Ethnic Women of Cleveland
Sonja Franz Unger Recording & Transcript
Listen to the interview as you read along.
- INTERVIEWEE: Sonja Unger
- INTERVIEWER: Jeanette Tuve
- DATE: April 8, 1986
- PROGRAM LENGTH: 62:43 min.
JT: Mrs. Unger, what was your maiden name?
SU: My maiden name was Sonja Franz.
JT: When and where were you born?
SU: I was born in Zagreb, Croatia, that's part of Yugoslavia.
JT: Would you mind saying when?
SU: Well, no. I am very proud of it. Today I got my Social Security. I had a birthday yesterday.
JT: And your nationality is?
JT: Where were your parents born?
SU: My parents were born in Zagreb also in Croatia.
JT: What was your father's occupation?
SU: We owned vineyards and marble quarries. He was also the Yugoslav representative for some Austrian and German newsprint firms, and other packaging companies.
JT: And your mother?
SU: She was a housewife.
JT: Did she have any community or religious activities?
SU: No. Because in Yugoslavia, in those days, ladies took care of the house, went to a concert, went to the coffeehouse in the afternoon with their friends, drank coffee, ate pastry, and that was about it. I have never heard of any volunteer work, or any sort of involvement in community activity.
JT: Was she active in the church?
JT: What was her religious affiliation?
SU: When Mother was married she became Catholic like we all are; but she was raised Jewish. Her family was Jewish, but the whole family had different religions. One sister married a Catholic, one was Protestant, one married a Muslim, one brother was Jewish, one brother married a Catholic Woman. So at my grandmother's we celebrated every imaginable holiday.
JT: You have a very ecumenical family.
JT:That makes for many holidays, I would think.
SU: That is the best part.
JT: What holidays do you remember from your childhood?
SU: I remember mostly Christmas naturally, also St. Nicholas and Easter. The Jewish holidays were really not religious for me. They were all concerned with going to visit grandmother and eating after sundown.
JT:When did you celebrate St. Nicholas?
SU:The sixth of December. That is the day when all the children would get presents.
JT:Did he have a female companion that came with him?
SU:No, strictly a man. He had the Devil with him.
JT:Oh, the devil came?
SU:The Devil who was scaring the children?
JT:And where did he come from?
SU:I don't know. We never questioned it.
JT:Not the North Pole?
JT:In Holland he came from Spain. You mentioned going to your grandmother's house to eat. What do you remember about the food that was unusual?
SU:I really don't remember anything except that when we would come, I would be the one was allowed to lick the big copper kettle with the whipped cream. Besides there was coffee, and pastries.
JT:Sounds delicious. How many children in your family?
SU:I'm the only child
In the city it was customary to have one child, very seldom two.
JT:Did your mother have household help?
JT:Where did you go to school?
SU:I went to school in Zagreb.
JT:What kind of a school in Zagreb?
SU:I went to a Montessori kindergarten. My elementary school was a Protestant private school. There I went to first and second and third grade
Then I went to the Vjezbaona; it means training for the Teacher's College, and that was sort of semi-private. Then I went to the lyceum, and the last two years I went to Cannes, the College de Jeune Filles.
SU:In France. College de Jeune Filles is a high school, it is not a college. When the war came, I came back and entered the University, and finished University.
SU:Yes. Degrees in architecture and engineering, and I took one year of law. Then the war was over, I got married and came over here.
JT:So you have a degree in engineering.
SU:Engineering and architecture, yes.
JT:What language did you speak at home?
SU:As a child at home I spoke German, and then after that Croatian, and then during the war we all refused to speak German and spoke only Croatian.
JT:What language did you study in school?
SU: In school we studied German, French, Latin, Old Slavonic, and that's about it. Then we all had private lessons; it was customary, like here taking piano. I took French and Italian and English.
JT:That sounds like a full range of languages. In how many are you fluent?
SU: I'm fluent in German, French, Italian, Croatian, and of course we had to take Russian. When I came to the Untied States I took Spanish.
JT: For one born in this country it's very unusual to know and study so many languages.
SU: In Europe in those days it was not unusual. The distances were so small and people could go for vacations here and there, and somehow they do speak all those languages. Here today with English you can go practically everywhere, which is really too bad.. Without Latin, I don't think I would have ever been able to learn English.
JT: It's very helpful. In this country I think it's too bad that we don't study more Russian.
SU:Yes. How many people who go to Russia, even in the State Department or Foreign Service, speak the language?
JT: And if you know Russian you can get along in the other Slavic languages—but that's another subject. What were some of your special activities when you were a child? Music or drama?
SU: Like every child in a big city, everybody had to learn piano, which I hated with a passion, because I had to practice. My father and mother played beautiful piano duets. Unless I was very very good in anything, I didn't like it. We had horses, and I used to have to go horseback riding and frankly I didn't really like it because I had to do it. My father was for forty years secretary of the Yugoslav Jockey Club. So we had to have our own horses, had to exercise them, and it was work. I used to go swimming, I was member of the swimming team and the skiing team. We played tennis, I spoke languages, but I don't think I was ever involved in anything useful because it was never required on me.
JT: I wasn't thinking of anything useful, I was thinking of the things you mentioned.
SU: On Sunday afternoon, we would go to tea dances; all the students used to go. We would go to concerts, theatre, ballet, every opera. We had an excellent theatre, and our family had a box. But we students would always stand up in the gallery. I wouldn't be caught dead sitting the box. We did participate in school activities, gymnastics and all kinds of similar things.
JT: You say your mother wasn't very active in community or religious activities. How about your father? He must have been active in community affairs?
SU:Yes, My father was active in political groups. He worked all the time: I really never paid attention to what he was involved in. And then I was more conscious of it when the war came. During the war we had all kinds of people who were hiding in the apartment; we had a place in the country and we had people hidden there. We had a very good man and his wife who took care f the country place and they brought milk and food to the house. And every two-three months, they had a different set of parents. We always went somebody out who was dressed in peasant clothes and they were hidden in the loft in the barn. During the war we all were involved in one way or another.
JT: Including you—and you were about twenty?
SU:I was between twenty and twenty-four. All the students were involved one way or the other. Unfortunately we had the civil war and everybody was on different sides.
JT: The University was very fragmented?
JT: Did it remain open?
SU: Yes it was. Every so often they would close it up for a couple days. A couple of times we went into hiding and then came back. It was a very crazy time.
JT: Had the University been politically disturbed before 1939?
SU: I don't really know because I wasn't in the University until 1941. It's a big difference between being in high school and being in the university; they don't communicate. I had not been politically involved in high school.
JT: Do you have any personal wartime experiences that you especially remember?
SU: Ah, I'd rather not remember.
JT: You want to pass that?
SU: Yes, I would rather pass, because there were thirty-eight members of my family killed, and my fiancé, and my cousins and my uncle, and everybody had … I mean I can talk about them, but it's a long story, involved, and you've heard it probably from so many other people.
JT: I think you've said a great deal just with that statement. When did your family leave Zagreb?
SU: I came here in '47 after I got married. My husband was head of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation (UNRRA) in Yugoslavia at that time, so I came here when UNRRA closed up in 1947. We got my mother and dad in '53; it was a tug of war. The communist government wouldn't give tem an exit permit. Even I had trouble to get out of Yugoslavia, even though married to an American. My parents would get the U.S. visa, then Yugoslavia wouldn't give them the exit permit. Then they had to start the whole thing over again. So it took about five years before we got them over here.
JT: You didn't have an opportunity to have any work experience other than going to the University?
SU: Oh no, I did work. When I finished university, I worked on rebuilding the war-destroyed villages, I worked way out in the country. I also did the so-called "voluntary" work on the railroad. AS an engineer, I worked on rebuilding the harbor, and the only work force I had were the German and Italian prisoners of war. Of course I also worked in the city in the Ministry of Building, drawing plans.
JT: How did you meet your husband?
SU: I met him during a snowstorm at Christmas. He was going from one province to another where he had to report. He was snowed in at my town and so he stayed. I happened to be at the Christmas party where he was. Being with UNRRA bringing in supplies naturally he was interested in what had been done to rebuild the country. And so we started to talk. My English was very poor because it was the British English and I couldn't understand American English at all. We talked through an interpreter. I dared him that if he would come back in about two months, we could speak without the interpreter, which he did. Then I did some jobs for UNRRA; I worked on a traveling exhibit. We met at Christmas; we got married the next year at New Year's Day.
JT: And in two months you learned English so that you didn't need an interpreter?
SU: Yes, The first things I learned were not very complimentary because his friends taught me some words that I thought were pleasant; but when he heart it he turned his back and walked out.
JT: Was he from Cleveland originally?
SU: He was born in San Diego, was raised in Cleveland, went to college at Harvard, and then went to work in Washington. Then when we were married we returned to Washington where he was with the government.
JT: What's his nationality?
SU: He is American. His father was born here and his grandfather. His great-grandfather came from Austria-Hungary, which is now Czechoslovakia.
JT: Where were you married?
SU: We were married in Zagreb, at the ancient royal church, St. Marco, which was a landmark. The church had been closed for six months, but my father insisted they open it. We were married civilly but my father didn't accept that. He wanted us to be married in the church, or else he believed we are not married.
JT: Why had the church been closed?
SU: When the Communists (the partisans, as they say after the liberation) came, they closed all the churches. When we were married the church was mobbed, not because of our setting, but because this was the first time the church was open and the people came as a protest against the government. I had a hard time to get in, it was so full.
JT: That sounds very exiting!
SU: It was exciting; I couldn't believe it. The square around the church was mobbed. That's the only reason I think that we could have been married in the church, because it was sort of a protest. People showed solidarity behind the Church.
JT: Did you have a traditional Croatian wedding?
SU: No, We did really not observe in the cities any tradition. It's only after I got married and came here that I participated and got interested in Croatian culture. We started the Croatian Academic Club here and so many other things. I started to collect Croatian costumes, books, anything.
JT: When you were married, did you know you were leaving at that time?
SU: Oh yes, when we were married, we hoped to leave immediately.. We didn't even realize it would take a long time to get an exit permit, entrance visa and so on.
JT: I gather that your family did not support Tito?
SU: No. Nobody did in the fifties.
JT: But he's Croatian.
JT: He's not really Croatian?
SU: There's a certain doubt. Maybe yes, maybe no. some people say it's just a legend. But one thing you have to say, that he did keep the people together. There was always the fight among the nationalities in Yugoslavia; there was lots of bloodshed when Tito came. I think without him Yugoslavia would not exist the way it does.
JT: It's remarkable. His image improves as the years went by.
SU: Well, he had improved, let's put it that way. He was no different from Stalin at the beginning. But he finally turned out to be good for Yugoslavia. From the time he broke with Russia Yugoslavia really progressed.
JT: There were so many predictions that it would fall apart after Tito left, but it didn't.
SU: Economically it went down. But they are surviving. They are doing very well compared to the eastern bloc; they are way ahead.
JT: I every hear people occasionally say these days, "I'm a Yugoslav."
SU: Yes, that is quite unusual. This is one thing that he did: he unified the country. Young people today say "I'm a Yugoslav" and they think nothing about it. But that would have never been possible before. My father would never accept that; he was always a Croatian.
JT: So you had decided at the time you were married that you were going to leave Zagreb. Was this for political reason, or because your husband was coming back to the States?
SU: I really didn't think about that. I just presumed that when I got married I'd go with him to America. At that time, everybody was trying to escape the country. I went a couple of times to Trieste on business for the office, and I would meet with friends who had previously excaped and bring them their diplomas. Everybody would o out without any luggage over the border illegally, and I was carrying out stuff for them. Probably if I hadn't married my husband, I would have gone out too.
JT: And since you married an American, it wasn't a great problem for you anyway.
JT: When did you leave?
SU: I left in '47, in April.
JT: And your husband too?
SU: Oh yes, I couldn't go without him.
JT: Was it difficult?
SU: Yes. I couldn't get a passport, it was a long tug of war. Getting married was also very difficult because he was an American. The U.S. Embassy didn't even know how we got the permit. And we let by train to a certain station and then we continued by car. I had legal documents, but it was not unusual that the border patrol would go through the train and take your papers. After that would come another group and ask for your papers. You would say, "They took it to have it stamped." But they maintained you have no papers and they take you off the train, and off you go to prison. That was not unusual. We knew about that, so we left the train at a certain station where there was a Jeep from the UNRRA Mission in Ljubljana waiting. I changed into American Army clothes, and we went out at another very small border crossing. When I called home from Trieste, Mother said the police had come asking for me and they probably would have picked me up.
JT: Did you go to Austria then?
SU: No, we went to Trieste.
SU: Italy. And we stayed there for a while and then took the first boat home.
JT: Where was home? Where did you live when you came?
SU: Washington, DC. All my children were born there.
JT: What did your husband do in Washington?
SU: He was assistant Secretary of Interior.
JT: How many children do you have?
SU: Three. Two boys and one girl.
JT: How long did you live in Washington?
SU: Let me see, until 1953, when Eisenhower came. Then we came here. I thought, "Four years, then we'll be back." But we didn't; we stayed. When Kennedy came, my husband went back. He became head of a department, and he was commuting, and then President Kennedy was killed, and he returned here. Now I call Cleveland home. I really feel very much at home here.
JT: You're not planning to go back in 1988?
SU: I don't know what's going to happen. Who knows?
JT: What did you do in Washington besides have three children?
SU: In Washington I didn't get involved much. I worked in the international day care with children because I, with my limited English, still spoke the best English of all the diplomats' wives. I had to entertain with my husband and so on. Also, we traveled a lot on official business.
JT: When did you come to Cleveland?
SU: We came to Cleveland in'53. I started to get involved first with the Nationalities Services Center and then politically with the volunteers for Kennedy. I was very heavily involved in politics.
JT: How did you get involved with the Nationalities Services?
SU: When we came here they needed an interpreter. Some accident happened and they needed someone in a hurry, and I dashed down to the hospital. Then they asked me could they use me more often, and I found out there was a Nationalities Services Center. I became a member there and started to get involved.
JT: What have you done for them besides translating?
SU: One year, I had fifty-three cases where I became a sort of social worker.
JT: That's more than one a week.
SU: It was. In addition I was on the Citizens Advisory Council with the Juvenile Court. The judge would give me in my custody youngsters that did not want to sentence to the Detention Home. I had them in my custody, had to visit them and to decide when they should get off probation. I would visit their parents, I would visit their school. I had once three youngsters at the same time. I would have cases where I would go to the hospital to explain to new mothers when they were released how to make the babies' formulas. I had other cases where people would have to give children for adoption, or were in the jail. I interpreted for the judges, I helped in finding employment, filling out papers, anything.
JT: Were these mostly Croatian?
SU: They were Croatian, but very often, like at Juvenile Court, they would have letters of recommendation in French or German, depending on which refugee resettlement places they came from. So rather than to postpone for written official translations, I would just go ahead and translate and the judge could go on with the trail.
JT: And this was all volunteer?
SU: It was all volunteer.
JT: That's wonderful. You serve stars in your crown.
SU: I used to get up at three a.m. It never failed, when we had a dinner party the phone would ring. I would just leave, dash down to the hospital or the police or somewhere. Usually at night there would be more cases like that. Then we started the language bank. After the Hungarian uprising we had a lot of cases. When the Cuban doctors and their wives came, we worked with them. Then with the Vietnamese people. There were always things needed, either driving, or finding jobs or apartments or anything.
JT: It sounds like almost a full-time job.
SU: It was.
JT: What other organizations have you been active in?
SU: I was president of the Women's Committee there. Then I was President of IlCenacolo Italiano, that's an Italian Club. Then I was the Vice-President of the American Croatian Club.
JT: What was the Function of that organization?
SU: We started the American Croatian Academic Club when I came back from Washington to here. I was shocked to find that refugees with PhDs had to work at Twist Drill or Republic Steel on assembly lines. Some had no idea how they could go back to their professions. When they came here, they ended up in St. Clair with previous immigrants who told the, "Americans will never accept you." So my husband and I started that American Croatian Academic Club. Actually we started by inviting refugees. If they were lawyers, we would make a little cocktail party with our friends who were lawyers. If they were engineers, we would have engineers and architects. We introduced them so they could see what they can do, get books, get out and meet colleagues, get them to the university. Most of them would work during the day and go to school at night. I don't know one of them that didn't make it. And today they are practicing doctors, lawyers, and architects. The first time we had a meeting on Thanksgiving we had it at the City Club. It was the first time they came out of the nationality church basement, which was the only place they would ever meet. We had once a year a seminar with a big banquet. Today they are established, their children all are in college, they are very respected members of the community. That's how we started in '53.
JT: Very Good. What other organizations have you been active in?
SU: Let me see. I was active in the Conference Francaise, Women's Committee of the Cleveland Institute of Music, Women's Committee of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival. I don't even remember all I was involved in. I was very active in the Cuyahoga County Democratic Executive Committee; I was the first woman elected Secretary of the County Party.
JT: Let's hold the politics for a minute. Were you ever in the Cleveland International Program?
SU: Yes. Sure.
JT: That's where I've met you.
SU: That's right. My husband was working with Ollendorff at the beginning of C.I.P. Now he's Honorary President of C.I.P. I go with him to many countries and I do most of the translations.
JT: You have, then, selected candidates?
SU: Yes. We just came back from China.
JT: A participant came from China this year?
SU: Yes. He works at CWRU Medical School and the Veteran's Hospital. He is very good. He was just at the house recently for books we brought him from China. He specializes in computer-controlled artificial limb research.
JT: I think that their selection is first-rate. I've been in it for twenty-seven years, and I've had some marvelous people, they're always very highly selected.
SU: They are really scrutinized.
JT: What have you done for the Institute of Music?
SU: I was on the Women's Committee.
JT: Are there any other women's or ethic organizations?
SU: Yes, I was on the Women's Committee at Great Lakes Shakespeare, and we started with the ballet and with the opera.
JT: The opera is certainly flourishing.
SU: That's amazingly taking off.
JT: What did you do for the opera?
SU: Well, we started when it was still at Byron School. AT the Burke Airport we had this big kick-off party. Hen I worked at Tri-C. I was Food Chairman when they opened the East Campus. We were going to have a big dinner, but we couldn't afford a caterer. So my idea was to collect food from different nationalities, and it was very successful. We made lots of money and it didn't cost us anything. And then we did it once more for another fund-raiser there. I got involved in things like that.
JT: Any other organizations. Did I hear you mention an Unger Foundation?
SU: Yes. This was for music and for medical research.
JT: At the present time you are not administering it?
SU: No. It is strictly for their scholarships at Music School Settlement.
JT: Can we turn to politics? Have you been active in politics?
SU: Yes. When we came here, my son was involved, my husband was involved, and I was sort of left out and didn't know what goes on. I got involved with the volunteers for Kennedy. We started at the Shaker Heights Democratic Club where we overturned the ward leader form the downtown machine. Before I knew, I became ward leader, I became president of the Shaker Democratic Club where we overturned the ward leader from the downtown machine. I was the first woman secretary of the Democratic Party of Cuyahoga County. I worked very hard. We had a marvelous group here. It was called the Democratic Club, but we really did things for the whole community. We were the ones that found out about the Clark Freeway, and I brought it up at that time at the club. We organized a community meeting and it was so mobbed that we had to move the meeting from the bank basement to the high school auditorium. Promptly Porter, the County Engineer who sponsored the freeway, threw me out of the Party. We started the citizens group and the Nature Center grew out of this. I was delegate to the '68 convention in Chicago.
JT: That was an exciting convention.
SU: That was an exciting, bloody convention. My husband was delegate to Humphrey, my son was delegate to Ted Kennedy, and I was delegate to Muskie. I got the Golden Door Award from the Nationalities Services Center. I was the only woman who got that award, which was also given to George Szell, Henry Ollendorff, Bruno Gebhard and others.
JT: 1975, in the Grand Ballroom of the Cleveland Sheraton Hotel. Mayor Perk was there. The address was given by John Glenn. What is the focus of the Golden Door Award?
SU: The Golden Door Award is conferred from time to time on honored Americans of foreign birth who have made outstanding contributions to their adopted country. I wasn't active only in the Croatian community, I was involved in other things like music and art. I was trying to broaden the Croatian community.
JT: I can see that you have been very active in the Democratic Party. Did you ever run for office?
SU: Well, the one time was for Secretary of the Party. Otherwise I worked for candidates. I never was really interested in running for office. They wanted me to run a couple times. I was delegate to many things. I went to Columbus often. I was chairman once for the nursing homes, lobbying for the concerned relatives, working against the nursing home owners, who had a very strong lobby. I was chairman of the fraud investigation and another committee, checking into the nursing homes.
JT: This sounds like a difficult effort to investigate the nursing homes. Didn't you meet a lot of resistance from the owners?
SU: Oh, sure. When I got really very good at it, they just got me off the committee without any reason. They thanked me very much, sent me a nice letter saying the committee has decided not to investigate any more. The lobby was extremely strong. And they quit until I got off, then they started again. But the point was that with my political and with my community connections, I really got into their deliberations. The lobby was so strong that they would have meetings Tuesday afternoon, when everything was done, although the meeting was called for Wednesday at ten o'clock. Well, I would go down Tuesday afternoon and go in, and by Wednesday morning, I knew what had happened. I got up and I screamed and I talked and I went to Columbus, but nothing really was accomplished. That was a very sad chapter in my life, because I really got into it, and it's not any better, I don't see any solutions. Nursing homes are just warehouses for people.
JT: I was going to ask you if you thought it was better now?
SU: It is not so flagrant…but still the trouble is with the unqualified people who are very poorly paid. They are the ones who are attendants in the nursing homes.
JT: It's a very difficult problem, and it's going to be a continuing problem, I'm sure.
JT: How do you feel about the Shaker School levy? Are you working for that?
SU: I really am not sure. I am furious at the City Council here because I'm envious of Beachwood. We could have had the same set-up as Beachwood. They are so stubborn in Shaker. We have no tax income from a place like Commerce Park, we have condominiums so people who live in these big houses move out to Moreland Court in Cleveland or to Bratenahl. When they die, the tax goes all to other treasuries instead of here. We don't have any new developments to produce more tax income. We have every two years another levy. Look at Beachwood. They didn't have a new school levy for twenty years. They have the Industrial park, they have income. Our whole school system is completely mixed up. We have classes with six and eight pupils. I have nothing against the teachers, they are top teachers. But we are wasting money. I don't see any reason to have another levy, even though I think we should still keep the standards of the Shaker schools.
JT: I think the schools need some other tax base than real estate.
SU: The worst thing is that from my point of view the taxes are so high that young people with children, that would contribute to the community, cannot afford to move in. My son lives in Richmond. He says, "Mom, I cannot live in Shaker—it's too expensive. Taxes are too high, and the schools are not as good any more."
JT: Well, I don't know the solution, but I wondered if you were working for, or against it.
SU: This is the first time that I'm not actively involved in something very important.
JT: What language did you speak at home?
SU: At home we spoke Croatian as I was a child, I spoke a little French, a little German, but later on Croatian.
JT: I mean at your home in Cleveland, when you children were little.
SU: Only English. Only English, because I tried so hard to learn English. And I'm very sorry I never did speak with my children Croatian.
JT: They don't know Croatian, then?
SU: They understand, because they spoke with mother and dad. My daughter speaks very well. My son, the one that just called, he understands. My third son, no. But the two understand and my daughter can speak.
JT: Have you passed down to them any of your Croatian traditions about holidays or anything of that sort? History?
SU: They know all about history. I have a lot of Croatian things. We have a Christmas tree always with Croatian ornaments. I have a lot of embroidery. I do use Croatian tablecloths. We do have every so often Croatian parties. They love Croatian songs. When my dad was alive, for his birthday, I would invite his friends and my friends from the Croatian community. We would always cluster around the piano and sing Croatian songs. My children do sing Croatian songs. But that's as far as it goes. Every so often there are exhibits, where they participate in decorating or costumes. I am not involved in anything like a Croatian neighborhood.
JT: And you don't want to be involved in the politics of Croatia?
SU: Never, no.
JT: I notice that you have many very nice things from Croatia. How about this chest over here?
SU: this is from home. All this ... if you are interested I can show you. This was my grandfather's and his father's. This has been in the family forever.
JT: It's very handsome. Does you daughter do any Croatian cooking, or do you do any Croatian cooking?
JT: You arrange ethnic dinners for fund-raisers, but you don't do Croatian cooking?
SU: No. And I'm very sorry that I never have learned to. I have lots of Croatian cookbooks and I love to read them but I don't cook. I'm great at defrosting. [laughter]
JT: Did you think of your children as being Croatian, any part of them?
SU: No. They go often, when they travel, to Zagreb. They enjoy a Croatian party, they do enjoy the people, but that's mostly because they grew up around them. They are fun, they think they are original. They love their company, but I don't think they do it as part of an ethnic community. They do it on a friendship basis. They are very pleased and very proud my mom comes from so-and-so, but it's always what did I do last week for whom, where I was involved, because our whole family has always been involved; involved with causes, and ....
JT: Your children are involved in causes too?
JT: What kinds of causes?
SU: Alan used to be involved politically. He was working on the west side on Bridge Avenue at the community house, he was active there. MY daughter went to Hathaway Brown and was teaching in one of the settlement houses. She was teaching pottery and printing. I remember once when I came there, it was a very touching moment, those girls were very difficult. It took them in the station wagon to the museum one day. They are a couple blocks from the museum and they had never been inside the museum. We took them on the tour of the museum and took them back, and the next Saturday they were doing what they remembered from the museum. You should have seen the pieces that they turned out. Every one was better than many at the May Show, I can tell you. Alan is not the cultural attaché of the Canadian Consulate in San Francisco. The Canadians use American Citizens for that job. And he is teaching a course in Berkley, and he promotes whatever they have, exhibits, ballet, and so on.
JT: Did he go to Berkeley?
SU: No. Both my boys went to Lugano to school in Switzerland, and then they came back. Alan finished in Wooster, Ohio, and Garry went to Clark College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Alan has one master's at Occidental College in California. Mara went to school first in Bruges, then she came back.. She went to Sienna, and Florence, then she was one summer in Athens, Greece. Then she was in Taiwan, studying Chinese and teaching at the same time pottery and printing. And then she went out to San Francisco, worked at Gumps. She teaches and exhibits in some of the galleries, and is involved also in some of the settlement houses.
JT: Very good. I gather that you've done a great deal of entertaining over the years and much of it is for a social or community purpose.
SU: Yes. We have house shows, we have dinners, we have fund-raisers.
JT: I understand there is some possibility of a C.I.P. participant from the Soviet Union.
SU: We have been three times in Russia. Every time they promise. We just make inroads with the guy at the ministry. We talk to them. We come back, the guy is gone, and nobody knows where he is.
JT: That's typical.
JT: I know you have traveled extensively. Have you returned to Zagreb?
SU: Oh, yes. I go there almost every year, every second year for sure. Whenever we are somewhere in Europe, I usually detour to Zagreb.
JT: As I recall, one of my C.I.P. guests was from Zagreb. Predrag Vrtunski.
SU: That was a couple years ago ...
JT: Oh, that was more than twenty years ago.
SU: Yes, he was one of the first ones, yes, I remember. We didn't have much luck with the Yugoslavs. We had a good group, then somebody was here who didn't like it, and I know exactly when it happened. They thought that they were very important, and the custom was you put them in an east side, west side, and center [home]. They were in Ludlow with a black family and they resented it. And they quit, went back, and wrote a very non-complimentary report, and they stopped for a couple years and we didn't get any more from Yugoslavia. It's about five years ago that my husband and I went over and had a very hard time to establish ... The last five years we have excellent people now.
JT: I'm glad to hear that. When you return to Zagreb, do you look up your family?
SU: Yes. When my father was alive, of course, we corresponded. I am not very good at writing, but thank God for Sprint.
JT: Oh, you telephone?
SU: I telephone. They write regularly, they're good at writing.
JT: Is there any difficulty with telephoning?
SU: No. Because Yugoslavia is really outside of the Eastern Bloc. You can get in and out. I had my cousins here visiting. I have had people come often. And we are involved in all kinds of traveling exhibits or trade centers.
JT: Do you get any newspapers or magazines from Yugoslavia?
SU: I used to subscribe to one literary magazine that is from Croatia. I still get them sometimes if they come. They will come like ten at once. And I have a Croatian paper. My dad, who was ninety-four when he died four years ago read three newspapers every day: the Plain Dealer, the large letter New York Times, a paper in German, and a Croatian paper from Canada. Everyday at ten o'clock he would call em and say, "Did you see what that man did again? He was absolutely upset with Reagan. And then he would say, "Open page so and so." He was very active in the Croatian community even in his old age. He was lucky, because to the last moment he was very active, his mind was very good. So he was ninety-four and his last subscription was for four more years, and then he died, so I still get it.
JT: Did he oppose Reagan's policy as far as Yugoslavia was concerned?
SU: Not so much. He was very conscious of everything that happened in this country. He couldn't understand the welfare system. He was very much upset why the people don't work and why do they get something for nothing. He thought the old system that Roosevelt had was very good, the WPA. Why shouldn't people work? They not only should work for the work's sake, but they certainly would have something to contribute with their own experience. And then he was against welfare, but at the same time he was very much against cutting appropriations for useful work that he thought would help different agencies. So I'd drive him around. He would enjoy going with me when we went to some community meetings or I had to help out sometimes with some of the old-timers, who were a little suspicious if I would come in. But when they saw my dad, it would break so many barriers. He would sit down and talk to those people and we accomplished quite a lot.
JT: He sounds like a great man.
SU: Oh, yes, he was really active in all kinds of things.
JT: I think I have completed my questions. Did your father listen to the ethnic radio programs here in Cleveland.
SU: I don't think he did.
JT: Do you?
SU: Not exactly. My husband loves all those songs. He knows more about the ethnic than I do, because he was in Egypt during the war, and at the end of the war he was commandant of one of the refugee camps. The refugee camps housed Yugoslavs, Greeks and Czechs. And then he was repatriating the, and so he knew all the songs that were sung for year or two near the camp at Alexandria. And when we drive he sings at the top of his voice all those partisan songs.
JT: That's interesting. Did you children marry Croatians?
SU: They have not been married yet. My daughter was engaged to one young man we just adored, and he was Croatian, a doctor, but nothing happened. At the last moment they decided that they don't have enough in common, as they say.
JT: Would you like them to marry Croatians?
SU: I would like my boys to marry Croatian girls, but I definitely don't think I would like my daughter to marry a Croatian?
JT: Why not?
SU: I think that no matter how much they are Americanized they are still observing a woman as an object that should stay at home, cook, and have children, and not get involved.
JT: That's interesting, because I've talked to some East European women who feel that women in Eastern Europe have had more equality than women in other parts of the world.
SU: Equality in work, yes. When I was an engineer I never had any discrimination. AT the same time when you are at home, you have to do all the work. Even friends who are married to Yugoslavs or Croatians, they work, they are equal to anybody else, their husbands think they're equal, but when they come home the husbands don't do anything. Sometimes they help with dishes, but most of the time they consider when you are at home you are a housewife. My daughter was engaged in Italy to marry an Italian and she would have to live with mama and do all the work at home. We wanted to bring the young man here but he couldn't leave his mother. Finally my daughter said she'd not going to stand for a double standard.
JT: I've come to the end of my questions. Is there anything you'd like to add?
SU: No I don't think so.
JT: I think it's an excellent interview, and we thank you very much.