History of the Federation of Croatian Societies
In 1934 Milwaukee had many different Croatian organizations. Members of these organizations felt a need to create once central corporate body so as to help pool resources, coordinate various activities, and most importantly promote the Croatian language and culture.On March 26, 1934, twenty-three Milwaukee Croatian organizations banded together and created an umbrella organization which they named Hrvatska Središnjica.Among theses organizations were: Croatian Fraternal Union lodges, Milwaukee 261, West Allis 392, Vanguards 807, Jednakost 391, Nada 255; Croatian Catholic Union lodges, St. Anthony 12, St. Joseph 20 and Marija Bistrica 36; the two parish Catholic Churches, Sacred Heart and St. Augustine; Hrvatska Seljačka Stranka; Hrvatska Žena, lodge 3; First Croatian Ladies Benefit Society, Milwaukee; Croatian Eagles Soccer Club; Hrvatski Sokol, Hrvatska Plesačka Grupa; Pjevačko društvo Sveta Cecilija; Tamburaški Zbor Sloboda; Pjevački Zbor Zagreb; Tamburaški Zbor Hrvatske Kćeri, Kolo Sin i Kćeri; and Pjevački Zbor Sloboda.On November 16, 1938 the Hrvatska Središnjica officially filed its Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State, of the State of Wisconsin and adopted the name: Croatian Central Committee, Inc. The two page document of incorporation, recorded on November 29, 1938 with Milwaukee County’s Register of Deeds, reveals that the incorporators were: Joseph Wodvarka, Michael E. Sostarich and Matt Dudovich. Attorney Edward T. Berkanovich was the Notary Public that helped in the drafting of the document and that notarized it and prepared it for filing.In addition to other events, the Federation sponsored a yearly picnic. In the beginning the Croatian Day picnics were held at Arcadian Park, but many delegates and other Croatians longed for a park of their own, for a piece of land they could call “Hrvatska zemlja”. In 1954, the Federation began to save money to purchase a tract of land to develop into a park for picnics as well as space for a soccer field.
In October 1956, the Federation’s Treasurer, Michael F. Benesch wrote: “After many years of planning and acquiring small sums of money set aside after other obligations were satisfied, an accumulation of $5,000 was realized.” A 20 acre tract of land was bought on October 11, 1956 at a cost of $15,000. Through the efforts of Mr. John Rupena, who acted as the surety, the Federation negotiated a loan of $10,000 from the Marine Capital Bank. A lot of work needed to be done on the undeveloped land. Many Croatian organizations and individuals donated money and time to clearing, leveling and improving the land for a park, picnic area and soccer field.
In 1957, the grand opening of the Croatian Park took place. It was a festive occasion that brought together many Croatian Americans to taste lamb, suckling pig and chicken roasted on spits, broiled sausages and of course to drink Milwaukee’s favorite beers.
In 1959 on the occasion of the Federation’s 25th Anniversary, Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson proclaimed that years July picnic at Croatian Park to be American-Croatian Day in the state of Wisconsin. Acting Governor Martin Schreiber made a similar proclamation in 1978 as did Milwaukee County Executive William O’Donnell. For the 50th anniversary of the Federation, Governor Anthony Earl proclaimed July 29th, 1984 as American Croatian Day for Wisconsin and called upon all citizens to partake in the celebration.
On the very first official Croatian Day a parade was held from Milwaukee to Arcadian Park. Each organization decorated a float and the people accompanying the floats wore their Croatian costumes. It was a festive time as Croatians proudly displayed their beautiful costumes and boasted their heritage. Since then American Croatian Day has always been celebrated in July at the Croatian Park.
In 1980, the Federation was able to purchase 10 acres immediately to the south of Croatian Park at a cost of $15,000. This is the same price it had paid for the original 20 acres some 25 years earlier, when inflation had not yet permeated land prices. This contiguous piece of land was purchased from the Standard Oil Company. The company stated they were selling this land to the Federation for this low price since they believed that the Federation would put it to good use, and indeed it was. The Croatian Eagles Soccer Club together with the Federation filled the swamp areas, leveled a new soccer field and developed a new parking area out of these new 10 acres. In addition another soccer field was developed in the eastern most unused portion of the original 20 acre tract of land. Today the Croatian Park can boast of having 5 regulation size soccer fields that can be increased to 6 soccer fields for tournament play.
It would be impossible to give a complete rendition of the Federation’s activities since it was first put together in 1934. The Federation has helped many other organizations in the Croatian community of Milwaukee both financially and morally since its beginning.
It would be difficult to name all of the people that over the years have given their time and/or financial support for the Federation. However, one of the greatest actions taken by the Federation was the purchase of the original 20 acre tract of land in 1956. The Federation’s officers that took that bold step were as follows:
First Vice-President: Ante Ruzic
Second Vice-President: Steve Dejanovic
Secretary: Slavica (Savica) Modrijan
Second Secretary: Andjelko Mihaljevic
Treasurer: Anna Sziebel
Second Treasurer: Anna Rukavina
Supervisory Committee: Martin Rukavina, Steve Adamovic and Steve Skender
Educational Committee: Josephine Burazin, Steve Weber, Helen Dejanovic, Sophie Petek, Manda Grgezic
Today the Federation is composed of the following member groups: Sacred Heart Church; St. Augustine Church; American Croatian Radio Club; Croatian Eagles Soccer Club; United American Croatians; Croatian Fraternal Union Lodges, Sliver Strings 1959 and West Allis 392; & Silver Strings/Hrvatska Bura/Milwaukee Croatian Tamburitzans (MCT)/Granicari Orchestras.