100th Anniversary Tribute: Local Lithuanian Soldiers of World War I

In Memoriam

Designed by William Cellini, Jr.

First in a series by William Cellini Jr.

One hundred years ago this June, the United States sent its first soldiers to fight on the bloody battlefields of France and instituted its first nationwide military draft. Among the several thousand Central Illinois men who served in the World War I American Expeditionary Force, I have identified some 40 Lithuanian-born (and Lithuanian-American) soldiers, five of whom lost their lives.

The war had already been going on for three years by April 1917, when the U.S. joined the battle in Europe on the side of the U.K. and Ireland, France and Imperial Russia (the Triple Entente) against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria (the Central Powers).

At the time President Woodrow Wilson asked the U.S. Congress for a declaration of war, the nation’s military preparedness was low. The U.S. government had downsized the military after the Spanish-American War, public anti-war sentiment was strong, and the nation had a political mindset of isolationism.

To get around public resistance to the war and to raise the necessary manpower to fight on a global scale, Wilson initiated the nation’s first Selective Service System, whereby males of a certain age—both immigrants and native-born– were universally required to register for a military draft.

1 U.S to Prepare For War, ILLINOIS STATE REGISTER, Saturday, March 24, 1917

Non-Citizen Immigrants & Selective Service

There were three (plus one extra) national registrations during the war:  June 5, 1917 for men ages 21 to 31; then, June 5, 1918 for men who had reached age 21 after June 5, 1917.  Next came a supplemental registration in August 1918 for men reaching 21 after June 5, 1918 (due to Congressional adjustment of the draft age).

2 Draft Lottery Photo from NY Journal American, from the Harry Ransom Center, Univ. of Texas at Austin & ISR, July 21, 1917

Illinois State Register, July 21, 1917. Inset photo: 2nd draft lottery, NY Journal American from the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.

A third and final national registration was held September 12, 1918 for men ages 18 to 45.  This final registration took in all men born between 1872 and September 1900 who’d not been in active military service as of June 1917. (Most Lithuanian-American soldiers mentioned in this blog series were already in service by mid-1918.)

3 Allow Aliens to Join New Army's Ranks. ISR, Aug. 7, 1917, p. 1

ISR, Aug. 7, 1917

Due to a massive wave of European immigration that had started around 1890, the immigrant population of the U.S. in 1917 stood at 14,500,000.  This meant large numbers of “aliens” –immigrants who were not yet citizens–were nevertheless required to register for the draft. Local Lithuanian aliens fell into one of two government classifications: alien “declarant” or alien “non-declarant.”

Alien declarants had filed their declaration of intent to become citizens and thus had “first papers” prior to registering for selective service. These men were categorized as “draft eligible.” Non-declarants not in the citizenship process were aliens with “no papers” and were classified as “exempt from the draft.”  (Lithuanian aliens never fell into the draft-exempt category of “enemy alien” because they had been born in an allied state, the Russian Empire, which included Lithuania at the time.)

Going from Draft-Exempt to Draft-Eligible

Those men who were non-declarant could remain exempt from the draft as long as they did not file for their first papers, and many did remain on the sidelines for the course of the war. This became a cause of public resentment as non-declarants with close family living in danger in Europe remained in safety in the U.S. while millions of American-born boys were sent off to fight. Provost Marshal General Enoch Crowder of the Office of Selective Service noted that this was “the one notable cause of dissatisfaction with the scheme of military service…in the Selective Service Act.”

6 Camp Kearney YMCA Building Postcard. .jpg

Camp Kearney, YMCA postcard

Yet in the midst of war, several in this series of bios deliberately and patriotically entered the citizenship process knowing it would cancel their military exemption and permit them to be called up. To reward the patriotism of immigrants who filed their intent to become citizens to make themselves eligible for military service—as well as aliens already in service when the U.S. declared war–in May 1918, the U.S. opened an expedited path to citizenship for all its non-citizen soldiers.

Expedited Citizenship for ‘Alien’ Soldiers

 The U.S. citizenship process typically involved a five-year U.S. residency requirement and then a two-year waiting period between the declaration of intent and the petition for citizenship. In its May 1918 Act, Congress allowed immigrant soldiers without “first papers” to skip the residency requirement and be naturalized at U.S. military camps or in courts near the camps. For those with first papers, the waiting period between their declaration of intent and petition for citizenship was abolished, as were the fees for their citizenship processing. All of these perks were offered only if the soldier remained in service and if he swore a loyalty oath. Conversely, by 1918, declarant aliens who requested conscription exemption or discharge from the army were disqualified from the citizenship process.

The timing of the 1918 Act caught many immigrant soldiers already in the trenches overseas.  These were men who’d registered for the draft in June 1917 and who subsequently had been called up and shipped to France by mid-1918. Taking advantage of their new expedited path to U.S. citizenship required them to obtain battlefield signatures from their commanders and comrades-in-arms acting as witnesses.

Gaygus, 362d Infantry Emblem

362nd Infantry Emblem noting three major battles of WWI

Out of all Lithuanian immigrant soldiers from Central Illinois who served during WWI, research indicates five died during their service to the country: Stephen Shvagzdis [Švagždys]; Walter A. Rauktis [Raukitas]; Tony Pranchewicz [Pranckevičius], Joseph Kowlowsky, and John Kedis.

One may see a tragic irony in their deaths as these young Lithuanians were shipped off to fight in Europe, only to perish overseas so soon after they had emigrated to the U.S.  Their deaths, and the deaths of all WWI soldiers, carry a special poignancy on this 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the “War to End all Wars.”

The following are the first seven thumbnail biographies of local Lithuanian-American doughboys. There will be more to follow as our WWI centennial continues.  Special thanks to Tom Mann and Tim Race for their initial research on many of these soldiers: 

4 Send-off to Camp Taylor, In front of St. Nicholas Hotel. ISR, February 25, 1918, p. 9

Send -off of soldiers to Camp Taylor from St. Nicholas Hotel, Springfield.  Illinois State Register, Feb. 25, 1918

 

Mike Bubnis—Great Uncle of Diane Rutledge, former Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools

Born in 1879 in Suvalkai Region, Lithuania, the son of Josef and Rosalia Schercnik [Szerkus] Bubnis. Along with his brother, Augustus, Bubnis worked as a coal miner for a time at the “Old West mine” in Springfield. He married a woman named Anna whose maiden name is unknown, and they lived at 1007 North Osborn Street in Springfield during WWI. Bubnis was called-up for the draft after he’d become a naturalized citizen, according to his application. Instead of being sent overseas, Bubnis is listed as a “Private in the 6th Company, 22d “Development Battalion.”

In Bubnis’ case, being sent to a development battalion could have meant he either was not fluent in English or needed instruction, or that he may have been previously injured but did not qualify for immediate discharge. Further research indicates Bubnis was discharged at Camp Taylor, Kentucky, on December 20, 1918.

5 Camp Zachary Taylor. Post Card. Photo posted by P. Darlene McClendon, freepages.military.rootsweb.com

Postcard view of Camp Zachary Taylor, Ky. Posted by P. Darlene McClendon on freepages.military.rootsweb.com

He and his wife left Springfield in the 1920s and he died January 7, 1956 at the Danville Illinois Veterans Hospital. The burial card for his cemetery plot lists him having served in the “14th Company, 4 Tribn. [sic], 159th Development Battalion,” contradictory to his published service record.  The whereabouts of his wife as well as her death date are unknown. Bubnis’ brother, Augustus “Gus” died in Springfield in 1941 and his sister, Mrs. Frances Jurkins [Jurkonis] died in Springfield in August 1974. (Mrs. Jurkins was the paternal grandmother of former District 186 Superintendent Diane (Jurkins) Rutledge, making WWI veteran Mike Bubnis Diane’s great uncle.)

6a USS Leviathan leaving for France with 11,000 American troops. Source, Army historical series- The Army Medical Department, 1917-1941, Mary C. Gillett

11,000 U.S. soldiers bound for Europe aboard the U.S.S. Leviathan, WWI. Army Historical Series–The Army Medical Department, 1917-41, Mary C. Gillette.

 

John F. Casper—Received WWI Victory Medal in 1921

Born August 24, 1893 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he was the son of James [Džeimsas] Kasper [Kasparaitis or Kaspariūnas] and Marcella Tonila of Springfield. He served as a member of Company K in the 21st Infantry Regiment. According to a regimental history published on an infantry website, in March 1916, the 21st served on the border of Arizona and California countering Mexican insurgency. In April 1917, the regiment was transferred to Camp Kearny in California, where it was assigned to the 16th Division. Its mission was to train U.S. Army units for deployment to France.

While it is not known if John Casper went overseas, he was issued a WWI Victory Medal in March 1921 for his time in the service. The Illinois State Register noted that medals were being awarded to men who had “any service with the U.S. Army with honorable discharge between April 6, 1917 and November 11, 1918.”  John married Celia Patterson in 1919.  He died November 24, 1963 in Springfield, and his obituary confirms that he was a “WWI veteran.” Celia passed away in 1974 in Menard County.

 

Gabalis, Levonas John [Jonas]. 303d Engineers, 78th Division, History of Company E, 303d Engineers of the 78th Division, 1917-1919

John [Jonas] Levonas Gabalis

Born April 1, 1896 in “Sedix, Russian Empire.” He listed himself as a coal miner at the Tuxhorn Coal Company in Springfield at the time of registering for the draft in on June 5, 1917.  He was a declarant U.S. citizen at the time of registration, and so he was in the process of being naturalized. Although he listed a dependent (his mother) at the time he registered, he was sent to training on April 29, 1918 at Camp Dix, New Jersey, and was assigned to the 78th Infantry Division.

According to U.S. Army transport lists, Gabalis departed for Europe in May 1918 on the HMS Kashmir from Brooklyn, New York. He sailed as part of Company E in the 303rd Engineer Battalion, 78th Division and served in France. He returned to the U.S. from Bordeaux on May 24, 1919. Gabalis eventually moved to Detroit, where he worked as a machinist. He married Stephanie Paleckis, but was a widower by 1929.  John Levonas Gabalis died on February 15, 1974 in Detroit.

 

Tony C. Gaygus—Shipped Out from C&A Depot with Other Lithuanians

Gaygus Photo 1918

Tony Gaygus, 1918.

Born in Illinois c. 1892 to Lithuanian-born parents, Anton and Anna Gaygus of Virden.  Tony registered for the draft in Sangamon County in June 1917 and left for Camp Zachary Taylor, Kentucky, on February 24, 1918 with a group of recruits from Springfield. Among them were Lithuanians Joseph Petrushunas, Frank Petrowich and Charles Raczaitis.

According to news accounts from the period in Springfield newspapers, “…the C. & A. Depot was literally packed with parents, relatives and friends of the 149 departing men. Tears filled the eyes of some of the mothers, sisters and sweethearts of the boys, and even a few of the men present had a hazy look.”

Gaygus use with bio, Feb. 1918 Farwell

Gaygus was subsequently sent overseas (with a stop in Quebec, Canada) and he returned from Saint-Nazaire, France, on the transport ship USS Edward Luckenbach on April 3, 1919.  At the time of his return home he was a Corporal in the 362nd Infantry.

 

William [Viljamas] Gibas

Gibas, William. 3rd Draft Congingent ISJ, April 29, 1918 page 2

Born March 15, 1887 in Lazdijai, Alytus County, Lithuania. He emigrated to the U.S. via Bremen, Germany, in 1902 and worked as a coal miner at the Peabody Mine in Sherman, Illinois. Gibas made his declaration of intent to become a U.S. citizen in 1910 and by 1915, he had been naturalized. At the time he registered for the draft in June 1917, he was listed as single. In January 1918, his name and address (North Fifteenth Street) were among those listed for men called-up by the Sangamon County Draft Board.

Gibas, William. Draft Board Group of 75 Men. April 28, 1918, Springfield, Ill. Photo Credit The honor book Sangamon County, Illinois, 1917-1919 official service record, by Duff, Nellie B

Draft board group of 75 men, April 28, 1918, Springfield, Ill.  From The Honor Book Sangamon County 1917-1919.

He subsequently entered into service on April 28, 1918 as a Private in Company B, 14th Battalion, United States Guards. He was trained at Camp Dix, New Jersey, with at least two other Lithuanian-born local soldiers. It is not known whether he was subsequently sent overseas, since no return passage for him from France could be found. Gibas was discharged January 31, 1919 at Camp Grant near Rockford and went back into coal mining. For a time, he was living with other Lithuanian boarders on the North End of Springfield.  William Gibas died on December 13, 1954 in Springfield with no apparent heirs, per the information supplied in his obituary.

 

Glemza, Photo ISR, Nov. 6, 1918, p. 7

Anthony [Antanas] Glemza [Glemža]—Church Organist, Political Activist

Born October 10, 1889 in Viešintos in the Anykščiai district, Utena County (named for the Viešinta river).  Glemza emigrated to the U.S. in 1912, arriving in Philadelphia.  He quickly became active in St. Vincent De Paul Church by organizing the choir and serving as the full-time organist and church maintenance man. Glemza was also very active in supporting international recognition of Lithuania prior to the U.S. entry into WWI, and is mentioned in an October 1916 Springfield newspaper article as serving on a committee at St. Vincent de Paul Church organized at the time U.S. President Woodrow Wilson publicly recognized the plight of the Lithuanian people as war refugees.

As quoted in the Illinois State Register at the time, “…divided between Germany and Russia, the Lithuanians serving in two opposing armies are compelled to slay each other. Since the very start of the war, Lithuania became the scene of the most horrible struggle ever enacted on the face of the earth.” In March 1918, only a month after Lithuania’s formal declaration of independent statehood, Glemza was a delegate to the New York Lithuanian General Assembly formed on behalf of a free Lithuania.

Gregalunas. Naval Recruits Depart for Peoria. ISJ, July 6, 1918, p. 2

ISJ, July 6, 1918

He had registered for the draft in June 1917 in Springfield, and May 1918, amid his pro-Lithuania political activism, he was called to U.S. military service. He had first applied for citizenship in 1913 and he re-applied on July 17th while in training at Camp Zachary Taylor, Ky.  After training he was sent to France with Company B, 5th Battalion, 22nd Engineers.

In a November 6, 1918 news article in the Register, Glemza wrote from France saying, “Everyone here thinks the war will be over soon…The four friends of mine who I left with are still with me, and I am mighty glad, for it would be pretty lonesome without them.” Glemza returned to the U.S. as a Private First Class in Company P, 22nd Engineers, via Saint-Nazaire, France, on June 12, 1919 aboard the USS Princess Matoika.

Also on board were Stanley Petrokas and Joseph Muchakites [Marciukaitis]. On the ship manifest, he lists his closest contact in the U.S. as “friend, John Czuberkis,” then-pastor of St. Vincent de Paul’s.  In 1922, Glemza left Springfield to take a position as an organist at a church in Rochester, New York, and in 1938, he was affiliated with St. Francis Lithuanian Catholic Church in East Chicago, according to newspaper archives.

 

Charles J. Grigas—Saved from the Battlefield by his Trombone?

Grigas photo

Charles Grigas, doughboy

Born March 4, 1896 in Pennsylvania to Mr. and Mrs. George and Petronele “Petrol” Grigas, both born in Lithuania.  In addition to Charles they had a son, Stanley (b. 1898, Penn.) and a daughter, Helen (b. 1901).  The family is recorded on the 1910 U.S. Census as living in Fancy Creek, Sangamon County. Charles is listed as a “street newsboy” and his father as a coal miner. In their home were three Lithuanian-born boarders, each listed as working coal miners. Then just prior to WWI, the family moved to Springfield, with Charles entering military service on June 25, 1918.

He trained at Camp Taylor and Camp Knox (both in Kentucky) and served as a Private in the Headquarters Company of the 69th Field Artillery, 170th Field Artillery Brigade. The 69th Field Artillery was assigned to the 95th Infantry Division during the war. Although both Charles and his brother Stanley both had registered for the draft, it appears only Charles was called up. The brothers were also musicians—and that seems to have saved Charles from being sent to fight overseas.  He is listed as a bandsman in the Army playing “slide trombone,” per information in the Sangamon County Honor Book of WWI.  He was discharged in December 1919 at Camp Knox.

Grigas' Orchestra. ISR, Nov. 25, 1921, p. 14

Grigas orchestra plays benefit, ISJ, Nov. 25, 1921

In 1920, the Grigas family was living on North 15th Street in a predominately Lithuanian- section of town. In 1921, Grigas married Della Pelton at St. Vincent de Paul Church and they made their home in Springfield. They had one daughter. Well-known in local Lithuanian social circles for their “Grigas Orchestra,” Charles and his brother performed at weddings and accompanied the Knights of Lithuania’s renowned choir at St. Vincent de Paul Church and other venues throughout the 1920s, according to newspaper reports.  The Grigas brothers also ran a grocery store and were members of the Springfield Musicians Union Local. Later in life, Charles worked for the State of Illinois.  He died in May 1973 in Springfield and his siblings, Stanley and Helen, both passed away in 1986.

Host Lithuanian Exchange Student?

The U.S. State Department is looking to place a 16-year-old, male Lithuanian exchange student going into what would be his junior year in high school this fall. His name is Matas, and he needs a host family for the 2017-2018 school year beginning in August.

Matas sounds like an athletic and outgoing young man, and his profile can be found at this link: Matas_LITHUANIA_profile 

Please share with anyone you think would be interested in becoming a host family. The exchange students usually arrive in August before the start of the school year.  Below is additional info and a person in the program you can contact to ask questions: 

Contact: James E. Kerr  jekerr@charter.net  618 667 9858

Local Coordinator-American Councils for International Education

 

To win this scholarship to study in the U.S. the student:

  1. Must score well on an aptitude exam
  2. Must score well on an English proficiency exam
  3. Must do well in three rounds of oral interviews.

 In the U.S. the student:

  1. Must maintain a “B” average in classes in the host high school (and those classes must include US History or American Government and English.)

2.Must complete a minimum of 30 hours of volunteer service

3.Must join a leadership club or activity

The student comes with:

  1. Full health coverage
  2. Receives a monthly stipend for spending money
  3. Has several hundred dollars available for school-related expenses

 The host family must:

  1. Provide a place to sleep and study
  2. Provide three meals per day (including either a packed lunch for school or lunch money.)
  3. Provide a comfortable living environment
  4. English must be the primary language used in the home.
  5. Provide transportation to and from school and school activities when a school bus is not available.

 

Limey Nargelenas Gets Lifetime Achievement Award

Limey Nargelenas

On April 21, Springfield Lithuanian-American Laimutis (Limey) Nargelenas received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police at the group’s awards banquet in Oak Brook, Ill. Limey was recognized for his dedication and versatility in serving the Illinois Chiefs in many different capacities since he rose to Superintendent of the Illinois State Police in 1984.

Most recently, Limey was Manager of Governmental Relations (lobbyist) for the organization.  But he has also been Deputy Director and Acting Executive Director, in addition to helping develop the organization’s training and quality assessment process for local police departments throughout the state.  Since December 2015, he has served as full-time chief of Springfield’s Park District Police.

Limey is also a nominee for the 2017-2018 Board of Directors of the Lithuanian-American Club of Central Illinois.  To learn about the family tradition of police work handed down from his Lithuanian immigrant father, please read below: 

Inspired by role models like his father, a pre-War Lithuanian Border Control Officer, Limey Nargelenas has pursued a life-long career in police work. Only a few years after the restoration of Lithuania’s independence in 1991, Limey had the privilege of traveling back to where his family story began to assist the fledgling independent police forces of Vilnius and Kaunas as a consultant and trainer with the Pointman Leadership Institute.

Limey’s father, Antanas Nargelenas, born in Ukmerge, Lithuania, was taken prisoner by the invading German army in 1941 in the line of duty securing Lithuania’s border. After the Russians invaded Lithuania for the second time in 1944, Antanas and his wife Jadvyga Snabelyte Nargelenas (born in Ruminskis, Lithuania), ended up in a displaced persons (DP) camp in Watenstedt, Germany, where Limey was born.

While refugees from the Nargelenas and Snabelys families were scattered across the world, Limey and his immediate family ended up in Georgetown, Ill., due to the kind sponsorship of the Gustaitas family. It was there that five-year-old Limey faced the prospect of learning English at St. Mary’s Grade School, after already having learned Lithuanian and German. Limey’s father, like so many other former professionals, had no choice but to become a factory worker (and build homes on the side) to support his growing family in the U.S.

However, local Lithuanian-American Illinois State Troopers became friends of the family and gave Limey’s father a continuing connection to police work. Limey still remembers looking up to local officers Walter Lumsargis, Leonard Balsis, Vernon Cook, and John Matulis. Their reputation for upholding the law in the face of small-town corruption made Limey aspire to be a state trooper when he grew up. “I will never forget the time, as a Boy Scout in Georgetown Troop 16, when I was given the opportunity to ride along with Trooper Walt Lumsargis, who later became Sheriff of Vermilion County. I got to be the acting Georgetown Police Chief that day.”

Limey also recalls with pride how his parents “faced the challenges of coming to America to start a new life, how quickly they learned to speak English, and how proud they were to earn their U.S. citizenship.” After both his parents passed away, Limey’s younger brother Paul, now a pilot for Delta airlines, lived with him for a time. (He has another brother, Romas, and two sisters.)

Limey says he’s been grateful for the opportunity to travel the world teaching classes or consulting for police departments in China, Mongolia, England, Korea, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Australia, Germany, and Lithuania. He has also served as adjunct faculty for UIS, the Northwestern University Traffic Institute, Southern Illinois University and the University of North Florida. Limey is a former president of the Illinois Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and the Illinois Retired State Police Officers Association.

A graduate of the FBI National Executive Institute, Limey earned his M.A. in legal studies and B.A. in social justice from UIS. (His life story also includes varsity football at U of I and restaurant ownership in Springfield.) Today, Limey coordinates the legislative agenda for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police as president of Capitol Consulting, Inc., and is completing a Ph.D. from SIU-Carbondale in vocational education.

U.S. Embassy, Lithuania, Recognizes My Book!

Congratulations, Lithuanian-Americans of Springfield, or from Springfield!

Yesterday the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania remarked on its official Facebook page about our wonderful local history and about my book, “A Century of Lithuanians in Springfield, Illinois.” The Google translation into English is a little rough, but you can get the gist.

https://www.facebook.com/pg/vilnius.usembassy/posts/?ref=page_internal

Your Name in ‘Real’ Lithuanian

Draugas just ran a Lithuanian-language review of my book, “Springfieldo lietuvių istorija,” that contains authentic Lithuanian surnames for several families mentioned:  Pazemetsky, Blazis, Chepulis, Turasky, Kamiczaites, Yamont, Naumovich, Andruskevitch, Pakutinsky, Kasawich, Rekesius, Tisckos, Yumbras, Yaktis, Ubanckas, Welch (Wilcauskas). I can’t say that these are all perfectly correct, but they are good guesses at the original Lithuanian surname. See the bolded names in the text below, and enjoy!

Springfieldo lietuvių istorija

Draugas, Chicago, March 13, 2017

By Gediminas Indreika.

„A Century of Lithuanians in Springfield, Illinois” viršelis.
„A Century of Lithuanians in Springfield, Illinois” viršelis.

Neseniai išleista Sandy Baksys knygos „A Century of Lithuanians in Springfield, Illinois” antroji laida, apžvelgianti daugiau kaip šimtmetį Illinois sostinėje gyvenusių lietuvių istoriją. Ši iliustruota knyga pasirodė tinkamu laiku – 2018 metais Illinois valstija švęs 200 metų steigimo jubiliejų.

Dauguma čikagiečių nežino, kad Springfield lietuviai įkūrė Šv. Vincento parapiją. Nuo 1890 m. lietuviai kėlėsi į pietų Illinois, suvilioti darbų anglies kasyklose ir žemės ūkyje. Taip pat kūrėsi Westville, East St. Louis ir kituose kasyklų miesteliuose. Augusiai amerikiečių aplinkoje Springfield Sandy Baksys niekad nekilo mintis, kad jos kaimynystėje tebegyveno paskutinieji lietuviai angliakasiai ir apie tūkstantis jų palikuonių. Susidomėjusi savo šeimos genealogija autorė atrado, kad jos tėvo teta Marija Jamontienė buvo toji jėga, kurios dėka šeima niūriais didžiosios depresijos metais atlaikė ekonominius sunkumus. Pradėjusi tyrinėti kitų lietuvių šeimų istorijas, autorė šiuos aprašymus įdėjo į internetinį blogą Lithspringfield.com. Ji surinko ir pavienių asmenų pasakojimus.

Sandy Baksys Northwestern universitete yra baigusi žurnalistiką. Autorė apklausė keliolika lietuvių kilmės asmenų, kurie pasidalijo prisiminimais, laiškais ir šeimos nuotraukomis. Ji peržiūrėjo straipsnius apie Springfieldo lietuvius Illinois State Journal laikraštyje. Kitų raginama, parašė knygą, susidedančią iš 60 skyrelių; kiekvienas skyrelis – apie šeimos įsikūrimą ar apie žymų įvykį.

Pirmoji lietuvių imigrantų banga į Springfield vyko 1890–1914 m. 1906 m. lietuviai įkūrė Šv. Vincento Pauliečio parapiją. Kun. Jonas Čiuberkis pastatė mūrinę bažnyčią, kuriai 1919 m. jau priklausė 500 šeimų. Šv. Vincento parapijoje veikė daug religinių ir keletas jaunimo organizacijų – Vyčiai ir sporto klubai. Ypatinga šventė Springfield lietuvių parapijoje vyko 1936 m. balandžio 19 d., kai trys lietuviai – Kazimieras Andriuškevičius, Petras Klumbys ir Kazimieras Toliušis – priėmė kunigystės šventimus.

Angliakasiai Juozas Pakutinskas ir Kazys Mickus, maždaug 1910.
Angliakasiai Juozas Pakutinskas ir Kazys Mickus, maždaug 1910.

Dalis lietuvių darbininkų buvo kairiųjų pažiūrų. Tokį nusistatymą lėmė darbdavių elgesys: kasyklų vadovybė juos išnaudodavo, atleisdavo iš darbo arba trumpindavo darbo laiką. Retas kuris angliakasių išdirbdavo 40 valandų per savaitę. Nelaimės, sužeidimai ir plaučių ligos kenkė jų sveikatai ir atitraukdavo nuo darbo. Tie, kurie buvo sumanūs ar turėjo kokį talentą bei amatą, dirbo antrą darbą, kad pragyventų. Jų žmonos įsidarbindavo mažai apmokamuose darbuose, pvz., Anastazija Pažemeckienė dirbo viešbučio skalbykloje už 8 dol. per mėnesį. Dar kitos dirbo „Pillsbury” miltų fabrike.

1930 m. Susivienijimo lietuvių Amerikoje seimo metu atskilo socialistų mažuma, pasivadinusi Lietuvių darbininkų susivienijimu (LDS). Ši komunistuojanti organizacija verbavo angliakasius tapti LDS nariais. Kita organizacija, Amerikos lietuvių katalikų susivienijimas, kovojo prieš darbininkų išnaudojimą, prieš alkoholizmą ir kartu su darbo unijomis buvo atrama prieš komunizmą. Iš kairiųjų veikėjų minėtini Juozas Pakutinskas, laikraščio „Laisvė” korespondentas. Su žmona Ona Janušauskaite jis pirko 80 akrų ūkį Champaign apskrity, ten augino kalakutus. Jų kalakutų ūkis tapo populiari erdvė kairiųjų LDS gegužinėms.

Kai kurie angliakasiai turėjo talentų, – Leonardas Naumovičius buvo talentingas muzikantas. Jis grojo smuiku, mandolina ir trimitu. Po mirties namo palėpėje buvo rasti jo instrumentai ir ranka rašytas sąsiuvinis su Maironio „Kur bėga Šešupė” gaidomis. Jo svajonė tapti profesionaliu muziku neišsipildė.

Springfieldo vestuvinė muzikantų trijulė.
Springfieldo vestuvinė muzikantų trijulė: Karalitis (smuikas), Petrovich (akordeonas) ir Adam Pazametsky (klarnetas).

Nemažai lietuvių sėkmingai pradėjo verslus. Martynas ir Charles Tiškus po Antrojo pasaulinio karo įsteigė baldų parduotuvę. Broliai Juozas ir Vilimas Čepuliai atidarė „Chepulis Champion Garage” automobilių aptarnavimo įmonę. Juozas Turauskis (Turasky) įsteigė „Y- T Packing” mėsos kompaniją, kuri vėliau buvo pervadinta „Turasky Meat Co”.

Galbūt pelningiausi lietuvių verslai buvo karčiamos, kurių Springfielde buvo daug. Kastas Stočkus su žmona turėjo „Fairview” taverną ir restoraną. Vilius Blažis vadovavo „White City” tavernai. Jonas Rekašius įkūrė karčiamą „Welcome Inn”. Kitų karčiamų savininkai buvo Jurgis Lapinskas, Peter Jumbras ir J. Vilčauskas. Kai kuriems lietuviams pavyko įsitvirtinti profesijose: Augustas Vyšniauskas (Wisnosky) dirbo Illinois National Bank, Alfredas Urbanskas buvo dantistas, Izidorius Jakštis (Yakstis) – advokatas.

Keletas knygos skyrelių pasakoja apie lietuvius, pasauliniuose karuose tarnavusius JAV karinėse pajėgose. John J. Straukas dalyvavo JAV puolime ties Meuse-Argonne prieš pat 1918 m. lapkričio paliaubas. Tai buvo kruviniausias Pirmojo pasaulinio karo mūšis, pakreipęs karo eigą sąjungininkų naudai. Už pasiaukojimą karo metu Straukui išimties tvarka buvo suteikta JAV pilietybė. Grįžęs į Springfieldą Straukas dirbo staliumi.

Šv. Vincento bažnyčios vargonininkas Aleksandras Aleksis sustiprino chorą ir atgaivino lietuvių kultūrinę veiklą. 1923 m. jo parašytą operetę „Į Tėvynę” atliko Springfieldo Lietuvos vyčių choras. Aleksis gebėjo lietuvių vardą „pagerinti” ir tarp amerikiečių – laikraštis Springfield Journal Register, anksčiau labiau pabrėždavęs lietuvių muštynes ar nusikaltimus, rugpjūčio 1923 m. straipsnyje rašė: „An intense love for music is a national characteristic of the Lithuanian people”.

Antrąją lietuvių kartą stipriai paveikė asimiliacija, iš dalies gal dėl to, kad Šv. Vincento parapija nebuvo įkūrusi pradžios mokyklos. Dauguma lietuvių perėmė amerikietiškus papročius, tačiau viena lietuviška tradicija išliko – vestuvės. 1927 m. rugsėjo 25–27 d. Kasavičių namuose vyko šventė – Ievos Kasavičiūtės ir Viktoro Alane (Alaunis) vestuvės. Stalai buvo apkrauti lietuviškų patiekalų, svečiams buvo siūlomas naminis alus, midus ir kiti gėrimai. Vyko kaimiški šokiai, orkestrą sudarė smuikininkas, klarnetistė ir akordeonistas. Buvo linksminamasi tris dienas iki vėlyvo vakaro.

Mike Kamiczaites (Kamizaičio) karčiama ir ledų parduotuvė, maždaug 1910.
Mike Kamiczaites (Kamizaičio) karčiama ir ledų parduotuvė, maždaug 1910. (Iš Pat Gerwing archyvo)

Per Antrąjį pasaulinį karą 68 Šv. Vincento parapiečiai buvo pašaukti arba savanoriavo JAV karo tarnyboje. George Snečkus tarnavo karo aviacijoje, jo orlaivis buvo pašautas, ir jis žuvo kelios dienos prieš Normandijos puolimą. Jo ir kitų veteranų pavardės buvo įrašytos atminimo lentoje Šv. Vincento bažnyčioje. Knygoje aprašytas Prezidento Antano Smetonos apsilankymas Springfielde 1941 m. gegužę ir jo garbei suruoštas priėmimas Illinois kapitoliuje. Illinois seime jis pasakė kalbą, papasakodamas amerikiečiams apie Lietuvos okupaciją.

Po karo atvykusiems lietuviams Šv. Vincento parapija buvo pirmoji stotelė. Iš naujai atvykusių buvo ir Sandy Baksys tėvas, papasakojęs vietiniams apie komunistų klastą ir jų skelbiamą melą. Nors Bakšys paliudijo apie inteligentų lietuvių areštus ir trėmimus į Sibirą, dalis Springfield lietuvių tuo nepatikėjo. Bakšys dėl to labai nusivylė ir išgyveno.

1956 m. Šv. Vincento Pauliečio parapija šventė 60-ies metų jubiliejų. Tuo metu klebonavo kun. Stasys Junkeris. Keičiantis energijos rinkai, mažėjo anglies paklausa, ėmė užsidaryti anglies kasyklos. Lietuviai iš Springfieldo pradėjo keltis į didesnius miestus. Sumažėjus parapiečių, 1972 m., Šv. Vincento parapija buvo uždaryta.

„A Century of Lithuanians in Springfield” patraukia skaitytoją, nes autorė atskleidžia mažai žinomus faktus ir įdomiausius lietuvių imigrantų gyvenimo įvykius. Pagrindiniai personažai yra paprasti darbininkai, asmenys, kurie istorijoje paprastai pamirštami. Knygoje pateikti duomenys gana tikslūs, autorės stilius lengvas, be dirbtinio akademiškumo. Knyga skirta tiek amerikiečių, tiek lietuvių skaitytojams.

Šią knygą: Sandy Baksys. „A Century of Lithuanians in Springfield, Illinois”, 2016, Middletown, DE. 330 psl., galima įsigyti „Draugo” knygyne. Tel. 773-585-9500.

Springfieldo lietuviai.
Manoma, kad tai Springfieldo lietuviai, pasiruošę sutikti Lietuvos Prezidento tremtyje Antano Smetonos 1941 m. gegužės 3 d.

Fighting Russian Disinformation, Cyber Trolls

My first feature for Draugas News, the new English-language monthly newspaper from the famous Draugas publishing house in Chicago, was printed recently.  I am now able to include a link to the article, which I really enjoyed writing: http://www.draugas.org/news/fighting-fake-news-twisted-history-cyber-trolls-the-247-lithuanian-life-of-linas-johansonas/

It profiles Linas Johansonas, editor of the popular 24/7 global Lithuanian news portal LTNews.net on Facebook. Linas is one of a new generation of Lithuanian patriots fighting Russian disinformation and cyber trolls online, and getting out the news the global Lithuanian community needs to know, along with reports of the purely captivating or quirky. Linas has also been deeply involved in Cleveland, Ohio’s rock & roll industry.  I hope you enjoy the article.

New Photo of St. Vincent de Paul Interior

And, just for fun, take a look at this interior photo (below) of Springfield’s St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian Catholic Church that I recently received from Elaine Alane of Wisconsin. The back of the photo reads:  “A remembrance of my 25th anniversary, June 13th, 1948. Rev. S.O. Yunker.” (As you know, Father Yunker was the church’s long-time pastor.)

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My Memories of Jan. 13, 1991

U.S. forces (3,500 soldiers with armor) just arrived in Poland to help deter Russian aggression against Lithuania, Poland, and the other Baltic countries. Coincidentally, yesterday, Jan. 13, also marked the 26th anniversary of the day 14 Lithuanians were killed and hundreds injured peacefully protecting their country from Soviet tanks and bullets. To commemorate these events, let me share a story from my personal patriotic life that I wrote for sbaksys-09-15-ileshousethe January 2016 issue of Draugas News: 

Remembering January 1991

Fearing How Far the Soviets Might Go, I Rose up to Become the Face of Lithuania in Lexington, Kentucky

 I didn’t sleep much on January 13, 1991, after the 1 a.m. phone call to my home in Lexington from my sister Terry in Richmond, Va. Between worry and tears, it was one of the worst nights of my life.

So when the U.S. launched its Desert Storm assault on Iraq just a few days later, on Jan. 17, 1991, I took the microphone at a war-related rally at the University of Kentucky to remind people about what had just happened in Lithuania.

It was the biggest crowd I had ever spoken to. Yet I managed to overcome my life-long fear of public speaking because it was eclipsed by an even greater fear. What if the new U.S. war, visible 24/7 on CNN, stole critical international media attention from Lithuania just as it was most endangered—right after unarmed civilians were killed by Soviet troops and tanks? What if the Soviets launched more such attacks when the world was no longer watching?

The fate of an entire mass movement hung in the balance. And though safe on American soil, after Jan. 13–the date that changed everything–I was haunted by the fear of how far the Soviets might go and what might become of Lithuanian family I had recently met for the first time in my life.

A Family’s Past Blends with the Present

In 1989, my “DP” father Vince and his long-lost sister from Lithuania had been reunited after a separation of 45 years. This, along with the visit of my first cousin, had quickly unpacked decades of repressed World War II family history that suddenly appeared in danger of being repeated.

In summer 1989, as I began to take account of the full scope of the trauma inflicted on my family, as well as the scope of the “Singing Revolution” that was building in Lithuania, action seemed required to help Lithuanians restore what Russian had so brutally taken. And after January 13, 1991, action seemed desperately required to keep Russia from brutalizing Lithuania again.

It was a time unlike any other. Past was present and present, past. Pain and love, anger, fear, and hope all flowed in the same strong current. I grasped for any way I could help. I reached out to other Baltic-Americans and to anyone who would listen and act.

Becoming the Face of Lithuania

I stood up to be the public face of Lithuania in the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader newspaper, and on local public TV and the NBC affiliate.  At least four or five times during the spring and summer of 1991, thanks to a TV satellite truck, local news would cut from Gorbachev directly to my talking head, or to Baltic-Americans gathered in my back yard.

Two of the larger events that I organized (with the help of my Iranian-American husband of the time) were a February 16 Lithuanian independence dinner, complete with folk dancing, and a summer 1991 “Baltic Bash,” where I showed invited media video footage from the January 13 attacks.

Along the way, I addressed university classes and I almost constantly called and wrote the White House and Congress. I published two local op-ed features, and at least one letter in the Christian Science Monitor. I became volunteer Kentucky coordinator for the Lithuanian Communications Center in Philadelphia—my first and only service with the Lithuanian-American Community (LAC), and my first taste of a future career in PR.

Maybe most of all, I worried. I thought constantly of the relatives in Lithuania and mailed packages and letters to my first cousin. Like so many others at that time, I struggled to read the meaning of weeks-long postal delays, overhung with the gnawing fears that were never far off, just like the colds and flus that beset me that entire year as a result of so much stress and worry.

A Victory that was Personal  

When it was all over and we had won, victory couldn’t have felt more personal. It was like we had won vindication for our dad, for our family—for the past. I never felt closer to my father and his story, and I never saw him more appreciative of his daughters who had worked so hard to help Lithuania.

I realized how difficult it must have been for Dad to repress his story within the heart of his own family for decades, when his story must have seemed only a private misery in the midst of his wife and daughters’ American obliviousness.  But how to talk to the unfamiliar and the inexperienced about a place that had disappeared from every globe and map?

I’m sure Dad never expected to see his homeland go free in his lifetime. And yet we had done it, all of us working together–over there, mainly, but also over here.

I Did ‘Nothing?’

My father’s youngest sister was so unprepared for my sudden, sustained two years of “Singing Revolution” activism that she couldn’t share victory. “You did nothing,” was my late aunt’s only remark on the subject in a letter that ended up forever estranging us.

Being a Lithuanian patriot from her youth, then a “DP,” and having given everything she had to “the cause” all her life, she surely saw my work as insignificant by comparison.  But I will always know what I felt and did and all that I gave from my heart.

I also remember how the Herculean task at hand, and the odds stacked against our movement, sometimes also drove me to disappointment over what my friends at the time were able or willing to give. As a result, it seems to me now that giving of oneself in desperation, or without limits, naturally leads to disappointment in the level of support from others. So I have no doubt that my aunt’s dismissive statement reflected the entrenched disappointment of years.

Yet I am equally sure that I was far from the only Lithuanian-American who had never been active before, who rose up for family reasons when everything seemed to hang in the balance, and the impossible suddenly seemed possible. For that reason, I congratulate and applaud anyone, anywhere, who joined in the “Singing Revolution” by doing what they could do when it seemed to count so very much.

At the bottom line, not to act while all of Lithuania was mobilized, while members of my own family were on the line, would have been unthinkable. I’m sure the same logic applied to tens of thousands in Lithuania, as well, resulting in the unstoppable momentum of a mass movement that ultimately achieved one of the most improbable peaceful political triumphs of the twentieth century.

Update: The Fairview Restaurant Family

A few weeks ago, the State Journal-Register carried the obituary of Raymond K. Stockus, the last surviving member of the Lithuanian immigrant family that founded The Fairview Restaurant at 16th and Sangamon Avenue. Raymond’s father, Kaston Stockus, immigrated to the U.S. in 1899 from Šiauliai County, Lithuania, and became a U.S. citizen in 1904.

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Raymond Stockus

 

While working as a coal miner and butcher, Kaston boarded in the building that by 1913, he would buy, converting the first floor into a grocery that was subsequently licensed to sell alcohol.  After becoming “Al & Joe’s” and later, the “Jolly End” taverns, by the 1960s, the business was converted into The Fairview Restaurant by Kaston’s daughter and Raymond’s sister, Ella Palusinki and her husband Alex.

Fairview, c. 1967

The Fairview, 16th & Sangamon, circa 1967.

According to his obituary, Raymond Stockus was born to Kaston and Caroline (Compardo) Stockus in 1935, was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and worked as a radar technician at Garrett Aviation for 40 years. He leaves behind a wife, Joyce, and children Greg Stockus, Gail Walter and Julie Bates, as well as three grandchildren.

You can read more of the colorful history of the Stockus immigrant family and more backstory on The Fairview restaurant in this post written by William Cellini, Jr., and published several months ago:

https://lithspringfield.com/2016/07/17/lithuanian-grocer-kaston-stockus-the-fairview

‘Doc’ Adams & the Lincoln Center

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The Lincoln Center, undated.

A few years ago, I penned a piece about Don “Doc” Adams, the longest-serving Illinois Republican Party Chair who also was a force on the national Republican stage. That piece focused on Doc’s Adomaitis-Adams and Yacubasky-Yates Lithuanian immigrant ancestors–and the 1930s rise of their first American-born generation from coal-mining and bootlegging to political power in the Sangamon County Republican organization.

The intermingling of the two political families in the 1932 marriage of Bertha Yacubasky and John Joseph Adomaitis (Adams) ended prematurely in divorce. But not before producing son Don “Doc” Adams, whose political and business gifts became legendary in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.

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Remember this menu?

Outside of politics and patronage, “Doc’s” biggest impact on Springfield was probably through the hospitality strip mall the Lincoln Center, located on North Grand Avenue near the Monument Avenue entrance to Oak Ridge Cemetery and Lincoln’ Tomb. The center included a Lincoln souvenir shop and the exquisite Ann Rutledge Pancake House, where in the late 1960s, my Lithuanian great aunt, Teta Mary Yamont (Marija Jomantiene) introduced my sisters and me to our first deluxe strawberry-covered pancakes topped with whipped cream.

Although I loved that pancake house, back then I knew little, and thought less, of its place in our local Lithuanian-American community.

‘Getty’s Burger’

Doc’s son Don Adams, Jr., remembers being a short-order cook at the pancake house when he was home from college for the summers. The younger Adams remembers that the Lincoln-themed descriptions of the food on the menu were often as memorable as the food, itself. For example, there was “The Getty’s Burger” and “General Sherman’s Baked Ham: Sherman would have stopped on his march to the sea for this one.” In addition to pancakes topped or made with blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and even coconut, the menu also included mouth-watering  “Manhattan Blintzes” and “French Suzette.”

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Inside the menu

“Doc” spent most of his working hours in an office behind the souvenir shop, when he was not in his office at Republican headquarters. Don, Jr., also recalls that on most Saturdays, local power-brokers like Bob Cohen, John Short, and Bill Cellini would meet for brunch or lunch with “Doc” at the pancake house.

Don, Jr., doesn’t recall how or when his dad became a fan of Abraham Lincoln—perhaps when he was introduced to the Republican Party by his maternal uncles, the Yates-Yacubaskies, who had been influential in the party locally since the 1930s. “Dad was definitely a big fan of Lincoln; there was a lot of Lincoln memorabilia at home and in his office in the Lincoln Center,” Don, Jr., says. In addition, the pancake house, named for Lincoln’s first, ill-fated love, had a wall-sized mural with events and themes from Lincoln’s life.

 Lincoln Center Draws ‘Doc’ Home from College

“Doc” first became involved with the Lincoln Center when he received a series of letters from his mother Bertha requesting that he come home from Northwestern University to help manage her Yates brothers’ family businesses. William Yates always included his brother Joe and two nephews, Eddie Balisky and “Doc” Adams, as partners in all his businesses. The period when “Doc” was called home, in the mid- or late-1950s, coincides with the period when the Lincoln Center was in development.

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Inside the menu

In any event, “Doc” acceded to his mother’s requests, returning from his studies in Evanston without completing his degree. Soon, he was immersed in, and later, ensconced at, the Lincoln Center, as he simultaneously moved up the ladder of the local Republican Party. According to Don, Jr., “Doc” eventually bought out his uncle and cousin partners to wholly-own the two strip mall businesses, which he kept running until the early 1980s.

Like his uncles, the Yateses, “Doc” was always in business for himself outside (his work for) the Party, Don, Jr. says. “At one time, he also formed a corporation to buy and operate the Lincoln Depot as a museum. I have stationery from that dating to the early 1970s.”

 Keeping Business & Politics in the Family  

Young “Doc” naturally grew close to his Yates uncles, and had little influence from his father, after his mother Bertha divorced John Joseph Adomaitis (Adams) and took her two sons to live with her sister Anna Balisky in the Yates-Yacubasky immigrants’ original home at 1501 Pennsylvania Avenue. Many large Yates Thanksgivings that included the families of Bertha and Anna’s brothers Joe and William, Sr., were held there.

According to “Doc’s” first cousin, William Yates, Jr., his dad William, Sr., was the clan’s driving force in both business and politics–which were always conducted in tandem, and as a multi-generational family enterprise. Because William, Sr., made brother Joe and nephews “Doc” and Eddie Balisky part-owners of all his businesses, “Doc” ended up at least a passive partner in the downtown Governor Hotel (with Jack Weiner), as well as the Yates brothers’ Y-B Market, a grocery on the site of the future Lincoln Center at First Street and North Grand.

Origin of the Lincoln Center

In the mid- or late 1950s, in the heyday of Route 66 tourism, William, Sr., pushed to demolish and replace the Y-B Market with what he conceived as tourist retail/restaurant complex. “Dad and his brother Joe made sure that ‘Doc’ and Eddie were partners with them in the new center, like everything else,” Bill, Jr., recalls.

The establishment of this upscale tourist strip mall also benefited from the input of William, Joe, and Bertha Yates’ sister Belle Walons, who had left Springfield for Chicago years earlier with her IRS-agent husband, and who operated her own beauty shop in Chicago’s famous Drake Hotel. “Aunt Belle came down from Chicago and told her brothers William and Joe how to lay out and decorate the interior of the Lincoln Center–basically, how to make everything–and they listened,” Bill, Jr., recalls.

‘Doc’s’ Principle Mentor: William Yates, Sr.

yates-lakehouse-dinner

Circa 1950, courtesy of Bill Yates, Jr.

He also described his father Bill, Sr., who by 1942 had risen to Sangamon County Republican Party Chair, as “Doc’s” principal business and political mentor. Though 12 years younger than his first cousin “Doc,” Bill, Jr., recalls that “Doc” and his brother Jack “would always sit close to Dad at our family gatherings and want to get Dad’s feedback.” According to the younger Yates, Bill, Sr., “was friends with Butch James, a man close to UMWA president John L. Lewis, another man named Lou Byrd—and Governor Stratton was also a very good friend.”

After years of family gatherings in the small house on Pennsylvania Avenue purchased by the Yates-Yacubasky Lithuanian immigrants, by the 1950s, family holiday gatherings had moved to the Sycamore Lane (Lake Springfield) home of successful businessman William Yates, Sr.  “And it wasn’t just on holidays—there would be a big picnic with 30-40 people at our lake house every Sunday during the spring and summer,” Bill, Jr., says.

‘Like the Pope, Himself, Coming to Visit’

“I remember Fr. (Stanley) Yunker (pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic church) coming to these big gatherings at the Pennsylvania Avenue house, and at our house on the lake,” Bill, Jr., recalls. I’d seen priests before, but it was nothing like this. Fr. Yunker would arrive in his full glory, in a white robe with his white miter, and it was like the Pope, himself, coming to visit.”

Could the exceptional dress and carriage of Fr. Yunker at those times have been related to the political power and status of the Yates family and their guests? In projecting the power of the church, it seems likely to me that Fr. Yunker was attempting to deal himself into the “earthly” political discussions and power-brokering that must inevitably have taken place at the home of this leading Republican family.

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From left: William, Sr., William, Jr., and Joe Yates, circa 1953.

As for the food at the Yates family gatherings, Bill remembers kielbasa and potato pancakes made at home by his aunt, Anna (Yates) Balisky.  The table was also laid heavy with turkey, ham, Lithuanian kugelis, and “pies galore,” Bill recalls.

Passing the Torch

Doc’s uncle and mentor William Yates, Sr., died in 1974. But not before expanding into business well beyond Springfield, starting in 1948.  According to Bill, Jr., in the 1950s, his dad operated the largest Oldsmobile dealership in Missouri (in St. Louis), as well as an Oldsmobile dealership in Litchfield.

“My dad was very, very involved in politics, and if Harry Truman had been beaten by Dewey in 1948, we heard that Dad would have been appointed Postmaster General. But Dewey’s loss ended Dad’s aspirations in politics.”

It fell to “Doc,” in the next generation of the Yates-Yacubaskies, to pick up the torch. Don, Jr., remembers how his dad was “a great public speaker. That certainly helped him get to the state chairman position and stay there a long time. In fact, Dad held the national record for longest-serving Republican Party state chairman,” Don, Jr., recalls.

Don also recalls that his father’s leadership style was more behind the scenes. Rather than chase glory for himself, Don says, his dad “preferred to help good people get elected.”

On Ronald Reagan’s Transition Team

“He (‘Doc’) did this on behalf of Ronald Reagan, supporting his presidential campaign from the beginning, almost before anyone else did. And for that reason, when Reagan won the election, he became part of his transition team. For some time, Dad was spending more time in Washington than in Springfield,” Don recalls.

(Doc’s family included three sons and a daughter, and lived first in Sherwood, then on Noble south of Outer Park Drive.)

In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine an immigrant’s grandson, who was known for serving his personal recipe chili at the Ann Rutledge Pancake House, as a D.C. power-broker. But it seems “Doc” and his Yates uncles, like the offspring of so many immigrants, straddled more than one world with their political and business ambitions. Moreover, their politics based on family and ethnic alliances served as a bridge to the kind of politics we have today.

Although Don, Jr., couldn’t recall anything specific, he confirms that “Doc” felt “a pretty strong connection, something of an obligation, too, to his fellow Lithuanian-Americans, and tried to help them when he could.” Don says his father also eventually “received three or four awards from Lithuanian-American groups.”

All family photos courtesy of William Yates, Jr.

A Book for Christmas?

Happy holidays! If you’re looking for a Lithuanian-themed gift, Noonan’s Hardware on North Grand Avenue is selling the updated, final edition of my book, “A Century of Lithuanians in Springfield, Illinois.” This will probably be the last Christmas when the book is in stock at Noonan’s and so conveniently available for Springfield readers–and for just $20 a copy.  If you’re not in Central Illinois, you can find it on amazon.com for $21.95.

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