BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - South Mississippi's Slavic community is celebrating triumph over adversity.
A coast community of Croatian immigrants and their descendants say the values of their heritage gave them the strength to carry on after Hurricane Katrina. Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway cut the ribbon Saturday night on the Croatian American Cultural center built to replace the Slavonian Lodge destroyed five years ago.
With good food and great company, South Mississippi's Croatian community came together to celebrate their new lodge on. The people said their common struggles that over the years have taught the Croatians to look after one another.
"It's important to have your roots," said Steve Dean Kujos, a Croatia native. "When you have your roots you have a foundation. And when you have a foundation you have love, prosperity and honor among our society."
Matthew "Red" Pitalo, another lodge members, said, "When we lost the lodge, we said we was coming back and we've come back strong."
The 1,800 square-foot Croatian American Cultural Center includes a ballroom, two bars, and a second floor. Members say they wanted a lodge that would be a source of inspiration and of hope.
"I think the lodge will be a beacon to anybody who is ever coming from that part of the world or anybody who wants to know more about Croatia itself," said Vladimir Mavar, Jr. "It's really a testament to not just the resilience of the people, but the kindness, the politeness. I mean hard work, the ethic, and the character of the people that are Croatians."
Past generations of Croatian Americans have a place of honor at the new Slavonian lodge.The names on the memorial walls are of fishermen who no matter the circumstances never gave up. Their sons and daughters want to make sure that tradition of perseverance is never lost.
Slavic Benevolent Association President Andrew "Fofo" Gilich said, "We have 300 members here and younger members are coming in every day. This is for our children and our grandchildren to enjoy. There's a whole lot of pride in what we're going to leave our kids and our grandkids."
The festivities also included a Catholic Mass celebration and a party.