Hungarian, Tibor Zoltai. They eventually moved to Saint Paul when Tibor was hired as a professor at the University of Minnesota. To learn more about their fascinating journey, read My Flag Grew Stars: World War II Refugees’ Journey to America written by their daughter Kitty Gogins and available on

Zoltai began her 22 year career at IIMN in 1971 as a social worker, and eventually managed the casework department. In 1975 when government funds first became available to resettle refugees, she initiated a refugee resettlement program that has since resettled over 25,000 refugees. She was the first to hire a bi-lingual case manager in Minnesota, something which is now considered an essential practice throughout the state and beyond.
To help clients with their complex legal issues, in the 1980s she partnered with a professor and a lawyer to create the William Mitchel Immigration Law Clinic. The lawyer co-founder, Sam Myers, recalls what Olga Zoltai with her award from the International Institute of Minnesota for Outstanding Service to New Americans.
he affectionately called, “The Olga Case.” He explained, “The situations of immigrants and refugees are often heart wrenching and difficult to solve. She would always argue politely, and invariably she would win.”

In the 1990s, she initiated the Nursing Assistant Training Program when her clients were having trouble obtaining nursing assistant certification. The program combines language, technical and cultural education and has been nationally recognized for its high graduation, job placement and retention rates. IIMN went on from this beginning to develop a robust, multi-tiered Medical Career Pathway that has helped 2,000 New Americans become Nursing Assistants and over 500 to move into professional healthcare positions.
In 2012, Olga was also recognized for her pioneering work receiving the ‘Immigrant of Distinction’ Award from the Minnesota/Dakotas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, along with a proclamation from the Governor and Mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis recognizing her achievements.
And all of this from Olga’s conviction, as she has often said, that she loves “to give back to this country that has given me so much!”

About the International Institute of Minnesota:
The International Institute of Minnesota delivers services and resources to assist New Americans in the transition to a new life leading to economic self-sufficiency. Working together, New Americans, volunteers, and staff create not only a new home, but also a new future for those who have been displaced. From language learning and job training to citizenship classes and the celebration of cultural traditions, the Institute offers New Americans a pathway for a strong start to a new life in our community – something we all benefit from.