27 June 2010

Recognizing a recently deceased Carpatho-Rusyn activist

Rusyns exist mostly under the radar of U.S. media, so it's important to note when we break through, as happened in the Washington Post today as it compiled a list of newsworthy obituaries that included Mary B. Onufrak, a board member of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society's D.C. chapter.

The obituary features  a concise explanation of who the Rusyns are:

"Mary B. Onufrak, 82, a longtime McLean resident and activist who promoted awareness of her ancestors, the Carpatho-Rusyns, died of congestive heart failure June 6 at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

"Carpatho-Rusyns trace their roots to a region that includes Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine. A stateless minority ethnic group, Carpatho-Rusyns are recognized by many countries, including the United States."

23 June 2010

St. John's Day: A time for Rusyns to build fires

Night on the Eve of Ivan Kupala, a Polish painting by Henryk Siemiradzki
Although the practice didn't survive among immigrants in the U.S. (especially in urban areas like the Chicago region), June 24 is St. John's Day, a time for summer celebration, and a brief break in one of the busiest times of the calendars for a people tied to the soil

One part of the celebration, St. John's Eve bonfires, aren't uniquely Rusyn -- but they were a regular part of our calendar.

An article from the Carpatho-Rusyn American from 1984 explains some of the folk traditions.

19 June 2010

A Father's Day story about my own Rusyn dad

I originally wrote this to mark my dad's 100th birthday, back in April, and posted it at OnMilwaukee.com, the entertainment internet magazine where I write a daily column. I apologize if you've read it before, but I thought it worked well this Father's Day. I'm sure many of you have similar stories to tell, feel free to share them.

My father would have turned 100 years old today.

The number seems unbelievable, just as hard for me to fathom as the fact that he's been dead for nearly a quarter of a century.
My dad shortly after coming to Chicago.

I was the last of five children, born when my dad was nearing the age I'm at now. My mother was five years younger than he was, and she outlived him by a little more than two years. Though they've been gone for decades, their influence remains strong.

And my dad's story hooked me on history.

John Cuprisin was born in Marblehead, Ohio, on April 3, 1910. To talk to him, you would have pegged him as an immigrant. His accent betrayed a Middle European background. When my dad was two, his father, Petro Cuprišin packed up the family and returned to the village where he was born, Hrabovčík. Today, the village is in northeastern Slovakia, but back then it was in Austria-Hungary.

Anna and Petro 
Family lore says my grandfather got a letter from the village to tell him that his own father, also named Petro, had died. My grandfather was the oldest son, and would have inherited the scattered patches of land around the village that made up the Cuprišin homestead. Since arriving in the US in the early years of the 20th Century, my grandfather had worked in a limestone quarry in Marblehead.

But the prospect of land of his own must have been a strong temptation, and my Petro and his wife, Anna, packed up the family -- my father, his older brother, Andy, and two sisters, Anna and Helen -- and took the opposite of the immigrant journey, returning to the homeland.

As the story goes, my grandfather arrived in Hrabovčík in 1912 to find his own father very much alive. According to this tale, my grandfather's younger brothers were jealous of his success in the U.S. and made up the story.

Whether that's true or not, my grandfather and his family found themselves working the family farm on June 28, 1914, when gunshots rang out in another part of Austria-Hungary, Sarajevo, killing the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie. The assassination by Serb nationalists set off a chain reaction that plunged Europe into war.

The Greek Catholic church in our village
More importantly to my story, it put Petro Cuprišin into a military uniform and, he was sent off to fight for Emperor Franz Josef against the invading army of Russia's Tsar Nicholas II. Like countless other conscripts, he eventually (and probably willingly) found himself a prisoner of war, sent to a camp somewhere in the Russian Empire.

The village of Hrabovcík was on the front lines in the early months of the war, as the Russians moved south through the passes in the Carpathian Mountains. My father was four or five at the time, but he clearly -- and fondly -- remembered the Russian soldiers in the village.

The people of Hrabovčík were Carpatho-Rusyn, an East Slavic ethnic group that felt themselves closer to the Russians than the Austrians and Hungarians who ruled them. Dad recalled being hungry and a giant Russian soldier (giant, of course, in the eyes of a young boy) lifting him up on his shoulders to take him through the chow line set up to feed the troops. Many decades later, my father remembered the bread and soup he got from the Russians.

Petro Cuprišin's health was ruined during his time as a POW. Though he lived another two decades, he never really recovered. The end of the war brought changed borders and new governments, and my dad's school years were spent in a new country, Czechoslovakia.

My grandparents never returned to America. But my dad, with American citizenship, did. At the age of 17, he followed his older brother, Andy, back to the land where he was born, settling in Chicago. His younger sister and brother, born after the war in the new Czechoslovakia, lived out their lives in and around their birthplace.

I'm sorry if this family history lesson was a bit much. But it never seemed dry or remote when my dad told it to me. It seemed as fresh and alive as if it happened yesterday.

The story remains alive as my late father seems to me today, on his 100th birthday.

16 June 2010

Milwaukee's Polish Fest: OK, so it's not quite Rusyn

It's going to be a while before we can throw a full-fledged Rusyn Fest, but in the meantime, the biggest Polish Fest in the U.S. kicks off at noon Friday, bringing a Slavic flavor to Milwaukee's Summerfest Grounds on the lakeshore.

Polish Fest runs through 10 p.m. Sunday with admission $12 at the gate ($10 for seniors 55 and older, and children 15 and under free with an adult.

On Friday, admission is 50 cents from noon to 5 p.m., and $5 after that. I've been there on a Friday evening, and it's usually pretty dead, so the admission deals make plenty of sense.

The highlights include vodka tastings and Tyskie Polish Beer being served on the grounds. Oh, and don't be surprised if you hear polka music.

Now, let's start planning Rusyn Fest.

13 June 2010

More than 100 people turn out to learn "Who Are the Rusyns?"

John Righetti explains the Rusyns
The first public event of the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society brought more than 100 people Saturday afternoon to St. Peter & St. Paul Orthodox Church in Burr Ridge, Ill.

The crowd came from four states to hear John Righetti, the national president of the C-RS, tell the often-complicated story of who the Rusyns are, where they came from, and how they became so divided after emigrating to the United States.

Tom Sedor recorded the event, and as soon as DVD copies of John's talk are available, we'll get the word out to you.

The afternoon featured Rusyn snacks and pastries prepared by volunteers, who kept the crowd well-fed. A number of our guests said the talk helped answer the many questions they've had about their heritage.

We've also picked up some new members.

Sampling the Rusyn treats
The way things work, new members join the national Carpatho-Rusyn society, a membership which brings them the bi-monthly New Rusyn Times. Then they're automatically members of the Lake Michigan chapter, the 11th chapter of the C-RS.

Among the questions I received were why we didn't call ourself the "Chicago" chapter. I explained that we're targeting the broader Rusyn community that stretches along Lake Michigan from Northwest Indiana up into Wisconsin. Another questioner wondered whether Michigan was covered in our group.

Anybody is welcome to participate, but the main Rusyn settlement in Michigan is in the eastern part of the state, including the greater Detroit area and Flint. John Righetti tells us that there's talk of forming a C-RS chapter in that area.

Cornerstone of St. Peter & St. Paul
But as I said, anyone's welcome, and Saturday's event brought Rusyns from Muskegon and Indianapolis, along with one of our organizers and national C-RS board member Jim Kaminski who came all the way from Washington, D.C.

Sincere thanks go to St. Peter & Paul for the hospitality shown to us. Several member of our board are parishioners, and they helped organize the event -- and kept the air conditioning up on a muggy Saturday afternoon.

While nothing's finalized, we've discussed some tentative plans for a Northwest Indiana location for our next public event for a Saturday in October to mark the newly proclaimed Rusyn holiday (officially marked on Oct. 26). Stay tuned for details.

On Sunday morning, John and I attended liturgy at St. Peter & Paul and John sang with the choir, led by John Sutko.

The liturgy included a beatifully sung Church Slavonic version of the Cherubic Hymn using  Prostopinije, the distinctively Rusyn Carpathian chant-style, that provided a perfect end to the weekend.

--Tim Cuprisin

12 June 2010

Building, or rebuilding, our Carpatho-Rusyn Community

As we approach the first public event of the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society today, I wanted to talk a little bit about building -- our maybe rebuilding -- our Rusyn community.

Holy Trinity Cathedral
We didn't just appear over night. We've been here since the 19th Century, dispersed throughout the area in separate churches and settlements on the North and South sides of Chicago, in Northwest Indiana and Joliet, and stretching into small farming towns of northern Wisconsin.

We're responsible, at least partly, for landmarks in our area -- such as the Holy Trinity Cathedral, an architectural gem on the North Side, the home of an Orthodox parish that began with a sizable Lemko-Rusyn population.

Even the massive St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, just off Chicago Avenue, has Carpatho-Rusyn roots. The first pastor, Victor Kovaliczky, was Carpatho-Rusyn, not a Galican-Ukrainian. He had been the first pastor at St. Mary's, the Rusyn church in the Back of the Yards on the South Side. He moved to the new parish serving the community in what's now known as Chicago's Ukrainian Village to launch that parish in 1905.
St. Michael's, now in Niles, Ill.

Many of us are just getting to know each other through the Carpatho-Rusyn Society, which is designed to bridge the things that have separated us in the past.

We don't live in the old neighborhoods anymore, but the Internet has helped us create a cyber-neighborhood, and I wanted to make sure we all know of the ways available to interact in that version of the community:

  • If you're on Facebook, be sure to friend Lake Michigan Carpatho-Rusyns. And feel free to post your comments and whatever else you'd like to put up on the Wall.
  • There's this blog, lakemichiganrusyns.blogspot.com, available if you're not on Facebook.
  • If you're on Twitter, you can find us at @lakemichrusyns
I have tried to update the Facebook page and the blog regularly, with information that's of interest to Rusyns, specifically in our area.

If you have any items that you think should be posted to a wider audience -- including things like pirohy sales at your church, or a musical performance -- send them to me at lakemichiganrusyns@gmail.com. Or you can post things directly on the Facebook Page, or make comments on the blog.

I'm looking forward to John Righetti's talk today.

But I'm even more excited to see a large number of of us gathered together in one place as Rusyns.

--Tim Cuprisin

10 June 2010

Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Basil Schott dies

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting the death this morning of Metropolitan Basil Schott, the head of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.

Here are the early details from the newspaper:

"Metropolitan Basil Schott, archbishop of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, died 3:45 a.m. this morning from cancer that he had been diagnosed with last year.

"The 70-year-old Franciscan friar had been archbishop of the only self-governing Eastern Catholic Church in the United States since 2002.

"Eastern Catholic Churches are loyal to the pope and in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church but follow the liturgy and many other practices of Eastern Orthodoxy and have greater ability to govern themselves than do Latin Catholic dioceses. The Archeparchy -- the eastern term for archdiocese -- of Pittsburgh stretches diagonally from Pennsylvania through Tennessee into Texas."

Update: Here is the official announcement from the Chancery, with funeral arrangements. 

06 June 2010

It's almost like singing along with Jerry Jumba

Jerry Jumba
It's tough to drive casually from this part of the country to take part in the rich offerings of the Carpatho-Rusyn Cultural Center in the Pittsburgh suburb of Munhall.

But thanks to the Internet, we can get a flavor of the weekly session of Rusyn song led by one of the cultural treasures of the Rusyns in North America, Jerry Jumba, who has dedicated his life to spreading our music to succeeding generations of Rusyn-Americans. Jerry's an expert in our liturgical chant, and our folk music as well, along with being a talented performer.

Here are a couple videos:

05 June 2010

The Lake Michigan Carpatho-Rusyns reach a radio audience

Charlotte Conjelko, the secretary of the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society, along with Ron Pyke, a founding member of our new group, spoke with Father Thomas J. Loya of Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church on his "Light of the East" radio show.

Father Loya
They not only offered details of next Saturday's events at St. Peter & St. Paul Orthoox Church in Burr Ridge, but talked about their own Rusyn heritage.

Of particular interest is Ron's "born-again" Rusyn ethnicity. He discovered his Carpatho-Rusyn identity at the age of 60. The half-hour interview also features Charlotte discussing the Rusyn heritage she shares with her husband, Father Bill Conjelko, also a member of our group.

You can hear the enlightening conversation here.

Where to find some familiar recipes

My Easter table with untraditional asparagus
The Internet offers a lot of options for home cooks who don't have mama or baba around to make familiar dishes. With a little searching around, you can find recipes similar to those we grew up with in Rusyn-American homes, both holiday dishes like my Easter table at right, or everyday dishes.

There was one fledgling attempt to start a Rusyn food blog, In the Rusyn Kitchen. Sadly, the author hasn't kept up with the effort.

But there are a number of sites that try to catalog various kinds of Eastern and Central European recipes that are close to our own favorites. The broadest is Barbara's Eastern European Food Blog. It has a strongly  Polish flavor, reflecting the heritage of its Chicago-based author, Barbara Rolek. But she offers a wide variety of tempting recipes and food tips and interesting articles.

Last Christmas' nut roll
A search of Barbara's site yields Christmas Eve recipes from our very own Charlotte Conjelko, the secretary of the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society. The article calls the recipes "Slovak," but we know they're really Rusyn specialties.

I've exchanged e-mails with Lubos, the guy behind the ambitious Slovak Cooking site. He offers step-by-step recipes for very Slovak dishes (he knows they're not Rusyn, or even East Slovak cooking). Many of the dishes he makes are now standard in Rusyn homes in Slovakia, so if you've tasted something at a relative's home in the family village, you may find the recipe at Lubos' site.

Several other sites I like:
  • Russian Season, with entries from two Russian women who live in Latvia, and Stano, a Slovak food blogger.
  • Yulinka Cooks is written by a woman in Milwaukee who shares some of her family food memories from the old Soviet Union.
  • Food and Beverages in Hungary offer a Magyar take on some foods that may be familiar.
Do you know of any more tasty sites? Don't forget to post the URLs with your comments.

I've included a link to one of the rare published Rusyn cookbooks out there, C-RS member Lisa Alzo's "Baba's Kitchen" if you're looking for something to put on that kitchen cookbook shelf.