Outside the classroom, Pro­fessor of Eco­nomics Ivan Pon­gracic plays in a surf band called the Madeira. Facebook

Some know him for his lib­er­tarian rants in eco­nomics classes, others know him by his surf band, the Madeira, which has toured the U.S. and Italy and released six CDs since 2004.

Ivan Pon­gracic was born in 1969 in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, a country run by com­munist dic­tator Marshal Tito at the time.

Pongracic’s parents worked for the gov­ernment. His dad audited busi­nesses in Croatia and wit­nessed from within the system falling apart.

“I remember shortages of all sorts, waiting in line for coffee, detergent, and milk,” Pon­gracic said. “I was 12, so I was the one who had to go stand in line.”

Yugoslavia thrived from Western money until Tito’s death in 1980; after that, it began to col­lapse. Pon­gracic said that Yugoslavia had to ration elec­tricity for the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, so the gov­ernment divided major cities into three parts and turned off elec­tricity for eight hours each section every third day. Con­se­quently, Pon­gracic and his family went without elec­tricity from 2 ‑10 p.m. every three days.

“We lived on the 20th floor of a high rise building, so some­times I would get home at 2:01 with my bike, and have to carry it up the stairs when I returned home — I was really cursing the commies then,” Pon­gracic said.

His father applied for visas to the United States in the late 70s-80s but was rejected. He joined the American Con­sulate in Zagreb, where he gained access to National Review and fell in love with Russell Kirk.

When Kirk was speaking for a Grove City College con­ference, his father wrote National Review asking to attend.

“National Review covered all expenses but the plane ticket,” Pon­gracic said.

His father was deter­mined to meet Kirk, an adjunct Hillsdale College pro­fessor at the time. He intro­duced himself, and they talked for hours.

Kirk offered Pon­gracic Sr. to stay a week at his home in Mecosta, Michigan; after that, to study with him, and sup­plied him and his family with visas.

Pongracic’s family moved to the U.S in Feb­ruary of 1984, departing on the same plane as the United States’ Olympic hockey team.

“We had a good life in Zagreb,” Pon­gracic said. “We moved from a town of 700,000, the second largest in Yugoslavia, to Mecosta, Michigan, a town of 400 people. It was like a trip back in time from Zagreb where we had two western cars, and we would travel a lot — to central Michigan, with one general store.”

Pon­gracic Jr. went to high school his third day in the U.S and found himself ahead of the American stu­dents. He grad­uated high school in two and a half years.

“I’d already had most of the require­ments,” he said. “Yugoslav edu­cation was better than American — go figure.” 

Pon­gracic earned his bachelor’s degree in aero­space engi­neering from Purdue Uni­versity in 1992, and his master’s and doc­torate degrees in eco­nomics at George Mason Uni­versity in 1996 and 2004.

Christina Pon­gracic first met her future husband when the manager of The Space Cos­sacks, Pongracic’s first surf band, invited her to one of their last shows in 1998, in Bal­timore. Pon­gracic struck up a con­ver­sation with her before he per­formed.

“We talked about every­thing from music to school to aspi­ra­tions for 30 – 45 minutes before real­izing other people were around us,” she said. “I was struck by his intel­li­gence — he wrote his own music and was working on his Ph.D. in eco­nomics. He seemed set apart from the rest.”

Christina emailed him a year later about the band’s new CD, and the emails became lengthier and more fre­quent.

Christina began teaching in Philadelphia upon receiving her master’s degree at the Uni­versity of Delaware while Pon­gracic was touring and teaching, so they only saw each other a couple of times a month. They com­pen­sated for the dis­tance through lengthy phone con­ver­sa­tions.

“We were on the phone late one night, and out of the blue, he asked me to marry him. Looking back, I didn’t think about the con­se­quences of living in Hillsdale —I just said yes, even though we had only been talking for six months. It just felt right,” Christina said. “How often do you meet a song­writer, a musician, who has a soft side he doesn’t show many people?”

Pon­gracic began teaching at Hillsdale College in 2000. He and Christina married at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Hillsdale in July 2001.

Christina said both she and her husband are out­siders, one reason why their rela­tionship hap­pened so sud­denly.

“We are both dif­ferent from the people we know here —  not for­mally reli­gious, neither liberal nor con­ser­v­ative,” she said. “We don’t fit into a box, and we find comfort in each other.”

Pro­fessor of Eco­nomics Charles Steele first met Pon­gracic walking back from a lun­cheon after Steele was inter­viewed to teach Aus­trian eco­nomics.

“I had felt like I had already known the guy for years. It wasn’t like talking to some strange person for the first time; we had a lot of common ground.”

Steele and Pon­gracic make up one-third of Hillsdale’s eco­nomics department, the largest major at Hillsdale College.

“Pon­gracic is known for rigor and toughness,” Steele said. “He super­vises the prin­ciples courses, and he makes certain our program matches or is better than others. Any student that comes to Hillsdale College and doesn’t take a class with Wolfram or Pon­gracic is like going to Mount Rushmore and not seeing the pres­i­dents.”