The first Russian immigrants from Galicia and Carpatho-Russia landed on the shores of America some fifty odd years ago, seeking new opportunities to better themselves and enjoy the rights and privileges offered by the Constitution of the best nation in the world.
These immigrants brought with them the love of Russian ideals and culture which they determined to bequeath to their offspring born under the stars and stripes.
The love for these ideals and culture was the main driving force which caused them to organize themselves into lodges and parishes to build churches and schools and to organize our fraternal benefit societies.
As the result of their noble efforts, we find numerous Russian churches dotting the land in every city, town village or hamlet where they settled. A three-barred Russian cross elevated high on church steeples is a sign of welcome to every traveller of Russian descent. It makes him feel that he is welcomed in that town and makes him desire to stop for awhile in the town and make acquaintances.
In connection with every church we find parochial schools where the children of the parishioners are taught the Russian language and literature. The first Russian church was built in Shenandoah, Pa., in 1885. Since that time hundreds of others have been built and stand a mute tribute to the love of God that our pioneers and their descendants hold.
The Beginning of the R.B.O.
The Russian Brotherhood Organization was not the first great Russian fraternal organization to be organized. Two other preceded it. One was organized in 1892, but it soon became evident that the people at the head of this organization were not sincere with regard to Russian ideals. They were only too eager to make our people servants of the magyar and other anti-Russian causes.
The second organization was organized in 1893 and it too served interests hostile to the Russian cause. It was called a Russian organization but the name went through a series of “metamorphosis“ from Russian to Ukrainian and today it is not a Russian organization.
Both of these organizations limited their membership to members of a certain creed. They did not tolerate anyone who did not belong to their faith. With them a person of a different faith was considered something inferior, someone to be shunned.
Seeing how conditions were shaping themselves in these organizations, a few public-spirited pioneers organized an organization which would be democratic, free from bondage of various religious sects and willing to accept anyone of Slavonic descent so long as he professed the Christian faith. This organization became known as the Russian Brotherhood Organization or the R.B.O. which exists to this date and stands without a peer among Russian and Slavonic fraternal organizations.
Growth of the R.B.O.
Thirty-five years have elapsed since that historical meeting of the founders of the R.B.O. in the little mining town of Mahanoy City, Pa. The early difficulties were overcome one after another only to be supplanted by others, but the spirit of the pioneers did not waver. One difficulty overcome was an inducement to overcome others till the present date. The number of lodges increased from less than ten at the first convention to 264 at the last convention held in September of 1935. The membership increased from 546 in 1901 to 13,186 as of the first of November 1935. The assets increased from $800 in 1901 to over $1,500,000 as of June 30, 1935. The organization continues to grow financially and to gain in membership.
The organization was organized with a two-fold purpose, namely to aid its members morally and materially. Its purposes are definitely and clearly stated in paragraphs 6 and 7 of its present by-laws.
The organization has paid over $2,000,000 in death benefits to the beneficiaries of its members. It has given aid to the sick and needy and has often paid dues for its members when they have not been able to do so through sickness or other causes.
Besides these material benefits it has done a great service to the Russian immigrants. Since 1902 it publishes the newspaper “Pravda” which stands on guard for the national interests of the Russian immigrants. It diseminates among them the need and benefits of organization and wards off attacks of renegades who have deserted the Russian cause and serve other causes, whose chief aim is to destroy Russian ideals and traditions.
The organization publishes text books from time to time for our schools and issues yearly almanacs containing many articles of permanent value. It has contributed and induced its members to contribute liberal sums to support Russian institutions in Galicia which are subject to attack of the same elements that seek to destroy Russianism. The R.B.O. aims to promote good citizenship. It can justly be said that the organization remains a bulwark of Russianism in this country and safely deserves the name given by one of its members: “The Russian Gibraltar of America.’’
The 35th Year Jubilee.
On July 1st of last year the organization celebrated its 35th Year Jubilee which was marked by great activity among the lodges, especially in the organizing end of it. The officers of the R.B.O. inaugurated a campaign in honor of the Jubilee. The campaign was carried on successfully and netted the R.B.O. over 1,300 members in both departments. The preparations for the celebration of the Jubilee served as a revival of that pioneer spirit. During that period several basket ball and baseball clubs were organized with Carnegie, Ambridge, Canonsburg and Hudson showing the way.
More interest of the members was aroused during this period than probably at any other time in the history of the organization. Congratulations from lodges, other organizations and individual members poured in from all sides in such numbers that it was necessary to continue them in three consecutive issues of the “Pravda.”
On the whole, the Jubilee proved that the R.B.O. members value their organization and are willing to work whole-heartedly for its growth and success.
The XVIIth Convention.
The XVIIth triennial convention was incidentally held in the Jubilee year. There were more delegates present at the XVIIth convention than at any other preceding convention, showing that the rank and file have the interests of their organization at heart. It proved once and for all that the organization will remain Russian and true to those ideals and traditions for which our grand-sires have fought and died. The delegates proved "to the world and to those easy-minded people who are willing to betray their national ideals, that the membership of the R.B.O. is not the “ignorant mass’’ type who will allow any Tom, Dick and Harry to perform experiments of internationalism on them. They are remain true to to the Russian traditions and faithful to the American Constitution.
Besides the above outstanding features of the XVIIth convention, there is one more that deserves comment. The presence of such a great number of young delegates at this convention banished the fears of those who are perpetually worrying about the Russian-American youth not taking active interest in the organization. At this convention there was a large percentage of Russian-American youth who proved to the older members that their interest in Russian organizations is increasing and that they are willing to work might and main for the benefit of the organization providing the proper steps are taken.
Another interesting feature of the convention was a banquet given by lodge number 102 of Hudson, Pa., in honor of the delegates and pioneers. The delegates and guests had an opportunity to hear the history of the early beginnings of the R.B.O. from the original founders: John Smith, George Hayduk, John Kurilla and John Koss. The speeches of these pioneers proved to the younger delegates that nothing is accomplished without labor. They reviewed the early trials and tribulations that the organization lived through in the days of its infancy. Those present at the convention and banquet carried out a store of knowledge that will be of great assistance in their future organizing activities.
The Future Problems of the R.B.O.
The first major problem of the R.B.O. is to assure its own existence since no insurance company or fraternal benefit society can exist without a perpetual flow of young members and without perpetually getting new business.
We have mentioned before that some of the older members fear the youth is not showing sufficient interest in the R.B.O. These members are partly right, but sitting idly and just talking about it will not supply a solution to the problem. We have to realize right at the beginning that the problems of our youth are unlike those of the immigrants who landed in America over fifty years ago. In those days when the tide of immigration was at its height, it was not necessary to canvass for new members. They joined the local lodges out of their own accord and sheer desire to be among their own countrymen. In those days too the immigrants lived more or less together in communities. Today the problem is somewhat different. People live more scattered over the length and width of the United States. It is therefore necessary to send out organizers or field workers to organize the youth and tell them what the R.B.O. is and what it stands for.
Then again lodge life must be made more interesting. The youth will not continue to belong and join lodges whose activities are limited to collecting dues and wrangling over petty questions. The lodges should take on social activities, engage in sports, have clubs and other doings capable of capturing and holding the interest of the youth. All this work will fall within the province of organizers whom we must have, if we are to continue to exist. It’s true that many object to sending organizers on account of economical reasons. But economy in this sense is suicidal economy.
Another phase of our organization life which we cannot afford to neglect and we must develop at all costs is the organization of an intermediate division of the R.B.O., the so-called Sokol branch for the youth between the ages of 16 and 35.
These divisions have been organized by other fraternal organizations and have proved a great advantage to them. This is the division that should form the heart of the R.B.O. Without it, we cannot hope to grow. This division must be organized in the near future. It’s organization cannot be postponed much longer. The idea of waiting trom convention to convention is no good. Conventions most of the time have a conservative trend as most delegates fail to see where the organization’s weak points lie and where it is necessary to strike.
Last but not least, we must not neglect our Juvenile Division for here lies another fertile field that must be cultivated. In fact, it s the only remaining field from which future members for the intermediate and adult branches may be recruited. Anyone can organize a juvenile lodge just by explaining to parents what wonderful protection the R.B.O. offers for their children who are subject to more traffic hazards than at any other previous time in the history of civilization.
What the organization needs is action, action and again action. It needs men and women who are willing to sacrifice some of their time for the organization.
The Home Office of the R.B.O. is always willing to give all necessary information regarding the organization of new members. All you need to do is simply ask for it.
It is up to the youth now to start where the pioneers left off and continue the good work.