The Leonard Naumovich family is one of the largest Lithuanian-American families in Springfield, thanks to Len and wife Jean’s 10 children, and their children. Like all large and successful families, it grew from modest roots and weathered real adversity. Leonard and brother Joe’s mother Josephine (daughter of Lithuanian immigrant coal miner Benedict Deresker), lost two successive Lithuanian immigrant husbands to the mines, including Len and Joe’s father Leonard Naumovich (Lith. Naumavicius?), Sr.
Len, Sr. died when his boys were just seven and five years old, leaving Josephine with no husband (again), and a total of five children to support, including three from her first husband, John Budwitis.
It seems to me that some families just know how to pull together to survive hardships. Some adults are better at keeping their nerve and their wits about them in extreme conditions. They just keep on working and doing the right thing day by day. Josephine was such a woman. After being widowed for the second time, she supported her family as long-time housekeeper for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception downtown for $30 a month. The cost of taking the bus to and from work ate into even that small sum.
But somehow, despite everything, Josephine found the time and energy to remain active in St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian Catholic Church. Joe and Len can still see in their minds the carefully cleaned bathtub at the family home (at 1127 Percy Ave.) filled with the ingredients for the stuffed kielbasa their mother always hand-mixed for the church’s annual bazaar. Josephine also served as an officer in the church’s women’s sodality. A 1936 newspaper article (two years after husband Len, Sr. died) also lists Josephine on the refreshments committee of the Lithuanian Republican Club of Springfield.
Joe and Len were no slouches, themselves, holding down newspaper delivery routes while going to school and helping around the house. They can still remember their dad’s 1934 wake, held at home, according to the custom of the day. Len, Sr. had died suddenly of pneumonia after an accident at the mine at 11th and Ridgely forced the miners to use a distant exit well north of the Fairgrounds and walk home in the middle of winter without their coats. A base “layer” of black lung disease, the universal miner’s scourge, no doubt contributed to the onset and severity of Len’s pneumonia. (John Budwitis, Josephine’s first husband, had died in 1923 at age 33 in an explosion in the same mine, where he was a “shot firer” igniting gunpowder to create controlled explosions to break up seams of coal. One newspaper account actually says he was a last-minute “substitute” in that most dangerous of jobs, which would explain the so-called “windy shot” accident that took his life.)
Laid Out in the Living Room
Len and Joe’s dad was laid out in the living room of the same two-bedroom home as Budwitis probably was–11 years later. Mourners who came and went from the house all night were fed ham and sausage from the kitchen, which also held a keg of beer. A huge flower bouquet on the front porch marked theirs as a home in mourning. After a 24-hour wake, including an all-night vigil, their father’s body was taken to St. Vincent de Paul’s, where the open casket was photographed on the steps of the church surrounded by mourners.
Immigrant miner Len Naumovich, Sr. had been a sacristan at St. Vincent’s. His collection of musical instruments from the attic, after he died, included a mandolin, violin, trumpet and baritone horn. Life without a father couldn’t have been easy for young sons Len and Joe. But life for the two Naumovich boys did go on, closely charting the spiritual ups and economic downs of the Lithuanian-American experience in Springfield.
As a teenager, one of the boys briefly worked for Jake Cohen at the Cohens’ Peoria Rd. grocery for a nickel an hour–until he left to work at a nearby grocery for 10 cents an hour. During Advent every year, St. Vincent’s pastor, Father Stanley Yunker, made his round of home visits to collect the annual parish dues of $8 per family. Len and Joe remember wooden kegs of herring for advent and Kucios, the Lithuanian Christmas Eve celebration, that were sold by Wally Mouske’s grocery on Peoria Rd. south of Griffith.
Len and Joe also remember voters being coaxed to the polls with the reward of a small bottle of liquor, each. And the night “Shorty” Casper’s illegal still near the Peoria Rd. railroad tracks exploded, burning down the alleged canning shed that hid it, to Shorty’s exclamations that it must have been his tomatoes that blew up. Ethnic Lithuanian picnics at the Wedgewood Pavilion north of the Fairgrounds were well-attended—and frequently punctuated by brawls.
During the “Mine Wars” (1932-36), miners from the opposing unions, not to mention Peabody company thugs, were accustomed to walking around with loaded guns in their waistbands. Len and Joe remember state militia men lining Sangamon Ave. on both sides to create a corridor of safety for children to walk home from St. Aloysius school.
Endemic corruption in Springfield and Sangamon County included suspected police collusion in prostitution and the punchboard business, once a legal, then an illegal form of gambling. Greek-American state’s attorney George Coutrakon famously “cleaned up” Springfield in the 1940s and ’50s.
Joe Naumovich still passionately remembers the unrelenting poverty of the Great Depression. The lack of jobs continued, despite Roosevelt’s New Deal, all the way until World War II, when weapons production finally re-opened idled factories.
Today Joe can look back on a long and successful career at the Internal Revenue Service. Len worked at Sangamo Electric and later CWLP as a building and stores supervisor. Both graduated from Cathedral Boys High School, the predecessor of Griffin High School and SHG.
Many thanks to Tom Mann, Leonard, Jr.’s son-in-law, for research, photos, and setting up my interviews with Len and Joe.
Len was an altar boy at my dad’s wedding. Bill Urban
Maria Race said:
The women of that era are so inspiring.
Jim Naumovich said:
Thank you so much for writing this outstanding article on my dad and uncle Joe. I could not be more proud of my family or our Lithuanian ancestry. This story means a lot to my parents and my siblings and we are grateful to Sandy and Tom Mann for their work on this project.
Thanks, Jim, my pleasure. Your dad and Uncle Joe are indeed men to be proud of. We can only hope to be as strong, faithful and productive as Len, Joe, Josephine, and Leonard Naumovich, Sr. I have begun translating your grandfather’s music book with the help of a few new immigrants, and found in his book several timeless Lithuanian folk songs, including “Riding Day,” based on a poem by the famous Lithuanian poet Marionis.