Thursday, December 15, 2011

by Nancy Revak (

  The first edition of Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture will be
available shortly after the first of the year.  It was a long time in the making, but it was well worth the wait.  English speakers will now have an easy way to start learning to read, write and speak the Rusyn language on their own.   

What Took So Long? 
In case you're wondering, this is how it happened.  For more than 10 years, I had been working on behalf of C-RS to find ways to provide Rusyn language instruction—consistently a top request of C-RS members.  I researched endless possibilities—from providing classes locally, to conducting webinars, to developing a sophisticated, computer-based course through Rosetta Stone.  But all had obstacles that made them unfeasible—the major ones being cost and finding a native Rusyn language speaker who could also teach Rusyn to English speakers.  

In 2007, I met with Halina Malecka, a native Lemko Rusyn and high school Russian-language teacher who had been successfully teaching the Rusyn language to young schoolchildren and teens in Gorlice, Poland, for several years.  Halina agreed to develop a similar course for C-RS.  And in June 2008, she conducted the Rusyn Language Study Abroad program at the Ruska Bursa in Gorlice.  Student feedback about the course and Halina's teaching was overwhelmingly positive.  
With Halina's permission, I presented her 45-page student workbook and accompanying CD
demonstrating correct pronunciation to C-RS, proposing that we use them as the basis for developing our own elementary self-study course.  

After careful consideration, C-RS agreed.   Attorney Jim Kaminski (C-RS Vice President) and I  worked out a licensing agreement with Halina giving C-RS permission to use her work to develop a course for English speakers in North America.  Being a professional writer and instructional designer with many years experience developing self-study courses in the corporate world, I volunteered to develop the course for C-RS. 
Jim Murray, a retired language professor and linguist with a flair for the Rusyn language, volunteered to be the Rusyn-language subject-matter expert.  He and I were both educators.  And we both had attended Halina's class in Gorlice (and would later attend the 2010 Rusyn summer school in Presov, Slovakia).  So we had first-hand knowledge of the difficulties beginners had learning the Rusyn language. 

Instead of a scholarly work, the self-study course would be aimed at ordinary people who simply wanted an easy way to begin learning the basics of the Rusyn language without the need for an instructor.  Since Rusyns write in the Cyrillic alphabet, not the transliterated Latin alphabet found in some publications, the focus would be on teaching Rusyn Cyrillic—both printed and handwritten (cursive).  The course also had to be applicable for anyone wanting to learn the Rusyn language, regardless of the variant (Lemko, Presov, Transcarpathian, or Vojvodinian/Pannonian).  

The first thing Jim and I did was try to recall the things Halina had taught in class beyond what was in her workbook.  Then I set about redesigning the workbook, reorganizing some of the original content, creating a new layout and formatting to make it appropriate for self-study, and designing a new cover.

To set the stage, I decided to write a section about the Carpatho-Rusyns, their history and culture.  But first, I researched numerous books, articles and websites to collect information and interesting details not often addressed. 

Most beginners struggle with learning the Rusyn language simply because they don't know the Rusyn alphabet well enough.  So I developed a section devoted entirely to learning the Rusyn alphabet first, before embarking on the language lessons.  This foundation would enable learners to more easily recognize the Rusyn Cyrillic letters and sound them out so they could focus on learning words and their meanings instead of getting hung up on the alphabet. 

Next, I worked on expanding the language lessons by adding more topics, more information about the Rusyn language, many more words, more practice exercises, and important instructional material.  Jim provided the Rusyn grammar; verified the accuracy of all the Rusyn words, their spellings and meanings; and translated the reading passages from Rusyn into English.  To build the vocabulary, I sometimes gave Jim Rusyn words to verify.  Other times, I just gave him a list of English words, and he supplied the Rusyn words.  Every time, he referred to his various Rusyn language dictionaries, grammars and other resources to make sure everything was correct. 

Unfortunately, developing the course presented some unanticipated technical difficulties.  For instance: 

  • To develop the new workbook, I had to work from the electronic version of the original workbook.  But the original had been created in a Polish language version of Microsoft Word and contained Rusyn fonts and styles not available in my English version of Word.  
  •  We received the original workbook in PDF format, which had to be converted to be used.  But the conversion presented other problems.  The document retained its original formatting, fonts and macros, which could not be deleted and conflicted with what I had set up.  Many of the Cyrillic printed and written examples didn't convert and were lost.  So they had to be recreated.  For some unknown reason, big blocks of text would suddenly drop off and the formatting would go crazy.  As a result, I lost a lot of valuable time repeatedly re-entering lost text. fixing formatting and font errors, and cutting and pasting.     
  •  Not having access to the original software, keyboard and fonts, I was unable to enter Rusyn text as words and sentences.  Instead, I had to look up all the Cyrillic letters as symbols and insert them individually—one symbol at a time.  Not a speedy way to type.
  •  The Rusyn words pronounced on the CD referred to the unit and exercise numbers in the original workbook.  Since I couldn't change the CD or exercise numbers, I had to figure out how to add new topics, exercises, grammar and vocabulary without messing up the numbers on the CD. 
Development took a long time and many drafts. There was a lot of pressure to get the course completed faster.  But Jim and I were not willing to compromise quality for expedience—especially after all the time and effort we had expended trying to get things right.  We refused to put out something we wouldn't be proud of. 

Finally, in October 2011, I sent a complete mock-up of the course to John Righetti (C-RS President) to review and present at the C-RS Annual Meeting.  Even though the workbook was not yet perfect, the response was terrific.  John has since edited the workbook (with Mrs. Michalina Mihalasky verifying the Rusyn words), and I am starting to make the necessary revisions.  With time off for the holidays, I expect to have the final course ready to go in the beginning of 2012. 

What's So Special About The C-RS Course?
Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture is the first Rusyn language course of its kind.  In addition to being a self-study, it has a CD recorded by native Rusyn speakers that demonstrates correct pronunciation.  So you can easily start learning to read, write and speak the Rusyn language and building a sizeable Rusyn vocabulary. 

  • Here are some of the other course highlights.    Significantly Expanded Workbook.  The new workbook has more than six times the learning content of the original workbook, including a much larger vocabulary.
  •  Carpatho-Rusyn Background.  The information about the Rusyn people, their history and culture paints a colorful backdrop that makes the language lessons more meaningful.  It covers Rusyn life from early times, under serfdom, during World Wars I and II, under communist rule, to the present day. It also addresses the Lemko resettlements to Ukraine and Akcja Wisla.  
  •  Easy-to-Follow Language Lessons.  The language lessons are organized into eight units, and each unit contains a number of exercises with easy-to-follow instructions.  The exercises are like building blocks. They not only introduce you to something new, but they also reinforce things you learned previously.   Just as importantly, you can progress at your own pace, studying as few or as many lessons at a time as you like.   
  • Learning to Read, Write and Pronounce Rusyn Cyrillic.   A lot of attention is paid up front to learning to read, write and pronounce each letter of the Rusyn Cyrllic alphabet correctly.  The objective is to help you link each letter to its sound automatically.  Before you know it, reading, writing and pronouncing Rusyn starts to become second nature.  
  •  Words in Cyrillic, Transliterated and English.  Even though the course focuses on teaching you to read, write and pronounce Rusyn Cyrillic—both printed and handwritten (cursive) —their transliterated spellings are also shown for pronunciation reference.  So when new Rusyn words are introduced, they are shown in Cyrillic, transliterated Latin, and English.
  •  Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.  A considerable amount of repetition is purposely given to writing and pronouncing the Rusyn letters and words.  This repetition is extremely important.  It's what helps you learn to recognize and pronounce the letters without thinking and memorize the words.     
  •  Rusyn Language Bookmark.  This specially designed learning aid has the Rusyn alphabet printed on one side.  Each Cyrillic letter is shown in its printed and written forms (both upper and lower case) along with its pronunciation.  So you can use it to mark your place as you progress through the course as well as a quick alphabet reference if you get stuck.
  •  Audio CD.  The CD lets you hear the correct pronunciation of Rusyn words found in some of the exercises.  Hearing the words and repeating them helps you perfect your own pronunciation.  You can get more practice pronouncing the words you've learned by listening to the CD in your car or on your CD player or iPod. The CD also includes some traditional Rusyn songs whose lyrics are in the workbook.  So you can have fun learning the songs as you sing along. 
  •  Extensive Rusyn Vocabulary.  Approximately 1,000 Rusyn words are taught in the course.  They include words for people, places, and things (objects, foods, plants, animals, etc.), as well as greetings, expressions, emotions, attitudes, personal characteristics and more.  There are even examples of typical Rusyn first names (male and female) and surnames.  
  •  Grammar Where Needed.  The information on Rusyn grammar helps you understand Rusyn syntax (word order) and gives you examples of the declension patterns of nouns and conjugation patterns of verbs.  To make learning easier for beginners, the course focuses on Rusyn in the nominative (dictionary) case and present tense.  
  •  Rusyn Traditions.  Rusyn traditions, such as Easter and the Christmas Eve Holy Supper, are described in detail in the language lessons.  This makes the language come alive.  Besides learning the appropriate greetings for these important Rusyn celebrations, you learn the names of the various foods, their descriptions and significance.    
  •  Reading Passages.  Sample dialogs, poems and sayings give you practice reading, writing and speaking Rusyn in sentences, phrases and paragraphs.  Their English translations help you understand their general meanings.   
  •  Self-Checks.  These are sprinkled throughout the exercises so you can periodically check to see how you're doing.  They also help you identify any trouble spots you may need to go back and study again later.
  •  Answer Key.  This contains the correct answers to exercises so you can check your own answers against them.   
  •  Traditional Rusyn Songs and Prose.  There are more than a dozen of them.  The Rusyn lyrics are also shown in English, thanks to Jerry Jumba.  A number of the songs are on the CD so you can learn to sing them.    
  •  Bibliography.  All the books, articles, and websites used to research content for the course and information about the Rusyn language are listed here.  The list also serves as suggested reading if you want to learn more about the Carpatho-Rusyns and their language.  
What's next?
Depending on the success of Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture, C-RS will consider developing one or more follow-on options.  One idea is to produce a glossary/dictionary of the Rusyn words found in Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture and their meanings.  Another is to develop an intermediate self-study course that builds on Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture, focuses on Rusyn conversation, and covers the other cases and tenses.   

There is a questionnaire at the back of Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture workbook.  Learners are asked to complete and return it to C-RS with their feedback about the course and suggestions for additional language instruction.  So we will have to wait and see.     

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tim Cuprisin
January 14, 1958-November 23, 2011
Vicnija Pamjat.  Eternal Memory.
Tim Cuprisin, president and founding father of the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society and creator of its blog, passed away Wednesday, November 23 at home.  
At the age of 20, the Chicago native graduated from the University of Central Michigan in 1978. He started his career as a police reporter at Chicago’s City News Bureau then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today before going to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.   Included in his assignments were covering the impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism on six Eastern European countries.  His long-time fascination with television programs led to a daily TV and radio column in the Milwaukee Journal (now the Journal Sentinel).  In 2009, he took his writing talents to

On March 13, 2010, Tim met with 15 people from Northwest Indiana, the Greater Chicago area and Wisconsin at the Polish Museum in Chicago to create the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society.  With his vast knowledge of his Carpatho-Rusyn heritage, Tim was unanimously elected president.  The first event of the new chapter in June 2010 drew 104 people to hear National C-RS President John Righetti’s talk “Who are the Rusyns?”.  According to Righetti, it was a record number for a first-time event held by any of its chapters.  

In the year and a half since that first public meeting, more than 300 people have attended at least one event sponsored by the chapter.  Those events include hosting the author of The Linden and the Oak Mark Wansa for the first celebration of Carpatho-Rusyn Day, newly instituted by the World Council of Rusyns in 2010.  Other undertakings of the organization include a genealogy workshop focusing on Eastern European resources and a pysanky workshop where attendees learned how to turn eggs in works of art using wax, a stylus and dye just as their ancestors had done in “The Old Country”.   Conversations at the Rusyn New Year’s potluck luncheon focused what was or wasn’t on the attendees' Christmas Eve Holy Supper table now or when they were growing up.  Pagach and pirohi were a big hit and quickly disappeared.
Tim's last appearance
Tim’s last public appearance was at the Lake Michigan Chapter’s Carpatho-Rusyn Day luncheon in October which celebrated 100 plus years of Rusyns in Northwest Indiana and recognition of the 100th anniversaries of St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church and Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church.  An avid collector of all things related to his ethnic background, his presentation featured early 20th century photographs of Rusyn immigrant life, the six churches they founded around the tip of Lake Michigan and a Pepsi Cola ad with the sales pitch in Rusyn.  History Professor Jim Lane of Indiana University Northwest and the Northwest Indiana Archives explained what brought the immigrants to northwest Indiana, far from their arrival ports on the east coast.

Tim’s determination to preserve his ethnic identity and his access to media resources led him to create the chapter’s blog which features news about Rusyns here and abroad. The hunger of Carpatho-Rusyns for information about their heritage and what was happening to other Rusyns brought hits from across the globe.  The Lake Michigan Chapter board will continue the blog.
At the time of his death, Tim was also working on a book about Andy Warhol, a world-renowned Rusyn artist, as well as a murder mystery set in Chicago.

Tim is survived by his brothers John, Ken and Dave, a sister Elaine Black and his partner Sharon Boeldt as well as numerous nieces and nephews.  He was preceded in death by his parents John and Helen (Cordak) Cuprisin and niece Leslie Cuprisin.

A celebration of his life held Saturday, December 3 brought about 200 people to the Schmidt and Bartelt Funeral Home in Mequon, Wisconsin.  Speakers included his brother Ken, Fr. Thomas Mueller of St. Cyrill and Methodius Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, friends Jim Rowan, Andy Tarnoff and Meg Kissinger and his god daughter, Molly Boynton.  Carpatho-Rusyn Society Lake Michigan Chapter members Fr. William Conjelko and Fr. John Lucas closed the memorial with leading the singing of the traditional Rusyn funeral hymn Vicnija Pamjat/Eternal Memory.
Donations to a media scholarship in Tim’s name may be directed to the Hoffman York Foundation, 1000 N. Water St., Suite 1600, Milwaukee, WI, 53202.  Donations in his name may also be made to Mayo Clinic's Melanoma Research Program at or mailed to Department of Development, Mayo Clinic, 200 First St. SW, Rochester, MN 55905.
On January 14, 2012, the Lake Michigan Chapter will pay tribute to its first president at its annual Rusyn New Year Potluck.  Details will be posted on this blog.
(Copied from the Lake Michigan blog with the permission of Charlotte Pribish Conjelko, President of C-RS Lake Michigan Chapter)

Thursday, September 8, 2011


2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611.  The project was the undertaking of the new House of Stuart which sought to put its stamp on English cultural, religious  and political life.  It was also intended to end a centuries-old debate about whether English (not Latin or French) was the accepted language of educated communication in England.  To accomplish this, James I launched the 17th Century equivalent of the Manhattan Project, by assembling a team of 54 linguists, historians and theologians from Cambridge and Oxford who worked virtually full time for eight years.  Most of the participants were from Southeastern England which gave the final product a distinct regional flavor.

A slightly more modest effort was recently completed to produce a parallel product in Carpatho-Rusyn.  A team composed of Dr. Anna Plišková of the University of Prešov , Fr. František Krajňák of the Slovak Association of Rusyn Organizations and Josif Kudzej, translated the Gospels from Church Slavonic into what might be called the Prešov standard of written Rusyn.  The project was commissioned by the World Rusyn Congress and the published volume is 1048 pages in length with both Cyrillic and Latin alphabet sections (ISBN 978-80-88-769-92-7).

The work which was completed in 2009 will settle some debates and no doubt precipitate  fresh ones about the grammatical useages and vocabulary choices of Krajňák and Kudzej, who are after all, from different villages (Kamjunka and Njagiv, respectively).  Nonetheless, the translation of a major piece of world literature signifies that Rusyn is no longer a gaggle of dialects but is firmly on the road to literary standardization . 

C-RS would like to express its appreciation to Karen Varian, President of the Rusin Society of Minnesota, for making this important work available to us. 

Written by:  John Schweich, C-RS trustee.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rusyn Folk Customs and Superstitions

On June 1, 2011, Dr. Andrew Skumanich delighted us with his reminiscences on growing up as a first generation Rusyn-American.  Part of his presentation was devoted to the folk customs and superstitions brought over from the old country, specifically from his parents' villages of Pčoline and Čukalovce in Slovakia.   We are printing them here for those who couldn't attend and for those who couldn't believe what they heard.
  •  Not long ago door lintels were marked with a cross-sketched with the smoke of a candle flame.  This kept evil from entering the household.  A similar practice is observed by the Pennsylvania Dutch.  You may not know that the ancestors of these Dutch (a corruption of Deutsch) immigrated from Bohemia and Moravia.

  • The curse of an evil eye was expunged by sucking on the afflicted's forehead and spitting out the evil spirit with an incantation of banishment.

  • Some exotic medicines were highly regarded.  For example, dirt from a freshly dug grave gathered at midnight could be wrapped in a poultice and applied to open wounds.

  • Garlic was a wonderfully useful herb.  Not only was it tasty on toast and in soup, its protective qualities were greatly appreciated.  During epidemics, a bag of garlic hung around the neck would shield one from sickness.  If it were applied too late, a vinegar compress could be used to relieve headache.

  • If it were really too late, the funeral would be held at the home of the deceased.  A departed male was referred to as a "nebožtik," a heaven-destined soul."  A heaven-destined female was a "nebožka."  We believe that men sometimes used a different term if she was a mother-in-law.  Anyway, the mourners and visitors sat around the open casket and reminisced about events in the life of the heaven-bound.

  • In preparation for Christmas Eve Supper, each family member would wash his face in a basin containing coins.  He would then make a wish for a prosperous new beginning.  Supper leftovers were left on the table for the spirits of deceased family who might be visiting.  Yes, the reward for years of virtuous living was an eternity of leftovers.

  • When the meal was over, each family member would extinguish a candle on the holy table.  The person's future was propheticed by the smoke.  Rising smoke meant a better situation was in store.  Dropping smoke might mean a loss.  Smoke drifting toward the door signified a departure.

  • Prior to his wedding, a groom was stripped and scrubbed by a female cousin to be sure the bride was getting a purified husband.

  • This dovetails nicely with what several in Dr. Skumanich's audience considered the most enlightened of all the customs.  For Easter, the house had to be cleaned by a nude virgin of the family.  This was to imbue the house with purity.
The above folk customs and superstitions were provided to us by Dr. Andrew Skumanich.  If you know of any other traditions that our people followed, we would love to hear from you.  When we collect enough, we will include them in another entry.  Please contact me at

(p.s.:  To date we heard only from Eveline Blanar who sent us customs of her family - Thank you Eveline).   
(Written by: Maryann Sivak

Friday, May 27, 2011

Growing up in the Melting Pot: A First Generation Rusyn American

Presentation by Dr. Andrew Skumanich
WHEN:    TUESDAY, JUNE 21, 2001 
                    at 7:30 PM
WHERE:  Carpatho-Rusyn Cultural Center
                   915 Dickson Street
                   Munhall, PA 15120


Reception with delicious Rusyn/American appetizers will follow the lecture. 

Andy Skumanich
It is no secret that the Carpatho-Rusyn Society was founded by the grandchildren of Rusyn immigrants.  In fact, only one founding member was actually born in the homeland. So what made the second generation of Rusyns different from their parents?  Why is it that the first generation tried to distance itself from their identity while their children are emotionally drawn to it?

Many times we’ve talked about this marked difference but never really addressed it.   For the present generation, the term “hunky” can be used affectionately.  Yet, for the first generation it has been a very painful reminder of the derogatory terms applied to them while growing up.   

Andy Skumanich, his wife Mary, and children Andrew and Marina

We have never given due credit to the first generation nor have we tried especially to understand their dilemma:  How to grow up in a household with old world outlooks, language, customs, traditions, and then walk outside and into the American way of life.  This new life was very different from the one they experienced at home.  In school and on the streets they often heard accents ridiculed and noticed that their parents were different from most of their classmates’ families.  They experienced the vivid and sometimes harrowing contrast between the old world they had never seen and the place where they had been born. 

Dr. Andrew Skumanich, a first generation American Rusyn, will shed light on his formative years and how he grew with them.  He’ll reminisce about coming of age in an emigrant community, the American environment of the 1930s and forties, and how he adapted to both. His contemporaries helped build the American industrial giant, win a world war, and create the most prosperous republic in history.  Yet, there is danger in trying to cram them all into a preconceived template.  In short, they accomplished things most of us never imagined. They were part of what has been called without exaggeration “the greatest generation.”  Dr. Skumanich offers his insights as a heart felt tribute to his generation of American Rusyns.

Dr. Andrew Skumanich is the eldest son of Petro and Maria Scripova.  His parents came from Pčoline (father) and Čukalovce (mother), present day Slovakia.  His father came to America in 1921 after escaping being a prisoner of war in present day Ukraine.  His wife followed him in 1928.   Andy was born a year later.  He was raised in a traditional Rusyn culture.  His father had studied for the priesthood (Uniate) so Andy and his younger brother Vasil were raised in a religious environment.  As there was no Uniate church at that time in Wilkes-Barre Township (Blackman’s Patch) the family attended a Russian Orthodox Church.   Andy was an altar boy and was expected to become a priest.  His dad received mining papers and worked as a miner in the local Anthracite mine.  His mother was a housewife but to supplement their income she worked as a cleaning lady at the local school or kept boarders.   The father was able to assimilate but his mother never did.  She learned only rudimentary English and often Andy was her translator.  Their friends were mostly people from their village.  His first language was Rusyn and only when he entered first grade in 1935 did he learn proper English.   Nevertheless, Andy excelled in his studies.   When he was 17 years old his father died of lung hemorrhage secondary to Black Lung Disease and weak lungs resulting from being exposed to mustard gas in WWI.  
Daughter Nonna, C-RS Board Member

When Andy saw the kind of life his dad had to live, covered in black dust and working underground he vowed not to do the same.
Early on he developed an interest in Astronomy. As an undergraduate he met another first generation Rusyn who was also studying Physics and Astronomy. Through him he met his future wife Mary who happened to be his friend’s cousin.  She too was a first generation Rusyn whose parents came from Galicia, which had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For his PhD degree he applied to and was accepted at Princeton University.

Andy found that his Rusyn home culture never left him while his interests in things Slavic broadened.  He learned Russian as well as German for his PhD degree. He translated Russian physics journals.   He found that working in Astrophysics led to another melting pot, as most scientific communities are a mix of different cultures. 

His work took him to Boulder, Colorado where he and his family were still able to keep some Rusyn traditions.  Dr. Skumanich has passed his pride in being Rusyn on to his daughter Nonna, who is recording secretary of the C-RS.  

Written by:  Maryann Sivak (


Monday, April 18, 2011

Unsung Heroes: Joe and Donna Chekan

Joe Chekan was a trustee when the C-RS purchased the former St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in 2004.  He and his wife Donna had been married there 35 years earlier.   As the first Chairman of the cultural center, he undertook a monumental task.  The parishioners of St. John’s left a vast amount of old and broken furniture, unworkable appliances, obsolete plumbing and electrical fixtures and devises.  Joe’s first task was to clear the building of this debris that was blocking further renovation.   Several large dumpsters were rented and with a lot of volunteer and hired help, the unneeded equipment was disposed of.

Meet Joe and Donna Chekan
During the years of vacancy, flocks of pigeons were present in both bell towers and on ledges and perches inside and outside the building.  No further progress was possible without solving this messy problem.   Joe arranged for professional company to eradicate the pests safely.  A team of well-organized professionals dressed in space type suits was brought in to banish the pigeons and to clean the accumulated leavings.  A few pigeons continued to show up but as their access portals were sealed they left for a better habitat.

Joe and Donna
The cathedral had many doors to provide access.  The locks on these doors were old and some did not work.  Joe contracted a locksmith who repaired and replaced old locks and made the entranceways secure.

The basement windows were basically glass block but each window had metal louvers in the center that leaked cold air and invited vandalism.  Bids to replace or repair the windows were beyond our expanded budget.  Joe remedied the louver problem by obtaining fiber wood cut to exact sizes and then screwing the panels into the existing metal frame.

Water leaking along the basement was a recurring problem.  Part of the situation was remedied by keeping the sewer opening on the outside open and clear of debris.  Later procedures included a rerouting of the upper drainpipe to the rear of the building.  Water leakage was the source of a continual damp odor. 

Other challenges at the cultural center included the exterior repair of the walkway and wall on the right side.  The grass and bushes on the side needed maintenance particularly in the summer and these jobs were shared by Joe and by volunteers.   Of course during this time his devoted wife Donna stood by his side and was his right hand working along side Joe.
Donna with her grandson

Joe stepped down as Chairman of the Cultural Center in 2005 but continues to volunteer whenever his busy schedule allows.  As an added benefit, his wife Donna graciously comes with him.   Thank you Joe and Donna!
Written by:  Maryann Sivak

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tom Brenzovich Presents A Traditional Russyn Dinner at Northeastern State University


On April 14th, 2011 the Residence Hall Association (RHA) of Northeastern State University (NSU) in Tahlequah Oklahoma will be sponsoring a program, “A Traditional Rusyn Dinner.”  The program will include an introduction into who “The People From No Where” are.  Since it is the Lenten Season, part of the presentation will focus on the Carpatho-Rusyn Easter tradition, the blessing of the Easter basket. 
An Easter basket containing the traditional food items will be available not only for viewing, but also to eat.  Paska, hurdka, kolbasi, chrin and other food items will be available for attendees to eat and enjoy.
RHA is a group of residential students at NSU who plan and host a variety of programs and events for the students. 

As student leaders in the residence halls, they  provide students with a variety of educational, multicultural and social change events and activities throughout the year. Some of their programs include hosting the Unfolding Ceremony for World AIDS Day quilt, providing educational programs related to date rape and sexual assault, hosting a fundraiser dance for Help-in-Crisis (the local women's shelter), alcohol awareness programs, The Last Lecture Series, Martin Luther King Day of Service and Polar Bear Plunge. 

When the tragedy hit Japan, they created the Japanese Wishing Wall and sponsored a Benefit Concert for Japan.  They are a very service orientated group of students who believe that a college education includes more than sitting in a classroom and learning.  To them, it’s about helping their fellow students become responsible citizens in a global society. 

The Traditional Rusyn Dinner will help them accomplish their goals by first, teaching students about a rich culture that few people know or understand and secondly, it will engage and empower the students who attend to become teachers and advocates of the Rusyn culture.  RHA has chosen the Rusyn Culture as the culture they wish to promote to the NSU community.

Please spread the word.   
 Written by: Tom Brenzovich (

Friday, March 25, 2011


Last week we began our spring cleaning at the center.  While we may have been a little optimistic about spring's arrival, we did accomplish a few things.  Maybe we should call it "pre-spring" cleaning.

We rented a lift so Jožko could prime and repaint the ceiling.  Burnt out light bulbs were replaced.  The wooden ceiling painting was taken down and stored. 

Now volunteers are needed for the weekend of April 1st (Friday and Saturday).   We have plenty of house keeping to do, both inside and outside the  building.  Inclement weather, therefore, will be no obstacle to your generous contribution of time and labor.  In return, we will offer good conversation, a feeling of pride and accomplishment, and a free lunch.  Did we mention free lunch?  Don't forget the free lunch.

It will be greatly appreciated if someone can donate a lawnmower for the yard.  If possible, we would also like to borrow a pressure washer.  So if anyone has access to this equipment, please let us know.  We promise we will think highly of you for years to come.  Please contact me (Maryann) by email at or by phone at 412-567-3077.

(Written by Maryann Sivak.  Email:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Unsung Heroes continued

This article is about a unique individual who undertook a most unlikely mission and, through hard work and determination, achieved what most would have thought impossible.   I’m speaking, of course, of our Minnesota Rusyn champion, Larry Goga.

Larry Goga
Larry was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the only child of Lawrence and Phyllis (Nietzel) Goga.  He grew up in a typical post-war American environment. He was an all- around athlete, lettering in baseball, basketball, football, and track at Patrick Henry High School.   Though he lived in a half-timbered house next to his paternal grandparents, he knew very little of their ethnic background.  While Larry recalls his grandfather spoke very little English, his grandmother spoke English well.  Yet, when neighbors and friends came over to visit, she spoke in a tongue that Larry took for Slovak.  Larry’s mother was of English and German ancestry, and the family followed her customs and traditions.

Following high school graduation in 1950, Larry worked for Minneapolis Honeywell until drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952.  After basic training he was sent to Korea as a rifleman. He was assigned to the 40th Infantry Division.  His division fought the Korean War in such memorable places as the Punch Bowl;  he celebrated his 21st birthday on Heartbreak Ridge.   When he finally returned to civilian life, he resumed his job at Honeywell.  After one year he enrolled in the University of Minnesota where he played freshman football and earned an A.A. degree.  Larry became one of  Minneapolis area law enforcement’s  most successful and respected interrogators. 

In 1979 while Larry and Karen were driving through the old neighborhood he pulled up in front of St. John’s Byzantine Catholic Church.   Father Joseph Fedyzak just happened to be coming down the steps.  Larry stopped the car and asked Fr. Joe “What kind of church is this?”   When Fr. Joe asked his name, and heard the reply “Larry Goga,” father said, “You belong here.  Your name is in our history base.”    Larry and Karen started attending the church, opening a new era in Larry’s life. 

During the church fall festival of 1979 a woman asked Larry his name.  When he told her, the woman,  Ann (Filyak) Hnath,  said to him “welcome home.”  Larry almost fell over he was so overcome with emotion.  “Your grandfather visited my father many times.”   That and similar incidents led him to eventually realize that he was Rusnak not Slovak.  

Larry and Karen
Larry was determined to learn about his grandfather, John Goga, who had passed away when he was 10 years old. Larry fondly remembers his big smile when he was returning from work.  “Hallo Lorry boy” he would call out, opening his pocket purse and giving Larry one penny as a treat; this he quickly transformed into candy.    Although the Goga family rarely talked of their ethnicity, Larry believed he was Slovak due to the various weddings he had attended over the years at a Slovak church. Being Chief Investigator for McLeod County, Minnesota, Larry set out on a mission to discover not only his paternal roots, but also who the Rusyns were.

He began looking for people who could help him find answers to his questions.  To his surprise, most of the parishioners at St. John’s seemed to be unaware of the church’s history or its ethnic background.   Although they did identify themselves as “Greek Catholics,” the word “Rusyn” seemed almost unheard of.   In 1981 Larry asked Fr. Joe if he could hold a meeting with whoever in the parish wished to learn about being Rusyn!  It was held on April 27, 1981.   Only nine people attended.  Larry, Fr. Joe and John Fatula had previously held a meeting discussing Rusyn identity.  They decided to form a group called  The Rusin Cultural Awareness Organization.  John Haluska joined St. John’s in 1982, and became very interested in working with them on the Rusyn question. He was an excellent writer and John Gera, who joined late in 1982, was able to read Cyrillic and translate the old church records. 

The next year Larry, John Haluska, and John Gera founded the Carpatho-Rusin Ethnic Association.  The Association was established for the purpose of preserving and promoting the heritage of Rusyn people.   They knew that to get noticed they needed to determine if there truly was legitimacy to the Rusyn identity.   Larry met with Keith Dyrud, a professor at a local college and sought his advice.  He also met with Minnesota Historical Society Secretary Russell Fridley to ask for support when the newly-created Rusin Association would seek funding.

Larry Goga
Larry’s dream was to prepare a traveling exhibit to tour the state, write a book about Minnesota’s Rusyn population, and sponsor a symposium about the Rusyn people.  With Secretary Fridley’s help, the trio  received a grant for preparing a book on the history of Rusins in Minnesota.  William Duly, a University of Minnesota student working on his master’s degree in anthropology, was selected for this work.  He was chosen because he had neither Rusyn roots nor any previous knowledge of  Rusyns.  This way he could generate an unbiased report on the subject.  Mr. Duly used the Rusyn identity question as his topic.   Shortly thereafter the Association was awarded a grant from the Minnesota Humanities Council.  

Over the years, the Association engaged in many activities.  It participated in the local Festival of Nations, hosted symposia and workshops, published newsletters, and provided a forum for those who were interested in their Rusyn heritage.  It also established an annual dinner honoring the Rusyn patriot, Alexander Duchnovich.  This tradition is being carried on to this day.  The Rusin Association will host its 25th Annual Duchnovich Day Celebration on Saturday, February 5, 2011. 

On November 17, 1988, John Haluska was invited to give a presentation at St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral.   The Very Reverend Vladimir Lecko, with whom Larry had been working, felt that since the roots of St. Mary’s extend to the region where Rusyns live, that John’s talk would be central to their story.   St. Mary’s had just finished its centennial celebration and because of that the parishioners had become aware of  their community’s history.  John pointed out that the parishes of St. John’s and St. Mary’s were both Rusyn when they were established.  This was a monumental achievement by the Rusin Association since most parishioners at St. Mary’s thought themselves to be of Russian (Moscovite) descent. 

Larry worked ceaselessly.  To anyone who would lend him an ear, he would talk about preserving and promoting the heritage of “our people.”    One more grant was awarded and Larry continued to inform not only the parishioners of St. John’s and St. Mary’s but also the general public about Rusyns.   The Association would participate in or promote ethnic events and provide information on Rusyns.   Through Larry’s inquires he had learned about the works of Robert Magocsi, Jerry Jumba, and John Righetti. Larry began to seek them out for his quest for information. The objective of the Association was not only to tell the story of the Rusyns for the Rusyns but to share it with the rest of Minnesota. 

Larry strongly felt that the story of “our people” deserved to be shared with all.  Later the Association, under Larry’s leadership, became influential not only in Minnesota but also in Eastern Europe.  After the fall of communism, the Association helped Eastern European Rusyns financially.

Ten years later when the Carpatho-Rusyn Society incorporated, we used the Minnesota by-laws as the basis for our by-laws and cited that organization as the standard of excellence.  

Larry was ahead of his time.  As Fr. Fedyzak stated at one of the symposia, being a priest in Minnesota was like being sent to a penal colony.  The Rusyns of Minnesota were far removed from the rest of the Rusyn communities concentrated in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Logic would have suggested that the Minnesota Rusyn community would have quickly disappeared into the great Midwestern prairie.  Yet, it was thanks to this one person, LARRY GOGA, that the Rusin Association of Minnesota has become an example of how to run a successful organization.  And he showed us what one individual can achieve.

Concurrently with his term in office with the Rusin Association, Larry since 1991 served as the first President of the Minnesota Korean War Veterans’ Association.  Here he labored tirelessly to create a monument dedicated to the state’s Korean War veterans.  It was unveiled in July 1998.

After 17 years of hard work and unprecedented success, Larry stepped down as Rusin Association president. Larry now lives in Cokato, Minnesota with his beautiful wife Karen who has worked along side him all these years.   Even though her background is Finnish, she has selflessly helped Larry prepare Rusyn dishes for festivals, dinners, workshops and so on.   Their home has been open to countless Rusyn guests over the years who have enjoyed their company and comradeship.
Larry and Karen Goga

Although Larry was very successful in spreading the word about Rusyns, he has not able to find more information about his grandfather and still is investigating.   So if you have any information on the name Goga and or know about his grandfather or grandmother, please contact him at

Thank you Larry.  As you once told me “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”  In our hearts you’ll never fade away.   You are an inspiration and example to us of what one individual can achieve when he really puts his mind to it.  Your contribution to enriching our Rusyn culture has been priceless.

(Written by:  Maryann Sivak,