Remembering Our Past Through Celebrations at LA’s St. Sava & Jackson’s Summer Camp

This article was published in the July/August 2011 issue and is posted here with  permission from Serb World USA.  Order a copy of the magazine to also view the companion piece “Everything Old is New Again” by Nadine Radovich and Anita Sabovich Rowe.  Related postings: “Sophia Ducich & Serbian Sisters Bake Sales”, and “The Potluckers”. (Click on photos below for a larger view.)

“Remembering Our Past. .. We Build Our Future” is a motto of the St. Sava Mission in Jackson, California, and this spring on Memorial Day weekend, the organization’s summer camp program fulfilled those words when it celebrated its 50th anniversary.

For me, that celebration capped off a year with two important anniversaries, beginning last fall with the centennial celebration of St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles. Both the church’s centennial and the summer camp’s golden anniversary made me realize how true the motto is.

In order to celebrate these anniversaries, or any anniversary, it is important to understand what came before. Nothing really begins on the anniversary date:  graduation is preceded by years of classes and learning; marriage by courtship; and institutions by many meetings.

Each of these starts with an idea followed by people coming together to achieve a common goal. And, as with all things worthy of an anniversary celebration, that idea is formed with a better future in mind. Today, we all share in that future the founders had envisioned.

I am proud to say that my grandfather, Jovo Kujundzich, was one of a group of Serbs-with Todor Colich, Risto Kilibarda, Todor Batinich, Danilo Dakovich, and Todor Polich-who, in the early 1900’s, pioneered the organizing of St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles. The members of Los Angeles’ Serbian United Benevolent Society “Jedinstvo” granted the parish permission to build a church on the society’s land, and in 1910, Father Sebastian Dabovich came to Los Angeles to consecrate that new church.

Almost fifty years later, in 1956, land in nearby San Gabriel was donated by Charles Barzut, a member of St. Sava parish. A new and larger hall was built and completed in 1963. It was the last building blessed by Bishop Dionisije before the schism that divided the church and its people for many years.

Dan & Desa Pavich with Gloria

Another thirty years after that, under the direction of Father Petar Jovanovic, a committee was formed to construct a new St. Sava Church in San Gabriel adjacent to the hall. My uncles – Petar Kujundzich, who served as chairman, and George Gustovich- were on the construction committee along with Father Petar, John Pecel, William Radulovich, Nick Kavic, Stanley Vukoje, Nick Pekovich, Mike Perko, and Daniel Pavich. In 1984, after just three years, we were celebrating the completion of the new church.

As I celebrated the centennial of the church last fall (October 2010) with the hundreds of other children and grandchildren of the parish’s old families, my friends and I shared our memories of growing up at St. Sava’s. Mine were of my first kola lessons taught by Lani Padadol at the old Jedinstvo hall, of being a flower girl at my Tete Anne Kujundzich’s wedding to Uncle George Gustovich, and of the sodas kept in buckets of ice at the pavilion after church.

Despite the fabulous music at the centennial, we only danced one kolo that fine Sunday in San Gabriel. And what a kolo it was!

It started, as kolos often do, with two friends joining hands. Then another and another joined in. In all, there were several hundred of us. It lasted nearly thirty minutes, and we felt it ended too soon.

Just one line, all joined together, no one wanting to start another, everyone feeling connected to one another, to the past and the present. It was joyous.

What had started as an idea among friends became the community I was now celebrating. But 100 years ago and the founding of the church all seemed so long ago to me. How could I truly understand what it was like for those visionary immigrants? Most of them came to this unfamiliar country unable to speak the language. All were young, and many were alone-without parents, siblings, or wives. My grandfather was one of them, just 21 years old when they began construction of the church.

Then I received the notice for the 50th anniversary and reunion of St. Sava Mission’s first summer camp in Jackson, California. Now, the Jackson Camp Reunion was another matter. Not only could I relate to it, but I was there that first year of camp. I witnessed much of this story and know many of its players.

Of course, camp did not just begin in 1961 with all of us campers showing up in Jackson on one fine summer day. The idea and planning began long before with the coming together of many great minds.

I remember well the “store” that Sophia Ducich – all of us kids called her “Baba Sophia”- would open after lunch at camp. There were some religious items; scarves; trinkets; and, most importantly, postcards and stamps. So, I am sending you postcards and letters from Jackson as I imagine they might have been written.

While the words are mine, the content and the people are all real: many anecdotes were shared with me at the reunion held over Memorial Weekend in 2011; others are from stories repeated over the years.

Ned “Nedjo” Vukovich was already a prominent business man in Jackson, even though he was just 30 years old in 1960. He and his young family had a house on Main Street, only two blocks from St. Sava Church. He was a lifelong resident of Jackson. The son of a miner, Ned attended the University of Southern California (USC) on a football scholarship.

He loved Jackson and returned after college and serving in the U.S. Army. He began a successful insurance business in 1951, also on Main Street. Today his grandson, Beau Gillman, owns an insurance agency in that same building on Main Street.

Ned was soon the youngest district manager in Farmers Insurance with eight counties under his direction. He was active in several more business ventures, service clubs, and civic volunteer duties over his lifetime. He received many awards and recognitions, including having a street named for him in his beloved Jackson. He passed away at his home in Jackson in 2005, and true to his word, paperwork related to the St. Sava Mission was spread over his desk.

The lady to whom he wrote, Sophia Ducich, was also a legend at St. Sava Mission, but her roots were in Butte, Montana. When Sophia’s children were nearly grown, she began to get involved with the Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church in Butte. In 1934, she was one of the founders of Butte’s Serbian Sisters Circle “Holy Trinity.” Her dedication to her church and the Kola Srpskih Sestara (KSS) would last the rest of her life.

In 1950, Sophia moved to Fresno, California, to be closer to her daughter, Ruby, and son-in-law, Leonard Land. She quickly became active in the local Serbian community during the founding of the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Peter the Apostle, begun in 1951 and consecrated in 1957. Sophia also continued to work with the Kolo Sestara, becoming vice president of the American Federation of Serbian Sisters Circles in 1956. Three years later she was elected President of the Western Region of KSS. She held that position from 1959 through 1966.

Talk began in 1957 about a Serbian summer camp in the West when a meeting in Fresno was conducted by Sophia Ducich. In attendance were Kolo Sestara leaders from the Midwest-Mary Stepanovich, Sally Ranich, and Olga Parnisari-along with seventeen “California Sisters.”

The children’s summer camps in Libertyville, Illinois, and Shadeland, Pennsylvania,  were well established. The first had opened in 1942, the second in 1953, and after 1945, they were run by the American Federation of Circles of Serbian Sisters. The purpose of the Fresno meeting was to introduce the California sisters to the work of the federation which had been established in 1945 with its primary mission “to help the Diocese and Monastery conduct and maintain the summer camps (Libertyville and Shadeland).”

The idea quickly took hold. The first fundraiser for a Western Region camp was held in 1958 in Alhambra, California, even though a location had not yet been chosen.

Many sites-from San Francisco to San Diego-were considered for the Western Region’s Serbian Camp for Children. But Jackson-with its revered Serbian history coupled with Ned Vukovich and the Jackson delegation’s unbridled enthusiasm and determination and with its affordable land-won the debate. In addition, the large amount in pledges they raised helped sway the final vote, and they continued to raise money from contributors across the Western States.

In 1961, 173 acres of land were purchased. Another motto of the St. Sava Mission states it best, “We build not for ourselves alone … But for the generations that will follow us.”

At that time, Sophia Ducich decided it would be advantageous for her to live in Jackson during the building of the new summer camp and mission. Ned arranged for her to live in the house next door to his own which had been his parents’ home. His mother had recently moved into a smaller place. At just the right time, the house was available for rent, and for Sophia, the location was perfect–close to the Serbian church and to downtown.

The large, old Victorian house had plenty of room to house visiting board members. Father Pavlovich’s wife, Protinica Angeline Pavlovich, kept a room there, and the many meetings, which were required to establish the camp, were also held at Sophia’s.

Sophia soon made the move permanent, and she lived in Jackson for more than 30 years. Eventually, she moved back to Fresno to be near her daughter Ruby once again, and there she passed away at the age of 96.

In the early 1950’s, Protinica Angeline Pavlovich-a native of Akron, Ohio-had been called upon by her husband, the parish priest Proto Boro Pavlovich, to help establish a children’s summer camp at Shadeland, Pennsylvania. After all, she already had experience working at the summer camp in Libertyville, Illinois, in the 1940’s, and he knew firsthand of her never ending enthusiasm and skills.

Until Protinica Angeline gained the support of philanthropist Andja “Angie” Polich of San Marino, California, the funds for Shadeland came from modest donations by retirees and displaced persons who lived on the property and gave what little they had. Protinica Angeline and Andja Polich made a dynamic pair: they both had great organizational skills and the ability to bring others into whatever projects they were working on. Soon, Shadeland summer camp was up and running.

Andja Polich was not only a generous benefactress, but she also gave her time and energy to the Serbian Orthodox Church and its children. She felt it was her calling to do so and remained active with the Serbian Sisters’ federation from 1953 at Shadeland through serving as president of the federation from 1960 until her death in 1970.

Andja was introduced to civic and church responsibilities from an early age, perhaps learned from her father, Mihailo Budincich, who was on the first committee to build a church in Los Angeles in 1909. Long before her involvement with the KSS began in 1953, she was a member of local charities and civic groups, most notably the Serbian Women’s Club of Los Angeles and the Parent Teachers Association (PTA).  She often served as president, for she was a “natural born leader,” according to her family.

As president of Los Angeles’ 42nd Street School’s PTA, she was in charge of a fundraiser to buy a grand piano. She recruited several Serbian women to help make stuffed cabbage, and each sarma was sold for 25¢: the 42nd Street School got a grand piano.

Married to Todor Polich-a prominent leader of Los Angeles’ Serbian community, a pioneering member of St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, and later, a member of the first Board of Trustees for St. Steven Serbian Orthodox Church-Andja devoted herself to her work. She and Todor made a formidable pair. They were able to travel to many of our churches and communities where they raised funds to be added to their own generous donations. Andja especially enjoyed supporting various choirs, folklore groups, and any other project related to children and their education.

In addition, Andja formed another club in Los Angeles. This one was of a social nature, but one that also raised money for various charities. It was called The Potluckers and began in 1955 with women who were members of Los Angeles’ two Serbian Orthodox churches at that time, either St. Sava’s or St. Steven’s. So, with Andja as President of KSS, and with the Western Region organizing the St. Sava Mission in Jackson, it should come as no surprise that Mrs. Polich would ask her Potlucker ladies to get involved.

As most of The Potluckers had children who would likely be attending the camp, they were more than willing to support the St. Sava Mission. Several held positions on the board of directors for the summer camp, including my mother, Gloria, Camp Treasurer; Evelyn “Evie” Mulkovich, Secretary; and Helen Vico, Senior Counselor.

The Potluckers held a fundraiser with an “Old West” theme, fitting for Jackson’s location in the heart of California’s Gold Rush Country. Serbs from both of Los Angeles’  churches were in attendance, and everyone dressed in costume. Not only did they all have a great time, but they gave generously. The enthusiasm at the event carried over to enthusiasm for the camp as many in attendance also volunteered to help set up the camp and enrolled their children as campers. After all was tallied, they were able to make a nice donation and buy all the necessary blankets for the children’s beds.

That first year, much work was yet required to get ready for the first campers. Camp was scheduled to begin in the summer of 1961 even though there were no completed buildings on the newly acquired land. It was decided that St. Sava’s church hall could be converted to accommodate our needs.

Mostly just in their 30’s, the young mothers and fathers, and even some grandparents of future campers, heeded the call and arrived by the carload ready to work.

I recall a caravan up old Highway 99 from Los Angeles and the kids often changing cars to ride with their friends at each stop along the way. A favorite stop was to buy fresh cherries at roadside stands in California’s rich fruit-growing valleys.

Once in Jackson, some stayed with families they knew in the area, others at motels,  and some rented homes. One large house, the one on Peek and Schober streets, was my home that first time in Jackson, and I remember that everyone was given a job to do, including the future campers.

”The Muumuu Girls” was the nickname given to the Los Angeles women who, along with their children and Father Mrvichin, rented the old house that first summer. It was located on the comer of Peek and Schober streets and is still referred to as “The Peek and Schober House” by those who were in Jackson that year.

As Jackson can be quite hot in the summer, the women often wore Hawaiian muumuu dresses. Referred to as ”The Muumuu Girls,” they were Gloria Kunzich, Dee Lubanko, Evie Mulkovich, Bessie Mrvichin, Pat Sabovich, Millie Pecel, and Helen Vico. The children of ”The Peek and Schober House” were Meg and Paula Kunzich; Bobby Lubanko; Nikki Mulkovich; George, Mitchell, and Xenia Mrvichin; Anita Sabovich; Marlene, Bobby, and John “Peppy” Pecel; and Sindi and Steve Vico.

There were only three bedrooms in the Peek and Schober house. I remembered the girls had one, the boys another, and Father and Popadija Mrvichin had the third. When I asked Helen Vico where the mothers slept she replied, “Everywhere and anywhere. Only the kitchen and dining room were free of beds and bedrolls.”

Every morning we were awakened by Evie Mulkovich singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” To this day, whenever I hear that song, I think of her, and whenever I think of her, I hear her voice singing it. Eli Mulkovich, Sr., and Eli, Jr., would often join us during that summer. Eli, Jr., found space in the boys’ room, and somehow a fourth bedroom was created for Evie and Eli, Sr., under the eaves of the old house.

We all remember that my father, Milan Kunzich, and George Vico each spent a lot of time helping in Jackson, but we just can’t remember where it was that they stayed.

We kept the house the whole summer, from camp setup to closing. Meals would often be cooked at the Peek and Schober house and transported by pickup truck to the church hall—especially when setting up the dormitories.

The Muumuu Girls were always laughing and creating fun in the midst of all their hard work, and for that reason, people would often stop by the house. Many to this day remember having stayed there (even when they had not) because the stories are now legends.

Helen Vico recalls that her son, Stevie, and John “Peppy” Pecel – each around 8 years old – were asked to be altar boys for the Sunday service. During the middle of the liturgy, they noticed that the icon that the parishioners would be kissing at the end of church looked like it was in need of cleaning.

Having witnessed their mothers constantly cleaning in preparation for camp, they decided to pitch in. They quickly ran next door to the kitchen where they were sure to find what they needed. Helen’s mother, Stane Miletich, was helping prepare food for everyone, and she saw the boys were in a great rush. Without question, she accommodated their request for cleaning supplies. To the dismay of some, the boys cleaned the icon during service. At the end, it was sparkling for all to kiss!

The St. Sava church hall in Jackson has two stories. Upstairs there is a large dining area and stage. Downstairs is a smaller hall and kitchen. For that first summer camp, it was decided that the upstairs could be divided into two areas: a boys’ dormitory and a girls’ dormitory. At one end slept Father Mrvichin, and at the other, a “Dorm Mother,” Virginia Stefanovich for the first week.

There were restrooms, but no showers, so the men built temporary outdoor showers. The kitchen and smaller hall downstairs would serve both for meals and classes. St. Sava Church was adjacent for twice daily services, and of course, because it was summer in Jackson, many activities took place outside, including kolos.

Fortunately there were a few people with previous “camp experience.” Sophia Ducich and Andja Polich, through their roles with KSS, knew about the management required to run a camp. Protinica Angeline Pavlovich had hands-on experience at both Serbian summer camps in Libertyville and Shadeland.

Protinica Pavlovich, Millie Dabovich, Gloria Kunzich, Gilbert Popovich

Protinica Angeline was named the first “Western Camp Chairman.” Her husband, Proto Borivoj Pavlovich, served as the first camp priest. Millie (nee Legino) Pecel had been a Junior Counselor at Libertyville in the 1940’s, and she was often asked how it was done there. Her reply would be, “I don’t know. Iwas only there one week when I was a teenager.” She would then offer suggestions based on her memories, knowing her little experience was more than others had.

Proto and Protinica Pavlovich had moved from Ohio to California in 1959, when Father Boro was appointed the parish priest in Oakland. Protinica was certainly in the right place at the right time when Jackson was selected as the location for the first Western camp. She had already proven herself to be a great organizer and leader, and she and Andja Polich had established a strong relationship dating back to Shadeland in 1953.

Andja Polich tapped another from Los Angeles, Gilbert Popovich, to be the first Camp Director and Head Counselor. She knew him to be well qualified as he was not only an enthusiastic supporter of the Serbian Church, but he was also then working with kids as the vice principal of Belvedere Elementary School. Gilbert was Camp Director for the first four years of the summer camp in Jackson, and at that time, camp ran for six weeks: the first four for youngsters, the last two for “Teen Camp.”

Jean Couglin, Gloria Kunzich, Helen Vukovich, "Gussie" Bulaich, Stane Begovich, "Bertie" Urdesich

Gilbert remembers his time as Camp Director with great fondness. Each morning began with church services, followed by the raising of the American flag and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

After those rituals, breakfast would be served-always on time!-from John Ljepava, our head chef. We kids called him ”Uncle John:’ and in fact, he had every meal ready on time: breakfast at 8:00 a.m., lunch at 12:00 noon, and dinner at 6:00 p.m.

Mealtime was when Gilbert would make camp announcements. He would ring a cowbell to silence the room, and both adults and children would all stop to listen.

While religion remained one focus of camp, never far from mind was the day-to-day excitement of a children’s summer camp: harmless pranks and innocent summer romances.

One first-year romance led to the marriage of Mara Dabovich and Bobby Pecel many years later. Five-year-old Johnny may not have known how to “short sheet” a bed, but John Radanovich says that by the time he was in Teen Camp, he had “perfected the fine art of camp pranks.” Obviously, he was well prepared when he be-came a counselor himself.

Another pair of pranksters, who wish to remain anonymous for fear of being “expelled from camp” even 50 years after the fact, laughed at the recollection of greasing the dormitory door knobs and, then, at 3 o’clock in the morning, playing Kafu mi draga, a song that was often played at 7:30 a.m. to wake us up.

Gilbert’s memory is very kind as he remembers the campers all being very well behaved. He makes one exception: the occasions during ‘Teen Week” when the clapper on his cowbell would sometimes be taped, rendering the bell silent instead of the room.

From the beginning, camp activities included classes in religion; Serbian language;  Serbian history; music; kolos-my favorite, taught by Diki Cheyovich; and arts and crafts.There was physical education twice a day, including daily swimming instructions in the mission’s Olympic-sized pool, built in 1962. Prior to its completion the Jackson Public Pool was made available to us.

Late afternoons were dedicated to rehearsals for the weekly talent show every Friday night when the public was invited. Not only did some of our parents come, but many locals also attended. Even non-Serbs were already well acquainted with the Serbian traditions, after all St. Sava’s was built in 1894, and Serbs were a social and political force in the area. Many especially enjoyed Jackson’s Serbian Christmas open houses and the tradition of firing guns into the air to proclaim the arrival of the holiday. In  addition, Protinica Pavlovich, Baba Sophia, and Ned Vukovich had visited the local residents and businesses to tell them about our camp and invite them to our Talent Show.

We played music, sang, danced kolos, and performed skits in Serbian-all to proudly display our Serbian heritage and what we had learned in camp. I must confess I never learned the language, but I was able to memorize my few lines for a skit. Not understanding the Serbian language did not impede our audiences’ generous applause for each one of us.

Everyone recalls the first talent show when Mara Dabovich sang for the first time. The room fell silent to better hear this beautiful young girl with a voice to match sing Harbor Lights and the then-popular song Alley Oop.

Of course, there were also field trips. Gilbert Popovich says he would plan at least one field trip a week during the years he spent as camp director. Some were to the nearby Gold Rush towns like Volcano with its sweet shop featuring “Volcano Sundaes” or sarsaparilla drinks; Angels Camp with its St. Basil of Ostrog Serbian Orthodox Church; or Columbia, a town preserved just as it was in the 1850’s. Other places we went during Gilbert’s tenure included the Kennedy Tailing Mines, the Jackson Museum, the State Capitol in Sacramento, and Big Trees State Park. I remember going to the Mokelumne River for a picnic and swimming that first summer.

Sometimes we would go on a long hike into town, singing Marsirala; marsirala Kralja Petra garda the whole way. Although the mission’s camp was not far from town, Gilbert would nonetheless create a path that took us through the rolling hills and grand oak trees, over a “monkey bridge” high above the creek (at least it was high to me).

Protinica Pavlovich had taught us Marsirala. She would bang out the rhythm on the  piano while we learned the lyrics and how to march in a straight line to the beat of the music. Our walks into town would always be rewarded with a stop at Sophie’s Old  Fashion Ice Cream Shop before taking a more direct route back to camp.

For the more distant field trips, we campers would pile into the back of a pick-up truck, not really caring where we went: the coming and going was always such fun. We’d sing the whole time—- favorites included the Serbian Marsirala and Tamo daleko with the old Irish-American “Harrigan” song. Sung at the top of our lungs with the lyrics changed to:

S-e-r-b-i-a-n spells Serbian, SERBIAN!
Proud of all the Serbian blood that’s in me, in me!
Divil ‘a man can say a word agin’ me, agin’ me.
S-e-r-b-i-a-n you see.
It’s a race that shame never has been connected with:
SERBIAN, that’s ME!
(Were any of you former campers singing along?)

My mother really didn’t need to worry: in addition to Proto’s prayers, there were always camp counselors watching the younger kids and adult volunteers, in turn, watching them. Many of the counselors during the first four weeks would then become campers for the final two weeks at Teen Camp.

Marlene Pecel, was my first Junior Counselor. She was the first of many to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Through the camp’s fifty years, many campers went on to become Junior Counselors, then Counselors. Counselors became teachers and adult volunteers.

This was never more evident than at the reunion. As first-year campers, Dawn Salata and Danica Milosevich were among the event organizers, along with Dawn’s daughter Kristina Pavlovich, also a former camper and current counselor. Dawn’s mother, Dorothy Salata, had been a volunteer from the beginning and was Camp Secretary for over 20 years starting in 1964. Danica  recalled being a camper every year until she was old enough to become a counselor. Today, she continues to volunteer at camp every summer.

While many of the campers’ mothers were volunteering at the camp with the kids, many of their fathers were helping with construction of our new camp grounds. Some came up on the weekends-in time for the Talent Show-to help; others took vacation time and stayed a week or two.

There were buildings to be built: dormitories, a chapel, a kitchen, a hall, bathrooms, and a swimming pool. But first, the land had to be prepared: pipes for plumbing to be laid, connection to the city’s power supply, a road … in short, everything!

As September of 1961 approached, all the campers were back home. Camp was now a memory and likely the subject of many a “How I spent my summer vacation” essay. However, the construction work and planning for the following summer continued.

Fortunately, there were many Serbs in the construction industry, and they gave greatly. Donations came in the form of money, equipment, supplies, manpower, and know-how. Among them were: Todor Polich; Luka Pecel; Dan Prodanovich; Bob Kosach; Sam Martinovich, Sr.; and the Joel Radjenovich Company. As generous as they all were, more was needed- much more.

Archimandrite Irinej Kovacevich, as the newly appointed administrator of St.

Gilbert's Tree Donation Campaign

Sava Mission, and Ned Vukovich, as the Building Committee Chairman, made four long trips during 1962 to seventeen Western states and British Columbia. Their slogan was “Give a Little of Today… For Tomorrow.”

They traveled back roads, dirt roads, and highways. They shared coffee with fellow Serbs in their modest kitchens or fine dining rooms-all at their own expense for they wanted every dollar donated to go towards the building of the Mission.

They shared stories of the success of the first year of camp and the vision of what the Mission would be in the future: a summer camp that could accommodate 90 children each week and a senior citizens’ home for the aged and infirm with various social, religious, and educational activities.

Using a plan developed by the University of California, Berkeley marketing students for Father Irinej, they recruited members in every parish in the West. Each member would visit with ten others in the area, share camp brochures, and solicit donations.

The Los Angeles fund-raising committee was headed by my father, Milan Kunzich, and Pete Salata. The other committee members working through the Los Angeles regional office were Sam Maletich, Luka Milosevich, Evelyn Mulkovich, Dan Pavich, Helen Rafaelovich, Pat Sabovich, Steve Stefanovich, Mary Stipo, Betty Stipo, Nick Stipo, and Pete Zotovich.

Donations and pledges came pouring in. Donations, large and small, added up. They knew the buildings would be ready for summer camp 1962. They knew that St. Sava Mission would be the center so many had envisioned.

On May 21st, 1962, St. Sava Mission Corporation was incorporated in the state of California as an independent non-profit organization. The Articles of Incorporation were signed by the members of its first Board of Directors: Rt. Rev. Bishop Dionisije, Libertyville, lllinois; Theodore P. Polich, San Marino, California; V.Rev. Vladimir M. Mrvichin, Alhambra, California; Luka Peeel, Shennan Oaks, California; Obren Cuckovich, Oakland, California; Sam Bogdanovich, Fresno, California; V. Rev. Borivoj Pavlovich, Oakland, California; and, V. Rev. Jrinej Kovacevich, Jackson, California.

The second year of camp opened on schedule in July of 1962 with the dedication of the newly completed administration building and one dormitory, leaving the seeond dormitory and the Olympic sized pool for completion in August. Todor Polich was the sponsor, or kum, for the Mission, Andja Polich was kuma for one of the dormitories, and Luka Pecel was kum for the other.

Then and now, the purpose of St. Sava Mission is “to preserve and promote the educational, charitable, cultural, and other institutions of people of Serbian heritage. To promote and maintain activities commensurate and consistent with the ideals and teachings of our Serbian heritage.”

At both the centennial of St. Sava’s of Los Angeles and the 50th anniversary of Jackson’s St. Sava Summer Camp, we remembered the past, we rejoiced in the present, and we hoped for the future. For me, the kolos at each event reflected that: both the single connected line at St. Sava’s l00th anniversary with people of all ages honoring our past and the multiple lines at Jackson’s 50th reunion, each line a reflection of our time at camp.

As we joined kolos next to fellow “camp mates”-there were campers from throughout the summer camp’s 50-year history, each filled with joy at being there and being together. One of the lines that captured everyone’s attention was that of just 3 or 4 girls, each less than 10 years old. They were doing the dances they had learned at their first camp-last year!

Danica Milosevich, Dawn Salata, Paula Kunzich, Lana Vukovich, John Radanovich, Angie Martinovich, Anita Sabovich, Millie Chuck, Jeffrey Jaksich

And finally, my own postcard …

Authors Note:  Special thanks to those who shared their stories-especially Helen Vico, Gloria Kunzich, and Gilbert Popovich. It was a pleasure to relive those fun-filled summer days with you and learn more about our history. In the great tradition of Serbian “double-dipping” through our holidays on two calendars, if you missed the 50th Camp Reunion this year, you can attend the 50th Anniversary of the Mission 1962-2012 next year.


4 responses to “Remembering Our Past Through Celebrations at LA’s St. Sava & Jackson’s Summer Camp

  1. Hi Paula, Thanks for the memories, this is great to go back and relive it and like me through a little girls eyes…Xenia

  2. Gilbert Popovich was my favorite teacher of all time. My brother was in the first class Popovich taught. I had him as a 2nd grade teacher and was in the last class in taught (6th grade) at 4th St. Elementary. The following year, he became a vice principal. Both my brother and I are retired elementary school teachers. I wrote to Gilbert about five years ago upon his return from a trip to Turkey. He thanked me for the letter and praise but alas he did not remembered me nor my bother. About three years ago, I met two sisters at Opolo winery in Paso Robles. They remember summer camp with Popovich as the camp director. Small world!!!!!!!!!

    • Thank you for sharing your remembrances of Gilbert. I will be posting an article about an event that Gilbert attended last year (with a current picture of him). He is doing quite well and is very active in raising funds to build a mausoleum at the Serbian United Benevolent Society (SUBS) cemetery. You may even recognize the sisters you met at Opolo as many of us at that event also attend Opolo’s Harvest Festival every year.

  3. Hello, Paula. I enjoyed reading your article. I am doing some research for the library on some families who settled here, and came across your article while searching for information about one of our earliest Serb settlers, Danilo Dakovich. I am wondering if he could be the same man who helped to pioneer the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church? The timing is right, as he first came to Anaheim somewhere around 1915. Do you happen to know where I might find more information about the founding of Jedinstovo and the Dakovich mentioned in your article? Thank you so much for your help.

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