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Out & About in Cleveland

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Christ United Methodist Church Holds Intercultural Easter Party for Children; Luncheon of Maison Francoise de Cleveland; Visit to Croatian Heritage Museum and Library; First Annual Chili Cookoff of the Slovene National Benefit Society (SNPJ)

We read on Clevelandpeople.com about a intercultural Easter party for children taking place at the Christ United Methodist Church near Lorain Avenue and West 138th Street on Saturday, March 19th, so we decided to drive over and check it out.IMG_9211

We stayed for over an hour and watched the children play games; create crafts; scamper around at the Easter Egg Hunt; and enjoy a luncheon of macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, potato chips and fruit.

IMG_9223We spoke to Ms. Jill Pongallo, the church's education director, who was the primary force behind the successful engagement. We learned that the church has been doing neighborhood parties like this on Christmas and Easter for three years now. It was very heartening for us to see children of different ethnicities play together bound together by joy. The only drawback was that there was a scheduling conflict which prevented local Bhutanese families from attending.

IMG_9213We also talked to Reverend Darlene Robinson, the church's pastor, who told us that the Christmas/Easter parties were the church's way of reaching out and contributing to the community regardless of the particular religious belief of the participants. Some 60 to 80 children were expected to attend on this day so we think that Reverend Robinson, Ms. Pongallo, and the rest of the staff succeeded in to something truly meaningful.

Another gathering that we had read about on Clevelandpeople.com was the monthly luncheon of Maison Francoise de Cleveland taking place on Sunday, March 20th, at the Cleveland Skating Club on Kemper Road in Shaker Heights.

We had never been to a meeting of this organization so we decided to attend. At the door we werIMG_9234e greeted by Mr. Jim Alperin and Dr. Nancy Conrady who were glad to tell us about the nearly 100 year-old organization and encouraged us to check out their website that states that Maison Francaise de Cleveland is "an American non-profit organization in great Cleveland that promotes Franco-American cultural activities, including French conversation...Our programs are conducted in French, because our 'raison d'etre' is to promote the French language and culture."

At lunch we sat with Mr. Arnold Paskay who is majoring in both French and History at John Carroll University. He has been studying French for seven years now. Sitting next to him was one of his former IMG_9233 French instructors, Ms. Nancy Smekal. To the right of us sat, Dr. Rita Stroempal who is now retired after teaching French for many years. Although today's participants were encouraged to conduct their conversations in French, the before mentioned surrounding people, very kindly addressed us in English and made sure we did not feel left out.

The speaker of the day was Dr. Suzanne Genillier, professor of French at Shaker Heights High School. The subject of her presentation was New Caledonia, a French territory comprising islands in the South Pacific which is known for its vast lagoon containing all kinds of marine life. Even though Dr. Genillier's delivery was in French, the program also consisted of over 200 slides of New Caledonia so it was an exciting visual treat for us.

Another person that we enjoyed meeting was the organization's president, Dr. Doug Amberman, IMG_9237a clinical professor at CWRU. Years ago Dr. Amberman attended medical school in Lausanne, Switzerland where all of his classes were conducted in French and he has visited Paris some 20 times over the years. He certainly has heard of and admires the work of Ms. Margaret W. Wong but, as he said with a twinkle, he, himself, has no immediate need for our services because his family immigrated to the United States and settled in New Amsterdam in 1650 before it became New York in 1664.

IMG_9232We liked meeting the members of Maison Francoise and really respect the work of the organization. Some of their other activities include providing financial assistance for students who will to study abroad and conducting competition for French-speakers at both the high school and college level. It seems to us that they have well-served Cleveland in its 100 years.

After we left Shaker Heights, we headed over to the Croatian Heritage Museum and Library on Lakeshore Blvd. in Eastlake for the opening of a new exhibit titled "Culture, Customs, and Traditions in the Croatian Village." It will run until October 31st, 2016 and features all sorts of clothes, pictures/painting, utensils, furniture and equipment that depicts the Croatian lifestyle.

As one of the placards read, "until the recent past, most of the inhabitants of Croatia had in common a peasant life style under archaic farming conditions. Almost all needs were met within this framework, needs which went beyond food, to include clothing and the production of many household and farming supplies."

Ms. Mila Mandic took us on a little tour and explained to us what we were seeing. Among the things that really impressed us was a tool used for spinning fiber into thread called the preslice, a woman's folk dress from Bosnia and a Sambor folk dress, woolen aprons, a portable spinning wheel, and a wine barrel.IMG_9249

In addition, we liked a "roof rooster" or "zagorje" which seemed to be made out of some kind of clay. It is considered to be "a symbol of rebirth and good luck" which villagers would put on the top of the roof of the home. Ms. Mandic told us that Ms. Branka Malinar, the museum's curator, and her husband purchased the very heavy "roof rooster" in Croatia and managed to transport it all the way back to Cleveland.

Ms. Malinar also loaned to the exhibit a beautiful painting showing the women of Sestine washing clothes in a creek. She IMG_9268told us that the painting meant a lot to her because what is depicted is exactly how her mother described washing day in Croatia to her.

As for the artifacts, there was also a placard that read, "diversity is a major characteristic of the Croatian woman folk artist. Her use of colors, threads, weaving patterns, embroidery stitches and laces, her style and design are determined by the reality of her life experience. As a result, each region--often each village--of the country produces its own unique community identity within the national identity..."

Our last stop for Sunday was the first annual chili cookoff of the Slovene National Benefit Society (SNPJ) IMG_9271 Loyalties Lodge 158 conducted Recher Hall in Euclid. It was organized by Ms. Samantha Volpe and Ms. Colleen Frank, two young women whose families have been involved in the lodge for a long time.

While we were there, the chili that was available for sampling was listed as gluten-free white chicken chili; hillbilly chili; very basic "mild" chili with no beans; just regular chili; it's just good food; mild turkey chili; it's a little spicy; a beany chili with 4 kinds of beans; dunk turkey beer and turkey chili; awesome roasted red pepper; traditional mild; and turkey chili with a little kick.

Unfortunately, there was no vegetarian chili there for us but we IMG_9274 skimmed some broth off of the top of two of the turkey chili and sampled it. We must say it was tasty but a bit on the "hot" side for us. We also enjoyed some good spinach-artichoke dip served with chips.

On the website, we read that "SNPJ Loyalties Lodge 158 is dedicated to building lasting friendships, helping families provide financial protection for loved ones, and bettering our local communities IMG_9270through service. Everyone with an interest in Slovenian heritage and culture is always welcome to attend our meetings and social get-togethers...You don't have to be Slovenian to participate-just have a desire to make new friends and learn about Slovenian culture."

It was estimated that perhaps 70 people would be attending this event so it seems to us that Ms. Volpe and Ms. Frank are admirably carrying on the tradition of bringing the community together.

Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.

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