Franklin Borough native Richard Uzelac recalls how he initially got involved with the Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center.
He attended the ribbon cutting to open the Bottle Works and listened as Esther Goldhaber Jacovitz spoke about how her immigrant father came to Johnstown by mistake.
“My family’s roots in Johnstown were very similar,” Uzelac said.
“When my father got to Ellis Island, he wanted to go to Youngstown, Ohio, but in the Serbian language, the Y became a J when Americanized. That’s how he came to Johnstown.”
Uzelac spoke with Jacovitz immediately following the ribbon cutting and knew he wanted to become involved.
Little did he know at the time that he would become a board member and eventually board president, an office he has held since about 1996.
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18 board members
Uzelac is one of 18 board members who meet on the third Tuesday of each month at the arts center, located at 411 Third Ave. in the Cambia City section of Johnstown.
Board meetings are well-attended, which Uzelac credits each board member for taking the responsibility seriously.
“We always have a quorum,” Uzelac said. “And we have very little turnover of board members.”
Terms for board members are three years with each member serving on a committee such as finance, building, planning and programming.
Uzelac said the most fascinating thing that he and fellow board members have learned through the years is how each ethnic group celebrates in similar ways.
“No matter if people trace their roots to Africa, Serbia, Poland or Ireland, everyone derives pleasure and pride from their ancestry,” Uzelac said.
“They each have a passion for the culture, food, music and customs when it comes to each ethnicity.”
Uzelac, whose duties include setting meeting agendas and planning courses of action, said that despite the ongoing struggle to balance finances, each member of the board is committed to not letting these traditions die.