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Origins and History:
Arizona Chapter of
Origin Of A Nationwide Organization
Right after World War II a new wave of Lithuanian immigrants started arriving in the U.S. They were born in Lithuania, the memory of the land of their birth, of the relatives, friends, and posessions they had to leave behind was still fresh in their minds. Most of them left Lithuania going west just a few miles ahead of the invading Soviet army coming from the east. They were political refugees. As grateful as they were for the possibility to come to the U.S., they found themselves in unfamiliar circumstances. To them English was a foreign language and they wanted to preserve their Lithuanian language and culture, and to work for the liberation of Lithuania. To be more effective in achieving their goals, in 1951 they founded the Lithuanian-American Community (LAC), a nationwide organization with chapters in many U.S. cities.
New Organization's Stated Goals
On November 18, 1951, Lithuanians living in United States and Lithuanian-Americans, wishing
Goals Are Still Valid
Although the world has changed drastically since 1951: Lithuania has gained its independence and the threat of international communism has lessened, many of the original goals are still very pertinent. We still want to celebrate and share our Lithuanian culture and traditions with others, we still need to help one another and to participate in the political life of the United States with our special concerns and insights.
LAC Becomes A Not-For-Profit Corporation
On January 10, 1989, Lithuanian-American Community took a major legal step and became incorporated in the State of Illinois as a not for profit corporation for educational and charitable purposes. Because of this step, donations to the Lithuanian-American Community Inc. became deductible from federal income taxes (federal tax ID #36-3625439)
Arizona LAC Chapter
During 1950's new Lithuanian immigrants started to show up in Arizona as well. Unable to find support for their political aspirations with members of the Lithuanian American Club, a small group of these newcomers decided to establish the Phoenix Chapter of the Lithuanian-American Community in 1963. As the Chapter started to attract members from Tucson and other Arizona cities, it was renamed the Arizona Chapter of the Lithuanian-American Community, in 1980.
Key people in the establishment of the Arizona LAC Chapter were Prof. Padalis, Emilija Mačernytė Josen, Algis and Janina Rimavičius, and others. Emilija Josen, a former school teacher in Lithuania, was elected as the first president of the new Chapter and she headed the Chapter's governing board with some breaks from 1963 to 1977. During those breaks she was replaced by Marijonas Dambrauskas, Vytautas Mozartas and the former general of Lithuania's armed forces Vladas Mieželis. When Emilija Josen finally withdrew from her duties as chapter president, she was followed by
Lithuanian Indepedence Commemorations
Each year the Community organized several events in Aizona, the most important of which were commemorations of Lithuanian Independence (Feb. 16th). On a number of occasions the day began with the raising of the Lithuanian national flag in front of the Arizona capital in Phoenix. It continued in a church with a Lithuanian Mass. And finally moved to a hall for a two-part program. A typical Independence program included singing of the Star Spangled Banner and the Lithuanian National Anthem, salutations by representatives of local Latvian, Estonian and Ukrainian communities, reading of the Feb. 16, 1918, Act of Independence, a minute of silence to honor all who died for Lithuania's independence, reading of Arizona governor's proclamation designating Feb. 16th as Lithuanian Day in Arizona, and reading and adoption of a resolution urging the U.S. government not to recognize the legitimacy of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania and to work for Lithuania's liberation. Copies of the signed resolution were sent to the U.S. President and the Arizona members of the U.S. Congress. The first part of the program usually ended with a longer talk by an invited speaker. It was followed by Lithuanian food and cultural entertainment. To improve the quality of this entertainment, singing and dancing groups were invited from Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver or other cities to bolster the available local talent. When possible, Arizona political figures were invited to join the Independence Commemorations and were usually rewarded with a beautiful Lithuanian sash or an Amber Award.
Among the invited speakers were Landis Aden, Vitas Adomaitis, Danutė Bindokas, Vytautas Čekanauskas, Jonas Činga, lt. col. Kęstutis Eidukonis, Algimantas Garsys, Violeta Gedgaudas,Patience Huntwork, brig. gen. Tiiu Kera,Linas Kojelis, maj. Anne Krizanauskas, Almis Kuolas, Danutė Mažeika, Angelė Nelsas, , Marytė Newsom, Stasys Paltus, prof. Stanley Vanagunas, Vytautas Vidugiris, dr. Vytautas Vygantas, and prof. K. Paulius Žygas.
Food was prepared by the hard-working and talented women members of the Arizona Chapter.
Cultural entertainment varied from year to year. Depending on availability, local and invited talent was used. Among the local performers: singing by the church chior, dancing by Arizona's Lithuanian folk dance group Saulė, poetry recitations by Sofija Palionis and Aldona Genčius; display of Lithuanian sashes and amber jewelry by Milda Kvedaras.
For many years Ona Metrikis organized and accompanied with a piano a variety of musical talent: local church chior; soloists Vidmantas Valatka, Akvile Ancha, Antanas Pavasaris, J. Čekanauskas, Christine Lindquist accompanied by Irene Kuniski, Albina Gedminas; Los Angeles duet – Sigutė Mikutaitis and Nijolė Sparkys, and the Los Angeles Men's Quartet; pianist Juratė Karosas; violinist Nerijus Paulionis.
Independence Commemorations required suitable facilities for more than 100 people. For many years they were held at the Ukrainian Hall in Phoenix. In 1991, when the rent price there became too high, Independence Commemorations were moved to the Knights Of Columbus Hall in Glendale, and in 1995 to the St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Sun City.
Soon after the establishment of Arizona LAC Chapter in 1963, Emilija Josen organized a Saturday school of Lithuanian Studies, where she herself did the teaching. At one time there were 15 children attending classes. After 3 years the number of students became too small to continue and the school was closed.
In 1983 new classes were organized, which were attended by 7 children. Later, Lithuanian studies became the duty of the parents themselves.
It took a few years to get to know the local cultural orgaizations and available possibilities, before the Chapter started to participate more actively in the local cultural scene (international folk art, Christmas tree, and Easter egg festivals) earning positive comments in the local press.
International Christmas Tree Exhibitions
Starting in 1983, Valley National Bank (later renamed Bank One) organized international Christmas tree exhibitions in its facilities. In time these exhibitions became true international festivals with ethnic food, national costumes, and folk dance performances. These festivals continued for about 15 years with Lithuanians represented by Viktorija Zakaras, Aldona and Bronius Morkys, Antonija Petrulis, Sofija and Stasys Narkus, Elena Barčius, Janina and Kazys Yourshis, Dalia Motiejūnas, Rūta Motiejūnas, Rima and Vytas Reklaitis, Aldona and Rimas Vaitkus, Gilanda and Kazys Matonis, Rita and Adolfas Martinaitis, the Aleksas, and Adelė Bartys. These exhibitions provided a great oportunity for Lithuanians to show off their straw ornaments, national costumes, ethnic food, and to describe Lithuanian Christmas traditions to reporters from the local newspapers and television.
Lithuanian Christmas Tree Events
When in 1999 the bank's management decided to discontinue the Christmas tree exhibitions in their facilities, LAC Chapter started a new tradition of Christmas Tree Luncheons at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish hall in Sun City in 2000. This luncheon was organized by Aldona Vaitkus. The hall was decorated by Gilanda Matonis, Audrone Bartys, and Antonija Petrulis. Dalia and Ruta Motiejunas prepared the food. Children were taught how to make Christmas ornaments by Ona Adomaitis, Elena Barcius, and Ilona Budinavicius. Ona Adomaitis also prepared a display of a traditional Christmas Eve table. Don Adamavich played Santa Claus with a bag of small gifts for the children in the hall. A reporter from the English Sun City newspaper photographed the event and afterwards wrote a nice article about Lithuanian Christmas traditions.
International Easter Egg Exhibitions
From about 1986 to 1999, Lithuanians participated in international Easter Egg Exhibitions in Valley National (Bank One) facilities. During this period Lithuanian Easter Egg displays were organized, Easter eggs supplied, and egg decorating methods demonstrated by Dorsey Dalton Petrulis, Milda Kvedaras, Rūta Kvedaras, Birutė Dirse, Gilanda Matonis, Rima Reklaitis, Sofija Palionis, Ona Adomaitis, Birutė Strouse, and Nancy Aleksa.
The City ofPhoenix also organized international festivals named Hello Phoenix (later: Heritage Fair) where Lithuanians participated with displays of amber jewelry and examples of traditional weaving. In 1976 the Lithuanian display organized by E. Racine received the highest praise. During 1987-1989 Lithuanian displays were organized by Viktorija Zakaras and Antonija Petrulis, assisted by Aldona Vaitkus, Milda Kvedaras, Birutė Dirse, Marija Edelis, Margareta Blazevičius, Dalia Motiejūnas, and Nora Burba. After a while these Festivals became very commercialized and Lithuanians stopped wanting to participate.
In Tucson, about 100 miles from Phoenix, there are international festivals called Tucson Meet Yourself. In 1997 Tucson Lithuanians participated with Lithuanian folk art. Aldona and Kostas Eidukonis contributed most of the display items. They were showcased by Nijolė Stunskys, Gintė Pečiura, ad Urtė Murza.
Use of information media
Many Lithuanian members of the Community had personally witnessed the Soviet occupation of Lithuania and wanted to inform the wider U.S. population about Lithuania's tragedy. Attempts to get articles published on that subject in the local English language newspapers were mostly unsuccessful, because most readers knew nothing about Lithuania and were largely uninterested. The situation improved somewhat when Viktorija Zakaras started working at the Arizona Republic newspaper office. She was able to get some articles about Lithuania into print. She was even able to get one veteran reporter to do a long article on the massive deportations of educated Lithuanians to Siberia in June of 1940, known to Lithuanians as The Terrible June.
Bronė Petravičius (Bernice Peters) who lived in Cave Creek published articles in the local bimonthly Enterprise her impressions of Lithuania after her visits there in 1978 to 1984. She also had a 30 minute radio program in 1994 on a local Christian radio station (paid for by herself) reading in Lithuanian her own translation of Gloria Copeland's book called God's Will for You.
Petitioning of political leaders
Members of the Community closely followed all news from occupied Lithuania, participated in demonstrations against the Soviet occupation, organized letter and telegram campaigns to U.S. Administration and Congressional leaders laying out the case against the occupation, sent delegations to meet with Arizona members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Lithuanians received especially favorable hearings from Arizona Senators Dennis DeConcini, John McCain and Jon Kyl, who raised the issue of occupied Lithuania in Washington. Through the efforts of Community members, Lithuania's hardships and its fight for independence were raised in newspapers and on television and radio.
On the anniversaries of The Terrible June, peaceful demonstrations with signs and flags were organized in Phoenix's city center. These would attract the local media and provide an opportunity to inform the public about the massive deportation of Lithuanians to Siberian work camps, where most of them perished.
Captive Nations Committee
Arizona LAC Chapter worked closely with the Captive Nations Committee, participating in its commemorations and demonstrations.
A unique opportunity to tell the story of Lithuania's tragedy came in 1975 when Simas Kudirka visited Phoenix. He was the Lithuanian seaman who tried to defect by jumping off a Soviet fishing ship named Soviet Lithuania onto a U.S. Coast Guard vessel named Vigilant in November 1970 in Martha's Vineyard Sound. The free world was shocked when the American captain allowed the Soviets to forcibly return Simas Kudirka back to the Soviet ship. Due to diplomatic pressure and because Kudirka's mother was born in Brooklyn and he was granted U.S. citizenship, the Soviets released Simas Kudirka in 1974 and allowed him to leave the Soviet Union.
Decline of political activity
After Lithuania regained its independence in 1991 and became a member of the NATO alliance in 2004, Community's political activity subsided.
Every year Arizona LAC organized two picnics in the Phoenix Mountain Park: one in the spring and one in the fall. To better serve the Lithuanians living in the Tucson area, some of the spring picnics were held in Tucson instead. Picnics were great for bringing local Lithuanians and their children to mix, socialize, and get to know one another. Picnic food: hot kugelis, sausages, and cabbage, and cold drinks attracted many who did not participate in other events. Picnics were also an opportunity for the Chapter to earn some operating money for its treasury.
Arizona LAC Chapter made annual contributions from its treasury to help support various Lithuanian organizations and foundations, reducing its treasury to a minimum.