In his book “Peasants and Strangers” (Harvard University Press, 1975), Joseph J. Barton offers a monumental study of Italians, Romanians, and Slovaks in an American City, 1890-1950. In the introduction, he focuses on the personality of the Transylvanian Romanian Ilie Martin Selisteanul, who, in 1900, came from Saliste to Martin’s Ferry, Ohio. He established the Union of Romanian Societies in America, a printing press, and wrote a history of the United States in the Romanian language. He was animated by the underlying credo that: “Nothing is more valuable to a man than to study the history of his own country." Some fifty years later, as spiritual leader of the Romanian community in the United States and Canada, Archbishop Valerian D. Trifa also became vividly aware of the importance of preserving the cultural past of Romanian Americans. Toward the end of his life, he left his personal estate to endow this center of studies, a legacy that challenges us to perpetuate his vision. We are called to do all we can to safeguard the data bank of documents of Romanian culture, and records of parishes and societies and to facilitate access of scholars to do research and secure a sound future for this institution of learning. This helps us, and it enables the next generation to connect the dots to understand more about our roots.
In this regard, among Romanian organizations, the VDT Romanian American Heritage Center stands as one in its own league and challenges today’s generation to act. The activity of the Center was made remarkable by its past historians, who, by their studies, contributed to bringing to light multifold aspects of our past. In past years, it was also supported by generous and responsible hearts. Ilie Selisteanul himself understood among the first that an isolated, uprooted immigrant had no chance to culturally survive in a “mobile” urban, industrial society. Guided by visionary personalities, such as Selisteanu, Fr. Moise Balea or Fr. Ioan Podea, the first immigrants came together and organized themselves in beneficial, fraternal societies and churches. In this way, the common Romanian immigrant gained a social meaning, a hope for a safe future, a sense of belonging, and adoption. Some of them went back to Romania. Among them was Selisteanu himself, who returned to Saliste and established a bank in his native Transylvania. Others grew roots in North America. Among these were many, but here, I will point to former Cleveland journalist Theodore Andrica, editor of The Pioneer and American-Romanian Review. He was among the few who realized the need not just to preserve the past but to make sure it is well preserved and disseminated for the future.
Exactly here lies our mission and of today’s generation. Though I realize that, in today’s world, interest in history is at its lowest, we must come to the realization that museums and centers of studies are not intended to be reliquaries of culture but rather living institutions that elicit an organic flowing of past, present, and future. The VDT Romanian American Heritage Center belongs to all those who claim a Romanian lineage, and certainly, not only to historians but to each and every one of us. We must take pride in it. Each and every one of us is potentially able to do something in order to sustain its merits, relevancy, and importance. All it takes is for us to work together. The Heritage Center is not affiliated with the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America. It is open to all, and it belongs to all those who love Romanian historical heritage or are interested to study it.
With an eye to the future, the Center’s Board is open to creative suggestions. If you are computer-minded, we need assistance to digitize information. If you are a sociologist or historian, join us in our endeavors. If you are a business person or perhaps a grant writer in marketing or other professions, and you care about preserving our past, promoting our present, and securing our future American-Romanian identity, contact us. While such actions require a few dedicated individuals, each and every reader may actually help by sending a tax-deductible donation. The iconic examples of our legendary Ilie Selisteanul, Moise Balea, Ioan Podea, and Theodore Andrica, and especially of our blessed founders, should be an inspiration for each and every reader to become a supporter. The Center is the “call of the blood” for us here in North America, and with your support, it will be here for years to come.
V. Rev. Dr. Remus Grama