TRADITION Croatian picnic captures essence of heritage, church

Proceeds from the picnic will benefit church projects.
VIENNA -- Anybody's welcome to the festivities at the annual picnic for the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Youngstown.
But for parishioners and area residents of Croatian descent, it's also a family reunion and another chance to renew some traditions. About 400 people gathered Sunday on the Strossmayer Picnic Grounds at the Croatian Center off state Route 193.
"It's neat that the children get to know their heritage and enjoy it," said Barbara Rosario of Youngstown, after watching her 6-year-old daughter, Ciara, dance the traditional "kola" to tamburitzen music with the Happy Hearts youth dance group.
Also present were Ciara's grandmother, Sandy Harver of Austintown, and great-uncle, Bill Harver of Lakewood.
"Three generations here and our parents and grandparents also belonged to the church," Bill Harver said. "There's a lot of tradition here."
Coming back
It's a tradition that's spread throughout the United States. In addition to the local parishioners of the Belvedere Avenue church, people came from as far away as New England and the West Coast.
"I come back every summer and bring flowers," said John Drahush of Honolulu, who grew up on the South Side of Youngstown. "It's good to see a lot of people that I don't get to see the rest of the year."
The picnic also was a place for former students of the school operated by the church until the mid-1970s to get together.
"A lot more of my classmates are showing up every year," said Rosie Marich of Youngstown. "It's a homecoming for a lot of people. There's a lot of talking going on today."
And a lot of eating, too. By midafternoon all 10 lambs barbecued by George Dubic, owner of the Palm Cafe on Steel Street, were gone and stuffed cabbage was in short supply.
There was also music, from tamburitzen band Mikey Dee's from McKeesport, Pa., and games for kids, including bashing a pi & ntilde;ata for candy.
Church significance
But at the core, the day is about the church, founded in 1913 as one of the city's early ethnic parishes. The church's regularly scheduled Mass was celebrated by Father Joseph Rudjak at the picnic grounds Sunday morning.
"We have many third- and fourth-generation Croatians, but we also serve a lot of first-generation parishioners," Rudjak said. "There are Croatians coming to the area all the time. The picnic is a big part of the peoples' tradition."
The church also tries to keep Croatian traditions alive by teaching a Croatian language class Tuesday mornings, he said.
"We try to honor the ethnic traditions, but we welcome anybody," said parishioner Justine Pacak, 76, of Campbell. "It's a church of friendly people."
Proceeds from the picnic will benefit the church's projects, which including installing an elevator, and a proposed Croatian and church history museum on the site of the former school.
That history is what brings members like Louise Korhan of Austintown back to the picnic year after year.
She brought co-workers Cecil B. Monroe and Jeannie Monroe of Liberty and Elaine Tucker of Warren to the event.
"When I was a little girl, my family would bring picnic baskets out here almost every Sunday," Korhan said.
"It was safe for the kids and fun, a good way for people to meet and intermingle. That's kind of like a dying art these days."

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