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.
More on the Bottle Works
[VIDEO] Bottle Works blooms with visual, performing arts
Volunteers use time, talents to fulfill mission
Renaissance garden is next project
Donors help sustain facility
Service organization supports nonprofits, other agencies
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.
No greater champion
According to Uzelac, there is no greater champion of preserving ethnic heritage than Rosemary Pawlowski, Bottle Works executive director.
“Rosemary is an extremely creative person and with her knowledge and experience, she knows what works and what doesn’t,” Uzelac said.
“She is the Bottle Works’ greatest ambassador.”
Uzelac said there are about 30 ethnic groups in Johnstown, and the board is comprised of a cross section from many of those heritages.
“We try to keep an ethnic balance when it comes to replacing board members when a vacancy occurs,” Uzelac said.
“We give consideration to those who want to maintain a balance of cultures, religions and races, plus the person’s desire to serve on the board.”
The board is open to suggestions to find ways to fulfill the Bottle Works’ mission.
“In 2012, Rosemary began a monthly ethnic dinner for a limited number of people at a very nominal price,” Uzelac said.
“To date, we have had a Serbian, Hungarian and Italian dinner with more planned.”
Board member Jeanne Susko of Richland Township said the directors, staff and volunteers work as a team to keep the mission of the Bottle Works actively moving forward in the community.
“I am proud to be a member of this worthwhile organization that continues to offer creative ethnic programming to the Johnstown residents,” Susko said.
“Each of our board members brings pride from our very own ethnic backgrounds, which makes the board of directors as diverse as the population we create programming for in the community.”
Susko also credits Pawlowski for providing guidance as an energetic leader.
“Because of Rosemary’s passion and never-ending enthusiasm for ethnic diversity, I see the Bottle Works continuing to grow as a solid part of our community,” Susko said.
“She continues to spearhead new ideas to further generate interest about the various ethnicities that make our area so unique.”
Pawlowski said working in concert with each board member is invigorating.
“For the most part, our board members are not captains of industry,” Pawlowski said.
“The board is comprised of individuals who are passionate about preserving ethnic heritage.”