History of Branch # 3, Passaic, NJ
The foundation and organization of Branch #3 of OOL on the territories of Passaic, NJ and the surrounding area has a long history.
More than 75 years ago, the first emigrants from Lemkivshchyna stepped on American land. Scattered around the whole world, the Ukrainian Lemkos did not only survive, but thanks to their work ethic and talent, adapted to new conditions of life. First, in order to recreate the history and culture of their native land and to protect the best traditions of their ancestors, the conscious community built a church in 1910 in Passaic and a Ukrainian school in 1922.
After the war, Lemkivshchyna found itself under Polish occupation. And, in 1933, the Committee for the Relief of Lemkivshchyna (Komitet Dopomohy Lemkivshchyni) was formed in Passaic under the leadership of Dmytro Fenkanin. In 1935, in Passaic, Branch #3 of OOL was founded through the initiative of the recently-immigrated activist Michael Dudra. In 1937, Dymtro Fenkanin was elected the President of the National Board of OOL, and the National Board of OOL was relocated to Passaic, along with the administration of the newspaper “Lemkivskiy dzvin.” With the outbreak of World War II, the activity of OOL temporarily halted. After the war, the activity of the Lemko community was renewed, with the creation of artistic ensembles and theater groups. One of them, created in 1952, performed the production “Lemko wedding” under the artistic direction of Prof. Jadlowsky.
The influx of the new post-war emigration provided the opportunity for the renewal of OOL activity. On November 11, 1957, a founding-renewal assembly of Lemkos was called together in Passaic by Julian Nalisnyk and Dmytro Fenkanin, during which the first leadership of Branch #3 was selected:
President – Dmytro Fenkanin
1st Vice President – Ivan Khomko
2nd Vice President – Andriy Skirka
Secretary – Julian Kotlar
Financial Secretary – Theodor Stec
Treasurer – Vasyl Havroniak
Organizational Chair – Mykhailo Kotys
Member-at-large – Hryhoriy Chura
Auditing Committee – Petro Luczka (chairman), Ivan Brunda, Mykhailo Tynio (members)
From this time until today, there were changes not only in historical significance, but also in the consciousness of the public community. The public-political activity of the members of OOL Branch #3 successfully strengthened its position and widened its influence among other Ukrainian organizations in America. First and foremost, it should be noted that the active work of the branch was organized by the heads of the branch, who with their conscientious work, were able to unite people of one mind and raise the activity of the leadership to a high level.
The heads of Branch #3 of OOL from 1957 were:
Dmytro Fenkanin 1957-1960
Andriy Skirka 1961-1965
Ivan Blycha 1966-1968
Ivan Khomko 1969-1970, 1976
Julian Kotliar 1971-1972, 1977
Anton Kosciolek 1973
Ivanna Kotliar 1974-1975
Maria Duplak 1978-1982
Vasyl Harhaj since 1983
Over time, the needs of Lemkos in Poland changed, as did the possibility of realizing them. In the post-war period, material-financial assistance went above all to the most needy Lemkos: the sick, orphans, and families of those who were jailed because they returned to Lemkivshchyna. In 1958, after numerous completed events, the first assistance was sent to victims in Lemkivshchyna. Money, packages with clothes, food, medicine, and other items were sent.
At the end of 1959, the Passaic community acquired the “Ukrainian Center” building. The members of OOL Branch #3 were tied very closely to this. For a long time, the head of the Ukrainian Center was Lemko activist Ivan Khomko. Beyond regular assignments and work, in 1961, the branch created a “Chess Club,” and an amateur group under the leadership of J. Kotliar put on theatrical performances of “Lemko Wedding.” In time, the opportunity rose to help churches, schools, artistic collectives, cultural actors, and students. Financial assistance was sent to students in Austria, flood and fire victims in Ukraine, and Ukrainian churches in Poland. From the beginning of its activity, Branch #3 collected funds for assistance through Christmas caroling, voluntary donations, the conduct of parties and dances, and cultural measures.
In 2004, out of the initiative of Branch #3 heads Vasyl Harhaj, Stefan Kosciolek, and Stefan Zurawsky, the base was laid under the chapel at Oselia CYM in Ellenville, NY, in memory of the victims of Akcja “Wisla ” in 1947, and on September 16, 2004, Patriarch Lubomyr Husar and Bishop Basil Losten blessed the base under the chapel.
In the area of cultural-educational work, assistance was given in the publication of the poems of B.-I. Antonych’s “Selected Works” and the book “Wooden Architecture of the Ukrainian Carpathians,” and, more than once, the publication of the journal “ Lemkivshchyna ” was sponsored. Starting in 2001, every year, a cultural-artistic celebration, the “Lemko Vatra,” is conducted on Oselia CYM in Ellenville, NY, where Ukrainians come from every corner of America, and Branch #3 President Vasyl Harhaj serves as the Vatra’s “MC” (starosta).
Living far from their native land, Ukrainian Lemkos religiously respect the memory of those who underwent persecution and lost during the criminal Akcja “Wisla.” During the national commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Akcja “Wisla ,” members welcomed to the branch Teodozyi Starak, the first Ambassador of independent Ukraine to Poland, as well as the head of SFULO and other honored guests. On April 29, 2007, the branch organized a solemn commemoration on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the deportation.
The work conducted by the branch depends in large measure on the daily work of each member of the Branch, under the leadership of branch president Vasyl Harhaj, and with the constant support of the Ukrainian community. On October 13, 2007, the Branch celebrated the Golden Anniversary of its renewal. The community work of managers of the Branch was honored with diplomas from the National Board of OOL.
…Peter Rusynko, one of the founding members of OOL’s branch in Yonkers, recollected how the organization used to function, stating that the members met more often and were more active when they were younger. Born in 1921 in the Lemko village of Petna, located today in southeastern Poland, Rusynko explained that he was forced to leave his home and go to Germany to work during World War II… [+]