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22 July 2017
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The Knights of Lithuania

keep on fighting

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Knights of Lithuania #144 protesting Washington DC in 1990.

The Knights of Lithuania was founded as a national youth organization in 1913 by Mykolas Norkunas, the “father of the Knights of Lithuania.” Mykolas began his campaign to form a national Lithuanian organization by publishing appeals in the Lithuanian language press in various cities throughout the United States. His purpose was to unite the Lithuanian youth living in the USA, and through them, preserve Lithuanian culture and restore freedom to Lithuania, which was occupied at the time by Russia and Germany. Members placed their hope in their children, which is the basis of the organization. The Knights of Lithuania is a national non-profit organization of dedicated men and women of Lithuanian ancestry. Believing in the strength of the motto: "For God and Country," the Knights of Lithuania aspire to keep alive among its members an appreciation and understanding of the Lithuanian language, customs, and culture, while advancing the values and foundation of the Roman Catholic beliefs.

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1977 Knights of Lithuania #144 Receiving Proclamation.
(L-R) Helen Chekso, Bernice Mikatavage, Msgr, Joseph Neverauskas, Anne Wargo, receiving Proclamation from Commissioner, Al Matunas, Anne Marie Slevokis, Fr. Casimir Pugevicius of the Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid,  Rita Slevokis, and Fr. Al Bartkus.

Many of the Lithuanian immigrants settled in the Anthracite coal region of Northeastern Pennsylvania in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were simple, ordinary people from small towns and villages of the Suvalkija region of Lithuania. The men labored long and hard hours in the coal mines. Their parish became the center of social and religious life and their life philosophy was deeply rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ. The annual “Lithuanian Days” is a well known memory and ongoing tradition for Lithuanian-Americans living in Pennsylvania. It started in 1914 by the Lithuanian Catholic Priest League. The priests were troubled by problems faced by incoming immigrants such as poor living conditions and the dangerous work environment from the mines. A change needed to occur and they pondered on how they could lift the morale and create a better lifestyle for Eastern European immigrants. They cultivated the idea of a massive festival that rejoiced in life, family, community, and pride for their native land. Lithuanian Days at Lakeside Park was the first recorded ethnic celebration in the United States. Lithuanian immigrants enjoyed ethnic food, drink, tradition, and song every year. In 1922 Lithuanian Days moved to Lakewood Park. All proceeds from the event went to Lithuanian charities. Thus no matter how difficult life seemed in America, most of the early immigrants idealized supported each other and  idealized the splendor of nature and the memory of a simpler life in Lithuania.

The Frackville Council #144 joined the Knights of Lithuania in 1977 with about 25 members. Its first President was Bernice Mikatavage. Over the years Council # 144 grew, to over 130 members! Meetings were held after the Lithuanian Mass with Father Bartkus each month. Throughout the years, Council #144 worked diligently on Lithuanian Affairs. Members wrote letters, sent telegrams, went on demonstrations, and did whatever we could for the Lithuanian cause.

Eventually Council #144 became the primary sponsor for “Lithuanian Days.” At the 1978 “Lithuanian Days” in Lakewood Park our guest was the author, Simas Kidurka. A dinner was held in his honor where he signed his book, For Those at Sea. At the Park, we continued to enjoy Lithuanian dancers, ethnic food and the Council Lithuanian Choir. Vendors came with lovely Lithuanian souvenirs, crafts and books. Each year we had one prominent Lithuanian speaker and all profits were donated to Lithuanian Foundations especially Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid, St. Casimir’s Pontifical College in Rome, and Lithuanian Orphan Relief.

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Simas Kudirka Signs Autographs at St. Casimir Reception, St. Clair, PA
(L to R) Helen Ambrose, Annie Morgalis,Terri Taronis, Anna Yourkonis and Leona Taronis.

Sadly, Lakewood Park closed in 1984. The festival was held in various locations, until thankfully, we were able to continue the Lithuanian Days celebration at the Schuylkill Mall, in Frackville, PA. In fact this year on, August 11 and 12, 2012 we are celebrating our 98th year, making “Lithuanian Days” the longest consecutive ethnic festival in the USA! The festival allows Council #144 to share, spread, and remember Lithuanian heritage. It is a festival of Lithuanian culture, cuisine, song and dance.

Before Lithuania regained independence members traveled often to Washington, DC and New and York City to participate in Lithuanian Independence demonstrations at the Russian Embassy. We also participated in demonstrations at the United Nations. While Lithuania was still under Soviet rule, council members were asked by Rev. Casimir Pugivicius, an associate of Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid, to donate medication and Bibles to Lithuania. Transporting the donated supplies to Lithuania was an extremely dangerous and risky task. Ten members including Anne KlizasWargo and Annie Morgalis agreed to embark on this venture. They divided the pharmacy supplies among them and boarded a plane for the USSR . After arriving in Vilnius they secretly gathered the medication and traveled to a third floor apartment. Two women opened the apartment door. For security reasons, they did not speak and only communicated using a “magic slate” pad or doodle pad. They wrote “Who are you and where are you from?” Our members wrote that they were from the United States and were asked by Father Pugivicius, to bring desperately needed medical supplies. The women were extremely overjoyed and elated and tears of joy began to form in their eyes. Our Council members later discovered that the two women were underground nuns. Members also collected needed clothing that was sent to Lithuanian schools and orphanages using VILTIS-HOPE Lithuanian Relief Parcel Service.

Many of our members donated gorgeous Lithuanian treasures to help create a Lithuanian Cultural Museum. The council obtained a building near the Annunciation BVM Church in Frackville and transformed it into a cozy and delightful museum. It was opened in November of 1982.  Exhibits present the chronology of the life of the typical Lithuanian immigrant who arrived in the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania at the turn of the century. Thru Russian Army discharge papers, passports, rubles (or Lithuanian money), clothing and straw suitcase, the story unfolds. The museum also contains an extensive library of rare Lithuanian books, stunning Lithuanian artifacts, items from the early immigrants who came to work in the coal mines, colorful coverlets, tablecloths, and other weavings in traditional Lithuanian designs, straw art, marguciai eggs decorated by members Christine Luschas and Ona Morgaliene, and unique mushroom art designed Ona Morgaliene. We wish future generations of Lithuanians will be able to use the many volumes of information at the Center for research, or that they may just cherish the beautiful artifacts of their ancestral heritage.  Now the museum is open by appointment only.

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Opening of the Lithuanian Museum & Cultural Center, November, 1982.
(L-R) Anne Wargo, Anne Sekora, Annie Morgalis, and Bernice Mikatavage.

The worries, fears, and obligations which many of the early immigrants felt for the land of their forefathers are still alive in the hearts and minds of Lithuanian-Americans today!            Our council still contributes to Lithuanian charitable works and the Lithuanian Orphan Relief sending much needed aid overseas to orphanages in remote villages of Lithuania. The Knights of Lithuania Council #144 is extremely active and strives to keep Lithuanian heritage alive by sponsoring the annual Lithuanian Days, hosting a traditional Christmas Kucios Dinner, creating cultural displays/presentations, educational lectures, promoting tourism to Lithuania, while maintaining an informative website, blog and Facebook page. Please visit our website: www.kofl144.weebly.com and our Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/knightsoflithuania144.

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Amber District Meeting March 11, 2012
K of L C-144 members with their "Third Degree" medals and certificates.
Row 1 (L-R) Meredeth Domlakes, Elizabeth Fry, Carol Luschas, and Antoinette Pancerella.
Row 2 (L-R) Anthony Richtus, Margaret Valinsky, Peg Hess, James Hess, and Elaine Luschas.

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Lithuanian Days 2007, Bernice

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LT Days 2011, Heritage Room.

Resources

Lithuanian Museum and Cultural Center Brochure Pages 1-2
Sakalas, Ingas. Lieruvos Vyciai Amerikoje (Knights of Lithuania in America) History of the Knights of Lithuania Spaude Draugo Spaustuve Cikagoje.
Vytis. Knights of Lithuania Vol. 78: No. 4 79th Annual Convention Host: Anthracite C-144 Pgs. 19-20
Wargo, Anne Telephone Interview.  March 13, 2012
Wydra, Marion. The Valley Plus Magazine. 97th Lithuanian Days to Be Held August 13 and 14 August: 2011  Pgs. 13-14

Category : Blog archive / Featured black
  • Aileen

    Proud to say that Annie Morgalis (in many of these pictures) was my grandmother, and Bernice Mikatavage a very old and dear family friend!

    June 11 2012
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    • Carol Luschas

      Hope to see old and new friends at the upcoming Lithuanian Days: August 11 and 12, 2012!!!!!

      May 15 2012
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      • Albert P Mikutis Jr

        Neat article. I rember the Lithuanian summer festival that I attended w/my morher's mom/stepfather in Luzerne Co in the late 1940's

        April 05 2012
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        • Charlotte Surenko

          I was at the festival when Simas Kudirka attended.I took a picture of my aunt & Simas.I wrote many letters to our govt in protest about our govt turning Simas back to the Russians when he jumped ship.There is a Lithuanian consulate in Wash DC.The US had no right to turn him over.IT was good to see him at last in the USA.My family belonged to the Knights of Lithuania in Scranton Pa.Thank you for all you do.

          April 05 2012
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          • […] to our article: The Knights of Lithuania keep on fighting Click HERE to read the […]

            April 03 2012
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            • Phyllis Gendreau

              This was a great article.
              I, to am proud to be a member of the Knights of Lithuania.(56 years) It would be great to have a council in Texas.

              April 03 2012
              CommentsLike

              • Very Nice Article. Thank You for All you do!

                April 02 2012
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                • Karen Domalakes

                  The group also had a Jr. K of L when I was a child in the 1980s. We danced in the area as well as at the Sukiu Svente in Cleveland years ago. It gave me so many experiences singing, dancing, making friends and making eggs and straw ornaments. It led me to experience four Lithuanian summer camps and find my favorite vacation spot, Lithuania. Most of all it keeps me close to my family and faith as we share these traditions and memories. Thanks for the article!

                  April 02 2012
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                  • neuromorp

                    aciu

                    April 02 2012
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                    • We – VilNews – would like to bring an article also about the Texas-Lithuanian groups… Who should we talk to?

                      April 02 2012
                      CommentsLike



                      

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