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Rebuilding Our Energy; Kurent Jump; Celebrating Black History and Indian Performing Arts

On Friday, February 5th, our first event was a program at the City Club titled "Rebuilding Our Energy Infrastructure" in which Mr. D. Michael IMG_7608Langford, President of the Utility Workers Union of America, spoke about the pressing need to rebuild our energy infrastructure in the areas of electricity, water and gas because, and he had statistics to prove this, so much what is being used now (i.e. pipelines, transmission lines, refineries, transformers) is very old (perhaps 100 years for some pipes) and is inefficient, faulty, wasteful, and perhaps dangerous. Mr. Langford was introduced by our friend Ms. Harriet Applegate, Executive Secretary of North Shore AFL-CIO, who praised him as a leader who has found the right balance between providing for the workers that he represents as well as the community as a whole and sees the need to explore new sources of energy while protecting the environment.

Another important matter that Mr. Langford talked about was the need to train new workers for the utility business because a great deal of those working now were hired in the late 1970's and early 1980's and will be retiring soon. To be sure, acceptance of the challenge to upgrade would create jobs for over one million people and, even though we would have to spend a lot of money to do this, the long-term savings in terms of finances and resources would be immeasurable.

One point thing that Mr. Langford said that interested us was how utility lines were created in China that can transport more energy than ours here in the United States. Accordingly, we asked him if there were programs being planned that would allow the utility industries of different countries to exchange knowledge and expertise. He told us that there already were and that he viewed the world "as a wide open place."

Before the program started, we met Ms. Lee Geiss who is involved with the Blue/Green Alliance which, as its website states, "unites America's largest labor unions and its most influential environmental organizations to identify ways today's environmental challenges can create and maintain quality jobs and build a stronger, fairer economy."

We enjoyed sharing a table with Ms. Drew Canfield, an intern with Policy Matters Ohio. When we mentioned to her that we worked for Margaret W. Wong and Associates, she told us that she had taken a class pertaining to immigration as Kent State and had written a paper about the e-verify system.

This was a very informative program. Above all, what we liked about it was Mr. Langford's "plain speaking" of communicating. We especially liked it when he said that he what he wanted was for the both Republicans and Democrats to put aside the bunk (or words to that effect) and address this increasingly urgent situation and actually do something about it.

On Friday night we attended the first "Kurent Jump" ever held in Cleveland which took place at Sterle'sIMG_7629 Slovenian Country House on East 55th Street. This event was a prelude to the 4th Annual Cleveland Kurentovanje Festival which would take place the next day at the Slovenian National Home on St. Clair Avenue.

A "kurent" is an imposing carnival figure clothed in a sheepskin and wearing a belt of bells whose purpose is to scare away winter so spring will take place. We read in the program booklet that Kurentovanje festivals have been taking place in Slovenia since the 1950's and we have gone to several in Cleveland since they were first put on here in 2013 which is only fitting since Cleveland has the largest population of Slovenian anywhere outside of Slovenia.

IMG_7634 So we all gathered at Sterle's and ate tasty appetizers (like small potato pancakes), listened to the Chardon Polka Band, and waitedfor the kurents to arrive at 7:30pm. Ms. Victoria Zak from Zak Funeral Home noticed our name badge and walked over to thank Margaret W. Wong and Associates for purchasing an ad in the program booklet.

We sat next to Ms. Dakota Martin who was helping her mother, Ms. Annette Abranovich, sell Kurentovanje t-shirts and appropriate hats and scarves. Ms. Martin told us that she has been to several Kurentovanje festivals before but this was the first time that she has been so involved with it.

We also talked to a man named Don who came all the way from Fort Wayne, Indiana to attend this festival. Don told us that both of his parents immigrated here from Slovenia years before he was bornIMG_7619 and Slovenian is the first language that he learned to speak. Don does his best to stay attuned to his culture which is a little tough since there are not that many Slovenians in Fort Wayne. He loves to polka, however, and has attended polka fests in Pennsylvania.

At 7:30pm Ms. Mary Ann Vogel, founding principal of St. Martin de Porres High School, gathered us all up and said that it was time to go next door and meet the Kurents so we walked next door to Goldhorn Brewery where a bonfire had been lit and two men played polka on their accordians as we waited for the kurents to arrive. Soon the large door of the brewery rose IMG_7621and out came the kurents who danced with us around the fire. Later, we went into the brewery and posed for photos and had more fun together.

The merriment continued next day at the parade on St. Clair which, in addition to the kurents, featured marchers from St. Martin de Porres High School, American Zagreb Jr. Tamburitzans, Joyful Inspiration Dance, St. Vitus Adult Slovenian School, the Polka Hall of Fame, Slow Roll Cleveland, Upcycle Parts Shop, the Euclid Beach Rocket Car, and the fire engine from the City of Mentor Fire Department.

Our friend Judge Donna Fitzsimmons, Rocky River Municipal Court, saw us standing amongst the parade watchers and brought Mr. Raymond J. Marvar over to say hello. Mr. Marvar shook our hand and told us to be sure to extend his best wishes to Ms. Margaret W. Wong.

We also spied Cleveland City Councilman Michael Polensek and Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio inside of the Slovenian National Home which was packed with people listening to polka music and having some good European food. We resolved that we were not going anywhere until we had one perogi and a plateof cabbage and noodles.

We asked Ms. Mary Ann Vogel about the number of people present at the parade and she estimated about two thousand which was no surprise to us considering that Saturday was a not-so-cold, sunny day which just might have been the festival's only drawback because we wondered, in lieu of this year's record-breakingly mild winter, if the kurents were really needed at all. Nevertheless, we were still glad to see them and we look forward to seeing them again this time in 2017 regardlessof the weather and the temperature.

IMG_7652The Kurentovanje Festival was not our first stop on Saturday, though, because we had decided to go to the flag raising of the African Flag over Cleveland City Hall to kick off Black History Month. Unfortunately, the ceremonies were a bit delayed and we were unable to stay for them but we still got to say hello to some good people that we knew like Ms. Ruth Standiford (who worked very hard organizing this event), Dr. Eugene Jordan, Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed, Amir Khalid A. Samad, Magistrate Pablo A. Castro III, Mr. Greg Coleridge, and Mr. Kim Hill. We especially loved examining the "Arts 4 Peace" artwork created by Sister Raja Lee and her students and talking about theatre with Mr. William Clarence Marshall, the famed IMG_7647actor and opera singer who we had seen years ago in "Show Boat" when we lived in Los Angeles.

Thus, by 1:30pm or so, we had been to two Saturday events but there was one more daytime event that we wanted to swing over to which was the North Coast Feis Irish Dance Competition taking place at the IX Center.

IMG_7644We had heard about this organization and respect its mission which "is to serve as an outlet of cultural expression in the arts through competition and to benefit the Northeast Ohio region, families, and dancers" and striving to promote the "Irish culture through activity, acceptance and diversity" so we contacted Ms. Christine Leneghan of the Leneghan Academy of Irish Dance who arranged for Margaret W. Wong and Associates to sponsor a stage where we could hang our banner.

We stayed for about an hour and watched the talented young people perform. We talked to Ms. Madeline Fox, Leneghan dance instructor, who estimated that 20 different Irish dance schools were represented here. All told, there might be 900 competitors/dancers and 80 dance competitions. This estimate does IMG_7703not included the families of the dancers who were there to watch and provide support.

As we were leaving we stopped for a moment and spoke with a woman who was there with her two daughters who were dancers. She had been involved with this competition for years and shared with us that people came here from dance schools throughout the United States but most of them were within an eight to ten-hour drive time. Last year, however, an Irish Dance School in Mexico (!) traveled all the way to Cleveland just to take part.

The day was drawing to a close but there was still one place that we wanted to go and that was the Standing Rock Cultural Arts Center on North Water Street in Kent to attend a concert featuring the Carnatic Music of South India played two extraordinary talents. Playing the veena, a four-foot lute, was Dr. Shiva Sastry; who serves on the faculty of the Dept. of IMG_7732Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Akron; and accompanying Dr. Sastry was Mr. Suraj Srinivasan, a sophomore at Strongsville High School, playing the mridangam which is a barrel drum. Each of the numbers that they played was introduced by Mr. Vijay Sastry, the son of Dr. Sastry.

We later learned that Mr. Srinivasan is the son of Ms. Sujatha Srinivasan who founded the Shri Kalamandir, a Center for Indian Performing Arts in Cleveland.

Upon arrival we were happily surprised to greeted by our old friend, Mr. David Badagnani from the Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble. Mr. Badagnani introduced us to Mr. Jeff Ingram, Executive Director of the Center, and they explained that the evening program was the third installment of the "Around the World Music Series" featuring artists of diverse cultures performing there every other month. The first program was African drum music which was attended by 15 people; the second installment was Greek music which was attended by 32 people; and the program for this evening was packed with people so, obviously, word is getting out.

We sat with Mr. Walter Peckenuk, Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at the University of Akron and spoke with Dr. Victor Pinheiro, Professor of Sports Sciences at the University of Akron, who told us that he is familiar with the work of Ms. Margaret W. Wong and asked us to say hello.

During the Q and A, a person stood up and said he was well-versed in Indian music and wanted to assure those of us who were not that we just saw a "truly commendable performance" and that the young man playing the mridangam was "truly gifted."


Written by:

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

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

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