History of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

 

Original passage written by Professor Michael Bezbatchenko in November 1992

 

For the most part, the Slavic immigrants who came to settle in East Akron were from the region of Galitsia and Uhor-Russia, a part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. They brought with them the customs and religion that they used in the "old country." In the "old country", both Uniat (Byzantine Catholic) and Orthodox Catholic faiths were practiced, with many people not aware of any significant differences between the two faiths.

 

In East Akron the Galitsian immigrants formed a parish, sometimes Uniat and sometimes Orthodox Catholic, with a church on Ackley Street. Strong differences of opinion were had between members of the parish regarding their status - Uniat or Orthodox Catholic. The differences soon led to the Courts for Judgement. The Courts rules that the Ackley Street parish was to be under the jurisdiction of the Uniat group. The Orthodox Catholic people suddenly found themselves without a church in the year 1917. Some of the Orthodox Catholics (strict Russians) with Father Alexis Boguslavsky purchased a Protestant church building in South Akron on South Street. The predominate Galacians in East Akron decided to form an Orthodox Catholic parish. 

 

The nucleus of this group were members of the St. Nicholas Russian Brotherhood, which was organized in Akron in 1914. The first services were held in the home of a parishioner, Martin Vronick, on Roberts Street. The first pastor was Father John Hordishinsky, a newly ordained priest from Pennsylvania. From the Minute Book, translated:  

 

February 18, 1917

 

The first parish meeting was held in East Akron in the Brotherhood Hall.  It was opened by Father John Hordishinsky with the prayer: "O Heavenly King". The following people were elected as the Parish Committee:

President:  Stephen Kobeliak

Treasurer:  Joseph Hoysak

Secretary:  Harry Horoschak

Collectors:  Joseph Bosko, Gabriel Michalsky, Nicholas Vladyko, and Yurko Rusynik

It was decided to look for lots for a church building and in the meantime to use the Brotherhood Hall for a church and school. The follwing people were selected to search for new property:  John Wozniak, Andrew Tyrpak, John Kapeluck, Alexander Dudich, Harry Zahirsky, John Demay, and Harry Spylnik.

 

The names of single people and families were taken. 

 

The Church Committee was sworn in office by Father Hordishinsky.

 

The next parish meeting would take place on the next Sunday, February 25, 1917, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The meeting the adjourned with the prayer: "Meet It Is".

 

Services were held in the Brotherhood's Hall while plans were being made to build a church building on property at 399 Roberts Street, which had been purchased by the newly-formed parish for $650.00 from the St. Nicholas Russian Brotherhood. A portion of the purchase price was later donated to the parish by the Brotherhood. 

 

At a parish meeting on March 4, 1917, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was chosen as the patron saint and heavenly protector of the parish. 

Specifications were outlined for the new building: "A 24 ft. by 54 ft. building with basement 11 blocks high. No basement under the Altar, only storage space for coal. One cupola, to be 12 ft. high. Paper to be under siding. Single paper on roof. Church should be built straight and not circular."

 

The first trustees were:  John Kurilla, William Zemlansky, Harry Zahirsky, Zachary Dudich, Feodore Skarlosh, and Gabriel Michalsky. 

 

This small group was at a loss to start the actual construction of the church building because of the lack of finances. The first President, Stephen Kobeliak, personally loaned the parish a large sum of money to get construction started. Many other parishioners loaned the parish money to enable the parish to meet its financial obligations. Stephen Kobeliak, from his own personal finances, paid the contractor - Mr. A. Griffiths - as construction progressed. Later on, a bank loan was obtained to repay Stephen Kobeliak and the other parishioners. 

 

The church building itself was built by parishioners helping out the contractor. Daniel Dudich, a carpenter and a parishioner, donated a great deal of his time and effort to the actual building of the church. Other parishioners, such as George Horoschak and Myron Dudich, used their teams of horses to excavate the basement and were very helpful to the contractor.

 

In the fall of 1917, the first Liturgy was served in the new church, but the inside was not fully completed. An Ikonostas was lacking. Daniel Dudich built an Ikonostas for the church in  1919, which was used in the Roberts Street church and in the Pardee-Sylvan church until the new one was installed in 1963. (St. Mary's Orthodox Church on South Arlington, near Exchange Street, now has the original Ikonostas in its new building.)

 

Parish progress was rapid, and by 1919 a parish home was constructed. Through the efforts of Father Andrew Sura and other parishioners, funds were solicited from many East Akron industries for the parish's welfare. 

 

The church was the center of activity for the Russian Orthodox community. Culturally, the choir was the hub with it's many plays (Prestavlenia). These were produced and directed by Professors John Prokopenko and John Okonenko with the help of the choir members. John Gryvnak worked at great length to make the productions successful.

 

The parish was beset by "growing pains" in the early Twenties. An econimic recession helped slow down the progress. In 1925, the church purchased cemetery grounds of approximately 5 acres for $1200 through the efforts of the Parish Council, headed by the President, William Bezbatchenko, Sr. The new cemetery was consecrated in 1925 by Father Athanasy Hubiak. William Bezbatchenko, Sr. held the office of Secretary of the Cemetery for many years. 

 

Before the Great Depression, activities of the parish were healthy. Serious consideration was being given to buying lots, and building a school and a new church on Bittaker Street. A young, English-speaking priest was desired, and Father Athanasy Hubiak returned to Akron in June 1929 and remained the pastor until his death in 1945. In April 1929, Alexis J Gryvnak begin - on a temporary basis - directorship of the choir. The "temporary basis" was extended to 1967 when he retired. 

 

The parish was hit rather hard by the great economic depression that started in 1929. Finances were the greatest problem in the operation of the parish. Father Hubiak was forced to be deprived of a salary or given a meager token of monetary appreciation by his parishioners. The same could be said of the choir director, Alexis Gryvnak, and the custodians. Mortgage payments and needed repairs were about all the expenses that the parish could meet. These were trying times in the parish. Good management by the Parish Council kept the parish financially solvent. At this time (1932), the first women, Miss Anna Chipner and Mrs. Mary Kuzmik-Headley, were elected "Controllers" by the parish.

 

During the latter part of the Thirties, John Slanta, who served as teh parish President for seven consecutive years, together with the Parish Council, prudently managed the affairs of the parish. Discussion of building a new church was started by Father Hubiak in 1936. Also in 1936, the parish authorized the use of the English language during the Divine Liturgy, where feasible. Mrs. Mary Kuzmik-Headley and Mrs. Ann Kuzmik-Thatch appeared in the minutes as the first women to be heard making a motion at a parish meeting. 

 

Just before World War II, with a growing parish, thoughts about a new church turned to action with the purchase of lots on the East side of South Arlington Street, between Second and Fourth Avenues, site of the present expressway. At the 25th Anniversary Banquet in October 1942, the church President, Frank Vronick, and Father Vladimir Prislopsky, Dean of the Ohio Deanery, started a campaign for the raising of funds for the construction of a new church. The parishioners responded enthusiastically, and over $7000 in cash and pledges were made at this banquet. This was the start of a permanent Building Fund, which financed the Pardee-Sylvan building. 

 

During World War II, the parishioners put aside the thoughts of a new church and joined the country's efforts to win the war. Many of the parish's members served in the armed forces, and many contributed their time and effort producing essential war materials. The Building Fund was not dormant, but grew as donations were being made by parishioners with the hopes that a new church would be built after the war. 

 

It was during the latter part of World War II that Father Athanasy Hubiak contracted a serious illness and passed away on Palm Sunday in 1945. Father Hubiak's death saddened all his parishioners, as they had come to love and respect him. They remembered the sacrifices that he and his family made for the parish during the Great Depression, and how he forsook invitations to go to other parishes to remain with his beloved people. He believed in the people of the parish in a true Christian way, and dreamed so much about a new church that it is indeed unfortunate that he could not have served in the Pardee-Sylvan church before being called to serve in the church of our Heavenly Father. May his memory be with us always from generation to generation.

 

After Father Hubiak's death, Father Peter Rozdelsky was assigned to the parish. He plunged into carrying out his tasks with enthusiasm and zeal, especially in regards to building a new church. The lots on South Arlington Street were deemed not satisfactory for a church and were sold. In 1946, lots on Pardee and Sylvan Avenues were purchased for the new church building. Harry Slanta, the church President, was authorized to engage the services of an architect to draw plans for a new church, and Mr. M.E. Harpster was selected. A Building Committee consisting of Messrs. Harry Slanta, John Thatch, and Serge Migdal was selected to handle all phases of the construction of the new church.

 

 

Many other sites, other than Pardee and Sylvan, were considered. At a special parish meeting, the parish decided to locate the church at Pardee and Sylvan Avenues. Ground was broken for the new church in August 1950, and the corner stone was laid in November 1950. Milletti Construction Company proceeded with construction, and on May 4, 1952, the new church was consecrated and the first service was held. A great deal of the funds necessary for the completion of the church was obtained from loans made to the parish by parishioners. This was an enormous help to the parish to repay the large bank mortgage in a short time from operating funds. The bank mortgage was burned at the annual banquet in November 1954. 

 

In 1954, a new parish home on land adjacent to the new church was built. A Building Committee consisting of Messrs. John Bezbatchenko, Serge Migdal, Nicholas Burke, and Jack Grisak handled all phases of its design and construction. The parish home was completed in 1955, and Father Rozdelsky invited all parishioners to view their home with an "Open House".

 

In December 1960, Father Rozdelsky was transferred to a parish in Gary, Indiana. In May 1961, Father John Mason came to St. Nicholas parish from Meriden, Connecticut. He immediately became vitally interested in the progress of the parish, and suggested that the parish concecrate on a large item necessary to the new church: an Ikonostas. The Ikonostas from the old Roberts Street church had been installed temporarily in the new church. An Ikonostas Fund drive was started in 1961, and the new Ikonostas was completed in 1963 and consecreated in November 1963. An Ikonostas Committee of Father John Mason, John Bezbatchenko, John Kovachick, George Zureinsky, George Mihaly, Sr., and Michael Bezbatchenko were chiefly responsible for the beautiful Ikonostas that appeared in teh Pardee-Sylvan church. This same Ikonostas was placed in the new church in Mogadore in 1983. Certainly all parishioners played an important role with their finances and suggestions to the committee.

 

In 1964, the parish began to see the need for further progress, and dedicated to think seriously of building a recreation center and a school building. A School Building Committee, with Walter Slanta as chairman, and a Recreation Center Committee, with Serge Migdal, were formed. At the annual meeting in 1967, the parishioners dedicated that the school building should be built first. Preliminary plans were formulated by an architect to locate and attach the school building to teh church. Plans for a recreation center were still in the discussion stage, and it was planned to be built after the school building. 

 

Early in 1967, additional land fronting Krumroy Road was purchased for the cemetery. This enabled the cemetery to have a significant entrance on the main highway. A cemetery owned by teh St. John's Slovak Lutheran Church, adjacent to St. Nicholas cemetery, was donated to the parish for use as a cemetery for St. John's presently-buried parishioners as well as for the future needs of the St. Nicholas parish.

 

The year 1967 was the Jubilee Year, when the parish celebrated its Golden Anniversary - 50 years of existence. His Eminence, Metropolitan Ireney, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America (Metropolia); Archbishop John of teh Chicago-Minneapolis Diocese; and Father John Mason with visiting clergy from Ohio celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Mrs. Sophie Koulomizin, a noted Orthodox Catholic educator, was the main speaker at the celebration banquet. The mayor of the city of Akron, the Honorable John Ballard, also greeted the parishioners and congratulated them on achieving 50 years of existence. During the first 50 years, Alexis J. Gryvnak was the choir director for 38 years, and it was early in 1968 that he announced he would be retiring. 

 

Of great concern to the parish in 1968 was the topic of a calendar change from the Julian calendar to the Revised Julian calendar in the liturgical life of the parish. After a great deal of discussion and debate, the parish on September 16, 1968, voted by a 3:1 majority to petition the Diocesan Bishop to approve the change to the Revised Julian calendar. Archbishop John approved the change, and it became effective on November 1, 1968. 

 

In 1972, the first Something Russian Festival was held, chaired by Rose Marie Vronick, and it proved to be a huge success. The affair made a $5000 profit, which was deposited into the parish's Building Fund. 

 

This fund was beginning to grow as the Parish Council began to seriously consider the relocation of the church, brought about by a study of the parish population movement to the suburbs of Akron. The study found that a great majority of the parishioners lived in an area East of Akron (Route 91), South of Route 59, and further East to Route 43. In this area a search for suitable property for a new parish complex - church, recreation center and parish house - was made.

 

In 1973, Father John Mason was awarded the Jeweled Cross by teh Holy Synod of Bishops upon recommendation of Archbishop John. The faithful parishioners contributed to the purchase of a Jeweled Cross for their pastor for his work among them. 

 

The Something Russian Festival began to take off in 1973, showing a profit of $7000 under the chairmanship of Hope Zemlansky and Olga Hawranick. Further gains beyond the $10,000 level were attained in 1974, 1975, and 1976, under the chairmanships of Louise Mojzer, Mary Lou Chelovitz, and Olga Henkel. The bazaar had established itself as a major fund-raising event of the parish. 

 

The parish's expansion into the suburbs began with the parish approving in 1974 by a 2:1 margin the purchase of the Portage County property on Route 532, 30 acres for $116,700. The services of the architectural firm of Glaus, Pyle, Schomer, and Dehaven was engaged to plan the new parish complex. The firm designed a master plan for the church, hall, and rectory on the land complex costing approximately $1.5 million. This concept was accepted by the parish at a meeting in 1975. The new Church Building Fundraising Committee was chaired by George Zureinsky. 

 

The first project to be started was the building of the new rectory costing $55,000. This was completed in 1977. In 1976, Father John and Matushka Mason celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and Father's 25th year in the priesthood. The parishioners got together and financed a trip to teh Soviet Union for the two of them to enjoy. Upon their return to Akron, they gave many talks on their trip, which were most enjoyable. 

 

The Stewardshiop Visitation program proved to be a huge success in 1976, as 207 homes of parishioners were visited by 22 teams of fellow parishioners. This self-education program was aimed at reacquainting one Another with the basic concepts of Orthodox Christianity. Church history, past and present; interrelationships between organizational facets of the Orthodox Church in America; and personal Christian interfaces were discussed by the teams in the hoes of the parishioners on a regular basis. 

 

In 1978, the Building Committee consisting of Father John Mason, Martin Vronick, Carl Dorosa, Emil Guzy, Paul Kovachick, Peter Lucak, Louise Mojzer, Walter Slanta, and Herman Wilhelm, under the chriamanship of Milo Chelovitz, proposed to the parish that a recreation hall costing $500,000 be built on the property. The parish accepted the proposal and broke ground on July 30, 1978. The hall was essentially completed in 1979, and had its first catering booking on August 18, 1979. The hall had been holding Friday Fish Frys for a few weeks prior to the catered event. The hall was dedicagted at the annual banquet in November 1979.

 

 

A new Church Building Committee, chaired by Walter Slanta and Larry Rehman, and made up of Father John Mason, Dr. Larry Sherman, Joan Maty, Carl Dorosa, Elaine Ramnytz, Georga Zureinsky, Patricia Gorsuch, Karen Redovian, and Rose Marie Vronick, was formed in 1980 to begin preparation for the erection of a new church building according to the master plan. Little did they know that very shortly they weould be called upon to accelerate their activities, for the parish had received an offer from the Father Temple of the Living God Church to purchase the Pardee-Sylvan properties for $225,000. The parish had adopted the "pledge system" of giving for the parish's needs rather than "dues" in 1980, and it was proving to be successful in raising operation and building funds. With a solid financial base, the parish approved the sale of the Pardee-Sylvan properties in June 1982, and the tentative design of a new church building to be in the $625,000-775,000 range. 

 

The Building Committee added Emil Guzy, Peter Lucak, Rosalie Kovacevich, and William Petrochuk to its roster, and engaged Father Alexis Vinogradov of Wappinger Falls, New York, to design the new church, aided by Cordell Glaus as the local architect. Ground-breaking for the new church building was on April 17, 1983, and the first service was held on the Eve of the Nativity of Our Saviour, December 25, 1983. The first Divine Liturgy was held on a very cold (no heat in the church) December 25, 1983, the Nativity of Our Saviour. 

 

Sunday Divine Liturgy was held in the recreation hall until the interior of the church was finished. Aleander Lepasky donated the new church pews to the parish. The first Sunday Divine Liturgy in the new church was held on January 29, 1984. 

 

On Sunday, May 5, 1984, the church was consecrated by Metropolitan Theodosius, Bishop Boris, Bishop Christopher of the Serbian Church, Father John Mason, and Deacon Maximoff at a consecration Divine Liturgy. The Metropolitan explained each part of the consecration service as the service unfolded. The choir, under the direction of Professor Michael Bezbatchenko, sang the responses in a beautiful manner. A memorable banquet was served in the recreation hall after the services. On Sunday, May 6, 1984, an "Open House" was held in the recreation hall after Divine Liturgy.

 

Landscaping and further refinements around the church were accomplished through the chairmanship of William Petrochuk and the Parish Council. Operations at the hall progressed rapidly and New Year's Eve Ball was held under the chairmanship of Walter and Mary Malish. The Ball was a huge success in raising money for the Building Fund. 

 

Cemetery improvements, such as a new road and land clearing, was due to the efforts of Thomas Petroff, Walter Malish, James Stevens, and Joseph Plefka. 

 

In 1985, a beautiful chandelier was purchased for approximately $20,000 with monetary gifts from parishioners. The chandelier was imported from Greece and was consecrated in November 1985 by Bishop Boris, along with the renovated bell system. 

 

At the annual meeting in 1985, Professor Michael Bezbatchenko announced his coming retirement because of health reasons. He had been full-time/part-time choir director since 1968 upon the retirement of Alexis J. Gryvnak. Pentacost Sunday was Professor Bezbatchenko's last Sunday as the choir director. Basil Kochan was engaged to be the choir director in the summer of 1985 on the same basis: full-time/part-time choir director.

 

The parish was saddened to hear about the transfer of Father John Mason to Yonkers, New York, in the summer of 1986. He had been the parstor of St. Nicholas for over 25 years. He served his last Divine Liturgy on Sunday, July 27, 1986. An impressive farewell banquet was given in his and Matushka's honor following the service. Father T. Stephen Kopestonsky was assigned to the parish and had his first Divine Liturgy service on September 21, 1986. He had been the priest at the Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio. 

 

Culturally, the Balalaika Orchestra and Russian Youth Dancers troupe were formed under Mary Jane Malackany and Rosemary Simpson, respectively. The groups soon performed admirably at church and social events in the Ohio area. They were featured at the Ameriflora exhibition in Columbus, Ohio, in 1992.

 

On Sunday, November 1, 1992, the parish gathered together to celebrate 75 years of existence. Although the parish was first organized on Sunday, February 18, 1917, the first service in the Roberts Street church was celebrated on November 4, 1917. This is why the parish has always celebrated anniversary dates on the first Sunday in November.

 

The celebration began with Saturday evening Vespers, presided over by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius. Father Stephen Kopestonsky and Akron area prieses served, along with parish "sons" Father Michael Zahirsky and ProtoDeacon basil Hubiak.

 

At 10 o'clock on Sunday morning, His Beatitude presided for the Hierarchial Divine Liturgy service. The choir, conducted by Basil Kochan, sang the responses in a beautiful manner. At the conclusion of teh service, the Metropolitan presented Professor Michael Bezbatchenko and Thomas Petroff with Outstanding Service awards (Grammota). George Mihely, president of the Parish Council, accepted the award from His Beatitude for the St. Nicholas parish. Pictures of the congregation were taken in the church to memorialize the occasion. There were about 435 people in attendance.

 

After the church services, 488 parishioners and guests were treated to a grand banquet, which was catered by Goshen's Catering. Nicholas Hubiak presented as the toastmaster for the banquet. George Mihaly delivered an eloquent address for the future of the parish. Father Kopestonskhy also had an inspirational message. The Metropolitan addressed the parish and asked them to challenge themselves to the future of Orthodoxy in the Akron area and in the world. His address was well-received by the parish. George Mihaly then called on Past Presidents Carl Dorosa, Jack Carney, Kenneth Henkel, Richard West, and Martin Vronick to symbolically burn the mortgage on the church building and recreation hall. Past President Milo Chelovitz, who was instrumental in the finding and urchasing of the Mogadore property was not able to be present for the celebration. The burning was viewed by all present as a significant step in the life of the parish. The people have worked very, very hard to make the lifting of the mortgage a reality. Many Years to all!

 

Nancy Carney and Louise Mojzer presented a slide presentation called, "Our Russian Roots", which traced the church history and activities of the people of the parish throughout the parish's 75 years of existence. The program was greeted with nostalgic enthusiasm, especially when Nancy Carney referred to people by their first names (Mary, Ann, Helen, John, William, Harry, etc.). Martin and Rose Marie Vronick chaired the most successful celebration weekend.

 

As we celebrate 75 years of existence and look toward the future, we must look back with pride on the accomplishments of a mere handful of true Russian Orthodox immigrants and their offspring, who through all degrees of hardship held fast to the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Faith. These pioneers have left this legacy to the present and future generations. May we offer a prayer to Almighty God to recive the souls of the pioneers who have passed away from this parish, and to enable us here on Earth to keep their Memory Eternal - Vechnaya Pamyat! To the living pioneers and all others who have contribute to the progress of St. Nicholas parish; Many, Many Years - Mnogaya Lyeta!

 

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