Part IV: The Lithuania Community of Cleveland Since World War II
The organizational inclination of the post World War II Lithuanians was no less than that of their predecessors. However, the newcomers did not easily join existing Lithuanian organizations, so they formed new ones. The reason is that both groups had grown up or at least spent the majority of their adult lives in separate cultures, resulting in differences in outlooks and goals. With the older immigrants there was the deep patriotic feeling for their native Lithuania; however, there was also the very real need to survive in an often hostile economic climate while attempting to preserve their culture through the building of their own churches and schools, and the establishment of native language presses and businesses. By the time the World War II immigrants arrived, much of the older group had passed on, and those left were well established in their ways. Their sons and daughters, who generally were of the same age as the majority of the new arrivals, had, as mentioned, been “Americanized.” The post World War II Lithuanians found it difficult to understand why their fellow Lithuanians didn’t have the same all consuming desire to free Lithuania nor to immerse themselves in Lithuanian culture.
For over a quarter of a century, one pillar of organizational activities in Cleveland has been Stasys Barzdukas. After graduating from the University of Kaunas in 1929 with a degree in Lithuanian language and literature, he held various educational posts in Lithuania until the Russian occupation. Barzdukas, an organizer, advisor, active worker, and educator to the core, was among other things a founder, teacher, and principal of a Saturday school of Lithuanian studies in Cleveland, president of the American Lithuanian Community’s central board from 1955 to 1961, and Central Council from 1961 to 1964. He also has been the vice-president of the World Lithuanian Community from 1963-1969, and during the 1969-1973 period was president and editor of its organ, Pasaulio Lietuvis (Lithuanian World).
One of the first organizations, which many of the new arrivals joined and which actually had been founded prior to their arrival, was the Cleveland chapter of the Lithuanian American Council. Founded in 1941 and representing thirty-eight organizations, the chapter among other activities celebrates the establishment of independent Lithuania every February 16. Three years later the first of three Cleveland chapters of the United Lithuanian Relief Fund of America was founded. The three eventually merged to form one unit, and recently Mrs. Ona Jokubaitis was elected to the National board of directors as Executive Secretary. The first local society to be formed in Cleveland was the Cleveland Society of Exiles, established in 1949 to serve the social and cultural needs of Lithuanian displaced persons. In 1952 this became a chapter of the Lithuanian American Community of the United States.
In 1950 a chapter of another national organization, the Lithuanian Veterans’ Association, Ramovė, was founded in Cleveland and until 1954 was headed by General Kazys Tallat-Kelpša. In independent Lithuania Tallat-Kelpša had been a brigadier general and throughout the interwar period was active in the military. Among other concerns The Cleveland chapter of Ramovė has been active in the celebration of Lithuanian Independence Day and the annual June observance of mass deportations of Lithuanians to Siberia during World War II.
The principal youth organizations initiated in Cleveland since World War II were the Lithuanian Scouts, Ateitis (The Future), Neo-Lithuania, and the Lithuanian Students’ Association of North America (Lietuvių Studentų Sąjunga or LSS).
The Lithuanian Scouts were established in independent Lithuania on the principles of “God, country, and fellow man” and then reorganized in the displaced persons camps after the War. After the camps scout troops were founded wherever substantial numbers of Lithuanians existed in the free world. In 1950 the first girl and boy scout troops, Neringa and Pilėnai respectively, were formed with the latter being judged the best troop for district five of the National Scout Association for three years in a row. In 1951 a sea scout unit, Klaipėda, was established, and this unit, like Neringa and Pilėnai, performs the duties and follows the principles of scout organizations throughout the world.
A unit peculiar to Lithuanian scouting has been the academic branch, composed of scouts who are older than the seventeen year age limit of the traditional troops and who must be university students or graduates. Founded in Lithuania in 1922, this section was also established in Cleveland after the War.
A supporting group of women, Židinys (The Hearth), was also founded and has aided the younger scout groups in their many projects, such as helping with the coeducational two-week summer and weekend camping sessions, and the annual celebration of Kaziuko Mugė, (St. Casimir’s Fair). The former event was established in the United States but is based on an ancient Lithuanian tradition found in the Vilnlus region of Lithuania. It is celebrated on the Saturday closest to St. Casimir’s Day, with speeches, performances, and Lithuanian food and artifacts, made by the scouts with the help of the Židinys and sold to aid scouting activities for the coming year.
Throughout the years there have been many guiding the scouts in Cleveland. The boy scout and girl scout units were founded byVincas Kizlaitis and Dr. Dominika Kesiūnas respectively, and soon had the active support of individuals such as Valdemaras Šenbergas, who was one of the founders of scouting in independent Lithuania, his wife Apolonija, Pranas Karalius, who in addition to devoting forty years to scouting here and in independent Lithuania has the distinction of serving the Lithuanian scouts in Cleveland for the greatest number of years, and Vytautas Jokubaitis, who has won numerous awards and has been active in both the Lithuanian American and American scouting groups.
The Catholic Ateitis Federation was organized in Lithuania in July, 1927, and became the major academic organization in Lithuania. Its members were secondary and university students and alumni. After the War the Atetis Federation reorganized in the refugee camps in Germany, and in 1950 the central administration moved to the United States. A chapter was founded in Cleveland a year previous, and in 1950 it organized a summer camp for high school students from throughout the United States. Based on the principles of Catholicism, nationalism, the family, social action, and intellectual achievement, the Ateitis unit of Cleveland founded a Lithuanian school at St. George’s parish in 1949. In 1952 the school, about which more will be said later, adopted the name Bishop Motiejus Valančius. The club has been active in organizing such events as lectures, concerts, commerative days, and social gatherings. In 1954 the club had 101 members, and in 1976 there were 109. The Cleveland branch has also been the headquarters of various segments of the national Ateitis Federation. From 1950 to 1953 the central committee of the Federation was located in Cleveland; in 1954 it was the bases of the national high school chapters; in 1955-1966 the national university students’ chapter centered here; and in 1964 the national alumni chapter met at St. George’s parish.
The Lithuanian Students Association of North America was founded in 1951 for all students of Lithuanian origin on the initiative of Vytautas Kavolis and Vytautas Vardys, who were then students at the University of Wisconsin. Since its creation the LSS has held yearly conventions, and in 1954 it began to print the arts and sciences quarterly Lituanus. This English language journal has been published continually since its founding and contains articles on numerous aspects of Lithuanian culture.
Another student group, a chapter of Neo-Lithuania, was established in Cleveland, and was also an extension of a student society organized in independent Lithuania. Founded in 1922, it was the first fraternity to use medieval symbols and was very nationalistic in orientation. With the Soviet invasion the fraternity disbanded and in 1950 was officially reorganized in Cleveland, with branches founded later in New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Montreal. In Cleveland the group was quite active, organizing exhibits of Lithuanian artists, and literature evenings. It also established an orchestra under the guidance of Algis Modestas, who, along with his father Cezaris, was very active in the organization, raising funds for the publication of Lituanus and, in conjunction with the LSS, established a room in the Ciurlonis House, which was used by youth groups interested in the preservation of Lithuanian culture. Neo-Lithuania was of particular significance for its work among a wide spectrum of Lithuanian idealogical factions.
One professional organization is particularly significant for its cultural work. This is the Lithuanian Medical Association of Ohio, which was organized in 1958 and belongs to the Lithuanian Medical Association of the World. Dr. Henrikas Brazaitis, M.D. of Cleveland heads the unit. The Association’s journal Medicina is presently published in Cleveland under the editorship of Dr. Danielius Degesys, M.D. Besides its professional activities the state affiliate also gives a $1,000 stipend for the propagation of Lithuanian culture.
The newer immigrants have also been active in politics. Besides joining the existing political organizations, in 1975 they formed the Lithuanian Civic Club. The purpose of which is to endorse political candidates of either party who they feel will best serve the interests of the country and the Lithuanian community.
Lithuanians are also found holding local governmental positions. These include Raymond Kudukis, who was a member of the mayor’s cabinet, instrumental in forming the Cleveland Regional Sewer District in 1972 and was a presidential appointee on the National Commission on Water Quality the following year; Richard Labas, who is Director of Utilities and Engineering; Juozas Stempužis, administrator of the Personal Property Tax Department in the County Auditor’s office; and Mrs. Margarita Premen (Premenckas), a councilwoman for the city of Westlake, who was also on the board of the Saturday School at St. George’s School for eight years.
On the national scene, the election between Ford and Carter witnessed two local Cleveland Lithuanians playing active roles in the campaign. For the Democratic Party Jonas Nasvytis was selected to represent the Lithuanian Democrats for the country. In the ranks of the Republicans, a local lawyer, George Ramonas, was chosen by the Ford’s campaign committee to run the ethnic desk in Washington.
Other organizations include chapters of the Lithuanian American Engineers’ and Architects’ Society, and the Lithuanian Jurists’ Society, two National Guard posts — the Žalgiris and the A. Juozapavičius, the Pensioners’ Club, and various chess clubs. In 1974 there were approximately 50 Lithuanian organizations located in Cleveland. These include the following:
St. George’s Lithuanian R.C. Church
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
American Lithuanian Roman Catholic Women’s Alliance
Knights of Lithuania
Lithuanian R.C. Women’s Welfare Society of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Lithuanian Boy Scouts
Lithuanian Girl Scouts
Lithuanian Sea Scouts
Lithuanian Scouts-Collegiate Group
Master Scouts Group
“Židinys,” Ladies Auxiliary
Lithuanian School of Bishop Valančius
St. Casimir’s Lithuanian School
Lithuanian Radio Program “Tėvynės Garsai”
Halls & Gardens
Lithuanian Community Center
St. George’s Church Hall
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church Hall
Lithuanian Cultural Garden
Cuyahoga County Lithuanian Democratic Club
Lithuanian American Council Inc.
Lithuanian American Republican Club of Greater Cleveland
Lithuanian Christian Democratic Union
Lithuanian Regeneration Association
National Lithuanian Society of America, Inc.
Lithuanian Architects & Engineers Society of the U.S.
Lithuanian Jurists Society
Ohio Lithuanian Medical Association
Cleveland Lithuanian Club for Retired Persons
Lithuanian Student Association
Lithuanian Veterans Society “Ramovė”
Lithuanian Alliance of America
Lithuanian R.C. Alliance of America
Lithuanian Students Fraternity, “Neo-Lithuania” Lithuanians of Vilnius Society
American Lithuanian Press & Radio Association “Viltis” Inc.
Lithuanian American Community
Lithuanian R. C. Federation “Alteitis”
…..Secondary School Student Chapter
Lithuanian Women Grand Duchess “Birutė” Society
Lithuanian Women’s Club
Lithuanian World Community
Music & Dance
Cleveland Lithuanian Men’s Octet
Grandinėlė Lithuanian Folk Dancers
Lithuanian National Art Ensemble “Čiurlionis”
Lithuanian Students’ Vocal Ensemble “Nerija”
Lithuanian Men’s Choir “Ramovė”
Lithuanian Athletic Club “Žaibas”
- E.L., I, 307. ↵
- E.L., IV, 63. Its past presidents were Mykolas Drasutis, Jonas Daugėla, Julius Smetona, Raymond Kudukis, and Algis Pautienis. Presently Algis Rukšėnas holds the position. ↵
- E.L., IV, 63. Locally the following were active leaders; Simonas Laniauskas, Dr. Vladas Ramanauskas, Kazys Gaižutis, Antanina Puškorius, Ona Jokubaitis, Vincas Akelaitis, Edvardas Stepas, and presently Vaclovas Steponavičius. ↵
- E.L., Past presidents were Julius Smetona, Stasys Barzdukas, Jonas Virbalis, Petras Balčiūnas, Feliksas Eidimtas, Petras Beilinis, Povilas Mikšys, Mečys Balys, and Dr. Valdas Ramanauskas. The Cleveland Chapter belongs to the Ohio Region and presently Jurgis Malskis heads the Cleveland group. ↵
- L.E., IV, 63. ↵
- L.E., XXX, 309. ↵
- Past presidents include Kazys Budrys, Feliksas Eidimtas, Antanas V. Jonaitis, Longinas Lekickas, and P. Židonis. The Chapter is now led by Antanas V. Jonaitis. ↵
- The information was obtained from an interview with Aurelija Balas, Amanda Muliolis, Pranas Karalius, and Vytautas Staškus on 20 March 1976. Other active members were, in addition to those interviewed, Džinaras Kižys and Nijolė Kersnauskas. ↵
- L.E., IV, 63. Former and present active members of the Cleveland group include Ignas Malinauskas (Malėnas), Balys Graužinis, Vacys Rocevičius (Rociūnas), A. Damusis, A. Kasulaitis, Viktoras Palubinskas (Palūnas), R. Laniauskas, Augustinas Idzelis, E. Razgaitis, A. Razgaitis, and V. Kliorys. ↵
- E.L., IV, 69, 70. ↵
- Anatanas Diržys, Neo-Lithuania, (South Boston, 1965), 281-284. Past presidents were Pranas Drasutis, Jonas Čiuberkis, Felixas Mackus, Julius Smetona, Cezaris Modestas, Algis Modestas, Vytautas Šlapelis, Viktoras Stankus, Algis Mockaitis, Marius Jakulis, Rimas Gulbinas, Algis Matulionis, Paulius Mitalas. Presently Viktoras Stankus is president. ↵
- Other leaders were Drs. Danielius Degėsys, Edmundas Lenkauskas, Alfonas Martus, Vladas Ramanauskas, Juozas Skrinska, Mykloas Vaitėnas, and Jonas Stankaitis. ↵
- Theodore Andrica (ed.), 1974 Ethnic Directory (Cleveland, 1974), 106-110. ↵