Part II: Lithuanian Immigration to the United States

Lithuanian-American Contributions to America

In addition to the foregoing, many other Lithuanians, either singly or united, contributed significantly to this country. In music, there was Mikas Petrauskas, who during the first part of the century was considered “the most popular Lithuanian composer and the foremost worker in the field of Lithuanian folk song music.” He is credited with composing some twenty Lithuanian operettas and one opera. He also oversaw the running of conservatories of music in Brooklyn, Chicago, and Boston.[1] Currently, there is the composer, producer, and conductor Darius Lapinskas, who was the assistant conductor of the Stuttgart Opera from 1960 to 1965, and has since returned to the United States and produced a number of works, some of which are based on Lithuanian folk melodies.[2] Operatic greats include Anna Kaskas, Lillian Shukis, Polyna Stoska, Algerdas Brazis, and Arnoldas Voketaitis, all of whom have sung with the Metropolitan Opera. Additionally, there were a number of others connected with local operatic associations,[3] and at present there exists the very viable Lithuanian Opera in Chicago, which recently received nationwide television coverage.

Another outstanding individual who should be mentioned is Vytautas Beliajus, one of the top international folk dance specialists in the United States. Since arriving in this country in 1923, Beliajus has lectured at over 200 universities and colleges, founded the Lithuanian Youth Society in 1932, directed the Ateitis (The Future) folk dance group, edited the English language periodical Lore, and since 1942 edited and published Viltis (Hope), one of the foremost journals devoted to international folk dance.

In the art of movie-making a number of Lithuanians have become stars. Among these were Ruth Roman and Lawrence Harvey, and at present Ruta Lee, Kaz Garas, Ann Jullian, Jacques Sernaz, Zvil La Roche, George Mikell, and Charles Bronson, said to be “the biggest star — and the highest paid in the world outside the United States.”[4] At the opposite end of the camera is Jonas Mekas, who has been labelled “the patron saint of the underground cinema…which he named and whose leading champion, polemicist, and organizer he has been for the last ten years.”[5]

In another area of the arts there is the internationally famous sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, who was born in Lithuania and immigrated to the United States in 1941. He has been classified as “the fulfillment of cubism in sculpture — as one with his painterly colleagues, Picasso, George Braque and Juan Gris.”[6] Another native of Lithuania, Victor Brenner (Baranauskas) was to have one of the most widely distributed pieces of art work. This medalist and sculptor designed the American Lincoln-head cent in 1909 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.[7] Charles Kaziun, “the Picasso of Paperweights,” has the following said of him in the Encyclopedia of Glass Paperweights: “The range of Kaziun’s paperweights is probably greater than any individual among the glass artists of the Classic period.”[8]

One final artist to be mentioned is the painter Adomas Galdikas. Versatile and internationally known, the late Galdikas was “a highly individualistic painter” and often used Lithuanian motifs in his works.[9]

In politics and public service, Lithuanians have been active at all levels. Besides Shenandoah, other small towns, such as Westville, Illinois, and New Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, have had numerous Lithuanians occupying various governmental posts, from mayor on down. At the state level, representatives Dr. A. Valibus and A. Janushat (Janušaitas) served in the Pennsylvania legislature, John DeRighter (Diraitis) in the Ohio,[10] Frank Savickas in the Illinois, Frank Drigotas in the Maine, and Nadas Rastenis and Paul Weesengoff in Maryland. There were and continue to be numerous public officials of Lithuanian origin. In jurisprudence, Lithuanian-Americans have been and are abundant, ranging from local attorneys to state judges, including Casimir Kay (Kriaučiūnas), a judge of the Superior Court in the state of Washington.[11]

Lithuanian-American champions can also be found in many sports. One of the primary reasons for this was that sports scholarships, and in particular football scholarships, were one of the main avenues to a college education for many too poor to obtain one otherwise. These included Edward Krause (Kriaučiūnas), athletic director at Notre Dame; Dick Butkus; and John Unitas who was selected football player on the decade in the 1960’s.[12] In 1935 the majority of the football team of the Catholic University of America was Lithuanian.[13] So numerous were college Lithuanian football players that in the early 1950’s the editors of The Marian magazine used to pick a Lithuanian All-American football team.

Other sports champions include Alan Stephan (Albertas Steponavičius), who was selected by the national A.A.U. in 1946 as Mr. America; Jack Sharkey (Juozas Žukauskas) and George Chip (Chepulonis), both of whom were world boxing champions; Johnny Podres, who pitched the Brooklyn Dodgers to a world championship in 1955; Billy Burke (Vincas Burkauskas) and Johnny Goodman (Jonas Gudauskas), former national golf champions; Joe Platak (Platakis), who was national handball champion from 1935 to 1940; Joe Wilman (Vilmanas) elected to the hall of fame for bowling and four-time winner of the American Bowling Congress National Tournament;[14] and finally Pete Gray, who lost an arm at the age of six, but managed, through sheer perserverance, to become the only one-armed player in the major leagues and to have his glove placed in the baseball hall of fame.[15] Currently, there is Jean Balukas, who in 1972 at the age of 13 won the women’s title of the U.S. Open Pocket Billiard Championships,[16] and Vitas Gerulaitas and Billy Jankunis, who are making names for themselves in tennis and track respectively.

Finally, in the field of education, Lithuanian-Amerians are readily found at all levels. In addition to the work accomplished in the Lithuanian community itself, there were many who moved into public education, and Americans of Lithuanian origins teach in an extremely high percentage of universities and colleges. Professors of national and international repute include Marija Gimbutas (archeology), William C. Kvaraceus (education), Leonas Sabaliunas, Alfred Senn, and Benediktas Mačiuika (history), Antanas Klimas and Antanas Salys (linguistics), Vinkas Krėvė and Rimvydas Šilbajoris (literature), and Vytautas S. Vardys (political science), to name a few. Lithuanians are also found in prominent educational-administration positions. In Pittsburgh, for instance, Louis J. Kishkunas was superintendent of schools from 1969 to 1973, when he became superintendent of schools in Denver, Colorado. Also in this area is John Adams of Pittsburgh, who heads the city’s library system.

Perhaps one of the best representations of the Lithuanian contribution to America was that made by Martin Radtke. After coming to this country, Radtke worked his way up the ladder of success by using the New York Public Library to educate himself in many areas, including the world of business. His financial success was notable, and in appreciation he left his estate, valued at over 300 thousand dollars, to the institution which had helped him so much, the New York Public Library. In appreciation, the Library dedicated a marble plaque to Radtke, inscribed with his own words:

“I had little opportunity for formal education as a young man in Lithuania, and I am deeply indebted to the New York Public Library for the opportunity to educate myself. In appreciation, I have given the Library my estate with the wish that it be used so that others can have the same opportunity made available to me.”

Jack Sharkey – Juozas Žukauskas. WORLD HEAVY-WEIGHT CHAMPION.

  1. Joseph S. Roucek, American Lithuanians (New York, 1940), 28, 29.
  2. E.L., III, 289-290.
  3. Roucek, American, 29, 30. E.L., I, 319.
  4. "American Hero in Europe is Actor Charles Bronson," Youngstown Vindicator, 27 May 1972.
  5. "All Pockets Open," The New Yorker, 6 January 1973, 31.
  6. "Jacques Lipchitz," Newsweek, 11 June 1973.
  7. E.L., 1, 407.
  8. The information was obtained from the Lithuanian Art Exhibition booklet printed for the 60th national convention of the Knights of Lithuania held in Brockton, Massachusetts from 6 to 8 August 1973.
  9. E.L., II, 264, 265.
  10. Širvydas, Jouzas O., 92.
  11. Roucek, American, 32.
  12. John Jakubs-Jakubauskas, Amerikos Lietuvių Sporto Istorija (A Sports History of Lithuanian-Americans), (1966), 52, 556, 59.
  13. Roucek, American, 33.
  14. Jakubs, Amerikos, 37, 39, 43, 86, 130, 131, 142, 148.
  15. "Pete Gray," Newsweek, 21 April 1975, 15.
  16. Evening Review, 8 February 1973, 2.


Lithuanian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland Copyright © 2020 by Cleveland State University . All Rights Reserved.

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