United States of America
Worldwide Organizations

Istrian Seamen Benevolent Society
(founded in 1924)

The Istrian Seamen Benevolent Society came to existence to serve the needs of Istrian seamen in the New York area. The first meeting of the Society was held at Horatio and Greenwich Streets in downtown Manhattan on April 24, 1924. Among those present were the familiar names of Carlich, Stroligo, Babich, Celich, Liubicich and others. That meeting was called to order by Tony Stroligo*, the Society's first President.

The original members consisted of approximately 100 dues-paying men. Members had to be at least 18 years of age. Most of these members had been born under the Austrian flag in Istrian towns and villages scattered throughout the northeastern part of Istria, southwest of the mountain Ucka (Monte Maggiore): Brdo (Berdo/Briani), Susnjevica (Susnieviza/Valdarsa), Nova Vas (Noselo/Villanova d'Arsa), Cepic (Cepich/Felicia), Tupljak (Tupliacco), Krsan (Chersano), Boljun (Bogliuno), Kosljak (Cosliacco), Sveta Nedelja (Santa Domenica) and others.

Horatio & Greenwich Streets house

The house on Horatio and Greenwich Streets where the first Society meeting was held.

Most of the men, before coming to and settling down in the New York area, had worked as seamen aboard the many so-called steerage ships that were coming to this country. Istrian seamen were generally known as good and reliable workers, which helped them to obtain jobs in the U.S.A. Many of these ex-seamen worked as laborers on tugboats, or as longshoremen in the then-thriving New York City harbor.

There were many reasons for the men choosing to stay in the New York area and not return home, but they naturally missed their families back home and their social and cultural environment. Moreover, it should be emphasized that at that time in the 1920s there were very few Istrian women in the New York area. At one point, at the feast and fund raising dances two hundred men atttended and just two women, one of whom was married!

Most of the men were either single or had left their wives and families while they went to sea to earn a living for themselves and their families. These men were lonely in a new country and surrounded by an unfamiliar society. They needed social and emotional support structures in the new country. Therefore, it was natural that sooner or later someone would take the initiative to form a mutual-help benevolent association to serve their needs. In time, the Istrian Seamen Benevolent Society became the magnet which drew the Istrian families together.

In addition to the social and emotional reasons for establishing the Society, there were other reasons for bonding together. Before the Society was formed, door to door collections had to be taken if a person died without funds for burial. Another important reason was lack of medical care. By joining the Society, the members and their families obtained free medical care. For example: the Society contracted with a Dr. Waserman, for a yearly fee, to provide medical care for the members and their families' needs.

At the beginning of the 1920's most of the members of the Society lived in downtown Manhattan, in the general area of 14th Street and 9th Avenue known as Greenwich Village West. Meetings were held usually once a month at various places in the same area. All members had to attend the monthly meetings, as well as the scheduled dances and picnics, plus the deceased member's funeral wakes; otherwise, they had to pay a fine. The Society originally also paid for the deceased member's burial expenses, including burial plots, as well as sick benefits. Most of the early members were buried from Our Lady of Pompeii Church in downtown Manhattan.

As the years went by and a new wave of immigrants from Istria came to the New York area, they would join and participate in the activities of the Society. There was an especially large influx of members into the Society after World War II. A significant number of young Istrians left their hometowns and continued streaming into the New York area for the next 25 years. Initially, many if, not most, of these newcomers lived in downtown Manhattan or Brooklyn (mainly Park Slope). As time went on, many families started to move out of Manhattan to nearby Astoria and then farther out to Flushing, Whitestone and eventually to areas outside the Metropolitan New York City area such as upstate New York, the neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut and a few as far west as California. Similarly, some living in Park Slove left for Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, as well as Astoria, etc., some regretting it later their old brownstone homes which they had purchased over the years for a pittance are today selling for $1 million and more in what has since become one of the prime residential areas of New York City. 

The scattering of our people all over the area made it more difficult for them to meet on a regular basis, but they co-sponsored annual picnics together with two other Istrian societies - Austrian Seamen's and Jurina i Franina - which for many years not only drew Istrian families from the metropolitan city area, but also groups arriving in busloads from Pennsylvania, Ohio and others parts of North America.

Please help us to identify the people in these two photos - click to enlarge.

ANNUAL PICNICS

June 19, 1932

(click images to see larger views)

September 4, 1949

There are many familiar faces in this photograph, known to us many years ago, but they are long gone and their identities are today unknown. Here are the names we have been able to identiy (per Nina and Marisa Ciceran and John Grant): 

  • Back row: ...fourth from right: Frank Nacinovich; second from right: Martin Iurman*, married to Giovanna Ielusich.
  • Middle row: Frank Sgagliardich (grand-uncle of John Grant / Babich), Giovanni Z[s]gagliardich (grandfather of John Grant), ...other familiar faces, then sixth from left is Ed Stroligo*, behind Ed, left, in half shadow, is his father, Christ Stroligo*, and to his right (also behind Ed) is Mike Stroligo*...second from right is Giuseppe (Pepo) Iurman* / Yurman (m. to Berta Brancella), and fifth from right is his brother Mirco Iurman* / Yurman.
  • Front row: ...behind the Picnic sign: behind the "p" is John Dezelic[h], tall man behind the second "i" in the sign is Luigi (Gigi/Louis) Ciceran* (d. 1994 at age 90, m. to Maria Carcich of Unije), slightly to the right behind the second "c" is Siga Nacinovich... second from right is Ed Lubicich (or Liubicich?)

*The Stroligo and Iurman/Yurman men in these photos are all maternal cousins of Marisa Ciceran. Luigi Ciceran is her paternal uncle.

Most of these men in this photograph arrived in the USA just prior to or immediately after World War II, but some arrived at least a decade earlier in the aftermath of World War I, at which time and for whom the club was founded. Your help in identifying all of these nameless faces would be greatly appreciated.

In order to be useful and meaningful to the new members, the Society had to constantly adopt itself to the needs of the new arrivals. While there have been ups and downs since it's inception in 1924, the Istrian Seamen Benevolent Society, throughout it's history, has provided meaningful and useful service to many generations of its members, as well as to the Istrian-American community in general. It continues to this day to make a nominal contribution towards the funeral costs of deceased members, both active and retired. 

*First cousin of a maternal grandparent of Marisa Ciceran.

See also:

Source:

  • 75th Anniversary Journal of the Istrian Seamen Benevolent Society - adapted and expanded from the introductory notes.


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This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran and Istrian Seamen Benevolent Society

Created: Friday, October 04, 2002; Last Updated: Sunday, July 12, 2009
Copyright 1998 IstriaNet.org, USA