One of the objectives of the visit, along with meeting with people of Croatian descent, was to create links between the universities in Split and Houston, which we worked on with honorary Croatian consul in Houston Philip Berquist.
Back in 1901 Anthony Lucas claimed, in spite of the scepticism of others, that there was oil in Texas. He discovered the first and largest oil field in that American state. On the monument erected in his honour in the city of Beaumont near Houston, Lucas is celebrated as having changed the course of history by introducing the oil era and launching the industrialisation of Texas, turning America into a superpower.
Anthony Lucas was born in Split as Antun Lucić (or Lukić) in 1855. He was the son of shipowner and shipbuilder Frane Lucić of the island of Hvar, who moved from his native island first to Split, and then to Trst (Trieste). After completing secondary school Antun studied at the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, where Nikola Tesla was a fellow student. After his studies he enrolled in the Austrian Naval Academy and rose to the rank of second lieutenant. As a result of an unpleasant incident related to his Croatian nationality, he decided to take a leave of absence for six months and travelled to visit his uncle in America. His uncle had, in the meantime, changed his surname Lucić to Lucas to make life easier, and Antun did the same. He married Caroline Fitzgerald not long afterwards and settled in Washington where he began his career as an engineer.
His work took him to Texas where he found strong evidence of the existence of oil in the area, which he confirmed with his find, known as the Spindletop Gusher.
The path was long from Split to the oil fields of Texas, and he passed away in Washington where he was buried in 1921.
People from the Croatian southern region of Dalmatia where among the first to settle the area around Houston, the coastal area in fact, coming from Louisiana. In recent times Houston has drawn experts in all fields, as it is a well-known university and medical hub and the headquarters of NASA.
Houston was once home to Dr Luka Milas, the recipient of the prestigious Gold Medal conferred by the American Society for Therapeutic Radiation Oncology (ASTRO). He worked as professor of experimental radiation oncology and deputy head for translational research in the Division of Radiation Oncology at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.
One of the objectives of the head of the Split branch office of the CHF in visiting Texas this time was to create links between the universities in Split and Houston, which she worked on with honorary Croatian consul in Houston Philip Berquist. To create links with the University of Split’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture and Faculty of Maritime Studies we spoke with Texas A&M University dean Dr Michael Benedik, the grandson of Zagreb architect Slavko Benedik, the builder of the best Secession style villas in our capital city. The sociology department is headed by Dr Stjepan Meštrović, grandson of famed sculptor Ivan Meštrović. Given the desire to also link up art studies, we also visited the University of St Thomas and spoke with Dr Ulyses Balderas. He expressed interest in dramatic arts and humanities studies. We also held meetings at the University of Houston with Dr William Flores and his team, and at the Moores School of Music with its director Andrew Davis, and we can expect their representatives to visit Split within the month.
Croatian associations and business people
Houston is the home of the Lone Star Croatian Club, which nurtures Croatian heritage and customs. The association has its own folklore ensemble and the children learn the Croatian language. Every opportunity to get together is welcome, and for the first Saturday in February they all came together to watch the Super Bowl (the annual championship game of America’s National Football League). They were proud to point out that the head coaches of both teams are of Croatian descent – Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks and Bill Belichick of the winning New England Patriots. On the pitch to referee the match was Bill Vinnovich, also of Croatian extraction, as is Patriots player Robert Ninkovich. At the Lone Star Croatian Club they deemed this an opportune occasion to celebrate with a traditional lamb roast.
The visit to Houston was followed by a trip to the city of Austin, the capital of Texas, for a meeting with newly elected Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhart.
The discussion was focused on opening business between Travis County and Split-Dalmatia County and a possible twinning agreement if this follows in the natural course of things.
Austin is also home to business people of Croatian descent. One of them is John Obilinovic from the Chilean city of Antofagasta, a Chilean wine merchant. He graduated at the University of Texas in Austin and is the son of John Obilinovic Sr, the long time president of the Sokol Croatian association in Antofagasta.
Jurica Balta, a native of Našice, moved to Austin by way of Los Angeles. He runs the Lifetime Media Group, which works in e-commerce, web design and online marketing.
Tanya Posavatz is also doing business here. She organises receptions and weddings. There is a small community of Bosnian Croatians in the town of Pflugerville near Austin, home of Ivka Krstanovic’s tailoring business Croata Design.
A trip to Dallas was an opportunity to meet with another Croatian community we have not previously had contact with. The community gathers at the St Mary of the Assumption church in neighbouring Fort Worth. Croatian language mass is served by Don Mate Bižaca, a priest covering many American towns. The Croatians gather in the church hall after mass. They have been gathering for six years now and hope to erect their own chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Međugorje, rather than celebrating mass as guests of American churches. They know this will require money and are happy to accept donations from all around the world. They are also looking for a place to house a Croatian association. Also there were Tonko Vuko and Vlatko Granić, former basketball players with the Split Basketball Club and now students at Weatherford College.
The Pavić family lives in the town of Plano near Dallas. They have roots in the Makarska area. Their ancestors, like many from the region, moved to New Zealand. That was the birthplace of husband and wife Gordon and Teressa Pavich. As a girl Teressa won the beauty pageant in the Yugoslav Club in Auckland in the 1980s. Their work brought them to America where they now live with their three children.
Near Dallas, in the city of McKinney near Lake Stonebridge, the Adriatica Village housing development is considered to be the prototype of the most revolutionary concept in real estate development. The creator and investor of these retro style urban villas is American Jeffroy Blackard. The villas are replicas of Dalmatian homes with complete comfort indoors. Some of the authentic details include a bell from Brač, and the streets are named Mediterranean, Dalmatian and Istina. In spite of prices in the million-dollar range, sales are excellent. Jeffroy Blackard makes no secret of his admiration of the Dalmatian coast and its architecture. This is why he built the Adriatica Village, inspired by the town of Supetar and in honour of our homeland.
The return to Houston was an opportunity for meetings organised by honorary consul Philip Berquist. We were received at the Great Houston Partnership, which acts as the local chamber of commerce, by Bojan Vuković. In Texas they want Croatian products, but the prevailing sense is that there is a fear of exporting to and doing business with America. We hope to convince them that the opposite is true once links have been established with Split-Dalmatia County, business people in Split and our university. It is in these areas that the homeland collaboration with our emigrant communities needs to be strengthened.
Text by: Branka Bezić Filipović