BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Nine years after Hurricane Katrina reduced its beloved lodge to rubble, the Slavic Benevolent Association is celebrating the ultimate of comebacks. Friday night, the Slavonian Lodge threw a big "Burn the Mortgage" party after paying off every penny owed on the $3 million lodge. Members said it's their strong Croatian values that led them to become debt free.
Built in 1938, the Slavonian Lodge was the centerpiece of Biloxi's Croatian community for decades. When Hurricane Katrina washed away the building, members said lessons from past generations about handling adversity gave them the strength to pick up pieces.
"Those values, those family values. The work ethic is very important," explained Lodge President Fofo Gilich. "That's why when presented with challenges, whether it's depression or it's hurricanes, the challenges kick us into another gear and we meet those challenges. And this is the result."
Now the lodge members say their struggles and sacrifices are ending on a happy note. They threw a burn the mortgage party to celebrate paying off the mortgage on their new 18,000 square foot building. And they did it in just four years.
"We've got a lot of members of this community from business leaders who said this is how we can accomplish what we need to do," said Gilich. "We made a few, proper financial moves. Without one bit of public money. No grant. It was all us. All our folks that came together and put us where we are today."
The members said it was important they step up in adversity because they knew their children were watching.
"Now this is a new chapter. We've met the challenge and now we're positioning ourselves for our kids and our grandkids for the next 100 years," said Gilich.