PITTSTON — If home is where the heart is, these hearts pull double duty.
Pittston Knights of Lithuania Council 143 met at Pittston Memorial Library on Friday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lithuania’s independence. The ceremony began with the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by a rendition of the Lithuanian national anthem, “Lietuvos Himnas,” sung in Lithuanian by Tom Wierbowski.
Wierbowski admitted his Lithuanian isn’t what it used to be when the language surrounded him in his West Pittston household.
“We sang all the Lithuanian hymns and took part in Lithuanian customs and traditions,” said Wierbowski, 71, who made the drive from his current residence in Mansfield. He moved away in 1964, but remains a member of Council 143. He and the organization’s members celebrate the anniversary of Lithuania’s independence every year.
The independent state of Lithuania was established on Feb. 16, 1918. Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, but independence was re-established in 1990 when it became the first republic to secede from the USSR.
According to Dr. Carol Gargan, a historian who spoke at Friday’s ceremony, Lithuanian immigrants to the United States kept their dreams of independence alive in a number of ways, including utilizing their newfound freedom of press to print and preserve documents, language and culture.
That culture imprinted on their descendants, like West Pittston resident Cathy Shulna. Shulna, historian of Council 143, wore a traditional Lithuanian folk hat to the ceremony made from parts of her grandmother’s hat.
“We grew up with it,” Shulna said of Lithuanian culture. “They all came here. We learned that. It was passed down through generations. I’ve passed it down to my kids.”
Council 143 President Dennis Palladino wore another piece of Lithuanian folk garb, a colorful sash called a juosta, as he presided over the event.
Palladino and Council 143 procured a number of formal documents commemorating the centennial, including a letter from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a citation from Pennsylvania Sen. John Yudichak, a citation from Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Carroll and a Pittston City Proclamation read by Mayor Mike Lombardo.
“To recognize our Lithuanian population here on a day that’s the 100th anniversary of the nation’s independence, it doesn’t get much better than that,” Lombardo said. “The various ethnic groups that came and settled here, they brought with them their culture, they brought with them their work ethic, they brought with them their religions and those are the things that, really, they’re the heart of the city.”
Lombardo said the Lithuanian flag will fly above Pittston City Hall for a few days before it’s taken down, but he hopes to find it — and the flags of other nations whose people play a part in Pittston’s history — a permanent place in the city.
“I would like to actually set up an area with some kind of catchy title, sort of a summary of who we are and put a couple plaques up,” Lombardo said. “I would like to do something like that because it’s a reminder. We have to remind younger people that it’s great to be American; it’s great to embrace that idea, but it’s also important to remember your heritage.”
For United States Rep. Matt Cartwright, who also presented a citation at the ceremony, ethnicity is “something we don’t want to let go of.”
“It’s really a special joy to celebrate your ethnic background,” Cartwright said. “I think you heard it in abundance today that Lithuania has existed in the shadow of the great Russian bear, and it takes a special kind of people to figure out how to handle that.”
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