Granite City has a large Croatian community, and longtime Granite City residents Dan and Linda Lusicic have a historic family bond to the St. Louis Croatian Junior Tamburitzans.
They are responsible for keeping this part of their Croatian history alive with continued growth and interest in Granite City as well as in the Metro East. It is easy to understand why Dan and Linda work so hard to keep the group active, passing this part of the Croatian traditions down from generation to generation.
Dan Lusicic was selected by the Croatian Fraternal Union as the official guest conductor for this year’s exhibition.
“Of all the things that have happened to me in my life, this was one of the most important things to happen because it brought my family history full circle for me,” Lusicic said.
The St. Louis Croatian Junior Tamburitzans Annual Social will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15, at St. Joseph’s Croatian Church Hall, 12th Street and Russell Boulevard in St. Louis.
Dan’s grandmother, Anna Deranja Lusicic of South St. Louis, spent her lifetime keeping alive and preserving the culture and heritage of the Croatian people in the Metro East. Alongside her husband, Ivan, she established drama clubs, singing societies, Kolo dancing lessons and Tamburitza groups.
Anna held many workshops, lectures and presentations throughout the United States and Canada. In 1935, they started the Hrvatski Pomladak Tamburitza Group with Croatian children in the basement of their home, two nights a week. They played for many affairs and on Sunday mornings on the WTMV Croatian Radio Hour, started by Ivan in the Broadview Hotel in East St. Louis.
In 1942, the Tammies, as the youngsters are called, ceased their dedication to the group because of World War II. In 1961, when the Lusicics’ youngest grandson was old enough to be taught the tambura, Ann and Ivan Sr. renewed the Croatian Junior Tamburitzans. They invested their own money in instruments and started rehearsals in the basement of their home. The parents were told it was a trial of six months to see if there was interest.
The Junior Tammies have now celebrated their 54th anniversary (this past February.) A roster of students lists more than 500 names of those who have gone through the group, and all of the junior groups in the area have become either sponsors or instructors as a result of being associated with the Croatian Junior Tammies of St. Louis. Professional groups in this area are composed entirely, or have at least one former Junior Tammie, in their membership.
Over the years, Granite City rose up to become the main contributor to the St. Louis Croatian Tamburitzans and the Metro East became an active recruiting ground for Tammies. Some of the Granite City Tammies include Jack Dutko, Sophie Dutko, Bryan Hawkins, Calyx Lusicic Wise, Addison Lusicic and Stella Lusicic.
Anna was instrumental and actively pursued a grant for three tamburitza workshops at Southern Illinois University, taught by daughter Eleanora, who also served in the tamburitza group as musical director of the Croatian Junior Tamburitzans of St. Louis as well as musical director and pianist of the Vila Singing Society and Tamburitza Orchestra of Croatian Sokol Dalmacija. She also helped establish the Slavic Library at the college, where music, books, instruments, newspapers, costumes and lodge events are being preserved.
Anna’s son, Ivan Lusicic Jr., also was with the original Hrvatski Pomladak and the Croatian Junior Tamburitzans of St. Louis, first director of the Happy Strings of Madison and director of Danica Tamburitzans of Granite City.
The St. Louis Croatian Junior Tamburitzans are part of the National Croatian Fraternal Union. The fraternal union says it takes pride in contributions toward the preservation and perpetuation of Croatian culture and music among the youngest members of its descendents. Recognizing the importance of preserving Croatian folklore and the necessity of passing the legacy to future generations living in America, National President Bernard M. Luketich, along with some of his colleagues, created the CFU Junior Cultural Federation in 1967.
This annual exhibition of Croatian music and dance was created specifically for the youths of the society and quickly became the premier event of the CFU. The union has a Hall of Fame and the Lusicic family is the only entire family in the Hall of Fame.
“Today’s Tammies are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of yesterday’s Tammies,” Linda, Anna’s granddaughter-in-law, said.
Dan and Linda have since taken up Anna’s dedication for this part of keeping the Croatian history and its tradition alive today in the Metro East. Dan Lusicic is the present director of the St. Louis Croatian Junior Tamburitzans.
“A large majority of the St. Louis group comes from the Granite City area,” publicity director Jeanette Trtanj said. “I am very proud of the performances the group presents around the country under the direction of Mr. Lusicic.”
The annual exhibition is held in a different city each year, and 2015 was St. Louis’ year.
“This is the second time the event has been held in St. Louis,” Linda said. “We were thrilled the CFU chose this venue.”
In 1967, the last time it was held in the Metro East, Eleanora was selected as the guest conductor and director.
“I was only 14 years old and my aunt had that honor,” Dan said. “Our family was so proud.”
Today, the federation consists of approximately 35 Junior Tamburitzan ensembles from across the United States, Canada and Croatia. The highlight of each festival is the combined performance of all participants under the direction of a festival guest conductor, as well as the combined performance of the groups’ instructors at the conclusion of the groups’ performances.
Tickets for the St. Louis Croatian Junior Tamburitzans Annual Social, which includes desserts, a silent auction, 50/50 and more, are $12 and include dinner; children 12 and younger are free. To buy tickets, call Marsha at (636) 328-5560 or Kathy at (618) 451-7450.
For information, visit the Facebook page at “Croatian Jr. Tamburitzans-St. Louis, Mo.”