CFU national president emeritus Bernard M. Luketich (Cokeburg, 1931 – Pittsburgh, 2015) was the initiator of the National Federation of Croatian Americans, the Croatian American Professional and Business Association of Pittsburgh and a number of other eminent associations and social projects. He served at the post of national president of the oldest Croatian fraternal association, to which he was elected democratically nine times, for a full thirty-six years, from 1978.

Our loyal friend and a great man, Bernard M. Luketich – a person of exceptional human virtues and work ethics, a great patriot of both his homelands, the USA and Croatia – has forever left us.

The director and entire staff of the Croatian Heritage Foundation wish to express their sincerest condolences to his wife Martha, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. The CHF wishes to express special condolences to all CFU members and the admirers and friends of Luketich the man and his work. The many Croatian families and all those in need whom this wonderful and great-hearted man always offered a smile and great help to express their particular condolences to the Croatian Fraternal Union by way of the CHF.

CFU national president emeritus Bernard M. Luketich (Cokeburg, 17 August 1931 – Pittsburgh 8 December 2015) was born in the USA. He was a prominent society and culture activist, publicist and publisher, proving himself as one of the leading intellectual figures of the North American Croatian Diaspora of our day. He served at the post of national president of the CFU, the oldest Croatian fraternal association, to which he was elected democratically nine times, for a full thirty-six years, from 1978. The magic formula of the success of the Croatian Fraternal Union as conceived by Luketich consists of the creative culture, education, sports and humanitarian programmes he launched in the second half of the twentieth century, the positive fruits of which are enjoyed by the current numerous CFU membership in the United States of America, Canada and Croatia. He founded the CFU Junior Culture Federation that has, just at the annual festival events from 1966 to the present day, showcased the creativity of over fifty thousand young tamburitza players, singers and dancers who nurture the Croatian language, culture, musical heritage and folk dance traditions.

He was the initiator of the National Federation of Croatian Americans, the Croatian American Professional and Business Association of Pittsburgh and a number of other eminent associations and social projects. Working his entire life on the unity of the Croatian people, one of his brilliant ventures was the merger with the related Croatian Catholic Union of Chicago in 2006. For his innovations to fraternalism programmes he received the John Jordan Upchurch Award for distinguished leadership and service to the fraternal benefit system, awarded by the Pennsylvania Fraternal Congress in 2003. He has held top posts in the National Fraternal Congress of America (now the American Fraternal Alliance). He was the recipient in 1983 of the award of the Tamburitzans Association of America for achievements in music. He served in the US Army in Korea from 1952 to 1954. He has received high decorations of both the Republic of Croatia and the United States of America.

The secret of Luketich’s charisma was in a clearly articulated vision that promised the success of the Croatian Fraternal Union. With the volunteer builders in campaigns he set the expectations high and expressed his conviction that our people could achieve these goals. In this manner Luketich raised their confidence and pride in their Croatian roots, culture and faith. His words and acts achieved great value for the CFU and its membership in real estate in terms of renovated Croatian culture centres and associated social and cultural content and in terms of the written heritage on the pages of the official newspaper, the Zajedničara, the library of the national home office, the art collection and the rich American Croatian ethnographic collection.

As CFU national president, Luketich met with the most influential people of his time in the political, cultural and religious spheres, but also with workers and their families in need newly arrived in America.

The Croatian Fraternal Union of America is a robust benefit and insurance society, a non-profit organisation of Croatian immigrants in the USA and Canada and a major humanitarian and patriotic organisation. It was founded in Pittsburgh 120 years ago. From under 300 members in 1894 it has now grown to almost 100 thousand volunteers. Its assets are estimated to stand at 400 million dollars.

Private sector and social achievements confirm that, when it comes to Bernard M. Luketich, we speak of an unquestionable leader that, over the nine terms he served, raised the CFU to a business giant proud of its philanthropic activity in the local immigrant communities and Croatia as the country of origin.

American fraternalism is one of the most robust social movements in US history. Its programme includes personal and family insurance in cases of sickness or death. In the frame of fraternal institutions we have seen the development of social, cultural, humanitarian and sporting activities. In the modern era people are increasingly joining fraternal organisation, not for the insurance that has achieved attractive dimensions, but rather because these organisations are, at a time of globalism, a sure route to one’s own ethnic and cultural roots. Through them material, humanitarian and political support is provided to one’s people in the old homeland.

The 18th CFU national convention was held in Las Vegas, Nevada at the peak of the aggressive war waged by the communist Yugoslav military against Croatia in September of 1991. In their addresses to the convention and in their Resolution the delegates condemned this barbaric attack against Croatia. The Croatian Humanitarian Fund was initiated at this convention, and 50 thousand dollars were earmarked for this purpose, with the delegates pooling a further six thousand dollars. The Croatian Humanitarian Fund became a permanent fixture of the CFU in providing assistance to the homeland. The names of donators were published in every issue of the Zajedničar. At the same time the CFU spearheaded a campaign among its membership and other American citizens to gather medicine, food, medical equipment, clothing and other necessities. Franjo Tuđman, Croatia’s first democratically elected president, thanked CFU national president Bernard M. Luketich and the membership of all CFU lodges for the aid they had provided in Croatia’s struggle to regain its independence. From 1991 the CFU collaborated extensively with the DORA humanitarian organisation, which provides aid to children impacted by the Homeland War and was founded by a group of humanitarians working with the Croatian Heritage Foundation. Luketich’s resourcefulness quickly saw the creation of a network of godparent relationships for 674 war orphans that CFU members supported to their eighteenth birthday. The CFU DORA humanitarian fond provided 1,266,947 US dollars. Most touching is the fact that the aid came both from the well-off and those themselves in need, whose own children lived modest lives in the blue collar districts of major cities across the USA and Canada.

The education of young people was one of the chief objectives of the CFU under Luketich’s leadership, which has been achieved for the past 58 years via the CFU Scholarship Foundation. Over these 58 years the assets of the Scholarship Foundation in the General Fund and special endowment funds has continued to grow and allowed for the awarding of an average of 250 scholarships every year. This is the best-organised education programme in the history of the Croatian emigrant communities, which Luketich tirelessly developed through Christmas campaigns. It is astonishing that the head of the Scholarship Foundation is not an ex officio member of the newly established Croatian Government’s Council for Croats Abroad!

The CFU membership has traditionally been strongest across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, California and the Canadian province of Ontario. The current hubs of fraternalism are Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto, Canada.

From the start of the twenty-first century six lodges have been established in Croatia at Luketich’s initiative, these being Lodge 2000 in Zagreb, Lodge 2001 in Ogulin, Lodge 2004 in Koprivnica, Lodge 2005 in Rijeka, Lodge 2006 in Split and Lodge 2007 in Županja.

The ease with which Luketich’s charisma carefully nurtured the CFU’s massive social capital, in the face of societal and technological change, economic turbulence and a revolution in communication technologies – which have significantly altered the social frames through which modern humanity gathers – was amazing. Besides this, the generational shift alone, from the post-war generation (World Wars I and II and the Homeland War) to those born in the developed Anglo-Saxon societies of the USA and Canada, has altered and enriched the social and cultural practices of American Croatians, which Luketich has consummately merged with the veteran core of the CFU. Truly grateful to Bernard M. Luketich for his exceptionally broad-ranging lifetime achievements, we can now only wish him eternal peace.

We shall continue to loyally esteem the valued social network of the Croatian Fraternal Union of America to the benefit of its membership and our friendly USA, Canada and Croatia in the scope of the modern civil sector with that ancient fraternal motto: All for one – one for all!

Text by: Vesna Kukavica