Croatian Heritage, an Irish Wake, and the Senior’s LGBT Prom

On Saturday, May 31st, we attended several events over the course of the day that could best be described as very heartwarming.
First, we went to the American-Croatian Lodge in Eastlake where we attended the Second Annual Croatian Heritage Event coordinated by a really nice man named Robert Jerin, a noted genealogist who is of Croatian descent himself and since 2005 has been organizing annual “Heritage and History Tours of Croatia” designed to help people in the United States of Croatian descent re-establish their roots and possibly reconnect with family members in Croatia.

We talked to one person named Ken who told us that Mr. Jerin helped him find a relative that he never knew he had living only 60 miles from him in the Northeast Ohio area as well as hooking him up with a genealogist who was able to locate some of his relatives still living in Croatia. The end result was that Ken took a trip to Croatia and established a relationship with his family members and stays in touch with them. He looks forward to taking another trip to Croatia and seeing them all again.

We sat next to another gentleman named Robert who drove all the way from Pittsburgh to attend this event. He went with Mr. Jerin on a trip to Croatia in 2006 and liked it so much that he took another trip in 2007. Robert says that he likes Mr. Jerin’s tours because they take in a lot of the smaller villages that depict the true lifestyle of Croatia as opposed to the more touristy big cities. What’s more, Mr. Jerin helped him to locate a cousin there who speaks English (because he had worked with contractors from the United States) which makes it easier for them to communicate with each other. Robert recalled that his grandfather immigrated to the United States from Croatia and settled in a mining town near Pittsburgh where he opened a bar which was quite popular due to the fact that he spoke seven languages and could communicate with his customers.

In addition to these stories, a woman talked about how her father immigrated to the United States from Croatia but never discussed his background. After he passed, she started investigating her heritage and found it to be a fascinating process. And there was a young woman who was here with her husband who is from Croatia himself and is in the process of becoming an American citizen.

Mr. Jerin was very pleased to have us as guests at this event and we got to stand up and introduce ourselves and say we were from the office of Margaret W. Wong and Associates and talk for a moment about what we do.

We talked to Mr. Jerin for a few minutes and learned that he was initially inspired start investigating his legacy by his great-grandmother and remembers taking her to an embassy in Northeast Ohio to obtain copies of her birth documents. In fact, one of the slides that he showed us was that of her passport-visa which was dated 1895! And it was a very touching moment for him when he first visited her native village in Croatia 102 years later.

Mr. Jerin also enjoys helping people in Croatia connect with their families that have immigrated to the United States. This statement which appears in the literature for the upcoming 2014 tour says a lot about him and the purity of his intent:

“Discovering my Croatian heritage began as an exciting hobby more that a decade ago and has since developed into a passion that I am thrilled to share with Americans of Croatian descent all across this country. Having traveled to Croatia 10 times in the past, I am convinced that in order to truly get in touch with one’s roots, it is essential to visit the land of one’s forefathers. I invite you to travel with us as we visit several key regions in Croatia that have given so many of its sons and daughters to America in the several waves of emigration. We’ll visit towns and villages and learn about the techniques genealogists use to uncover lineage, heritage and impart a sense of origin. This promises to be a unique and enriching travel experience.”

The 2014 tour is scheduled to be from September 26th to October 9th, and we extend our best wishes to Mr. Jerin and all those who accompany him on this adventure that promises to be awesome.

By definition and observation, an Irish Wake is a traditional Irish mourning custom and is an integral part of the grieving process for family, friends, and neighbors of the deceased. Though it is a time of sadness, the presence of friends and family makes it more bearable and they are often affairs that mix joy with sadness and this could apply to the Irish Wake that was hosted at the East Side Irish American Club for all of its members to come together and celebrate their dearly departed family members and friends.

About 40 people (more would arrive later) gathered together for this event which started with a mass given by Father John D. Betters, who is the Pastor of the St. Robert and William Catholic Parish in Euclid, Ohio. Father Betters said that when he was a child, he thought that a wake was just what it sounded like; the deceased would be woken-up and he would get up and walk around that was that! As he grew older and became a priest and presided over many wakes, he said that his childhood viewpoint wasn’t altered as much as one might think because a wake is an event where the participants remember the deceased and talk about the things that he/she did with their lives so in a sense the deceased is being awakened and brought back to life through the memories of friends and family. What has impressed Father Betters the most about these occasions, is that the good things that the deceased has done always seem to come to fore and overshadow the negative which he believes is how it should be. Father Betters recalled an instance where he met a woman at a wake who grumbled that she sure hoped that her husband would “be next” but when her husband finally passed she remembered him fondly and her bitterness towards him had passed also.

The two main organizers of this affair were Francis McGarry (who we had met before due to his work with the Ancient Order of the the Hibernians) and Mary Alice Fitzgerald who both did a beautiful job. Also participating in the mass, was Dave Clemens who we visited with for a few minutes. We were happy when Dave told us that he believed that Margaret W. Wong was a “great lady who had done a lot for Cleveland.”

After the mass, everyone gathered for dinner, fellowship, and sharing. There was an open mike for those who wanted to reminisce in public. We had dinner with the club treasurer Mike Gronich and his mother Pat and we discussed immigration reform which the three of us agreed is badly need for such groups as the Irish and the Scottish because, as we have said before in this blog, the number of people allowed to immigrate to the United States is too small and very outdated. Pat shared a picture of her late husband, Mike’s father, in his naval uniform who both Mike and Pat were remembering on this special day.

No doubt about it, late May/early June is traditionally prom time for graduating high schoolers but we were glad to attend a somewhat less traditional one on Saturday night which was titled “Seniors 50+ Get Your Groove On Gay Prom” which organized by the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland and hosted by the Westshore Unitarian Church in Rocky River.

It was a joyous occasion that was open to all and all were welcomed. The DJ was Carly Mesnick who did a good job in choosing music from the ’50’s, ’60’s and ’70’s which was what most of the people here had grown up with. There was healthy food including some vegan patties which we thought to be delicious. There was dancing and nobody cared if one didn’t dance well (as was the situation with the representative from Margaret W. Wong and Associates who almost tripped when he was twirled), the point was that one was up there having a good time. It was especially touching when a couple who had their the ceremony of their union performed at this church got up to lead off one of the dances.

We tracked down our friend Phyllis Harris, who is the Executive Director of the LGBT Center and told her how much we were enjoying it but Ms. Harris told us that most of the credit for organizing it should go to Carey Gibbons, the Program Activities Coordinator who put it all together and we enjoyed meeting Carey who is an upbeat, bubbly person who was sparkling because her undertaking was an obvious success.