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Out & About in Cleveland

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The American Nationalities Holiday Lunch

On Saturday, December 13th, we attended the 52nd Annual Christmas Party Luncheon of the American Nationalities Movement (ANM) of Ohio at Wal-Tams Grand Ballroom on Granger Road in Garfield Heights. Our friend, Judge Ralph Perk, Jr. recently took over as President of this organization and he did a good job presiding over the entire event. This year the three people honored with the Freedom Award were Judge Stuart A. Friedman (Common Pleas Court), Judge Robert C. McClelland (Common Pleas Court), and Judge Deborah J. Nicastro (Garfield Heights Municipal Court).

At one point in his career, Judge Friedman served as Assistant Director of Law for the City of Cleveland at a time when Ms. Irene Morrow, former President of the ANM, was working for former Mayor Ralph Perk. She told us that she always used to go to Judge Friedman (then Mr. Friedman) for advice and he said that she was "the best client ever." When he accepted his award, Judge Friedman said that his career was aided immensely by Cleveland's diversity and bipartisanship because he garnered the support of both democrats and republicans and people of all ethnicities. He recalled how his father, a Polish Jew, immigrated to the United States when he was only 10 years old and spoke no English. He took advantage of the opportunities that American has to offer, however, and fifteen years later graduated from college and then became an attorney and then a judge. Judge Friedman said when he thinks about America he thinks of the four characters in the "Wizard of Oz" all of whom wanted different things and came from different backgrounds but they nevertheless joined forces and set off on their quest. The same could apply to America also because people come here for different reasons but all see it as land of opportunity and work together to pursue their dreams.

Judge Robert C. McClelland said that he represented the melting pot, in a way, because his dad was Scotch-Irish and his mother was an Italian. He thus said that he inherited the stubbornness of the Irish, the frugality of the Scots, and the passion of the Italians. He went on to urge people who immigrate to the United States to retain the good values of their country of origin and to work well with people of different backgrounds/ethnicities.

Judge Nicastro talked about how attending the American Nationalities Movement functions and observing how people can work together to achieve success inspired her to start the Italian American Women's Network four years ago and today it has 200 members. Judge Nicastro told the attendees how her father and grandmother inspired her to take pride in her Italian heritage. She concluded by reminding people that "freedom is not free" and how in other parts of the world people are struggling to achieve what we have here.

Likewise, when Mr. Alex Machaskee gave the official "welcome" he said that in the past the enemies of the United States were identifiable but today we are confronted by extremists "who do not share our way of life." Mr. Machaskee then asked the attendees to "remember those persons who are suffering "due to someone else's fantasy of a different ideology."

Prior to lunch, we spoke to Mr. Joe Hornack, former secretary of the ANM, who told us that many years ago Ms. Margaret W. Wong helped him with an immigration matter involving Mr. Rasto Gallo, a young man who came to the United States from Bratislava to study jazz at CSU. After a while though, he decided not to be a professional musician so he moved to Chicago and became a very successful commercial real estate broker. In 1998 he became a United States citizen.

Mr. Hornack was also standing by when we talked to our good friend Mr. August Pust who told us that his motto is, "this is my country and I want to make a positive difference." Mr. Pust told us, with a twinkle in his eye, that his father told him that he didn't have much in the way of brains but he did have guts and courage. He described how he applied for a student visa while he was living in Yugoslavia in the late 1950's. Much to his surprise, because Yugoslavia was a communist country, the visa was approved and Mr. Pust immigrated to the United States in the holiday season of 1957-1958. It was really a wonderful Christmas present for him. Mr. Pust also spoke to us about how he nominated Ms. Margaret W. Wong to be one of the first honorees of the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame.

We noticed that Ms. Midge Szmagala was wearing a very beautiful medallion. She told us that it had been given to her 54 years ago by one of her students named Terry Leighty when she was teaching school at Hillside Junior High. Mr. Leighty went on to become a teacher himself and they taught together briefly at Holy Name. Unfortunately, Mr. Leighty passed away some years ago so this medallion really means a lot to her.

We ate lunch with Mr. Salvatore R. Felice, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel who was part of the Medical Service Corps but he had other accomplishments too. He was also Director of Purchasing and Procurement for the RTA here in Cleveland and worked for the "Plain Dealer". He remembered sending advertising proofs over to Ms. Wong for approval in the late 1980's-early 1990's. In fact, he remembers having a dinner with Ms. Wong in Chinatown around 30th and Payne at least 20 years ago. Former Mayor Ralph Perk and some "guys in the military" were also at that dinner. Mr. Felice has been married for 56 years to his wife, Rose, who was there also. Mr. Felice talked about his daughter who is serving with the U.S. Armed Forces in South Korea. She is involved with an exchange program so she invited 17 Korean people over for Thanksgiving Dinner. She told Mr. Felice that the Koreans were very fascinated by the Thanksgiving Turkey and took many photos of it.

Probably the defining words of this event were said by Ms. Irene Morrow, former President of the ANM, which were, "I wish that all of the countries around the world were as friendly as we are to each other at this meeting today."

Next, we drove over to the West Side Irish American Club (WSIA) on Jennings Road in Olmsted Falls for their annual Christmas Dinner and program. We had another event to attend later on so unfortunately we didn't get to see the famed entertainer Mr. Andy Cooney perform but we still had a good dinner and got to meet some very friendly people.

We shared a table with Mr. Vince Priore and his friend Mr. John Tokar and their wives who are Irish although Mr. Priore is Italian and Mr. Tokar is Czech. Mr. Priore told us that even though he is not Irish most of his friends are so he joined the club in 1959 when it was located at 78th Street and Madison. He recently drove by the old building and thought it was absolutely amazing that they used to go there. Anyway, he loves belonging to the WSIA because at their functions he never met anyone who wasn't nice.

Mr. Tokar could have joined the Hungarian Club but he decided to go with the WSIA because it looked like the people here were always having a good time. He immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 14 years old in 1948. The family was supposed to come here in 1938 because the father was working in the United States and wanted his family to join him but, unfortunately, World War II started and they couldn't leave Europe so he did not see his father for many years. Mr. Tokar recalled his mother having to provide food to the German soldiers and then the Russian soldiers after the Germans were finally retreating. Mr. Tokar even recalls the German soldiers teaching him how to throw grenades.

Both Mr. Priore and Mr. Tokar served in the U.S. Army in the 1950's, and had quite a few good stories to tell. Both men are now retired and like to travel and Mr. Tokar just happened to be in Ireland when the Catholic/Protestant truce was signed there a few years ago.

Our last event for the day was "A Night of Solidarity with West Africa" at the Tinkham/Veale Case Student Center at Case Western Reserve University. The flyer for the event read, "if you were scared, show you care...Help Us Fight Ebola...Please come to a reception featuring music, education and fellowship with West Africa."

It was organized by medical students, namely Ms. Jessica Kumar (who deals with pediatric infectious diseases) and Mr. Michael Keating with some help from Dr. Jennifer Kurin who works with "Doctors Without Borders" which would be the recipient of all funds raised on that evening. Dr. Furin told us that "it is great to see students step up to something like this...it gives salty old doctors like me hope and heart again."

Mr. Martin Zeinway, President of the Liberian Association of Cleveland and his wife attended were at this gathering; the last time that we talked to Mr. Zeinway was at the Ebola Walk in University Circle several months ago where we also met Ms. Kumar.

We asked Mr. Keating what motivated them to organize this event and he replied that as medical students they feel that they have the responsibility to help those stricken with the disease. Plus, the people of Cleveland recently had quite a scare about this-imagine what it would be like having to live with it constantly. Accordingly, they wanted to have a night of solidarity in order to raise money to provide aid. Mr. Keating and his friends believe that there should be no stigma attached to Ebola victims. They were very happy when approximately 50 people turned on a Saturday night over the holidays to help them.

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