Part III: the Lithuanian Community of Cleveland to World War II

Lithuanians and Politics

The Lithuanians were also active in American politics. They had both a Lithuanian Democratic Club and a Lithuanian Republican Club, with the former being stronger. The Lithuanian Democratic Club joined the county-wide Democratic Cosmopolitan League in the early 1930’s in order to gain strength. The vitality of the Lithuanian Democratic Club can be seen by the number of governmental posts filled by Lithuanians in the 1920’s and 30’s. Peter Chesnul (Chesnulis) became assistant county prosecutor; John Debesis, assistant county engineer; Chester Zuris, deputy county treasurer; and Dr. A. J. Kazlauskas, deputy coroner.

At the state level a Lithuanian, John DeRighter (Diraitis) was a state representative for the years 1935-38 and 1940-41. (He was elected on a county-wide basis, since the district plan had not as yet come into use.) Representative DeRighter Americanized his name, as did a number of other Lithuanians who moved out of the Lithuanian community, simply because not to do so was political suicide, and job advancement almost impossible at this time.

In the 1940’s the Lithuanian Republican Club became stronger with the Republican administration, and John Brazauskas became the head of the weights and measures department.

Three other Clevelanders, Frank O’Bell (Obelenis), Joseph Prokop and Edward Katalinas, were also to obtain high positions as judges. Frank O’Bell and Edward Katalinas were elected as municipal judges, and Joseph Prokop, a native of Cleveland, became a municipal court judge in Mentor.[1] Katalinas previously had served as councilman for old Ward 21 from 1962 to 1972, at which time he became a municipal judge. He held this position until 1975 and the following year became the chief administrative judge of Cleveland.

One other Lithuanian was to hold a high political position, Anna Lakawitz. After serving as village clerk from 1928-1938, she became Mayor of Linndale from 1932-1938. She was the first woman mayor in Cuyahoga County.[2]

  1. Interview with John DeRighter on 4 April 1975.
  2. Interview with Anna (Lakowitz) Young on 16 April 1975.


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

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