Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
The following article appeared on pp. 5 through 9 in the Spring, 1996 issue, Volume 7 No. 1 of GENEALOGIJA, the magazine of the Lithuanian-American Genealogical Society, at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, 6500 S. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60629. Back issues are available. Contact the museum at (773) 582-6500, or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This internet version contains several updates, as well as additional illustrations and material not used in the original article.
Albion, Michigan is a small community of 10,000 persons in south central Michigan, 100 miles west of Detroit, and 200 miles east of Chicago. Located along Interstate-94, Albion was settled in the 1830s by persons of English descent from New York State. It is the home of Albion College, a well established private college which brought home the 1994 NCAA Division III football national championship.
Because of the relatively small number of Lithuanian names involved in this report, it is written with the genealogist in mind, mentioning names, dates and places, rather than broad historical generalities and trends of immigration and assimilation. It is our hope that persons involved in genealogical research might "spot" family surnames of possible relatives, and that this report will serve as a resource to use in the future. I have more detailed individual information than what is presented here, but have focused on "original" generation family members. I can supply further information including names of descendants, upon request.
Originally an agricultural community, various factories were built in Albion in the last half of the 19th century, bringing hundreds of Irish, German, and Italian immigrants to work in them. As America moved into the automotive age, local factories were retooled to produce automotive parts, thus creating the need for more workers.
Bird's Eye view of the Albion Malleable Iron Company, now Harvard Industries, where many Lithuanians worked. 1962 photo.
One major Albion employer was the Albion Malleable Iron Company. Founded in 1888, the company actively recruited workers from Russia during the first decade of the 20th century when it began producing automotive castings. A glance at certain ship passenger lists from Russia during the period will often have written as the destination, "Albion Malleable Iron Company, Albion, Michigan." Several hundred Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, and White Russian workers came to work here during the 1900s and early 1910s.
Workers were placed in company housing in the vicinity of the plant. The area became known as the "foreign settlement," and the local public school system offered classes in English and American citizenship. The foreigners were looked down upon by the educated persons in town of English heritage, yet realized these people had the need to "become civilized and learn our laws and customs." Two Russian ethnic churches were established, as well as growth in the already existing Roman Catholic Church.
Such were the times, conditions, and attitudes that immigrants from Eastern Europe met with when they arrived in Albion to work at the Malleable. The work was hard, dangerous, hot, and the air was dirty. Some shifts lasted 12 hours a day. Workers would mix their own sand and pour their own hot molten bulls of iron. One foreman at the plant, after hearing the long foreign surname of one of the Russian immigrant workers when he arrived, pointed to him and exclaimed, "Your name is Smith!" Hence, the man went by Smith from then on, and it was included on his Social Security number, employment and identification papers, etc.
The Albion Malleable Iron Company was the major employer of European immigrants in town for many years. The children of Malleable workers attended the Albion Public Schools, and were able to successfully assimilate into American society, attend college, and go into many professions. Beginning in the 1940s, the company published a newspaper called the Circle-A-Tor, which was filled with photographs of its workers in daily life, such as school, vacations, fishing, and home life. These are a valuable source of information about specific Lithuanian families during the 1940s to 1960s.
The Circle-A-Tor, the Albion Malleable Iron Company newsletter. Cover of April-May 1954 issue.
The Albion Malleable Iron Company was merged in 1969 to become the Hayes-Albion Corporation, and later became a division of Harvard Industries. In 1986 Hayes-Albion was purchased by Harvard Industries. Harvard Industries went bankrupt nationwide and the Albion plant was closed on June 28, 2002 after 114 years of existence.
It is impossible to determine the "first" Lithuanian who came to Albion, as nationalities were not determined by country borders, and borders often changed. However, there were probably several Lithuanians in the mix of Malleable Iron workers recruited from Russia during the first decade of the 20th century.
Paul Lesnevicius-Lesnevitch (1882-1966) came to Albion from Vilnius in 1905.
One was Paul Lesnevitch (1882-1966), the son of William and Anna Lesnevitch (Lesnevicius). He was born in the Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius, and came directly to Albion from Vilnius in 1905 to work at the Malleable as a molder. He retired in 1947. Paul lived with the Michael Masternak family, first on Mechanic Street during the 1910s. The Masternaks and Paul then moved north of the Albion. Paul apparently was married at one time. He had a son Aleck of Milwaukee, Wisconsin who survived him at the time of his death. The "locals" column of the Albion Recorder March 3, 1913 pg. 3 mentions an Anna Lesnewich, whom we assume was the wife of Paul.
A brother of Paul, John Lesnewich (1883-1939) also came to Albion around 1907, and worked at the Albion Malleable Iron Company. He died October 16, 1939 and was buried in Riverside Cemetery. Both brothers were members of the local Russian Orthodox Church. A cousin, John Lesniewicz (1883-1941) came to Albion in 1907 to work at the Malleable. He stayed single, and lived four miles southwest of Albion.
One particular Lithuanian in Albion, however, did not come to work at the Albion Malleable Iron Company, but at the coal mine three miles north of town. One would not think of Albion, or southern Michigan for that matter as a coal mining state, but there is a large deposit of low-grade coal over much of the Lower Peninsula. In the era of great coal shortages and rationing such as occurred in this country during World War I, any coal was welcome, even low grade coal.
John Shimkus (1897-1982), originally from Erzvilkas, Lithuania, holds a jar of coal he mined north of Albion in the 1930s.
Shimkus (1897-1982) was a native of Erzvilkas, Lithuania, a small town near the Prussian border. He arrived in the United States alone on June 8, 1913 and settled in Bay City, Michigan, to work in the coalmines there, and lived with his Uncle Izadore Shimkus. He worked in the coalmines by day, and attended night school to learn the English language. There he was promoted to the position of mine foreman.
John Shimkus moved to Albion in 1916 to work in the newly reopened coal mine here. He was the company's most valuable employee, and worked at the mine until it was closed in 1925. Later, he opened up his own private coal mine on his own land, which he operated until circa 1940. It was considered one of the last operating coal mines in Michigan. During World War II he worked at Union Steel Products in Albion, and then at the Albion Malleable Iron Company in the maintenance department for 18 years, retiring in 1963.
Three generation photo. (L-R) James (1928-2000), John/Jonas (1897-1982), and Joseph/Juozas (1877-1954) Shimkus at work at Union Steel Products in 1944 during World War II.
James later worked at the Albion Malleable Iron Company for over 40 years. His father Juozas (Joseph) Shimkus (1877-1954) first came to the U.S. in 1907 for four years, then returned in 1928. His wife Anna (Spudville) and daughters Anna and Rosalia remained in Erzviklas (another son lived in Buenes Aires, Argentina). Juozas worked at three factories: the Gale Manufacturing Company, Union Steel Products (during World War II), and the Albion Malleable, until his retirement in 1948. James Shimkus (1928-2000) son of miner John, worked at Union Steel Products during the War, and so it was grandfather, father, and son in the same shop. The company newspaper, Union Steel Messenger featured a photograph the Shimkus trio in its September 1944 edition, and included an article about the Russian army nearing the Shimkus homestead there in Erzvilkas.
The article stated that Joseph Shimkus had fought the Germans during World War I, and that he had witnessed the first time the Germans had used poison gas on the Russians. So severe was the attack, the article stated, that the green leaves on the trees turned yellow even though it was spring. On some days Joe helped to bury as many as three hundred soldiers who had died in the hospital he worked at in the Warsaw area. Joseph Shimkus died in Albion in 1954 and is buried here.
In the 1920 Census there is listed a Lithuanian named Frank Koriczynas, age 30, who came to the U.S. in 1913, living at 925 Chauncey St. Another Lithuanian with ties here was Stanley S. Urbanowicz (1895-1977), who was married to Victoria Bilicke. He served in World War II. He was a butcher by trade in the Inkster-Detroit area, but is buried in Riverside Cemetery.
The Baskevich family came to Albion in 1918 from Cicero, Illinois, followed shortly thereafter by my own grandparents. Joseph had come to the U.S. in 1908, while his wife Agnes (Vaisnoras) and children Pauline and Ernest followed in 1911. They had lived in Zagare, Lithuania, located north of Siauliai on the Latvian border. Their son Zygmunt and daughter Mary were born in Illinois, while a daughter Olivia Julia Baskevich was born here in Albion. Daughter Pauline Baskevich was one of the first Lithuanians to graduate from Albion High School (Class of 1923). She later attended college and became a secretary at Albion High School in the late 1920s. Ernest was an accomplished baker, and worked at the neighborhood Star Bakery, located at 620 Austin Avenue next to the Russian Baptist Church.
Pauline Baskevich (1904-196?) graduated from Albion High School in 1923, as shown in this yearbook photo. Her family came to America from Zagare, Lithuania.
The Baskevich family first lived at 907 Austin Avenue, then moved to 210 N. Gale Street in the 1920s. Joseph first worked at the Malleable, then secured a job at the Hayes Wheel Company here during the 1920s. That firm manufactured wheel hubs for the automotive industry. Joseph later retired, and the family moved back to Cicero, Illinois at the end of World War II. Joseph and Agnes both died there within a few years.
Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. Citizen, Pauline Baskevich, 1923.
Living with the Baskevich family was a nephew, Stanley M. Tautkus (1918-1988), a native of Cicero, Illinois. The son of Michael and Barbara (Vaisnoras) Tautkus, Stanley grew up in Albion and was raised by the Baskevich family, as his parents had died at an early age. He worked at Service Caster Truck Company for 19 years before it closed, and then at the Malleable in the tool and die department for 26 years, retiring in 1984. He is survived by his widow, Lucille (Markovich). Stanley's brother Alex "Wally" Tautkus (1916-1995) came to Albion to live in 1934. After working at the Malleable for a time, he became the plant superintendent at Brooks Foundry just east of town before his retirement in 1979. Alex' wife Jean died in 1996. He is survived by a son, Dennis.
Alex Tautkus (1916-1995) is shown here in uniform during World War II. He came to Albion from Cicero, Illinois. His parents were from Zagare, Lithuania.
The 1920 census shows that John Stanley Skridulis (1903-1967), was living with the Baskevich family. He also was a native of Zagare, Lithuania. According to his 1939-40 naturalization papers, he had come to the U.S. in 1907. John moved to Chicago in the 1920s, where he married in 1930. He moved back to Albion in November 1933 and worked as a molder at the Malleable before moving back to Chicago again in 1940. The family then moved to northern Michigan (Ludington) where his wife Ella was from. He died in 1967, and had five children: 2 boys and 3 girls.
My own maternal grandparents, Nikodimas (1890-1975) and Theodora (1893-1973) (Barvydas) Kulikauskas immigrated to Chicago in 1911 and 1912, respectively. Their parents were Joseph and Julianna (Vazgirda/Vosgird) Kulikauskas; and Ignatis and Barbora (Kondratas) Barvydas. Both my maternal grandparents spoke the Samogitian dialect of the Lithuanian language. My grandfather's ancestors had been Lithuanian "bajorai" (landowners) in the 18th & 19th centuries, and the name was originally spelled Kulakauskas. Beginning in the mid-1890s, the priests started spelling the family surname Kulikauskas on baptism and other documents. My grandfather's ancestors had owned land in Silale County in the 18th and 19th centuries. My grandfather's grandfather Petras-Povilas Kulakauskas (1814-1891) moved northwards towards Lake Lukstas just south of Varniai in Telsiai County, and my grandfather was born in nearby Nevardenai.
The Kulakauskas family "arrow" coat-of-arms is found on Kulakauskas family bajorai documents of the 19th century, as shown here. Original in the Lithuanian State Historical Archives.
According to my grandfather, he lived and worked on a farming estate along a river. At the time of my grandfather’s emigration from Lithuania, his family lived in the greater Janapole area, north of Varniai and south of Luoke. By this time his branch of the Kulikauskas family were no longer landowners, probably due to either the insurrections against the Russians earlier in the 19th century, or through normal inheritance attrition. The work was hard, from sun-up to sundown, and Lithuanian farmers were treated miserably. My grandfather talked of no respect of life there by Russian officials. The overseer my grandfather worked for told him he should leave, as war was coming and the Russians would be drafting into the army. Being single at the time, my grandfather made his way out of Lithuania via Germany.
Also in the equation was the fact that my grandfather's father Juozas/Joseph Kulikauskas (1860-19??) had come to the U.S. in the late 1900s and worked as a butcher in Cleveland, Ohio for a couple of years, made some money, and went back to Lithuania exclaiming how rich it was here. That analysis enticed my grandfather to emigrate in 1911, as well as his brothers Jonas/John (b. 1885) and Juozas/Joseph (b. 1891) soon afterwards. We have since contacted descendants of my grandfather’s brother Viktoras (1900-1977) in Lithuania, and have learned that my great-grandmother Julijona is buried in the Janapole Cemetery.
My maternal grandmother was a peasant from the Luoke area, located in northwestern Lithuania just southeast of Telsiai. She was born at Deguciai Manor, an estate northeast of Luoke. My grandmother had come to America in 1912 after a "rich Godmother" supplied the funds to come, with the instructions that she was not to tell about how she got the money nor visit her in Chicago, lest her husband find out. My grandparents were married in Chicago at the Providence of God Church by Rev. Michael Krusas (1879-1950) on January 8, 1914. The witnesses to the wedding were my grandfather's brother John Kulikauskas, and Joseph Dubremskis, whom my grandfather said was also from the same place he was from in Lithuania. By this time both brothers were using the spelling "Kulikauskas" instead of the original "Kulakauskas."
Mike/Nikodemas (1890-1975) and Theodora (Barvydas)(1893-1973) Kulikauskas-Kulikowski.
(L-R) Theodora (1916-1973) and Stella (1915-1924) Kulikauskas-Kulikowski, daughters of Nikodemas and Theodora (Barvydas) Kulikauskas.
Nikodimas and Theodora moved to 1213 S. 51st Court in nearby Cicero, and my grandfather worked at the nearby malleable foundry there. There the family gave birth to four children: Julius, Stella, Theodora and Joseph, who were baptized at St. Anthony's Church in Cicero. In addition to my grandfather's brother John Kulikauskas being one of the baptism sponsors, other names on the certificates include Agatha Vanguilaite, and Mary Rimkus.
According to family stories, my grandfather's brother John eventually moved to Brooklyn, New York, and the families lost contact through the years. Brother Joseph (who was a butcher) visited Albion during the 1930s, but that was the last my grandfather saw of him.
My grandfather heard of a factory in Albion that was hiring workers and decided to give it a try. He moved to Albion, Michigan in the summer of 1918 to work at the Albion Malleable Iron Company, and then sent for his family. Here his ten other children were born: Victor, Michael, Pauline (my mother), Ernest, George, Stanley, John, Casper, Sophia, and Lawrence. Several of the brothers later served in World War II, and the Korean War.
Kulikowski (Kulikauskas) siblings gather at funeral of brother Julius, August 10, 1993 Albion Memory Gardens, Albion, Mich. Left to right: Joseph, Victor, Michael, Stanley, Pauline (Kulikowski) Passic, John, Lawrence "Boom-Boom."
The 1920 U.S. Census shows the family living at 912 N. Albion St. A couple of years later my grandfather erected a home on the northeast corner of N. Albion and Broadwell Streets. After losing the house during the Great Depression and living in company housing on Austin Avenue, the family finally settled at 906 N. Gale Street along the Kalamazoo River during World War II, near the Baskevich family. They lived here until the Urban Renewal forced them out in the late 1960s. It was at that time that numerous houses in the vicinity of the Malleable, formerly the original homes of European immigrants and black families, were demolished.
It is interesting to trace how the spelling of the family name was changed through the years and for what reasons. The Kulikauskas name was "Polonized" by various officials, and today in Albion the family goes by the name of Kulikowski. For whatever reasons, it "devolved" from the original Kulakauskas, to Kulikauskas, to Kulikauskis, to Kulikauski's, to Kulikowski. The name of Nikodimas Kulikauskas isn't the easiest to remember, is it? Eventually my grandfather went by the name of Michael Frank Kulikowski. In the Malleable monthly newsletter the Circle-A-Tor, my grandfather is pictured in the September 1955 issue holding the prize fish he caught in the Kalamazoo River behind his house.
Mike Kulikowski, Sr. (Nikodemas Kulikauskas) (1890-1975) holds the 13-inch prize fish he caught to win first place in a fishing contest sponsored by the Albion Malleable Iron Company. September, 1955 photo.
Although my grandfather worked at the Malleable, his agricultural background benefited him in the feeding of his large family with the help of my grandmother. The family kept a cow to supply milk for hungry mouths, as well as two hogs, and a goat. Their home along the Kalamazoo River made it an excellent location to obtain fish. Eventually the City of Albion cracked down and forbade livestock within the city limits.
My grandfather retired from the Malleable in 1958, and celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary in 1964. My grandmother died in 1973, and my grandfather in 1975. There are well over a hundred fifty (150) descendants of my grandparents, most of whom live in Michigan. It is interesting to note that many of my uncles and cousins are involved in the auto body repair business, and several are involved in racing stock cars on weekends.
The 1920 U.S. Census for Albion lists several different Lithuanian families, all living in the vicinity of the Albion Malleable Iron Company. The enumerator, Clyde Bacon (1882-1974) was given the task of enumerating the "foreign settlement" area of town. Imagine having to go door to door to crowded rooming houses with backyard upstairs entrances, and to try and decipher names by sounds. Many immigrants could not speak English very well, nor write. As a result, the spellings could be atrocious.
Listed were several single Lithuanian-born males who were boarders. They are listed as factory laborers or molders, and stated that they could read and write English. All were still unnaturalized aliens at the time. Although they are listed as originating from either from Poland or Russia, the native tongue "Lithuanian" columns give us the identification factor.
Single male Lithuanian roomers listed are as follows: 1. Mike Miklovich, 708 1/2 N. Albion St., age 27, who came to the U.S. in 1913 and is listed as "probably alien." 2. Frank Chitovich, 712 1/2 N. Albion St., age 35, who immigrated in 1899. 3. Peter "Shepood," age 33 who immigrated in 1901 and roomed with Frank Chitovich. Pete's surname had question marks around it, indicating that the enumerator had difficulty spelling the Lithuanian pronunciation. Other names "look" Lithuanian, but it is impossible to decipher the nationality without personally knowing these persons. There were other single Lithuanian roomers in these early years who lived in company housing with other immigrants than those names already mentioned. It appears that most of these single males stayed in Albion but a few years.
Another Lithuanian living here in the 1920s was Modist Kazlauckas (1893-1942). A native of Lithuania, Modist (his father's name was Kasper) came to Albion from nearby Battle Creek where he had worked as a cook at the Post Tavern. He married a local Polish girl, Clara (Chehowski) Marzic, in 1924. The couple had an infant son, Kasper Klaus Kazlauckas, who met an untimely death at one month old on September 5, 1928. Clara had gone upstairs to check on the baby and found it dead--it had been bitten by a spider. The family then moved to Grand Rapids, where Clara (1905-1941) met a tragic death from burns received in a kerosene explosion in her home. Modist died a year later in 1942, and the family is buried in the Catholic Section of Riverside Cemetery, next to the Miknevich family. They are listed in the cemetery records under the shortened surname "Kaus."
There were also a few other pre-World War II era Lithuanians who came to Albion at a date later than the 1910s. Mateus Raulinaitis (1885-1952) left Lithuania in February, 1912. Mateus worked as a farmhand near Charlotte (30 miles NW of Albion), Michigan, and also worked in Canada before coming to Albion in 1939. He worked at the Malleable from 1940 to 1950. At the time of his death he was survived by a brother William of Kizmiller, Maryland.
Albert Jasenas (1918-1984) came to Albion in 1939 from Jackson, Michigan, 18 miles east of Albion. His parents Vincent and Damicele (Karpiuciute) had been born in the old country. Albert was part of a Civilian Conservation Corps team that developed Isle Royale, an island in Lake Superior and a U.S. National Park. Albert operated a roller skating rink in Albion (a departure from usual Lithuanian occupations, no doubt) from 1939 to 1965, on the second floor of a hardware-appliance store. He then became the plant manager of the Johnson Manufacturing Company in town until his retirement. He was brutally stabbed to death by two teenagers in 1984 after coming home late at night and finding them in his house. He was survived by a son and daughter.
John A. Greiza (1914-1984), came to Albion from nearby Jackson, where there were numerous Lithuanians.
Also coming to Albion from Jackson was John A. Greiza (1914-1984) in 1939. The son of John and Josephine (Maksymowicz) Greiza, Lithuanian natives, John worked for the Blyveis Iron and Metal Company across the street from the Albion Malleable. He then became a foreman at Service Caster Truck Company the other side of the railroad tracks south of the Malleable, and later worked as a welder for 25 years in Marshall, 10 miles west of Albion. His home was at 717 Sheridan, now Grace Street, near the Malleable.
Following World War II, there were a few families of the "Displaced Persons" era which had fled Lithuania and eventually settled in Albion. Vincas Simaskevicius (1920-1992) was a native of Minturai, Lithuania, the son of Joseph and Elana (Vutkevicute) Simaskevicius. Vincas found himself at Bayreuth, Germany for several years following the war, where he married his wife Anna. When the family immigrated to the United States in 1950, Vincas was first employed on a potato farm southeast of Albion for a short time. He was then hired as a foreman at the Albion Malleable Iron Company in 1951, and worked until his retirement in 1985. At the time Vincas became a U.S. naturalized citizen in 1956, he had his surname shortened to Simaske. He was the father of three sons.
Vincas Simaskevicius (1920-1992) (right) receives his paycheck from guard Charlie Kopp at the Albion Malleable Iron Company (August 1955 Circle-A-Tor).
Vincas was pictured several times in the Albion Malleable company paper, the Circle-A-Tor. Illustrated here is a picture from the August 1955 issue showing him in an activity which was looked forward to by Lithuanians: receiving a paycheck.
Vytautas "Shorty" Kniburys (1919- ) is a native of Kazliai, Lithuania. He served in the Lithuanian army at the time of the Soviet invasion in 1940. He eventually was placed in the Dachau concentration camp by the Germans during the war. He was able to make it to the West following the war, and spent six years in Ravensburg, Germany. There he married his wife Rosa. The couple had two children, Frank and Rita, and the family came to the U.S. in 1951. The family moved to Springport (10 miles northeast of Albion) in 1952 where Vytautas worked for a few years. In 1956 he was hired to work at the Albion Malleable, where he worked for 30 years and retired in 1986. He and his wife Rosa live in retirement in Albion today.
Vytautas Kniburys (1919- ) is shown here in this 1968 photo at the Albion Malleable Iron Company.
In 1950, the Corning Glass (headquartered in Corning, New York) Works factory opened in Albion. It manufactured black and white television picture tubes. Two Lithuanian DP families came to Albion to work at this plant.
Stanley Kantauskas (1897-1987) was a native of Taurage and the son of Ignus and Yarina Kantauskas. He married his wife Zuzana Barshankas in 1944 in Lithuania. Stanley was able to escape the Soviet onslaught and make his way to the West, and then to the United States in 1950. Unfortunately, his wife could not, and the Soviets would not let his wife emigrate from occupied Lithuania until years later. Stanley worked at Corning Glass for 11 years until his retirement. His widow still lives in Albion today.
Kostas Jasiulevicius (1899-1978) came to the United States with his wife Ema in 1950, and first worked at Jack Kelly's Onion Farm near Parma, several miles east of Albion. The family moved to Albion two years later. Kostas was hired as a shipping clerk at the newly erected Corning Glass Works plant in town. Ema worked at Albion College.
A native of Lipniskes (now in Belarus), Lithuania, cemetery records show that his father's name was Macei, and his mother's maiden name was Burblisovi. He was married to his wife Ema Kynaite (1899-1974) there in Lithuania on April 13, 1937, and lived in Kaunas. Ema was a native of Mureikai, Lithuania. The family fled to Germany in 1941. At the time of his death, Kostas was survived by a son and daughter. On the couple's tombstone it was determined to accurately keep the Lithuanian spelling, including the accent mark above the letter "C," pronounced "CH" in English.
(L-R) Kostas (1899-1978) and Ema (Kynaite) Jasiulevicius (1899-1974) fled Lithuanian during World War II, and came to Albion in the early 1950s.
Another person with Lithuanian ties that came following World War II was Osyp Prigun (1919-1997), the son of Stanislovas and Veronica Prigun (Prigunas). Osyp was born in Minsk, White Russia, and his father was Lithuanian. He married Wera Rodnoyick in Vaiguva, Lithuania in 1941, where the couple owned a farm. According to a story printed in the August, 1951 issue of the Union Steel Messenger, Osyp was a farmer whose farm was confiscated after the Soviet invasion in 1940. He then hid in the forests until 1941 when the Germans arrived, when he again went back to farming. The Germans displaced he and his wife to Germany, where Osyp worked in a bakery until the American Army arrived. Up until 1948 he worked in a theater, and then as a lumber worker until 1951.
Osyp Prigun (Prigunas) (1919-1996) came to Albion in 1951 and worked at Union Steel Products. 1951 photo.
In order to get approved to enter the U.S., the Prigun's stated on their immigration and naturalization citizenship forms that they had been born in Gallipoli, Turkey. This was because at that time the U.S. was not taking persons from certain countries, and Turkey was one in which they were. Osyp stated that he was the son of an officer in the Turkish Army, and that his father had fled from the Soviets to Turkey in 1918. He stated that his father was killed in the Greek-Turkish war in 1923, and that the Soviets wanted to arrest him because he was the son of a Turkish officer. It got him into the U.S.
The Priguns came to the United States and Albion in 1951. Osyp worked briefly at the Corning Glass Works, then for Union Steel Products, from 1951 to 1981. Wera died in Albion on February 16, 1996. Osyp died December 16, 1996. The family had several children.
Albion began celebrating its ethnic heritage in 1967 with the establishment of the "Festival of the Forks," referring to the time in the 1830s when Albion was first known as "the Forks" of the Kalamazoo River which flows through town. Held on the third Saturday in September each year, the Festival features various ethnic food and heritage booths, as well as crafts, entertainment, displays, and programs. Flags of nations are placed on Superior (Main) Street during the week of the Festival, which attracts several thousand persons.
After several years of taking the hint, Lithuanians in Albion began participating in the Festival beginning in 1978 by featuring a Lithuania booth. In those days this was quite an oddity, as most persons did not know that there was a Lithuania or where it was. It was also difficult to obtain a full size Lithuanian national flag, as U.S. flag-making companies at the time had policies against making flags of communist countries. One was purchased at the Balzekas Museum, and has flown annually since.
Frank Passic operates the Lithuania booth at the 1994 Festival of the Forks in downtown Albion.
The "new" booth on the street attracted much attention, and soon people of Lithuanian heritage were coming up and letting the rest of us know who they were. Many purchased bumper stickers, flags, and buttons. Through the years, the Lithuania booth at the Festival of the Forks has become a regular part of the celebration which people look forward to. It is interesting to meet Lithuanians from neighboring communities who attend the Festival, and who make it a point to come to Albion to cast their "vote" for national heritage pride.
Riverside Cemetery in Albion is the final resting place of many of the Lithuanian-Americans who lived in Albion. On August 29, 1996, the Michigan Historical Commission listed Riverside Cemetery in the State Register of Historic Sites. A special State of Michigan Historic Site marker was erected and dedicated on May, 1997. In the text of the marker, the country of "Lithuania" is specifically mentioned. This marker is placed at the entrance to the cemetery along M-99 on S. Superior St. The specific aforementioned text states in part, "A private Catholic cemetery contains the remains of people from Italy, Lithuania and Poland."
This Michigan State Historic Site marker at the entrance to Riverside Cemetery in Albion was dedicated in 1997. It recognizes Lithuanians buried here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Frank Passic (b. 1953) serves as Albion, Michigan Historian, and has written numerous articles and several books on the subject. He has served as Numismatic Curator at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture since 1978, and has won numerous awards for his displays of Lithuanian money. He is a founder of the Lithuanian Numismatic Association, and editor of its publication, The Knight. He also serves on the board of governors of the Michigan State Numismatic Society.
All text copyright, 2019 © all rights reserved Frank Passic