The Croatian Diaspora

Annual National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation Meeting Held

July 2, 2020 - If you're surprised to hear that the Annual Assembly of Delegates of The National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation took place over Zoom, one has to wonder what you've been doing for the past six months! 

The National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation celebrated its 27th Annual Assembly of Delegates meeting, and not in Philadelphia as planned, but with three virtual zoom events. This year within a COVID-19 pandemic, the weekend opened with a virtual "Happy Hour" zoom celebration on Friday, June 5th, and a fundraiser for Croatia's Special Olympics. We were honored to have specials guests including world-famous winemaker Miljenko Grgich, filmmaker Nikola Knez and singer, Tony Butala of The Lettermen all zoomed in and spoke to our sixty participants.

The virtual guests were first entertained by the Croatian Fraternal Union's 354, The St. George Combo consisting of Derek Hohn, Marlene Luketich-Kochis, Bernadette Luketich-Sikaras, Marko Kochis and Dan Kochis got the party started with two Croatian songs: "Zdigni Casu." and "Jabuke." Annie Bosko, 2019 NFCACF "40 Under 40” winner closed as a featured entertainer and spoke to explain how her song "The Fighter" became her tribute to the COVID-19 front line workers! Annie's song was a big hit and as her powerful video played on the screen, a few tears were shed by several Croatian Americans.

Author Nadean Stone discussed her book "No Stone Unturned: A Remarkable Journey to Identity" which has been called "riveting" and received an Amazon 5-star review. Nadean's 44-year emotional roller coaster search for her identity brought over 100 Croatian cousins into her life. Nadean was finally able to finally track down her birth parents though she was thwarted for years by Canadian adoption laws. Nikola Knez, the filmmaker spoke about his recent film "Operation Storm" which the NFCACF showcased on Capitol Hill in October 2019. Mirena Bagur, representing Premium Wines of Boston shared her lifelong respect to Miljenko Grgich with a few stories. Mirena’s firm sells wonderful Croatian wines including Plavac Mali, Pošip, Plavac Mali Rose, and Saints Hill Dingač too.

Tony Butala, the founder and singer of The Lettermen made a guest appearance and shared a few career highlights about his illustrious career which included nine gold albums. It was discussed too how the song "The Way You Look Tonight” was a hit by The Lettermen in 1962 and two years before Frank Sinatra ever recorded it. Tony Butala won an NFCACF Lifetime achievement award in 2016 and has been active over the years within the Croatian American community and has headlined over fifteen successful Croatian fundraisers.

Andrea Novak Neumann was the executive producer of the sixty-minute NFCACF Croatian Happy Hour production and Eric Gregrich, managed the auction bids and items throughout the program. The auction winners and top bidders were Joe Brajevich, Marko Buljan, Carol Gartland, Mirena Bagur, Sanja Newman, Vedran Joseph Nazor and Dr. Damira Caric.

NFCACF thanks all the sponsors for the night: Grgich Hills Winery; Croatian Premium Wines (Boston); National Croatian Fraternal Union office; Herman Mihalich with his PA Dad's Hat Rye Whiskey, Nikola Knez (DVD films); Nena Komarica with her donation of Katunar Zlahtina wine. Andrea Novak Neumann introduced to attendees, the NFCA Clothing line which can be found at the website:

On Saturday morning, June 6th, the 27th Annual Assembly of Delegates meeting commenced and with thirty delegates on line for the private meeting. President Steve Rukavina opened up the morning proceedings with his annual State of the Union address with a focus on many of the past year’s priority activities. He mentioned that the organization is involved now with the management of two Catholic Church restoration projects in Croatia. He discussed: partnering with American Airlines and Croatia's Tourism Ministry regarding non-stop flights to Dubrovnik; raising $21,000 for the MUO-Arts and Craft Museum in Zagreb for restoration after the earthquake; arranging six "40 Under 40” award events; the on-going DTT and the Visa Waiver program activities and an October Croatian Congressional Caucus event. The NFCACF President stressed the significance of our continued dialogue with both the US and Croatian ambassadors and with the US State Department. He mentioned his very successful trip to Croatia, the summer of 2019 which included two dinners with the US Ambassador, a major Special Olympics event in Gospić, and meetings in Dubrovnik. He concluded with thanking the Board Members for all their volunteer time, keeping the organization very active and making a difference on a shoestring budget.

Next, the NFCACF National Treasurer, Eric Gregrich presented all the financial balances, listed all the group’s physical assets, and predicted a "budget neutral" year of 2020. The NFCACF committees gave their virtual reports live to all the delegates. The first one was about by-laws by John Kraljic with a few new clauses especially dealing with virtual-telephonic conferences. The BiH Croat Task Force with Zvonko Labas and Biljana Lovrinovic Abel shared a few updates about projects in motion and the recent controversy about a Mass in Sarajevo to honor the victims of the Tito Communist regime. The Special Projects committee members, Steve Rukavina and Vedran Nazor presented details about two new Catholic Church Restoration projects in Jelsa (Hvar) and in Racisce (Korcula) that the NFCACF are partnering with. The Social Media Chair Adam Radman outlined new developments with Facebook, social media and with the website. The Sports Hall of Fame Chair, Vedran Nazor highlighted the plans and process over the next 12-15 months for this exciting initiative. Dr. Dinko Podrug, Chair of the Art Committee shared updates about our collaboration with the MUO-Arts and Craft Museum and about our three NFCACF paintings there. He was very pleased that we were able to raise $21,000 for the relief fund for the Museum.

The delegates heard from Anna Maria Sicenica regarding the 2019 minutes from the Pittsburgh annual meeting. Also, a Croatian Fraternal Union report came from CFU President Ed Pazo with many highlights especially about the 125th Anniversary weekend in September 2019 in Pittsburgh. The Washington Report was next from NFCACF Public Affairs consultant, Joe Foley, which included Visa Waiver and Double Taxation Treaty updates and details about a Capitol Hill Croatian Congressional Caucus event in October 2019. The delegates heard a Medical Tourism and ACAP update from Dr. Steve Pavletic and a report by Nena Komarica about some proposed collaboration with the Archeological Institute of America and their commitment to support Zagreb's Archaeology Museum.
Next, the delegates elected the 2020-2021 Officers and Board members first re-electing all officers from the previous year including Steve Rukavina-President (PA), Andrea Novak Neumann-Executive Vice President (MN), Frank Jerbich-1st VP (IL), Mario Spalatin-2nd VP (FL), John Kraljic-3rd VP (NY) and Eric Gregrich-National Treasurer (MD). Finally, the Executive Committee was finalized with the election of officers-at-large: Bernadette Luketich-Sikaras (PA), Biljana Lovrinovic Abel (OH), Carolyn Bruno (MN), Zvonko Labas (MD). The election of Anna Maria Sicenica (PA) as the National Secretary, completed all the positions on the Executive Committee.

Annie Bosko

Also, the following delegates were elected to the NFCACF Board including Lydia Antoncic (NY), Vido Artukovich (CA), Marko Buljan (CA), Marko Kirn (MN), Nena Komarica (NJ), Jim Kresnik (NE), Tatjana Mustac (NY), Tom Mustac (NY), Vedran Nazor (PA), Sanja Newman (MD), Dr. Steve Pavletic (MD), Mark Plavetic (MD), Adam Radman (DC), Jelena Rudela (NY), Tom Steich (MD) and Ron Zivic (OH). The CFU delegation of President Ed Pazo, Franjo Bertovic, Derek Hohn, and Michael Ricci were delegates at this meeting.

The Saturday afternoon public webinar with sixty participants first featured the US Ambassador to Croatia, Bob Kohorst. The US Ambassador gave a detailed report on several major issues of interest and first saluted the 27 years of US-Croatia relations. He cited the overall significance of US-Croatia NATO relationship. He discussed the many obstacles facing the efforts to secure the Avoidance of a Double Taxation Treaty (DTT) and why it's more complicated for a small country. He outlined the many other priority issues that keep the U.S. Treasury Department from negotiating with Croatia at this time and with over 100 countries already on their DTT list. There’s better news with the VISA waiver program which may be possible this year with hopes Croatia will achieve a less than 3% refusal rate and complete all the Department of Homeland Security protocols and requirements by September 30th. Ambassador Kohorst was very positive about how Croatia handled the COVID-19 health challenge. Finally, he spoke positively about Croatia's recent success securing contracts for their floating Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal, near the island of Krk and which in his estimation has become an important security issue and the existence should result with less energy reliance on Russia, for all of Southeast Europe.

Ambassador Pjer Šimunović spoke about currently holding the seat of Presidency of the European Council and unfortunately so many events had to be postponed due to the pandemic. He explained how Croatia's EU Presidency then became more "crisis" management than the planned focus on future programs and policies for the EU. He detailed how the EU intends support to help the economy and tourism of Croatia and all EU countries to offshoot the expected losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Croatian Ambassador shared that the Washington, DC Embassy will continue all their work with the on-going DTT and VISA waiver projects.

The former US Senator Mark Begich of Alaska spoke about his official role in Alaska with COVID-19 economic development initiatives, especially about dynamic supply chain links. Mark is very proud that his father was the first Croatian American Congressman and mentioned his nephew Nick, a NFCACF "40 Under 40” winner, has a successful business located in Zagreb. The former Mayor of Anchorage mentioned he would welcome the chance to get involved with a Croatian project in the future.

Former US Senator Mark Begich 

National CFU President Ed Pazo spoke next and shared some wonderful highlights from the 125th anniversary. Brother Pazo was very pleased that Madam President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic attended the September 2019 banquet with 675 others, including Pittsburgh's Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and prominent Congressman Mike Doyle. The CFU President cited how proud he was of the CFU Earthquake relief fund which raised $150,000 kuna and was sent recently to the Croatian Red Cross.

The public webinar finished with three brief presentations. First, from Joe Foley, the NFCACF Public Affairs Consultant shared details and updates about Capitol Hill activities. Then two partnering organizations based in Zagreb spoke next: Sladjana Tatic, from Croatia's Special Olympics, talked about their successful six-year partnering relationship with the NFCACF and their great appreciation of all the NFCACF financial support; Miroslav Gasparovic, from the MUO-Arts and Crafts Museum, shared details about the earthquake cleanup and their appreciation for our relief donation and for showcasing a few leased NFCACF paintings housed there.

There was no closing dinner this year during this pandemic crisis and there are plans for the 28th Annual Assembly of Delegates to be held in Philadelphia, in June of 2021. The NFCACF organization thanks everyone whose energy, support, and virtual vision made this annual meeting a unique success at a surreally challenging time for all of us.


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