History of “Zora” Lodge 351

Detroit’s Lodge 351 “Zora” of the Croatian Fraternal Union of America has amassed a proud and distinguished history over the last 100 years – a century full of remarkable activities and contributions by its extraordinary leaders and members.

This story began as a large wave of our Croatian people immigrated to the United States between 1905 and 1914 to escape the cruel and oppressive Austro Hungarian Government. They came from cities and villages throughout Croatia, most with a dream of returning to the homeland some day with their newfound fortunes. Lacking proficiency in the English language and most lacking higher education, these ancestors sought employment in industries that valued their work ethic. It seemed only natural that many of them settled in the industrial City of Detroit to work in the mills and factories of the early 20th century.

Organization of Lodge 351 “Zvijezda” (“Star”)

Lodge 351 “Zvijezda” of the Narodna Hrvatska Zajednica (National Croatian Society) received its charter in 1906. The earliest recorded minutes are from a meeting dated June 19, 1907 when nineteen Croatian men recognized a need to secure for their families some measure of protection and security in this strange, new place – Detroit, Michigan, America. They bet their futures on the belief that success could be best achieved by participating in an organization whose members shared their same Croatian heritage, language, and customs. These men and their families endured great hardships to get to America, and they arrived amidst a severe economic depression, but, united by their common background, these pioneers successfully braved the challenges of the “New World” and went on to lay the very foundation of our Lodge 351 and the Croatian Fraternal Union of America.

It is with the greatest respect and gratitude that we honor the founders of Lodge 351 “Zvijezda”: Ivan Bostnik, Simon Cerkes, Janko Cvetnić, Stjepan Cvetnić, Juro Dobrinić, Juro Duzić, Ivan Gjumbir, Valentin Horvatić, Andro Jurković, Franjo Krajačić, Stjepan Krizanić, Mato Kosić, Ivan Magličić, Marko Magličić, Ivan Moran, Josip Popović, Stjepan Stuban, Blaz Zinić, and Imbro Zucić.

In order to fully appreciate the birth of our Lodge 351, one must look at it in the context of the time period. Detroit was very different then. Firetrucks were still drawn by horses and Ty Cobb was a rookie with the Detroit Tigers. The Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk and the founding of the Ford Motor Company happened only 3 years earlier. Sweet Adeline, Meet Me in St. Louis and School Days were the popular songs of the time period. Electric lights were still a rarity – most homes were lit with gas – and daily wages averaged about a dollar for 16-18 hours of work.

As America grew up, so did our Lodge. The records of the organization provide a fascinating chronology of this evolution.

In 1907, women were not accepted as full members, but as “associate” members entitled to only one-half the benefits of their male counterparts. Meetings were held in members’ homes since the Lodge did not have its own hall yet.

The 1909 New Year’s Eve dance was held in a hall at Gratiot and Russell in Detroit. The hall rental was $5.00 and music was provided by a brass band (not tamburitza) at a cost of $7.50. The net profit from this event was $11.50 according to the ledger. Later that year, a resolution was passed giving the only two female members of the Lodge the option of not attending meetings since it “did not look good for two women to be in a room with 20 men”. However, a fine of $.25 was imposed on male members for failure to attend Lodge meetings and Lodge officers paid a hefty fine of $1.00 for their absence.

By 1912, the Lodge had purchased property at 1329 East Kirby, Detroit, Michigan to build a home for itself. Meeting minutes from September 15, 1913 indicate that the membership voted to proceed with the building of the first Croatian Home under the ownership of “Zvijezda” Lodge 351 of the National Croatian Society at that location. The members were so committed to the project that by October, barely 30 days later, they were able to meet in their new quarters though it was quite unfinished (apparently nothing more than a frame with a roof). When completed, the “Croatian Hall” was a brick structure, which included a dance hall, stage, dressing rooms, kitchen, steambaths and Lodge offices. Another office was thereafter added for the Croatian Building and Loan Association, which later closed in bankruptcy during the great depression.

In 1916, one year after the National Croatian Society had founded the Junior Order; Lodge 351 “Zvijezda” formed its own Junior Nest 65 to provide insurance benefits and cultural activities for the members’ children.

As more of our people arrived in Detroit and spread into different neighborhoods, other Croatian groups were formed including two Lodges of the Croatian Catholic Union (1921). The Croatian community also built its own church – St. Jerome Roman Catholic Church – during this period on Oakland Avenue at Melbourne. Services were conducted in the Croatian language.

The National Croatian Home was incorporated in 1923 to own and manage the Lodge hall as a business separate from the operation of the Lodge itself which, as part of a larger fraternal benefit society, was engaged in providing insurance services for its members. (This corporation operated the Kirby facility and, later both the “little” and “big” halls on East McNichols, until the “big” hall was eventually sold in 1981.)

During these early years, Lodge 351 was the center of Croatian activity in the Detroit area with many cultural clubs and organizations being formed by its members.

The Croatian Singing Society Slavulj (Nightingale) was organized in 1923 and performed innumerable concerts and operettas throughout its 55-year existence. Tom Filkovich, its first director, was also president of Lodge 351 at the time. In addition to providing the greater Detroit/Windsor Croatian community with the music it loved, Slavulj engaged in many performances throughout the country as part of an active exchange network with other Croatian singing societies. It also bears mentioning that Slavulj was a major financial contributor to the construction of the “big hall” on East McNichols, a donation that earned Slavulj its own room to house its music library and in which it could conduct rehearsals and meetings.

On June 5, 1927, Drama Club Iskra was organized. These were Lodge members who had a special talent for oratory and their first presentation was “Sokica”. Early Lodge records indicate this group performed weekly for various clubs, preparing a new drama each month.

An inventory, taken in 1929, of the assets of the Croatian Home on Kirby listed the following:

  • Main Hall: (1) organ and round table, (489) chairs and (3) tracks for chairs, a stage with dressing rooms on each side, (3) chairs in a small room behind the stage
  • Entrance: a check room, (100) hangers, a small table and on the left – the Lodge office
  • Room: (2) big tables, (5) chairs, (1) cupboard for books and (1) cupboard for the flag (banner)
  • Bar Room: (1) bar, mirror behind bar, (1) register, (1) ice box, (5) tables, (13) chairs, (1) clock, (1) writing desk, (1) bench, (2) plates or boards (writing), (3) hoses for wine, (1) large container for wine, (2) dozen large glasses, (4) dozen small glasses, (5) brass spittoons
  • Kitchen: (1) bench for cutting meat, (1) gas stove, (1) scale, (1) pot
  • Basement: (19) lamps, (27) rolls of toilet paper, (101) old bulbs, (400) hangers, (1) electric pump, (1) fan, (5) gallons of vinegar (4 years old), (1) small bar, (3) tables, (68) old chairs, (1) window screen, (1) press, (16) full barrels of cider, (2) flasks for cider, 150 feet of hose, (2) pipes for wine, (2) glass doors, (4) big wooden doors, (5) small doors, (15) long tables for weddings, (3) step ladders, (1) long ladder, (4) wall pictures, (4) exit lamps, empty barrels: (20) 50-gallon, (1) 30-gallon, (1) 15-gallon, (1) 5-gallon

Janko Hrvačić organized the Detroit Tamburitza Symphony in 1936. The musicians, who desired to perpetuate Croatian classical symphonic music, were members of various local tamburitza orchestras including the Balkans, Budućnost, Bratstvo, Jedinstvo, and Zora. They elevated tamburitza music from the bar room to the concert stage and performed locally for Lodge and civic functions. It appears that this group also participated in a number of performances with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The Detroit Tamburitza Symphony dissolved shortly after World War II and was later reborn as the Detroit Senior Tamburitzans.

Other organizations flourishing during this period were St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church, Hrvatska Žena Br. 5 “Katarina Zrinska”, Dalmatinski Prosvetni Klub “Jadran”, Kolo Hrvatskih Sinova i Sestara, Croatian Catholic Union, Singing Society “Zvonimir”, and the Croatian Falcon Group.

Organization of Lodge 54 “Zora” (“Dawn”)

Perhaps due to the need for a parallel organization in its own neighborhood, Lodge 54 “Zora” was organized on March 20, 1912 in the home of the late Stjepan Ruklić at Medbury and Russell Streets in Detroit, MI. The founding members were Izidor Mance, Stjepan Ruklić, Vit Jurković, Katarina Ruklić, Ljudevit Bina, Jelisava Radaković, Ivan Horvat, Josip Stipić, Blaž Rubčić, Stojan Radovanović, Mihael Fradel, Dorica Horvat, Nikola Cagarić, Suzana Makan, Juliana Mrvoš, Paval Mrazovac, Martin Martić, Ilija Mandić, Frank Stimac, Josip Krčelić and Anton Cvetanović. Lodge 54 “Zora” gained special distinction in the annals of the Croatian Fraternal Union as the Lodge that, by itself, completely furnished the first building for the resident children in the CFU Children’s Home in Des Plaines, Illinois, which was established in 1918. With only a handful of orphans being cared for, the CFU Children’s Home was sold in 1970.

In an interesting evolutionary step, Lodge 54 “Zora” received an appeal from members wanting to organize an English speaking Lodge as part of the assimilation process into the American culture and perhaps to recognize that the adult children of the Lodge’s founders no longer spoke the Croatian language fluently. On January 12, 1930, Lodge 54 “Zora” members and officers approved the request and donated $25.00 toward the formation of the new Lodge initially named “Wolverine” and later called “Onyx” Lodge 717, a CFU Lodge that still exists in the Detroit area.

The organization prospered and, on January 23, 1937, Lodge 54 “Zora” celebrated its 25th anniversary at the Roumanian Hall. According to the meeting minutes and Lodge ledgers, the rent for the event was $60 and two orchestras – a Dalmacija Orchestra and a Jazz band – were hired to play at the rate of $1 per hour. Banquet tickets were $1.00 for adults and 25¢ for children. The total revenue was $529.00 and expenses were $503.00 leaving a profit of $26.00 for the affair. Interestingly, the records note that apples and oranges were sold at this and most other Lodge affairs.

Merger of Lodge 351 “Zvijezda” and Lodge 54 “Zora

With phones in every home and cars in most garages after World War II, the interaction amongst all Croatians in the Detroit area increased and the leaders and members of “Zvijezda” and “Zora” came to recognize that joining together and pooling their resources would better serve the needs of the Croatian people throughout the community.

In May of 1952, Lodge 54 “Zora” with 325 members and Lodge 351 “Zvijezda” with 820 members merged into what we now know as Lodge 351 “Zora”. The two junior nests were combined into Nest 318 “Zvijezda”. The first Croatian home on Kirby had been sold several years earlier and a new building at 1735 E. McNichols was purchased. While the merger of the two Lodges and the joinder of their memberships hinted at the need for a larger facility, the prospect of continuing growth as families expanded coupled with a new wave of post-war immigration made it clear that an even larger facility would be needed.

By February of 1956, plans were initiated for a new and larger building on adjoining property and in August of 1958, after untold sacrifices, this ambition was achieved when the beautiful new Croatian Home was completed. While much well deserved credit is given to members and organizations for donations of funds and labor to the new facility, a special artistic feature greatly added to the splendor of this new hall. Brother Arthur Sertich restored the painting by Vlaho Bukovac, Hrvatski Preporod (Birth of Croatia), which formed the stunning main backdrop on the stage of the new hall. Flanking this main feature were brother Sertich’s renderings of Dubrovnik’s famed ramparts to one side and a painting of Zagreb highlighting the Church of St. Mark with its famous tiled roof displaying various Croatian cultural icons.

This grand new building served as a center for Lodge 351 “Zora” and its subsidiary clubs, as well as the entire Croatian community. It prompted a revitalization of existing clubs and the formation of new ones. The Zagorski, Primorski, Dalmatinski and Lički Clubs (representing the members’ various areas of origin) became very active raising funds for the new building and for charitable purposes in the homeland, primarily through their memorable banquets featuring foods of their native regions. These clubs ceased to exist as separate entities after the move to current building on Ryan Road, except for Lički Club which continued until 2001.

Another very important group was organized on March 7, 1954 when Marie Morgan, Stephanie Lambert, Marijana Relich, Irene Petracic, Katy Kosovec, Helen Hecimovich, and Helen Stimac met to form the Mothers Club as a support group for the junior nest. Marie Morgan Morrell was the first president and their first function was a card party, which brought in a profit of $49.30. Kolo and tambura classes were offered and began on May 14, 1954 with Katy Kosovec teaching the first kolo class. The group’s debut performance was in November of that year at the 60th anniversary celebration of the CFU at the new American Serbian Hall in Detroit. Funds were initially raised by the ladies working in the kitchen at the club on Saturday nights and, by the summer of 1955, Mother’s Club was able to purchase tambura instruments for the children to use under the direction of Andrew Benda, their first musical instructor. Other fundraisers included Marge Perpich and Natalie Babich teaching the first adult kolo class in 1956, and later by printing the first of several cookbooks in 1975. Since 1976, this group has focused on raising funds for the Lodge. Mothers Club celebrated its Golden Anniversary with a gala banquet in 2004 and continues to this day to be a vital asset of Lodge 351 “Zora”.

The kolo and tambura classes initiated by Mothers Club have since evolved into the Detroit Star Tamburitzans, which continues to perform locally and nationally promoting and preserving our Croatian musical heritage. These young performers are all members of Nest 318 “Zvijezda” and their most notable accomplishments were concert tours throughout Croatia in 1975 and 1984 under the direction of Kenneth Kosovec as guests of Matica Iseljenika Hrvatska and the recording of a full length album under director, Michael Marusich. The unified efforts of Lodge 351, Mothers Club and the Dads Club made these events possible. (Dads Club formed in 1974 specifically to help raise funds for the first concert tour of Croatia and disbanded in 1982.) In 1976, the newly formed Parents’ Club took over sponsorship of the kolo and tambura classes and continues in this capacity currently with its fund raising strudel sales, fish and spaghetti dinners and other functions. The success of these early programs for our children is evident from their ongoing participation in Lodge activities, the introduction of their own children to our musical culture, and the visible role our “graduates” maintain in keeping their ethnic cultural traditions alive through their participation in the Croatian Fraternal Union, the Tamburitza Association of America, and their own professional tamburitza groups performing at Croatian events throughout North America and Croatia.

Another group to come on the scene in the late fifties was the Young Adults Club, which was organized in 1957. These energetic people sponsored Friday night pinochle tournaments and assisted the sports committee with bowling tournaments and other sports activities both locally and under the national sponsorship of the CFU. The club dissolved shortly before the Lodge’s relocation to the Ryan Road site.

Also organized in 1957 was the Detroit Senior Tamburitzans. John Belavich, Louie Milunovich, Vince Petricevich, George Ruzich and Tony Ruzich were instrumental in this undertaking to fill the void left by the disbanding of the Detroit Tamburitza Symphony many years earlier. The orchestra is now known as the Detroit Tamburitza Orchestra (DTO) and has performed under the direction of such talented musicians as Andrew Benda, Steve Pavlekovich, James Guracech, and its current director, Kenneth Kosovec (all members of the Tamburitza Association of America’s Hall of Fame). DTO, which performs compositions arranged specifically for large tamburitza orchestras, is recognized nationally as the flagship of this type of adult tamburitza ensemble. Its members were instrumental in helping the CFU to organize its first Tamfest with DTO as a model for the formation and participation of other adult tamburitza ensembles. In addition to performing for annual concerts, Lodge, community and civic functions, they performed in a concert tour of Croatia in 1984 directed by James Guracech. This group remains healthy and active on the eve of its 50th anniversary next year.

Another important group, the Pensioners Club was organized in May of 1958 with an initial membership of 15 retirees. The officers elected at that first meeting were Joseph Dobrinec, Anton Tomasin, Anton Narich, Ivan Horak and Josip Stuglin. Rules and purposes of the club were established as follows:

  1. That retirees get together and spend the time of day with conversation, jokes, and games such as checkers, cards, etc. and reminisce of old times.
  2. That they visit each other when ill and hospitalized and offer as much assistance as possible
  3. Help the younger members in the Lodge with advice based on their experiences in Lodge activities.
  4. Pay tribute to members who pass away and help remaining spouse whenever possible.

By 1960 they had 225 members and had formed their own tamburitza orchestra and bowling teams and, for many years, undertook the janitorial duties at the hall. With a current membership of 50 these “young at heart” seniors still meet monthly.

Relocation and the new era

In 1976, a deteriorating neighborhood, decreasing attendance at Lodge affairs and meetings, and increasing taxes, utility bills and maintenance costs prompted Lodge members to consider relocation. The Lodge was losing money daily and a move was necessary if it was to salvage even a part of its members’ investment.

This was an emotionally charged issue for the membership given the sentimental attachment and pride in the large hall and the fact that the mortgage had long since been paid off. The decision was further complicated by the declining value of the property in that neighborhood and the high cost of replacing it with a building in a safe, suburban location. Several special Lodge meetings were held and the membership ultimately voted to sell the large hall on East McNichols in favor of relocating to a more positive environment. (The smaller hall at 1735 E.McNichols had been demolished some years earlier.)

President John Belavich appointed a New Home Site Building Committee in May of 1976. Members serving on the committee were John Belavich, George Benda, Chuck Bidoli, Steve Devich, Fred Gregorich, John Kosovec Jr., Ludwig Kosovec, Thomas Kosovec, Steve Lipak, Dorothy Radman, Babe Ranilovich, and Nick Serdar. The task was daunting. Fund raising commenced in earnest, as did the search for an affordable property in a central suburban location upon which to create a new Croatian Cultural Center. After three banquets and appeals to members for donations, the Lodge treasury had only collected $39,774 by the end of 1980. The dream of acquiring a vacant parcel and constructing a new facility would simply not be possible, and the strategy shifted to locating an existing building that would accommodate the members’ needs.

In 1981, and with heavy hearts, the membership agreed to sell the beautiful hall at 1721 E. McNichols in Detroit, Michigan in a decision that must have been reminiscent of how our Lodge pioneers felt when they sold their first hall on Kirby. A “temporary” solution was found in the form of a smaller, but functional, office building with two revenue generating rental units on Ryan Road in Warren, Michigan. Though affordable, it was admittedly not large enough for all of the Lodge’s activities and events. It was however a first step in a positive direction.

And so, Lodge 351 “Zora” began a new chapter in its history – a rebirth – in a new neighborhood in a new home with a membership comprised of first, second, and now third generation Croatians. As always, the officers and members rose to the occasion by personally contributing their knowledge, skills, time and funds for the good of the organization. Directing the effort was the Lodge executive board: John Belavich, Tom Kosovec, Vilma Borovich, Andy Dellach, Ludwig Kosovec, Mary Serdar, Chuck Bidoli, and Jennie Rollinson. Logistical and strategic support was provided by the New Home Site Building Committee: Steve Devich, Fred Gregurich, John Kosovec Jr., Steve Lipak, Dorothy Radman, Ed ‘Babe’ Ranilovich and Nick Serdar. George Benda contributed his legal expertise and Ken Kosovec oversaw the real estate transactions. Chuck Bidoli capably supervised the move into the new American Croatian Home.

While the difficult relocation decision had been made, and the transactions to facilitate it were completed, the physical work was only just beginning. The building itself needed to be stripped of its office configuration and retrofitted into a social gathering place. This was accomplished with the team work of the entire membership, but especially through the various contributions of Ivan Benda –architectural plans; Chuck Bidoli, Charles ‘Buddy’ Morgan, Andy Dellach and Tony Radman – floor tiling; Bill Cindrich – Club sign; Bob Cindrich – two office desks; John Dubrovich – kolo dancers painting; Ed Jergovich – exit lights and panic bars; Ludwig Kosovec – coat rack, backdoor ramp, cupboard brackets; Frank Perpich – ice machine installation; Harry Perpich and Mark Puz – back bar installation; Whitey Puz and Nick Kokotovich – exterior security lighting; Ken Slank – recessed lightning installation; Andy Dellach – roof repair; Marie Morrell – tablecloths; Ruth Belavich, Barbara Guracech, Judy Kosovec, Dorothy Radman and Mary Serdar – kitchen layout; Mothers Club – stove, tables, chairs; Parents Club – tables; Young Adults – jukebox. Materials and equipment were reused to the extent possible and the excess was disposed of at a garage sale in November of 1982.

On February 23, 1981 the Ryan Road Hall saw its first formal activity, a meeting of the Lodge executive board, and by March of that year, Mothers Club hosted the first general membership meeting. As the Lodge, its clubs, and its activities began to normalize again after the move, attention was re-focused on core issues and growing the membership.

Soon after its rebirth at the new site in Warren, Lodge 351 “Zora” celebrated its 75th Anniversary on September 26, 1982. This auspicious event commenced with a keynote address by CFU National President Bernard Luketich, followed with performances by the Detroit Tamburitza Orchestra under the direction of James Guracech, and the Detroit Star Tamburitzans under the direction of Kenneth Kosovec and Bernadette Luketich. This truly grand event was capped with Orchestra Lole providing the evening’s entertainment.

In 1983, 600 copies of the first Lodge Newsletter were sent to the membership detailing past and upcoming events and generally sharing information of interest to the members. Katy Kosovec, Eva Columbo, Helen Bidoli, Tammy Slank, Janet Belavich, Sarah Cindrich, Cathy Boley, Marge Chovich, Kelly Kosovec, Marian Guracech and John Tarbunas have all served as editors of the newsletter over the years. The new millenium has also now witnessed the Lodge Newsletter go out via email for its internet savvy members.

Other advances continue to occur as well. To the extent that our Lodge is part of the Croatian Fraternal Union, which serves primarily as an insurance provider to our Croatian people (in addition to its cultural sponsorship), the issue of premium payments has evolved. In March of 1985, the Lodge membership voted in favor of direct billing of insurance premiums, which eliminated the need for members to personally bring their premium payments to the Lodge financial secretary who then forwarded them to the home office in Pennsylvania. Although this made the process more convenient, it reduced the regularity of visits to the Croatian Home by many of its members – a social activity that is missed by many.

Lodge 351 “Zora” continued to rebuild throughout the 1980s and on October 25, 1987 celebrated its 80th anniversary at the Our Lady of Czestochowa Church Hall where again CFU National President, Bernard Luketich, was guest speaker. Of course the Detroit Tamburitza Orchestra under James Guracech and the Detroit Star Tamburitzans under Frank Corak performed at this celebration, and our own junior group graduates, Orchestra Biseri, provided the evening’s entertainment.

After paying off the mortgage on the new building in April of 1991, the Lodge received a $30,000 payment from Macomb County in exchange for taking part of our “front yard” for the widening of Ryan Road. With these funds on hand, the road creeping closer to the building, and the perennial insufficient parking problem, discussions began regarding a possible relocation from this “temporary” site (as it was labeled in 1981).

Two years later, a new committee was tasked with analyzing the options of relocating to another site or renovating the existing facilities. Robert S. Novosel was appointed chairperson of this committee and together with Lodge Board Members John Belavich, Mark Mavretich, Barbara Ruppe, Nick Serdar, Mary Serdar, Helen Bidoli, Cathy Boley, Loren Pickert, and Ken Slank as well as additional committee members, George Benda, Patty Fox, Greg Guracech, Jim Guracech, Dennis Kosovec, Ken Kosovec, and Tony Ruzich, the evaluation process began.

Various options were considered including the possible purchase of another site, or even possibly selling the existing property and donating the proceeds to the new St. Lucy Croatian Catholic Church in exchange for the exclusive use of a portion of that complex for Lodge purposes. After many meetings, much investigation, and exhaustive discussions, the membership decided on June 2, 1994 to expand and renovate the present site. This entailed in part dismantling one of the two rental units to increase the Lodge’s function space to accommodate 210 persons for events.

While this new configuration was adequate for most purposes, larger banquets would still not be possible. This choice was however deemed most logical especially given that larger affairs could be held at the new Croatian Church or other rented facilities. Chairperson Novosel supervised the renovation process with Ivan Benda acting as architect and project manager. The process was not without its frustrations, but upon completion, a grand opening celebration was conducted with great pride on March 11, 1995 when the beautifully renovated American Croatian Home was presented to its members and guests. Obviously this fete could not have been accomplished but for the generosity and tenacity of our members and officers.

The timing of this event coincided nicely with the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Croatian Fraternal Union of America. Later that year on October 9, 1994, Michigan CFU Lodges 351, 518, 561, 643, and 717 sponsored a dinner at the Ukrainian Cultural Center commemorating the event with many CFU officers and other dignitaries present for the occasion.

As the CFU began its second century, Lodge 351 approached its 90th anniversary and on March 15, 1997, a banquet was held at our own building to celebrate the event. John Sicko, Second National Vice President of the CFU spoke on behalf of the home office and Trubaduri of Pittsburgh, a long time Detroit favorite, played for the afterglow.

The snug parking issue came to a fortunate but unexpected end in March of 1999 when Rite Aid Pharmacy purchased adjoining land for a new store. It did not need the excess depth of the parcel and agreed to sell three quarters of an acre to the Lodge for $100,000. An error by one of Rite Aid’s contractors conferred an additional benefit in the form of paving for our newly expanded parking area.

Of course, no history would be complete without a bit of trivia. Did you know that on January 6, 2002 (a Lodge meeting day), the Olympic Torch was carried through the 14 Mile Road/Ryan Road intersection at 3:25 p.m. We doubt that any other CFU Lodge can claim such a distinction.

Maintaining membership, especially active membership, is a challenge for every fraternal society. Lodge 351 “Zora” has been extremely fortunate have our own Club and to remain among the most active Lodges in the CFU. Noticing the decline in membership and activities of the other Detroit area CFU Lodges, an offer was extended, in September 2002, to the three other CFU Lodges in Metro Detroit, Lodges 518, 643 and 717, to merge with us. In March of 2003, we welcomed the members of Lodges 518 and 643 as they merged with us.

While our Lodge is strong in many ways, the growth, revitalization, and expansion processes were not without cost. Increasing taxes, utility and maintenance expenses on top of the mortgage obligation incurred to acquire the larger parking lot caused an uncomfortable financial reality check. To keep pace with such expenses and to stay “in the black”, the Lodge officers decided to appeal to the membership in January of 2005 for donations with the goal of burning the existing mortgage before the Lodge’s upcoming 100th anniversary celebration. The diehard Detroit Croatian community met the challenge and, on this 100th anniversary of Lodge 351 “Zora” we are proud to be one of the remaining few CFU Lodges to own its own building – and we own it debt free!

Other Lodge activities throughout the years

To appreciate the true scope of our Lodge’s importance to the Croatian community of Detroit, one must look at the broad range of activities sponsored by it.

For most of its existence, Lodge 351 “Zora” has had a Sports and Education Committee which has created and managed the Lodge’s own bowling leagues, golf leagues and baseball leagues. Under the larger umbrella of the CFU, this committee has also sponsored National Bowling Tournaments, the Great Lakes Midwest Bowling Tournaments, the CCU/CFU and the SNPJ/CFU Bowling Tournaments, the Joe Rady Midwest Golf Tournaments, the CFU National Golf Tournaments, the Nick Hecimovich Golf Tournament, the Rudy Perpich Scramble, a National Basketball Tournament and a National Softball Tournament. In 1967 for example, the Lodge hosted the 33rd CFU National Tenpin Tournament with more than 1200 bowlers.

On the education side, this committee has sponsored adult tambura and kolo classes as well as classes to teach our native Croatian language.

Nest activities for the children have also been a very important component of Lodge activities targeted at keeping the next generation involved and active. Who among us doesn’t remember fondly the Christmas and Easter parties, the old children’s bowling league, and various other kids’ events?

The annual Lodge picnics have been another source of great memories with tamburitza music and barbecued lamb and chicken. Our parents’ photo albums are no doubt full of snapshots from Maple Grove, Transylvania or the Knights of Columbus picnic grounds of somebody turning the lambs by hand over the glowing charcoal, bare chested young men playing bocce ball or horseshoes, and the girls in their skirts dancing kolos to impress the guys. There were always games for the children and sometimes for the adults (including the Lički rock toss of late).

Ever mindful of the contributions of its members, the Lodge annually salutes it most recent 50-year members with their own special banquet, and each year, members who have made special contributions to the Lodge are feted at a banquet in their honor.

Perhaps as a way to compensate for the diminishing use of the native language here in the states, the folk music and dances have grown in importance as a way to preserve the Croatian culture. Lodge 351 “Zora” has undertaken whenever possible to present groups whose tours in North America have been sponsored by the Croatian Fraternal Union, and let us not forget that the Lodge sponsored annual performances of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans in Detroit for almost 50 years.

As important as all of these functions are in their own right, a common thread running through them all is our food. Whether in the form of the Sunshine Breakfast, the Croatian Cafe featuring our native dishes, our barbecued lamb and chicken at the picnics, or our larger “old fashion” banquets, our occasional meals together bring back those fond memories of grandma’s kitchen and a general sense of family and belonging.

On the fun side, the card parties, and Pinochle and Euchre tournaments harken back to those sometimes missed days before television took over as our primary form of home entertainment.

Humanitarianism has also been an important feature of our Lodge activities throughout its entire existence. Lodge 351 “Zora” distinguished itself by supporting America and its allies during two world wars and by providing aid to those families and villages affected by the conflicts. It was cited by the U.S. War Department during the Second World War for its members’ extensive support of the Savings and War Bond programs. Even in financial hard times, including the great depression, Detroit’s Croatians did what they could to help the those who suffered whether they were striking coalminers, steelworkers, and auto workers, or the victims of natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes or earthquakes. These charitable contributions by our members were not confined to “Croatian” causes, but were offered from the heart for many worthwhile charities including the CFU Scholarship Fund, Special Olympics, March of Dimes, St. Jude’s Childrens’ Hospital, and the Childrens’ Hospital of Michigan.

Of course, the Croatian fight for independence in 1991 brought on an outpouring of assistance from our Lodge and its members. Money was donated to sponsor two children through the Dora Foundation of the CFU and our members worked with the Croatian Relief Committee established at St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church. Lodge members Steve Balog and Kenneth Kosovec chaired a Humanitarian Aid Concert at the Macomb Center For The Performing Arts wherein the Warren Symphony, the Detroit Balalaika Orchestra and the Detroit Tamburitza Orchestra performed to raise funds to sponsor an additional twelve children through the Dora Foundation.

Lodge 351 “Zora”, as part of the Croatian Fraternal Union, has also been an important team player in the context of its fraternal obligations. The last president of the National Croatian Society was Thomas Besenić of Lodge 351, who served from 1921 until the merger in 1926 of the Croatian League of Illinois with the National Croatian Society into the unified Croatian Fraternal Union as we now know it. Our Lodge has always been well represented through the years by members such George Mokrovich, Alois Samer, Milan Kirin, Gjuro Mokrović, Josip Čičić, Julius Majetić, Stephen Lipak, Matt Goreta, Rudy Perpich, Marijana Relich, John Kosovec, Jr., Mark Mavretich and Robert S. Novosel acting in various official positions within the CFU whether as a member of the High Trial Board, National Board of Trustees, National Sports Director, or Second National Vice President.

Congratulations to CFU Lodge 351 “Zora”

We salute Lodge 351 “Zora”, for achieving this historic milestone, and for providing 100 years of fraternalism and assistance to our Croatian people. It is both a tribute to those departed brothers and sisters who worked so hard to create and build this Lodge over the last ten decades and a testament to the ongoing determination and efforts of its current leaders and members. We eagerly look forward to the next century confident of continued growth and fraternalism in the spirit and tradition of our departed pioneers.

Our Lodge has always been a very special organization – an extended, loving and supportive family in some sense – that we can offer with pride to future generations much as our forebears provided it for us. We all share in the stewardship of our Croatian culture. Its preservation and success will depend heavily on our level of commitment to participation in Lodge activities, especially by giving our children and grandchildren the opportunities that our families gave us to play a tambura, dance a kolo, learn the native language, enjoy our culinary traditions, and simply share our common ancestral bonds.

To all of the individuals who have given so much of their time and effort, along with their moral and financial support, toward the success of CFU Lodge 351 “Zora” over the last 100 years, please accept our sincerest and most heartfelt appreciation for a job well done. To our children and grandchildren, enjoy your Croatian heritage and the fulfillment that will flow from being a part of something as wonderful as our “Zora”.


[*From 1907 through 1976 Lodge meetings were conducted in Croatian and minutes of Lodge meetings were handwritten in Croatian in numbered bound ledger books. After 1976 meetings were conducted in English and minutes were handwritten in English in bound books until 1998. Starting in 1998 minutes were typewritten in loose leaf binders until the present time. It is these invaluable historical records that provided much of the information for this 100 year history of our Lodge.]

Researched and Written by Katy Kosovec
Revised and Edited by Joseph R. Novosel & Mark S. Mavretich
June 24, 2006