October 11, 2014 – The 11th Branch of OOL held their Annual General Meeting in Watervliet, NY.
The meeting was opened by Branch President John Suchowacki, warmly welcoming all present, and especially – the President of the OOL National Board, Mark Howansky. Next, he called for a moment of silence to honor the members of the organization and also Lemko writer Semen Madzelyan who passed away in the last year.
The Meeting Presidium was then selected, consisting of Chairman – Nicholas Fil and Secretary – Maria Bilytsya.
After the reports were read and discussed, a new Branch Council was elected, made up of:
President – John Suchowacki, Vice-President – John Fil, Secretary – Mary Bilica, Deputy Secretary – Zina Smith, Treasurer – Stefan Jedynak and Deputy Treasurer – Jan Polowczak. Auditing Commitee – Nicholas Fil, Andrew Demcza, Walter Madzelan. Members-At-Large: Melanie Suchowacki, Stephanie Szewczuk, Eva Demczar, Irene Madzelan, and Maria Kulik.
OOL National Board President Mark Howansky congratulated the newly elected council and urged them to continue their good work. He reminded everyone that the main goal and purpose of our organization is to preserve the culture and history of Lemkivshchyna and to help Lemkos, which is especially important today as Ukraine is suffering from war.
The meeting ended with a reception dinner in a friendly atmosphere.
The forced deportation of the Ukrainian people from the Lemko region in 1947, which left many people affected by the deportation in great need of help, led Ukrainian immigrants from this region who were living in Watervliet, Troy, and Cohoes, near Albany, NY, to form Branch 11 of the Organization for the Defense of Lemko Western Ukraine. On April 20, 1958, with forty-six members, the branch was established with Michael Spiak as its President.
Aware of the many difficulties being encountered in their homeland, Branch 11 members held fund-raising activities for the Lemko region, such as picnics, dances (zabavas), Christmas caroling (koliady), and Lemko festivals (Lemkivsky Vatry). Proceeds from these events were sent to those in need, including the sick and students. Branch 11 helped OOL to support Ukrainian schools and churches in the Lemko region, as well as to give financial aid to the well-known choir “Zhuravli,” the ensembles “Lemkovyna” and “Osloviany,” and the Lemko Cultural Center in Zdynia, Poland.
In addition to assisting the people from the Lemko region, the OOL’s Branch 11 also supported other events: the fallout of the Chernobyl disaster; the building of the Taras Shevchenko monuments in Washington, D.C. and Troy, N.Y.; the creating of an academic chair for Ukrainian Studies at Harvard University; the publishing of a Ukrainian encyclopedia; and the building of a Lemko-style chapel at SUMA (Association of Ukrainian Youth in America) in Ellenville, NY.
From its inception, Branch 11 has had eight presidents: Michael Spiak, Aksenty Urban, John Rotko, Michael Berezansky, Dmytro Chorwat, John Romanation, John Fil, and John Suchowacki. Presently, there are approximately 36 members. In 2008, the branch celebrated its 50-th anniversary.