St. Lawrence Club, CFU Lodge 13
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On February 10, 1895, Steelton Croatians assembled for a meeting under the direction of Josip Vrbos and subsequently founded the St. Lawrence Society (Drustvo Sveti Lovro). The society was named in honor of the Patron Saint of Vivodina, Croatia; Sveti Lovro or "Saint Lawrence", as most of the people that gathered for the meeting emigrated from Vivodina, Croatia. The group also voted to affiliate with The Croatian Union of Pittsburgh and a charter to that effect was issued on April 24, 1895 designating St. Lawrence as Lodge 13. The first President was Josip Vrbos and the Secretary was Martin Vihr. The society started with 25 members, but within 3 years, it had grown to over 200. An establishment known as "Markley's Hall" served as the "home" for the lodge at that time.
The first major celebration was a Croatian flag blessing on June 29, 1895. Both the American flag and Croatian flag have been a ceremonial fixture since that time. At a meeting conducted during December of 1900, it was decided to construct a Croatian Home, and after much debate and disagreement among residents of the "West Side" and the "Lower End", a site at the corner of 2nd and Washington St's. was selected. The new Croatian Home was to cost about $4000.00. Understandably, the dedication of the hall was source of great pride for the Croatians of Steelton. The Home quickly became a social center, and a source of support for members suffering hardship or calamity. The Lodge never ignored its Croatian "roots" and conducted many fund raising drives for widows, children, and war refugees in Croatia over the years.
Another important aspect of the Lodge was its sports program in conjunction with the Croatian Fraternal Union, formally the National Croatian Society. Steelton's basketball team was well known throughout Pennsylvania and bordering states where they competed and earned a reputation as being one of the best. The team was coached by Stephen Marinak a well known coach of the time. Not to be out-done, St. Lawrence Lodge simultaneously earned the reputation as being possibly the most hospital lodge for the sports events and maintains that reputation until today. During a basketball tournament during 2004, Steelton came away winning many division championships, and similarly was once again recognized by all as providing outstanding hospitality!
During WWII St. Lawrence Lodge was discovered by servicemen of Croatian heritage processing through the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation. It became the "place to go" for the soldiers on weekend pass, and once again St. Lawrence Lodge showed its hospitality to the servicemen giving them respite from the rigors of military service. It would be very interesting to hear from soldiers that enjoyed our hospitality during those years, should any discover this web site! A total of 99 members served in WWII, and by the grace of God only one member; William J Gustin lost his life during the war.
During 1948, the Lodge decided to enlarge the hall once again. The basement was excavated to allow for a clubroom, the 2nd floor hall was modernized, along with construction of a modern entrance. The cost was about $60,000.00. On February 12, 1949, the Lodge celebrated its 54th anniversary, & the grand opening of the remodeled lodge.
On November 6, 1965, St. Lawrence Lodge 13 celebrated its 70th anniversary, but misfortune visited the Lodge the same year. The Dauphin County Redevelopment Authority announced plans to redevelop the area where the Lodge was located. The Lodge was paid $60,000.00 for the property and during 1968, a plot of ground was purchased at Front & Highland Sts., for $15,000 and it was proposed to build a new Lodge for $107,000.00. The groundbreaking ceremony was on April 23, 1968.
On May 11, 1968 St. Lawrence Lodge held its last official ceremony at the old hall. A banquet was held to honor 50 year members, and to bid farewell.
On January 16, 1969, St. Lawrence Lodge held its first meeting in the new home. On April 11th & 12th, 1970, St. Lawrence celebrated its 75th anniversary. On September 3, 1975, a Special Meeting was called and Lodge President John Cerperic presented plans for a large addition to the Lodge Home. $100,000.00 was approved for the project. Construction of the addition began in 1976.
On August 20, 1981 Bro. George Murlin organized the St. Lawrence Junior Tamburitzans which continue today as one of the finest Junior "Tammie" groups in the country, and in 1991 he organized the Adult Tamburitzans that enjoy a similar reputation. In July 1982, St. Lawrence Lodge hosted the C.F.U. Junior Tamburitza Festival and in 1997 & 2004, our Junior Tammies attended two Tamburitza Festivals in Zagreb, Croatia.
The information for this brief history was gleaned from a masterful publication; "A Chronological History of The St. Lawrence Society of Steelton, Pennsylvania" researched and compiled by Lodge Member Matthew J. Mavretic. Bro. Mavretic generously approved use of his work to compose this history.
Bro. Mavretic's book covered the years up to 1993. Hopefully, in the near future, this page can be expanded to cover the succeeding years.
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