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Unveiling history: Exhibit showcases century of wedding dresses

Monday, May 22, 2017

By Sarah Lehr


A wedding dress now on display by the Girard Historical Society has a backstory that began at a refugee camp.

Milka Kozina and France “Frank” Kregar had each fled their native Slovenia during World War II for Austria. There, they met at a camp for displaced people, where they lived from 1944 to 1945. Milka, a seamstress, kept busy at the camp by teaching the other women how to sew.

Four years after the war ended, Milka and France married at a Catholic church in Strasbourg, Austria. Milka carried a hanging bouquet and wore a floor-length white-lace gown.

That gown is now part of a wedding-dress exhibit at the historic Barnhisel House, 1011 N. State St. A $5 donation to the Girard Historical Society is suggested to view the exhibit, which will run through November.

The Girard landmark is a fitting locale for the wedding dress, since Milka and France eventually made a life for themselves at their longtime Norwood Avenue home in the city.

Circumstances, however, forced the couple apart early in their newlywed life. Each received sponsors to come to the United States, but Milka’s host family lived in Cleveland while France’s lived in Niles.

The couple later moved to Girard and raised their three children there. They were married for 61 years before France’s death in 2010. Milka died in 2013.

Like Milka’s dress, most of the wedding finery on display has a Mahoning Valley connection. The dresses date from the turn of the 20th century to the present.

Colette Chuey of the Girard Historical Society thinks it’s interesting to observe how wedding fashions changed over time.

During the 1920s and 1930s, brides favored less-elaborate dresses with looser cuts. By the 1950s, gowns with A-line silhouettes gained popularity.

Chuey’s own wedding dress is part of the exhibit. She bought the dress for less than $100 and had the ceremony and reception at Girard First Baptist Church.

Chuey and her husband, Ralph, will celebrate 50 years of marriage this fall.