One hundred twenty-five. That was how many years of service to our community the Ukrainian National Association celebrated in 2019. And the celebrations, which took many forms, lasted all year long.
Issues of Svoboda dated February 22 and The Ukrainian Weekly dated February 24 included special sections dedicated to the milestone anniversary of their publisher, the UNA, the oldest and largest Ukrainian fraternal organization. Indeed, the UNA is among the oldest fraternal organizations in the United States.
President/CEO Stefan Kaczaraj pointed out in a story about the UNA jubilee: “At the beginning of the 20th century, there were more than 600 fraternal insurance societies. Now there are less than 100. We are one of them. This is a testament both to the commitment of the UNA to our members and our community, as well as the loyalty of our members and our community to the UNA. I am proud to say that, for 125 years, the UNA has been insuring our community.”
It was back on February 22, 1894, that a group of Ukrainian (then called Ruthenian or Rusyn) activists convened in Shamokin, Pa., for the founding meeting of what would become the Ukrainian National Association. Svoboda reported: “…on the day when all America celebrates the birthday anniversary of the great George Washington, fearless fighter for liberty and the rights of man, Rusyn priests, delegates of Rusyn brotherhoods and Rusyn patriots from many areas assembled at 9 a.m. in the Ukrainian church in Shamokin, Pa., to ask God’s help in launching this all-important project – the founding of the ‘Ruskyi Narodnyi Soyuz.’” Those pioneers of the UNA had heeded the call of the biweekly newspaper Svoboda – founded in September 1893 in Jersey City, N.J. – which advocated the establishment of “a national organization… that would embrace each and every Rusyn no matter where he lives.” The paramount purpose of this organization, Svoboda explained, was to “work together to improve our lot in this new land.”
In those special issues, of the UNA’s newspapers the UNA announced that there would be a grand concert – whose theme would be “Celebrating 125 Years!” – on November 2 in Morristown, N.J., not far from the UNA Home Office in Parsippany. At the same time, the UNA adopted the theme “UNA: Insuring Our Community for 125 Years” for the anniversary year, and a jubilee logo was designed by Nadiya Folk. An article about the UNA’s anniversary plans was written by Advisor Irene Jarosewich and a decade-by-decade look at the UNA’s history, complete with historic photos, was prepared by The Ukrainian Weekly’s editorial staff.
A special commemoration of the UNA’s quasquicentennial occurred in the place where it all began: Shamokin, Pa. On February 22, a delegation led by President/CEO Kaczaraj and Chief Operating Officer/National Secretary Yuriy Symczyk traveled to the UNA’s birthplace to celebrate the organization’s founding on that exact date 125 years earlier. As noted in the proclamation hailing the UNA that was presented by Mayor John J. Brown and the City Council, “on February 22, 1894, a group of dedicated community leaders, immigrants from Ukraine gathered together in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, deeply concerned over the plight of their brethren immigrants in their new homeland, America. Hard-working immigrants who found themselves in dangerous working conditions, subject to injury and death, financial hardships, discrimination and bias.” The anniversary proclamation also cited the historic significance of Shamokin “as the birthplace of the Ukrainian National Association – and the foundation of organized community life of Ukrainian Americans in the United States.”
The UNA delegation, which also included Auditor Luba Walchuk, Advisor Jarosewich and the editor-in-chief of Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly, Roma Hadzewycz, was warmly greeted by Shamokin officials. A story about the proclamation’s presentation was prominently featured on the front page of The News-Item on February 23. “City officials honor fraternal Ukrainian National Association; Organization founded in Shamokin 125 years ago,” was the headline on the informative report by Larry Deklinski.
Speaking with Mr. Deklinski, a staff photographer/reporter, Mayor Brown commented: “It’s amazing the things that happened in the heyday of Shamokin. …This is just another thing that has come to our attention – that Shamokin is an important place in the history of this country.” The Rev. Mykola Ivanov, pastor of Transfiguration Ukrainian Catholic Church, told the local newspaper that the founding of the UNA would not have been possible without the church. Indeed, it was church brotherhoods that came together in 1894 to create what became the UNA, and the book “Ukrainian National Association: Its Past and Present” by Anthony Dragan says the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood, founded in 1887 in Shamokin, “formed the basis of the Ukrainian National Association.” Quite a number of the UNA’s early leaders were affiliated with Transfiguration Parish, which is evident in the jubilee book released for the parish’s centennial in 1984.
In the evening, Father Ivanov and cantor David Kaleta took UNA’ers on a tour of the historic Transfiguration Church, the second oldest Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States. The parish was established in 1884, and the current church’s cornerstone was blessed in 1907 by Bishop Soter Ortynsky, the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop in the U.S.
The very next issue of The Ukrainian Weekly published the first historic photograph in a yearlong series headlined “UNA CELEBRATES 125 YEARS: A snapshot from history.” (The series continues through February 23, 2020.)
Of course, the UNA Almanac for 2019 was dedicated to the 125th anniversary of the Ukrainian National Association. It included several articles related to that milestone and the UNA’s continuing leading role in the Ukrainian community. Other sections of the 256-page Almanac highlighted the historic events of 1919 in Ukraine, such as the Act of Union of all Ukrainian lands into one Ukrainian National Republic, the Chortkiv offensive, and the fate of Kyiv during the years of the revolution. Also noteworthy was a section about the 80th anniversary of Carpathian Ukraine, Zenon Stakhiv’s account of Taras Shevchenko’s participation in the Aral Sea expedition of 1848-1849, an article by Orest Deychakiwsky about 100 years of U.S. congressional support for Ukraine. The Ukrainian-language publication’s editor is Petro Chasto, who has been in charge of the successful Almanac projects since the year 2000.
During the year, the UNA continued a review and rewrite of its By-Laws. On May 10, a joint meeting of the Ukrainian National Association’s By-Laws Working Group (WG) and the UNA General Assembly’s Standing Committee (SC) on By-Laws, was held at the Home Office, with the UNA’s president/CEO in attendance. Participating were: the chairmen of both groups, Advisor Andrij Szul (WG), and First Vice-President Slavko Tysiak (SC), as well as SC members Director for Canada Ewhen Osidacz and Auditors Andrij Skyba and Luba Walchuk; and WG members National Secretary/COO Yuriy Symczyk, Treasurer/CFO Roma Lisovich, Advisor Oksana Koziak and Editor-in-Chief Hadzewycz. (Second Vice-President Eugene Serba was later named to the SC.)
The UNA anniversary was celebrated by the Connecticut District Committee with a concert at Hartford’s Ukrainian National Home on May 10. The featured artist was Anytchka. UNA leaders in attendance included Connecticut District Chairman Myron Kolinsky, UNA Branch 59 Secretary Bohdan Doboszczak, UNA Branch 414 Treasurer Gloria Horbaty, who is also a UNA advisor, and UNA Branch 253 Audit Committee Chairman Adam Platosz.
During the months of August and September, UNA Home Office representatives as well as members of the UNA General Assembly attended several area festivals to promote the UNA and its products. These included festivals held in Lehighton and Horsham Pa., Stamford Conn., and Whippany, Passaic and Clifton, N.J.
The education of Ukrainian youth is an investment the UNA continued to make in 2019 to maintain the legacy of helping Ukrainians attain success in the professional world. Forty-four student members received a total of $11,200, of which $5,000 was designated for special scholarships (Joseph and Dora Galandiuk Memorial Scholarship, Drs. Maria, Dmytro and Olha Jarosewych Scholarship, Joseph Wolk Scholarship, Vera Stangl Scholarship and Ukrainian National Home Corp. of Blackstone, Mass., Scholarship). Photos of the scholarship recipients were published in the September 1 issue of The Ukrainian Weekly, as well as in Svoboda. The UNA scholarship program has now distributed more than $2 million.
For the first time ever, in 2019 special UNA Heritage Scholarships were awarded in order to underscore the UNA’s longstanding role in the Ukrainian community. Both undergraduate and graduate students, enrolled full- or part-time in colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, were eligible for the new $1,000 scholarships. Five such scholarships were awarded by the UNA Scholarship Committee for the 2019-2020 academic year; the students chosen were recognized for their academic achievements and Ukrainian community involvement.
The Ukrainian National Association was among the 37 individuals, teams and organizations inducted into the Ukrainian Sports Hall of Fame in 2019 during a dinner on September 14 at Tryzub Ukrainian American Sports Center in Horsham, Pa. The UNA was recognized in the Legacy category for its longtime sponsorships of sports tournaments and competitions, going back to its “Youth and Sports” program initiated back in 1937. The UNA’s second vice-president, Mr. Serba, accepted the award. Also in attendance was UNA Auditor Walchuk. Mr. Serba thanked the Ukrainian Sports Hall of Fame and noted that the UNA has supported a number of sports in its history, among them baseball, basketball, bowling and soccer. Today, the UNA sponsors golf, tennis, swimming and volleyball tournaments. It has supported numerous sports clubs and helps sponsor Ukrainian Heritage Day at the New Jersey Devils.
The Philadelphia District Committee organized an anniversary concert at the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in Jenkintown, Pa., on October 20, which featured Ms. Hadzewycz , editor-in-chief of the UNA’s two newspapers, as the keynote speaker, and internationally known violinist Dr. Solomiya Ivakhiv as the headliner of the artistic portion of the program. Also performing were the Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, the Bells Choir of the First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church, the Soloveyky children’s choir and a duo of bandurists. Roman Dubenko served as master of ceremonies. Event organizers chose to focus on raising funds for the UNA Publications Endowment Fund, raising $1,500 from those in attendance.
The Ukrainian National Association’s General Assembly convened its 2019 annual meeting on Friday and Saturday, November 1-2, in the UNA Home Office’s newly designed conference room. President/CEO Kaczaraj pointed to the $390,622 increase for the first six months of 2019 in the UNA’s surplus, which then stood at $11.41 million. CFO/Treasurer Lisovich said the UNA “continues to experience consecutive years of solid net profits” and noted that assets are projected to grow to $182 million by the end of 2020. COO/National Secretary Symczyk analyzed UNA insurance sales for the first nine months of 2019 and noted that 2020 has a lot of potential for increased sales.
Three standing committees of the General Assembly – Financial, Membership Outreach and Publications – met during the annual meeting. The Standing Committee on UNA By-Laws and the Working Group on UNA By-Laws held a joint meeting on Saturday afternoon, November 2. immediately after the General Assembly meeting was adjourned. The two groups, which became the Joint Committee on UNA By-Laws, met again later in the year to iron out further details regarding the proposed new by-laws of the association, which would be voted on in early 2020 by all delegates to the previous UNA convention and current members of the General Assembly.
On Saturday, November 2, the UNA continued celebrations of its 125th anniversary with a wonderful gift to its members and the Ukrainian community at large: a gala concert featuring Ukrainian dance, music and song. In attendance were members of the General Assembly, who had concluded their annual meeting earlier that day. The concert spotlighted performers from the United States, Canada and Ukraine – as befits a fraternal benefit society founded in the U.S. that later expanded into Canada and always had Ukraine in its heart.
The fabulous Ukrainian Shumka Dancers from Edmonton, Alberta, lived up to their name. Shumka means whirlwind, and what the audience saw was a whirlwind of color and movement in exquisitely choreographed dance presentations. As Shumka noted, it was a tribute to its roots in both Ukraine and Canada. The Women’s Bandura Ensemble, whose members hail from throughout the U.S. and Canada, demonstrated that Ukraine’s national instrument lives on and continues to inspire new generations. The ensemble showcased its versatility with performances of a bandura classic, folks songs and the modern “Hallelujah” with a contemporary Ukrainian theme. Violinist Vasyl Popadiuk, a native of Ukraine who now lives in Canada, bridged the two countries in his exceptional performance of well-chosen music selections. And Khrystyna Soloviy, a young singer/songwriter from Ukraine making her North American debut, provided the connection between our ancestral homeland and the emigration in her rendition of the traditional Lemko folk song “Hamerytskyi Krai” (Land of America), which expresses the mixed emotions of immigrants longing for their native land. Moreover, this young star who treasures her own Lemko heritage was also a reminder of the Lemko roots of many UNA pioneers.
Master of ceremonies Roman Hirniak pointed out that the UNA was founded with 439 members and assets of $220. Its goal, then and now: to extend “a helping hand to its members, to the Ukrainian community in the United States and Canada, to Ukrainians wherever they have settled and to Ukraine itself.” Today, Mr. Hirniak continued, the UNA is “the oldest Ukrainian fraternal organization, …boasting assets totaling almost $200 million.” It maintains its mission of preserving the Ukrainian heritage and culture, and of educating members and others about Ukraine’s past and present.
UNA Advisor Bohdana Puzyk, the chair of the UNA’s 125th Anniversary Committee, which had been working on the concert project since mid-2018, remarked: “This concert was attended by three generations of Ukrainians, and each generation found an element that overjoyed and delighted them. The result was a concert that captivated all who attended.” But the concert was even more than a celebration. As became evident in conversations with concert-goers, it was also an opportunity to reconnect. Indeed, there were those who told The Ukrainian Weekly they were happy “to come home,” having lost touch with the Ukrainian community. (Highlights of the concert appeared in a 6.5 minute video posted on YouTube.)
Sadly, the UNA lost two of its former leaders during 2019. Former Supreme Vice-Presidentess Gloria Paschen, who served in that post in 1982-1994, passed away on March 28 at the age of 92. She was also a longtime UNA advisor and secretary of UNA Branch 125 for 46 years. Stefania Hewryk, the first woman elected (1994) as an auditor of the Ukrainian National Association, died on October 23 at the age of 96. (Her late husband, John, was the UNA’s director for Canada.)
Toward the end of the year, the UNA sent out its 2019-2020 Christmas cards, featuring beautiful artwork by Iryna Korchuk and Volodymyr Petryshyn of Ukraine. The annual Christmas card project is a fund-raiser, and this year’s primary beneficiary was the UNA Publications Endowment Fund that exists under the aegis of the Ukrainian National Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization. Purchasers could also choose to support Soyuzivka Heritage Center or the UNF’s General Fund. Judging by the comments of recipients, this year’s Christmas cards were a hit.
At year’s end, the Ukrainian National Association’s 125th anniversary was still being marked; the full year of celebrations is to culminate in February 2020.