Meet Our LMHA Board of Directors
I came to Philadelphia from New Britain, CT in 1976 not knowing much more about Lithuanian activities here than that my grandfather, Pranas Zelba, had lived in South Philly for many decades. Although I was the son of Lithuanian refugees (depukai) and had grown up attending Lithuanian Saturday school, learning the language, dances and songs of my parents, and was even a member of Lithuanian Boy Scouts of America, by the time I went away to college I had already started distancing myself from my Lithuanian heritage. That is, of course, until I met my future wife, Jurate Krokys.
Jurate literally pulled me in to a whirlwind of social, political and cultural activities that mostly centered on the Lithuanian Music Hall. By 1978, naive but enthusiastic, I was on the board of directors. Together with some other current board members (plus many, many others, some still active, many still with us, and most now past all earthly concerns), we were involved in organizing and helped run the very first Lithuanian Folk Festival (Mugė), a hugely successful three-day event that helped reinvigorate the Lithuanian-American community and gave us enough confidence to try and make it an annual event.
In the intervening years, the Lithuanian Music Hall has been the scene for endless concerts, cultural performances, plays, art and sculpture exhibitions, political rallies, sports events, banquets, parties, balls, speeches, conventions, conferences and, well, I think that about covers it. The LMH has been the base of Lithuanian operations in Philadelphia and has also served the neighborhood and general public as a venue. 2013 will mark the 35th annual Mugė, a sign of the vitality and spirit both of the Music Hall and of those who are privileged to serve her. I am proud to be among them.
I am third generation American Lithuanian, the great granddaughter of first wave Lithuanian immigrants on my mother’s side. The Lithuanian Music Hall is woven through the entire history of Lithuanian family in this country. My great grandparents came from Lithuania at the turn of the 20th century and helped to found the Lithuanian Music Hall. Throughout my grandmother’s upbringing as a first generation Lithuanian-American in the early part of the 20th century, the hall was an integral part of her family’s life and of the lives of the first wave Lithuanian community in Philadelphia.
When my family first got re-involved in the Lithuanian community when I was a pre-teen, it was to the hall that we first came, as participants in an Independence Day Minejimas in the late 1980’s. This event started us on a path of reconnection to our Lithuanian heritage that continues to this day. Now, 26 years later, I have learned to speak Lithuanian and am now teaching the language at the hall, to others like myself who were not fortunate enough to be raised with the language. My mother, who never learned the language, unfortunately, speaks Lithuanian through her music as the community accordionist and Varpelis Country Band leader. Activities at the Music Hall helped set her on this path, and most of her performances have taken place at Lietuviu Namai. My sister met her husband, the son of post-WWII Lithuanian refugees, when they danced in the Ausrine folk dance group at the hall, and now she leads Zilvinas, the dance group my family has belonged to for about 20 years. Every Sunday, my entire family, 4 young children in tow (my neices and nephews who have more Lithuanian blood than we do!), trek to the Hall for Zilvinas practice.
For more than a century, “Lietuviu Namai” has been a part of my family’s life, indeed our Lithuanian “Home,” linking us to our family’s first years in this country, to the language and culture of our ancestral homeland, and connecting us to communities of Lithuanians of all ages, backgrounds, generations and waves of immigration.
I am proud to inherit my great grandparents’ legacy as founders of the Hall, and honored to be able to follow in their footsteps and that of so many other Lithuanian immigrants, in making the Hall a Home for Lithuanians of all backgrounds and for sharing and passing on our language, culture, traditions amd community through the generations. I hope that I can contribute through my participation in the LMHA in the effort to preserve this institution, this community space, this “Home” left to us by our immigrant ancestors in historic Port Richmond.
I was born and raised in the Philadelphia area and am a mechanical engineer by profession.
I have been active in the Lithuanian-American Community, Inc. (LAC) where I served as national president from 1990 – 1993 and again from 2006-2012. Currently, I am president of the Philadelphia chapter of the LAC and am an active member of the Philadelphia choir, “Laisve.”
My grandparents came to America from Pašlavantys and Klevinė, Lithuania and were part of the “first wave” in 1905 and 1907. While I never knew them, I was always fascinated with their heritage. My grandfather, Jonas Naujalis worked in the Shenandoah coal mines while my grandmother, Emilija Gvazdaitytė raised their kids and tended the family vegetable garden. It is no surprise that a passion for genealogy, a long-anticipated trip to Lithuania, and a devotion to learning the Lithuanian language led me to the LMHA.
After meeting so many intriguing people through language classes and annual Mugė festivals, I knew I wanted to get involved — to help the Lithuanian Music Hall Association grow its programs, events, and membership. I joined the Board in 2012 and have enjoyed every moment. From volunteering at Mugė to creating and administering lithuanianmha.org to learning more about life and culture in Lithuania, the experience has been amazing and has helped me feel more connected to my Lithuanian roots.
I moved to Philadelphia some 50 years ago from New York.
From the Philadelphia Lithuanians who came to America in 1948 and later, I came to understand how hard they worked and sacrificed for so many years to preserve this Lithuanian Home and to help it flourish. Today, they should be an inspiration to us and to younger generations of Lithuanian-Americans in continuing their work.
For the past six years I have served as coordinator of the “Café” at our traditional “Muge” where we serve delicious Lithuanian desserts and pastries baked at home by members of our community.
As a member of the Board, my main duties include tracking the financial activities of the Lithuanian Music Hall.
I have enjoyed exploring my Lithuanian heritage for over five years now. Through my research I have discovered many interesting facts and anecdotes about my family’s story that I didn’t know previously. My great grandfather was from Simnas and my great grandmother was from Alytus, both in the southern region of Lithuania. During the turn of the century, they separately made the arduous trip in steerage across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a better life in America. After arriving in South Philadelphia at the Emigration Station at Washington Avenue, they settled in the Pennsport area, where my great grandfather worked in the sugar mills along the Delaware River as my great grandmother raised a houseful of children. They attended church at Saint Casimir’s on Wharton Street and relied on the local Lithuanian community to assimilate to their new homeland. Today, I am looking to reconnect with my Lithuanian roots by teaching my son about our Lithuanian heritage, enjoying Kugelis and volunteering for the Lithuanian Music Hall Association.
To some, its just a big, old building. To me, it’s an “enabler” for the tri-state region Lithuanian-American community to thrive. Lithuanian concerts, the annual Independence Day celebration, cultural events, various organization meetings, Lithuanian language classes, dance and choir rehearsals, the Lithuanian Fair (Muge), parties – they all happen here, and they bring together many generations of Lithuanians. What a place! Yes, it requires a lot of volunteer hands, time and money in order to maintain its sustainability. But, it is ours. It is our home, and it enables our local Lithuanian community to cherish, enjoy its great heritage and each other. This is why it is commonly referred to as “Lietuviu Namai” (translation: Lithuanians’ Home).
Notice the musical instrument in the center of our logo? We thought you might enjoy its surprising history.
The kanklės is a 3–25 string pagan instrument played when offerings were made to the gods, at weddings, funerals, and the end of harvest. Banned by the Christians, it began to disappear, but became popular once again as a national attribute during the time of the national rebirth at the end of the 19th C.
Kairienė, Audra. (2008). Lithuania: History Nature Culture Cities (p. 62). Vilnius, Lithuania: R. Paknio Leidykla.