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An Early History of Slovenski Narodni Dom

By Robert Kastelik

Originally Published in AMERIŠKA DOMOVINA in a Special Edition on March 17, 1989

When the Connecticut Land Company purchased the Western Reserve in 1796, it sent Moses Cleaveland to survey the land and determine how many acres were bought for one million three hundred thousand dollars. Over (3) three million acres were divided into five mile by five mile townships. Bedford Township was considered one of the prizes because of Tinker's Creek and the source of power raging through the deep gorge as the creek ran from Twinsburg in then Portage County to the peaceful valley of the Cuyahoga and the fertile land left by the glaciers of 10,000 years ago.

The first settlers from Massachusetts and Connecticut preferred the rolling acreage of the eastern townships where rock outcroppings did not damage the precious plows pulled by oxen near the headwaters of the Cuyahoga near Huntsburg and the virgin land near Hiram, Windham, and Hudson.

By the early decades of the 1800's, resourceful men sought the Bedford gorge, built several mills along the creek, and used that power to grind the wheat from the fields in Bedford and surrounding areas including Northfield and Twinsburg. German Lutheran farmers dominated the western portion of the Township; the Millers and Freunds were found in the NW section which later became the Slovenian enclave.

By the turn of the 19th century, the ABC line brought many people from the fast growing industrialized areas of the SE part of Cleveland to the Bedford area. The Poles were attracted to the Fleet Avenue area by agents of the steel mills. They displaced many resentful Irish by accepting work at lesser pay. The Slovenes in the 1890's and early 1900's also came to the Newburgh area and settled in the former houses of some of the Irish who moved on to the present Holy Name area.

These Slovenes immediately built their own church and organized St. Lawrence parish in the Aetna, Union and 81st area. These same people built a national home, a unique social polestar combining the conviviality of an English pub and the intimacy of a German dancing hall.

Before the beginning of WWI a number of Slovenes followed the ABC line to the Greenhurst allotment in Bedford Township, recently opened by developers of the Miller farm. They sought more room and cleaner air in contrast to the air spoiled by pollutants emanating from the powerful blast furnaces of Republic and American Steel. Along Miller Avenue came Martin Potisek, John Fortuna (Poputnik), and Ignac Baznik, the saloon entrepreneur who was besieged with the scourge of TB, an especial Slovene proclivity. Along Stanley Avenue came Louis Lipoglašek, Joseph Boh, and Frank Stavec. They referred to their new home as Bedford and indeed it was, Maple Heights not being formed until 1915.

The Greenhurst allotment attracted many Slovenes in the 1920's. Almost all had Newburgh and St. Lawrence connections. Greenhurst Dr. charmed Ludwig Vrc'ek, his brother Michael Vrc'ek, Mike Fermec, and Fred Filips. On Raymond Street it was the Prosen family.

On Miller Avenue the following families settled: Ignac Baznik, Luka Gorup, John Breznikar, Frank Perko, Andrej Rez'in, Ignac Novak, Jos. Pec'jak, Martin Potisek, John Fortuna (Poputnik), Anton Perušek, Frank Jelušic, Frank Kovac'ic', Frank Skufca, Mike Plut, Jos. Boh, who moved from Stanley Avenue, Louis Simonc'ic', Louis Prhne, and John Fortuna who married the widow Ana Baznik.

On Stanley Avenue, the following families built their homes: Frank Stavec, Alojze Kastelic, Geo. Craider (German-Croatian family and part of the Slovenian community since they spoke Slovenian), Jos. Legan, Louis Lipoglavšek, John Cešnik, John Kern, Frank Legan, Jacob Jemec, Johan Hrovat, Andrej Hoc'evar, Vincent Zimšek, Frank Volkar, the Zabukovic family, Rudy Franetic, Louis Zupanc'ic', Gregor Hribar, Martin Martinšek, Domen Pec'nik, Jos. Zakraješek, Anton Gorenc, Mike Hrovat and his brother Vincent Hrovat, Rudy Polc, Jos. Link and Frank Vrc'ek on Broadway and Jos. Ponikvar.

A line of elm trees running north and south served as a boundary between the Miller and Freund farms. In the Freund area on Raymond St. were the Hoc'evars, both named Charles and each married to a wife named Mary. Frank Gorše lived across the street and Anton Sterz'aj on Charles Street. John Glivar lived on McCracken, the Glavic' family on Erwin Street and the Louis Fink family built on Stanley.

Slovenian younsters attended St. Wenceslaus and the public schools. Before the first Maple Heights graduating class of 1925, students attended high school in Bedford and temporary classes were held in Liberty Hall across the bridge in the Grove area, Herb Kersman's store on Broadway near Ponikvar's and the Village Hall built from gambling proceeds of the Golden Oval racetrack on Rockside Road.

Beginning of the National Home

Written records are not [in] existence that could verify the proceedings of the first meeting of men who were interested in organizing and subsequently building a national home. The Slovenian community in Maple Heights was and is an extension of the Newburgh community. Slovenes in Maple Heights continued to participate at mass at St. Lawrence; baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals were all conducted in the Slovenian parish church. Social events such as veselice (neighborhood festivals) were held in the Newburgh national home.

With nearly (60) families in Maple Heights, the Slovenes thought of organizing both a parish and a national home. Realism vetoed the idea of a church but the creation of a Dom gained strength after the first meeting in John Breznikar's house on 17 January, 1926 when 35˘ was collected to begin the building fund. From statements recorded in later minutes we know that Anton Pelko was the first president and Frank Legan the secretary.

Very sketchy minutes are in existence beginning 21 April 1928. These minutes record social activities such as veselices held in Newburgh, picnics at Maple Gardens on Raymond Street and at Anton Gorišek's prostora in Nord Randol. Raffles were popular. One was held for the purchase of a clock, another for carpeting which implies that the meetings were held in a shareholder's house. Some meetings were held in the store part of Mez'nar's house (Šturman), Johan Hrovat. Shares for the new corporation began building up a treasury. In May, $33.50 was collected and the charter obtained from the State of Ohio.

The Board of Directors in 1928 included Anton Gorenc, Ludwig Vrc'ek, Mike Femec, Ignac Novak, Frank Volkar OR Frank Kovac'ic'. The recording secretary was Frank Vrc'ek and the president was Vincent Zimšek. The other board members are not listed. Temporary secretaries served as zapisnikars such as Gorenc and Volkar; Alojze Kastelic showed his Croatian influence when he wrote the preposition and as i rather than in.

Martin Potisek carved a wooden frame which later enclosed the pictures of Ivan Zorman, Ivan Cankar, President Roosevelt and the Slovene ensign. He was paid $2.00 for his artistic efforts.

In July 1928, the pravilo (rules) were passed recording the spirit of the democratically inclined Slovenes. The first paragraph clearly states that the Board will be neutral in politics and religion. Such a precautionary resolution seemed unnecessary since all the directors professed Catholicism and were registered Democrats. But the anti-clericalism of the European Slovenes carried over to America, especially those from the socialist hot-bed near the Italian border. Although Democrats, many leaned heavily towards the socialism of Eugene Debs and became much enamored of Louis Adamic' in later years when an open cleavage was seen in Yugoslavia between the new order Partizani and the clerical Domobranci.

Meetings were now held in Gorše's house, 15901 Raymond Street. The order of business included reports from the audit committee plus building and finance and reports and admonitions from the various lodges.

In December 1928, zapisnikar Frank Volkar wrote that a shareholder's meeting would be held next month and that a small lunch malo lonc'a would be served free of charge but the special ham sandwiches would sell for 15˘.

Market Crash of 1929

In the years after the collapse of the stock market on Wall Street veselices and raffles continued to be the primary activities of the Board. It promoted a social consciousness which in turn gave vent to the Slovene tradition of neighborhood entertainment.

Two lots were purchased on Stanley Avenue between the Lipoglavšek and Stueve house[s] and the men began clearing them of brush to build a dance platform enclosed by cut branches. The abandoned outhouse lying on its side was uprighted and although not normally used as originally intended, it presented a more respectable picture.

The vinska trgatev was held in October of each year to celebrate the harvest of grapes and an arbor erected with luscious bunches of Catawba and Concord grapes hanging just beyond reach of the covetous hands of youngsters who jumped to snatch a handful of the Bacchus gift when they thought nobody was watching.

John Breznikar was the self appointed judge since he had a discarded cap of a trolley conductor which gave him an aura of authority. Those who were caught "stealing" grapes or chickens or klobase hanging in the arbor and refused or feigned refusal to pay a fine were promptly jailed in the outhouse and kept there until a change of heart was perceived. The jailer, Anton Gorenc, permitted the offender to rejoin the festivities amid the laughter and friendly taunts of the revelers who applauded the offender's courage and willingness to suffer such an embarrassment.

Kres was a celebration of St. John's Day. In the summer months a big pile of branches and small trees from the woods was made in the center of the lots and that evening after work men gathered at the door of the men with the Christian name of John, serenaded him to the accompaniment of Louis Kastelic's button box accordian, Andrej Rez'in's washboard, and John Kern's drumming on the kitchen kettle. The celebrants went to several houses since there were several Slovenes named for St. John and they all gathered before the kres where the women had prepared klobase, vinarce, and strudel and someone rolled in the full barrel of cvic'ek, the tasty red wine of Dolenjsko vintage. The blaze attracted all the neighbors who joined in toasting the party-boy. It also attracted the lone policeman who often celebrated with the dancers into the small hours of the night. It was not unusual to find, the next morning, several men sleeping in makeshift hay mounds, having been unable to walk home the previous evening because of the heady effects of the wine. Some people still remember the game of koza which was played that evening. It involved throwing a heavy stick against a tripod of a cut tree.

The stock market crash presaged the oncoming economic depression but the Slovenes continued their activities. Because Frank Gorše was moving back to Minnesota and Louis Kastelic built a new house with a very accommodating klet (basement), the meetings and veselices were held in his house. There were usually (2) veselices each year and the one scheduled for 31 January 1931 had the following assignments:

This veselica proved to be very successful. At the next meeting, Jos. Legan moved for another veselica for 28 March.

In the meantime the abstracts for the purchase of the lots had been made and signed by Ludwig Vrc'ek, Frank Perko, and Frank Gorše.

Two (2) vrtni veselice (garden parties) were planned each year, the one in the Spring at Maple Gardens and fall veselica at Gorišek's. Raffle tickets for live hens were sold at the door of St. Lawrence Church and these were often times sold by Louis Lipoglavšek. Prices dropped quickly because of the depression. A quart of wine went from 75˘ to 25˘ and the dance charge from 25˘ per person to 15˘.

For more accurate financial record keeping, Martin Martinsek moved to keep veselice accounts and the sales of shares separate. Moneys were placed in the Maple Heights Bank, the North American (Slovenian) Bank, and the Cleveland Trust. Accounts in Maple Heights and North American were frozen and the Board unable to withdraw some of their funds. The Cleveland Trust Company remained solvent. This did not escape the attention of the frugal Slovenes who developed the habit of saving 25% of their income.

The number of activities increased and more wine was ordered each year. In September of each year, Frank Legan ordered (2) barrels of mošt from Jos. Košak and (2) from the fruit and poultry peddlar Rudy Novak, both in Newburgh. Collections for payments on shares were curtailed, waiting for better economic times.

Plans for a Building

During the annual shareholder's meeting of 24 January, 1932, Andrej Z'agar moved for the building committee to ready plans for the construction of a Dom. New directors included Mike Plut, Andrej Hoc'evar, Jacob Jemec, and Ana Fortuna who promptly moved to have kitchen facilities planned for the building and pots and pans purchased for the newly organized cooking club. This club began with (14) members and established a cuisinary reputation excelling in the preparation of fried chicken and roast beef.

A pall of deep sorrow befell the community when Louis Lipoglavšek died in early 1932. A garland of flowers was sent to his home where his body was resting in the front room and where the family received the sympathies of friends who recognized his devotion and labors in keeping the traditions of the peasant Slovene. His place could not be filled. His early death left a deep void in the neighborhood.

In July one contractor submitted plans for a 40' by 96' building at $16,000.00, another measuring 40' by 90' at $17,000.00. The estimated costs shocked the board into immobility. No real action was taken for the construction of a building for several years.

Continued Business of the Board

In October of 1932, the musical society from St. Lawrence asked for a donation towards a concert for the benefit of a milk fund provided for the poor children of the parish. ($5.00) was voted to the fund. Later that year a $250.00 loan was granted to Gregor Hribar with a first mortgage on his house, at 5% interest.

The 1933 annual meeting voted in new directors Anton Perušek, Jos. Boh, and Anna Rez'in. The following were elected officers:

The auditors were Martin Martinšek, Louis Kastelic, and Anton Perušek.

In March, a Mrs. Miller addressed the Board and offered the entire block of buildings on Broadway at Stanley for $5,000.00. The Board was divided in its options. Some greatly desired to purchase the block but felt stymied by the inability to withdraw any moneys from the Maple Heights Bank. Some believed the structure was not well built. No action was taken at this time.

In June 1933, Anton Gorenc displayed a photograph of President Roosevelt who was almost venerated by the labor union conscious Slovenes. If it had the power, the Board would have canonized him and elevated him one rung above Franz Josef of Austria. Instead they agreed to frame his photo as long as the cost was less than $1.00.

Veselices were now held at John Breznikar's house on Stanley Avenue, and also at Jacob Jemec's new brick house and store at 5112 Stanley Avenue. Chairs and tables were loaned to lodges sv. druz'ina, z'enska zveza, and dom, all local lodges who continued their own celebrations. To give evidence of the close connection between the community and St. Lawrence, one veselica was rescheduled so as not to interfere with a new mass on 27 May. Vinarce and Klobase were bought from Jacob Jemec who quickly gained the status of an excellent butcher, case beer from the mayor, J. Pekarek, pop from Potokar's and barreled beer from Drenik's.


The balinca club was established in the summer of 1934 after first being played in the scraped gutters of Stanley Avenue under the lights of a single telephone pole near Stavec's house. The balls were carved from maple trees felled the previous spring and soaked in a pan of machine oil to preserved [sic] their integrity. Attracting more men and then later, women, it became a neighborhood sporting event with (2) alleys built on the SND lots paralleling the Lipoglavšek house. Tekmas (matches) were arranged with players from Garfield, Prince Avenue and Newburgh. It was common place to have several hundred people visit the alleys on a summer Sunday to watch the competition. Jacob Jemec, Fred Filips, and Louis Kastelic spearheaded the balinc'arje and the club became part of the SND when the equipment was purchased by the Board and John Kern hired to oversee the care of the alleys lest they be marred by over zealous boys playing on the smooth surfaces.

The sport became a big attraction. Regulation balls were bought, a score board constructed with moveable pegs, electric lights hooked from the street to provide evening enjoyment but with the stipulation that playing cease by midnight. Before the installation of lights, the one man police cruiser often times provided lights by aiming his headlights along the alley.

In June 1936, Jos. Legan's abandoned gasoline station was purchased for $60.00 and brought over on rolling bars across the street to the lots and served as the club house for the balinc'arje. Some neighborhood wit suggested painting a sign on the šenda and proclaiming it the SND.

Renewed interest in Building

The annual meeting of 1935 voted in new members Fred Filips, Jos. Lekan, Frank Perko, Karel Hoc'evar, and John Cvet. Zimšek remained president and Anton Perušek became recording secretary. The minutes recorded by Mssrs. Simonc'ic' and Perušek are complete and stylishly penned in contrast to the minutes of earlier years. They displayed techniques of bright and open minds.

For several years the (3) men on the building committee studied plans and examined other national homes for designs to be adopted by Maple Heights. Their drawings were presented to the Board but each time the cost was deemed prohibitive. Frank Jelušic''s house on Miller Avenue became available for $4,600.00 plus the (2) lots. A school building was being dismantled and the lumber offered for sale. Some shareholders thought a building might be constructed from the used lumber. On 5 July Mr. Oldencamp came in with plans for a brick building 24' by 60' for $7,800.00. A special shareholder's meeting was called and the only lodges favoring Mr. Oldencamp's offer were sv. druz'ina (John Fortuna) and dr. Mir (Mr. Meljac). It was finally agreeed at this meeting to make plans for a Dom with a price tag of $4,500.00.

No plans were forthcoming. At the annual meeting of 1936 a motion was made to buy the Jelusic house for $4,000.00 but the motion was defeated. Asked by the president how many people were prepared to co-sign for a loan in order to build a Dom, only (4) people raised their hands. Martin Martinšek recommended the idea of building be held in abeyance for a year. At this meeting, Albert Vrc'ek and Frank Košak were elected to the Board. Fred Filips was elected secretary.

Reports were made at the 1937 annual meeting that the Broadway block was again available. The price was given as $7,000.00 plus back taxes of $4,000.00 were due. Shareholders voted 37-0 in favor of offering the owners $6,500.00. There were (9) absentees. The Board learned later that the block was sold for $7,700.00. At this meeting the following people were elected to the Board. It remains a significant list because they became the builders of the Home and the photo is included in this article.

Conspicuous by his absence was Louis Simonc'ic'

ImageLink to Fullsize 1937 SND Board Formal Photo

In the February meeting of 1937, Frank Vrc'ek moved to send $5.00 to the striking workers at Fisher Body.

In June Mr. Oldencamp came to the Board and presented plans for a 24' x 60' wooden building at a cost of $5,766.00. The plans were accepted and Anton Perušek began talks with SDZ to secure the necessary loan. Excitement increased. On 10 July, Mr. Oldencamp attended a special meeting of the Board with plans for a 24' x 60' building, full basement of block containing a bar room, kitchen facilities, (2) toilets, a boiler room for a steam furnace and storage room for coal. The wooden upper part would consist of one large dvorana (hall) and a check room. With the installation of window screens, the cost reached $6,500.00. The contract was signed by Vincent Zimšek, Fred Filips who came from his barbershop, and Jacob Jemec who came from his butcher shop store. The signing was witnessed by Anton Perušek and Louis Kastelic. Discussion followed the signing as to which side the Dom should be built. A very close vote determined the right side by Stueve's house. The final sight [sic] was selected by the women in the neighborhood who discussed the actual construction amongst themselves. It was decided to excavate 25' from the north side and 20' from the sidewalk. The work began immediately, hallelujah in hvala Bogu.

Actual Construction

The Board members got down to serious construction business. They decided to place the joists on 12" centers rather than 16" as per the plans. They knew the foot stomping Slovene polkas required a stronger dancing platform than the plans offered by Mr. Oldencamp.

While the construction was proceeding at a rapid pace and Breznikar retrieved some of the lumber taken by the boys in the neighborhood to build the best-ever camp in Stavec's woods, plans were underway for a grand opening. Program books with whole page advertising at $10.00 and congratulatory statements at 50˘ were being designed under the careful eye of Martin Martinšek. The directors assigned themselves to scour the entire county for ads to fill the program but in reality were acting as public relations men touting the achievements of the Maple Heights Slovenes to their fellow rojaki. The vogel kamen (cornerstone) was ordered and invitations sent to choral groups including Zvon, Slovenija, and Cvet. Orders were given to purchase (1,000) badges to sell for 10˘ each. To officially open the front entrance to the new Dom the Board decided the honor should go to the woman or young lady who sold the most ads. Mrs. Mary Hrovat (Šturmanca) achieved that honor.

Festivities were planned for 1:30 p.m. on 3 October, 1937 with a parade of automobiles at the corner of Raymond and Stanley and proceeding to Lee, Libby, Broadway, Greenhurst, Raymond, Miller, Broadway, and up Stanley to the Slovenski Narodni Dom. The marching band from St. Lawrence was to lead the parade of proud Slovenes and the L. Sadar orchestra engaged for the evening dance.

The first dance on the brand new floor would be performed by the person who offered the largest monetary bid. The head speaker was Judge Frank J. Lausche, the boter (Godfather) Dr. Anthony Perko. Mayor Pekarek, auditor Gerald Mansell and councilman Thomas Murray were invited to represent the city of Maple Heights. Fr. Oman was invited to lend a credence of spirituality to this auspicious occasion. Speaking also were Mssrs. Zulic', Ferfolia, and Jos. Lekan, president of the SND in Newburgh. Ivan Zorman was to play the piano on the klavir bought from John Glivar for $5.00.

Two (2) young ladies, Vida Perušek and Agnes Vrc'ek, were chosen to receive guests at the front entrance. The Board, sensing the historic nature of the event, decided to have a photograph taken at the Beros studio on St. Clair. The picture is included with this article. Martin Martinšek prepared the program and asked Albert Vrc'ek to find a loudspeaker for the benefit of those unable to enter the expected crowded hall. Jos. Legan secured the parking area and announcements made on (2) radio programs plus both Slovenian newspapers, the Ameriška Domovina and Enakopravnost. Two (2) flags were purchased, one "American" and the other a Slovenian zastava made by the local tailor Frank Vrc'ek.

Board members now assumed roles of businessmen. Applications for rental use were being quickly received. Regulations needed to be stipulated. Weddings rented for $25.00, including kitchen facilities, catechism classes were $2.00 for each child per year. The children were not to be permitted until the presence of the priest. Mike Plut was hired as bartender manager at $25.00 per week and was also responsible for the operation of the boiler room.

Fred Filips was finally able to secure the liquor license with the help of the mayor. He paid $200.00 for the certificate allowing the sale of alcohol and was later reimbursed by the Board.

Final preparations were made at the 26 September meeting. The souvenir booklet printed by Enakopravnost and (500) program sheets printed by Ameriška Domovina were accepted. Johan Hrovat made flower and palm arrangements and the opening key was made the responsibility of Albert Vrc'ek. Fifty chairs were borrowed from Louis Ferfolia and orders made for (23) half barrels of beer with (3) coil systems to pour the beer; (75) cases of pop and (4) barrels of wine were stored in the basement as reserves. Rudy Franetic was asked to paint the šenda and $2.00 sent to the Stueve's for use of their water during construction.

The weather cooperated for the grand opening. Even if it had rained, it would have been a bright, sunny day. The opening day festivities make for another story to be told by an obliging participant.

The history of Bedford Township could now record in its annals the surveying party of Moses Cleaveland and Seth Pease in 1796, the organization of Bedford in 1837, the role of its citizens during the war years of 1861-1865, the laying of the electric car line, the ABC, in 1896, the first Slovenes to settle in 1911, and the building of the Slovenski Narodni Dom in 1937. The Slovenes of Maple Heights became a part of a larger community, the panoply of America, and contributed their own poetry, music, and fraternal organizations to the American scene. Z'ivio Slovenci!!

ImageLink to Fullsize 1929 Blessing of Flag Group Photo

Photo taken on the occasion of the Blessing of the Zastava (flag) of dr. Sveta Druz'ina in the summer of 1929 alongside Jos. Legan's house.

First row, girls: Anne Legan, Justina Stavec, V. Kovac'ic', Blanche Sterz'aj.

Second row: John Fortuna, Louis Lipoglavšek, Frank Perko, Anton Sterz'aj, Louis Kastelic (boter), Ana Baznik Fortuna (boterca), Mrs. Sterz'aj, Frank Stavec, Mrs. Kresho, Mrs. Kovac'ic'.

Third row: Charles Hoc'evar, John Breznikar, John Lipnos, Frank Stavec, ml., Louis Lipnos (flag bearer), Mary Stavec, Cilka Oblak, Helen Sterz'aj, Jennie Hrovat, Joseph Legan, John Kern.

Fourth row: Andrej Hoc'evar, Mike Hrovat, Fred Filips, Mary Fortuna Filips, Anna Fortuna Boh, Mrs. Breznikar, Mrs. Zabukovic, Mrs. Lipoglavšek, Mrs. Gregor Hribar.

Whenever group pictures were to be photographed in the neighborhood, the site by Jos. Legan's house was selected because of the beautiful display of roses. It was also convenient.

The End of the Original Article

Also included for reference and comparison are two additional contemporary photos: The Gorše home at 15901 Raymond Street where many of the early meetings were held, and 2) the Slovenski Narodni Dom building as it is today after a major addition/renovation. Apparently all that can be seen of the original building is a large section of the roof reconfigured as a hip roof in the center of the expanded building.

Page Created: August 19, 1998

Last Updated: December 18, 1999

Minor Errata: July 31, 2009

©Copyright 1998, 1999, 2009 Gary L. Gorsha