Home » Business » The ‘Viches : Stories from here. The Slavic experience

The ‘Viches : Stories from here. The Slavic experience

Story and Photos by: Bill Norman This story was first published in Globe Miami Times, Fall 2008 edition.

America rightfully comes by its nickname of “the great melting pot” largely because of towns like Globe and Miami.

Especially around the turn of the last century, when mining bonanzas were
erupting in this part of the world, people from dozens of countries on
multiple continents made their way here to seek new lives.

Among the most numerous were those from Slavic regions in Europe,
particularly from what are now the countries of Montenegro and Croatia, once
Yugoslavian republics, originally part of Austro-Hungary.

They set down roots, and they prospered in many fields of endeavor. Rose
Perica married a Mofford and became governor.  Sam Lazovich from Miami was a
Superior Court Judge. Coach John Pavlich led Globe High School football and
basketball teams to sequential years of victory. Nick Ragus was Miami High’s
answer to Pavlich.

Johnnie Gregovich was a state senator. Steve Vukcevich was a member of the
House of Representatives.  Nick Haydukovich, George Haydukovich, Sam Purlia,
Russell Purlia, Sam Zenovich, Herb Swick and George Vuksanovich all put
their lives on the line for their adopted country during WWII.  Mike
Hemovich paid the ultimate price.

It was a long road

But long before prosperity came to be commonplace, the Slavs put in decades
of backbreaking labor, lived in poverty and experienced the ethnic
discrimination that some Americans have been known to dish out so often to so many.

Around 1917 a labor organization named the International Workers of the
World (nickname: “Wobblies”) sought to recruit many ethnic minority miners
in the West to fight what it perceived as abuses of workers by large mining
companies. The IWW found willing takers, because minority workers were paid
the least and denied better jobs.

Condemning the whole IWW plan as treasonous (this was on the eve of WWI), a
journalist penned, “… [the IWW] had taken up the cudgels for the ‘wops’ and
‘bohunks.'”

Bohunk was and is a disparaging term for people of Slavic background. It got
its origins from a combination of Bohemia and Hungary.

Dave Jonovich, 85, who was born, raised and has spent his life in Globe
knows the term well. He’s been known to say of himself, “Ohhh…I’m just an
old Bohunk.”  But he can get away with it. As a young man he said his
reaction to being called a Bohunk depended on who said it, and how they said
it. “If a guy looked at me funny and called me Bohunk, I was ready to
fight,” he recalls. “And I got into a lot of ’em.”

The street on which he lived — Euclid — was also known as Tough Street.

A tale of three families

Jonovich’s parents John (Joko in Slav) and Stella (Stana) emigrated to this
country in 1910 from the village of Cetinje in Montenegro. They had lost two
children in childbirth, and a gypsy fortune teller advised they would never
be able to raise a family there.

Mitch Vuksanovich, 75, born in Miami, has similar family origins. His
parents knew each other in the village of Petroviz, Montenegro, before his
dad Luka (Louis) sailed to America in 1909.  His transatlantic fare of $15
suggests he was a passenger in “steerage” (in the bowels of the ship, back
by the rudder and steering mechanism).

In 1911 after Luka began work as a miner for Van Dyke Copper Co. in Miami he
sent for his bride-to-be, whose name also was Stana (or Stané), Anglicized
as Stella. They were the third couple to be married in the original Gila
County Courthouse in Globe.

The Vuksanoviches had eight children, only four of whom lived much past
infancy. One was stillborn; one died of the flu, another of spinal
meningitis. Mitch was born in 1932. The next year, he says simply, “My dad
walked out the door and died.”  His mother was illiterate and spoke no
English.

Mitch Vuksanovich and Dave Jonovich
Mitch Vuksanovich and Dave Jonovich

 

Mitch Malkovich’s dad Simo (Sam) also came to the U.S. in 1909 — from the
village of Brinje in Croatia (adjacent to Montenegro) via Trieste, Italy and
a wooden ship named the Alice. He, too, traveled in steerage. Once across
the Atlantic, he spent two weeks at the U.S. immigration facility on Ellis
Island while his application was being processed. He spoke no English. His
shirt was simply penned with his name and destination (his sister’s home in
Duluth, Minn.).

After working in Minnesota iron mines for two years, Sam arrived here on
Arizona statehood day in 1912.  He was a “tramp miner,” meaning he traveled
wherever mining jobs could be found. Finally after years of working with ore
in the West, he opened a grocery store in Claypool and, after running it for
seven years proposed (by mail) to Sophie, a lady 18 years his junior, whom
he’d met in Minnesota.

She was a “Malkovich three times over,” Mitch says. They came from the same
village in Croatia.  Her maiden name was Malkovich; she married a Frank
Malkovich (who died) in Minnesota; then she linked up with Sam Malkovich in
Arizona to help run the Claypool Grocery until his death of cancer in 1971.

Everybody worked; no exceptions

That mom and dad in early Slavic homes had to work their fingers to the bone
in order to survive was automatically a given. But the kids did, too,
especially when dad was out of the picture.

Mitch Vuksanovich at age 10 got hired to clean the Rec Hall Bar in Claypool
— including the brass spittoons that tobacco chewers/spitters usually
managed to miss — for two hours weekdays before he went to school. His pay
was 75 cents a week, plus three bags of groceries for his family.

Dave Jonovich began delivering newspapers in Globe at age 5.  He recalls
that he and his siblings would take their day’s meager pay home and lay it
on the kitchen table for their mother to gratefully gather up. She herself
milked cows and goats, worked in a mattress-making plant and mended clothes.

Mitch Malkovich recalls that one of the tasks he hated most was slopping oil
on wooden store floors with a mop and bucket to preserve them.

The Viches  2496

On the menu

Slavic families, as most other families in early 1900s Arizona, made the
most of their food supplies, including dining on most every edible aspect of
animals raised for consumption.

Mitch Vuksanovich was and is a huge fan of head cheese, which isn’t cheese
at all, but a jellied meat dish usually made from the head of a pig, calf or
goat. He says shortly after he married Martha O’Leary (his wife of 55
years), she opened the refrigerator door and found a goat’s head staring
back at her. He had to explain that there was still plenty of good meat
remaining on that skull.

Other classic Slavic selections at mealtime :
* Sarma – hamburger and rice in pickled cabbage leaves.
* Priganića – sugar-covered deep-fried fritters with raisins.
* Rostule (roast-yew-luh) – long, twisted dough rolled with whiskey
and egg, deep-fried.
* Macaroni with chicken wings, tomato sauce and wine (sometimes butter
and cinnamon), in a bowl lined with parmesan cheese.

Ducking the Revenooers

Nearly all Slavic families in Globe-Miami made red wine in the early days,
often at home but also — as during Prohibition (1920-1933) — in caves in the
hills.  Once or twice a year, the clans would order grapes brought in on big
open-air trucks from California.  Then the kids would be commandeered to
stamp up and down barefoot on the fruit in big tubs to extract the juice.
Adults took over from there.

The Jonoviches made wine, but also a stout whiskey they called White Mule.
Dave said his family would take orders for the hooch during Prohibition.
Then, after nightfall, he’d carry it up to the nearby Globe Cemetery,
keeping an eye out for “Prohis” (government cops of the Elliott Ness persuasion) and leave it alongside a predesignated headstone for pick-up.

Domaća (doe-matchah) is another Slavic homemade whiskey. When toasting with
domaća, wine, etc., the appropriate phrase is Zhivio no dravia! (to your
health).

Yoko worked at copper mines in Superior and Globe, the latter at the Old Dominion Mine. When he died of silicosis (a lung disease common among miners who inhale silica dust) at age 46, he left behind Stella, who knew no English, and six children. The oldest girl, Mary, was 12. Dave was the youngest at less than six months old.
Yoko worked at copper mines in Superior and Globe, the latter at the Old
Dominion Mine. When he died of silicosis (a lung disease common among miners
who inhale silica dust) at age 46, he left behind Stella, who knew no
English, and six children. The oldest girl, Mary, was 12. Dave was the
youngest at less than six months old.

Looking back and feeling pride

Mitch Malkovich worked 37 years before retiring from BHP Copper Co. and its
predecessors. He was last in charge of open pit mine maintenance at the Pinto
Valley mine. He also worked more than 20 years at Tri-City Fire Department in
Claypool, six of them as chief. He’s now the department’s public information
officer, as he has time.

Dave Jonovich worked more than 40 years for Arizona Public Service Co. and
its predecessors, and also co-owned a successful excavating business. His
partner was from Arkansas. The name of their company was BoArk (from Bohunk
and Arkie).

Mitch Vuksanovich seems to have owned most of Globe-Miami at one time,
including service stations, liquor stores, newspapers, tortilla factories
and cemeteries. He now owns and operates (with 54 employees) the huge Butcher Hook restaurant/bar/RV
park, etc., etc., in Tonto Basin.

What these three plucky guys (and the women who helped make them what they
are) have in common also characterizes the rest of their Slavic brethren.
Their parents and they sacrificed and worked their butts off to make a good
life for their children in circumstances that might have intimidated people
of lesser resolve.

The melting pot in action

The irony of this story is that very few, if any, of the current Slavic
generation in Globe-Miami today (the small number that remain) speak the old
language.  The dozens of Slavic families who used to gather their kin by the
hundreds for Serbian National Federation Lodge meetings in town, and picnics
in the Pinals have now been reduced to only six or eight people who
occasionally meet at one of their homes.

The Serbian and Croatian cemeteries in Central Heights bear testament to the
lives of the Slavic pioneers. Plots there have been set aside for others
of the families who will die not many years in the future.

For those still living, there is a certain amount of sweet sadness for the passing
of the old days and values. Their offspring, now almost fully assimilated
into the melting pot, are moving on with their own lives elsewhere.
Sacrifice may be a concept difficult for them to grasp, but sacrifice has made them part of the American dream.

 

Review Overview

User Rating: 3.4 ( 5 votes)

About Guest Contributor

Guest Contributors include press releases, guest authors, and columnists who contribute less than 4 times a year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.