Service Details


Saturday, July 14, 2018
11:00 to 2:00 pm
Celebration of Life
Hamilton's on Westown Parkway
3601 Westown Parkway
West Des Moines, Iowa 50266


Saturday, July 14, 2018
Please refer to visitation information


Hamilton's Crematory
Des Moines, Iowa


Hamilton's on Westown Parkway
3601 Westown Parkway
West Des Moines, Iowa 50266
(515) 224-0078

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Valentina N. Slater-Fominykh Valentina N. Fominykh
A Person of Light

Valentina was born in a prisoner of war camp for Japanese pilots in Siberia on November 25, 1946 to Vera Sotnichenko, the medical officer of the prison, and Naum Kustov, the commander of the facility. In mid-1947, Valentina was flown out of Siberia on a military cargo plane with two other passengers, her grandmother and a goat to provide food, as Valentina was allergic to cow’s milk.

For the next few years, Valentina lived in the barracks next to the railroad outside of the town limits. When she was 5 or 6 years old, she moved to Grandpa Naum’s one-bedroom house with a garden. There she lived with her grandparents, her mother and her younger sister, Galina. Valentina had two enduring memories of that house: the huge black stove that kept them warm and the shelf on the wall that was close to the front door and proudly displayed books when the family was alone but was quickly rearranged to hide the books and display knickknacks if any unknown person knocked.

Valentina started school for the first time on September 1, 1954. Her first teacher, Feodosiya Ivanovua Utkina, taught her for grades 1-4. Valentina always recalled a very special New Year’s gift during this time – a lump of sugar at her teacher’s house. Valentina referred to these as her “performance” years as she could always be found singing and dancing.

In late 1957, Vera married Vsily Slivka and Valentina acquired a stepfather. Another sister, Svetlana, joined the family in 1962.

In 1961, Valentina was sent to technical vocational school in Rudny to become an electrician. By her own admission, she had no facility for it. However, while in training, she continued her education and graduated from Evening High School for the Working Youth #1 a full two years ahead of the other members of her class.

Later in 1963, she entered the Kustanay Pedagogical Institute in the English Language Department. While in school, Valentina married Valentin Fominykh, an Aeroflot pilot, and on May 12, 1968, their son Vladimir was born. That same year she graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Pedagogical Institute.

In 1971, Valentina began Post Graduate School at the University of Moscow. Because Moscow was crowded, she was unable to obtain permission to live in the city and so slept on the floors and couches of friends for years while continuing her studies. She graduated from the Post Graduate School with a doctorate degree in 1975.

While pursuing her post-graduate degree, Valentina became associated with the USSR Sports Committee and, within a month, rose to become the lead interpreter and host for the USSR. In that role, she was charged with obtaining a rematch with Bobby Fischer after he defeated Boris Spassky, the Russian Chess Master, one of her few unsuccessful ventures. She also served as a primary interpreter for the USSR during the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Her first trip abroad was to London in 1982 when she served as the interpreter and facilitator for Garry Kasparov during the chess champion’s historic match with Viktor Korchnoi who had defected from the Soviet Union.

In 1990 Valentina came to the USA as a visiting professor. While here, she met John Crystal. John and Valentina travelled extensively, promoting citizen diplomacy, shared opportunities in agriculture and peace between the people of the USA and USSR.

In 1993, Valentina married Tom Slater and together they moved to 118 Northwood Road, Des Moines, the first home she ever had to call her own. She was an active member of her community, always promoting collaboration and positive relationships between and among people of varied backgrounds and histories.

She loved the beauty of the arts, from dance to theater to music to painting to sculpture and served as president of Humanities Iowa board to share her passion. Valentina was actively involved in citizen diplomacy, working tirelessly with the Iowa Farm Bureau and organizations in the USSR to develop agricultural initiatives. She assisted the World Food Prize in developing relationships with Russia and sought links and commonality where others saw only division.

Perhaps no individual experience reflects the essence of Valentina more than this story she told about a trip to Moscow about ten years ago:

I was on a bus in Moscow. It was filled with a raucous and drunken crowd. Three or four stops down the route, a gypsy woman got on the bus, paid her fare and looked for a seat. Immediately the other passengers and the bus driver began yelling racial slurs and threatening her with raised arms. Then I heard my voice say, “Stop. That is not who we are. All people deserve to be treated with respect.” The bus fell silent. I took the gypsy woman’s hand and got off at the next stop.

The story reveals much more about Valentina than she had likely intended. For Valentina, justice and respect were not intellectual exercises; they were not optional; they were not called upon only when convenient and safe. They were core values instilled in every fiber of her being; they were instinctual. “I heard my voice say . . . . .”

Valentina was preceded in death by her husband, Tom Slater. She is survived by her beloved son, Vladimir, his wife, Vika, and her two beautiful grandchildren, Veronika (age 7) and Nikita (age 3).

Valentina would not want to close her life without expressing sincere gratitude to Dr. Kyle Alliman whose expertise permitted an earlier diagnosis and treatment of her cancer, Dr. Richard Deming whose wise compassion never failed, Dr. Buroker whose positive approach was invaluable, their office staffs and the caring and considerate nurses and caregivers at IMMC.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to either:

Thomas Tarbox Trust Fund (for the education of Valentina’s grandchildren)
Tom T. Tarbox Law Office
309 Court Ave # 240
Des Moines, IA 50309


Des Moines Parks and Recreation (for the maintenance and care of Gray’s Lake where Valentina spent many happy hours)
1551 East Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway
Des Moines, IA 50317