Bulgarian Macedonian Center Marks 80th Anniversary.
By Margaret Smykla
While her immigrant parents attended meetings at an ethnic association in West Homestead in the 1940s, young Patricia Jordanoff could spend her free time at any of three movie theaters, two candy stores or two ice cream shops along Eighth Avenue.
Despite those amenities, when the often lengthy meetings ended, it wasn't the movies but the ethnic center she was eager to visit.
"This is where we came from, and who we are," said Patricia Jordanoff French, now of Mt. Lebanon.
After regular school hours, Ms. French, whose parents were center co-founders, attended classes there to learn the language, customs and history of Bulgaria. Such training led to her 40-year career as an interpreter for the U.S. Department of State.
In addition to cultural and educational benefits, early members also received a 0 death benefit. Ms. French recalled that the death of nine members in 1962 took a huge bite from the budget.
As a result, the following January, according to meeting minutes, a member made a motion that no one die in 1963, and no one did.
What was a mouthful of a name back in the day -- Bulgaro-Macedonian Beneficial Association-Otets Paissi -- is now called the equally lengthy Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center, and is still at the same spot in West Homestead.
At 7:30 p.m. April 17, the center will celebrate its 80th anniversary with an invitation-only dinner of traditional foods.
The evening begins with a cash bar and silent auction at 6 p.m. and concludes with a video about the center's history and a traditional song and dance performance.
The center was founded in 1930. Otets Paissi, which was part of its original name, was an Eastern orthodox monk who wrote the first history of Bulgaria.
Meetings were held in the apartment of the social club's first president and co-founder, Macedonian immigrant Lambe Markoff, located on the current site of the West Homestead municipal building.
The present building at 449 West Eighth Avenue was built in 1935, with the USD 17,000 cost raised through donations.
While the Mon Valley was a draw for its railroad, coal, and steel jobs, many immigrants who came to the center were budding entrepreneurs who used their steel industry earnings to open their own businesses.
Lambe Markoff co-founded the West Homestead Baking Co., one of 33 bakeries owned by Bulgarian-Macedonian immigrants in the county at that time.
When Lambe Markoff's grandson, Ed Markoff, 61, of Munhall, was not dancing with the center's dance ensemble, he was delivering bread.
While the company closed in the late 1960s after supermarkets came into favor, the center's social club flourished because it opened membership to all descents. It became incorporated under its present name in 1995.
Besides its performing ensemble, the center's major components are its museum, library, rental hall and stage, learning center, archives, and gift shop.
The museum and library, housed in the center's bottom floor, feature paintings, sketches, artifacts, musical instruments, journals, audio and video recordings, and graphics and academic manuscripts.
To maintain and enlarge the acquisitions, as well as renovate and refurbish the building, the center raised 0,000 over five years through grants and fundraising.
Its most popular fundraiser, Soup Sega!, in its eleventh season, offers soups and other foods from September to May, with sales covering the center's operating costs.
The center is also a destination on the Rivers of Steel tour, with 18 tours scheduled to visit the center beginning in May.
Ms. French said while early members -- there were 850 families in 1936 -- were predominantly of Bulgarian or Macedonian heritage, today's membership of roughly 150 local families and 50 to 60 nationwide families is largely a mixture of various nationalities drawn to the culture and camaraderie.
George Schexnayder, 68, of Mt. Lebanon, who is not Bulgarian or Macedonian, began helping manage the center after his children joined its folk dance.
"You volunteer, and it's yours for life," Mr. Schexnayder said.
While the center is no longer open seven days a week, nor is it the focus of social life as it once was, it is a legacy rich in history and meaning, Ms. French said.
"I feel this is something we have to keep going for future generations," she said.