One of Lorain’s ethnic clubs has enjoyed growth in recent years and members there say they have no plans to slow down.
The Croatian Club, 4846 Oberlin Ave., this year expanded its club room, doubling the size of the social hall where members gather for meals and drinks.
But that is just one facet of an organization that is approaching its 100th anniversary and that has had a surge in membership, growing from 200 to more than 700 members in recent years.
The main goal has not changed.
The Club exists to promote and preserve Croatian culture while supporting many non Croatian youths and organizations, said Chris Thomas, head trustee.
“We are positively, and have been positively, affecting the community for a long time,” Thomas said.
Formally, the organization is the American Croatian Club, although members call it the Cro.
In May 1923, a group of a dozen Croatian men created the American Croatian Political Club.
“The initial reason was to help Croatian immigrants become American citizens and learn the English language and assimilate into the American culture,” Thomas said.
It was a vital function for many immigrants because they needed sponsors to assist them entering the United States, staying and finding work, said Gary Fischer, the Lorain architect who worked with the Cro for its expansion.
“You had to have a local sponsor to help you make your way, and if you couldn’t make your way, back you go,” Fischer said, emphasizing the point by waving his hand goodbye.
Hotbed of ethnic clubs
When it started, the American Croatian Political Club was not unique in the city.
“Lorain was a hotbed of ethnic clubs,” said Rick Grubic, 25-year president of the Cro.
A number of organizations were dedicated to the nationalities of the International City.
“Our ethnic clubs, that’s part of what makes Lorain, Lorain,” said Mary Springowski, a social member of the Cro Club and a Lorain councilwoman-at-large. “You name a nationality, they had a club.
“I wish we could bring them back.”
But as generations of Lorainites grew up, they were assimilated in American society and membership in the ethnic clubs dwindled, Springowski said.
“There certainly is an element of pride amongst those of us who oversee the operation of the Club that we are an ethnic club that not only has survived, but has thrived when, unfortunately, other ethnic clubs have fallen by the wayside,” Grubic said.
The growth continued after fall 1997, when the officers decided to sell the American Croatian Political Club facility to Rite-Aid Pharmacy, which still operates at 2853 Grove Ave.
The Club purchased the Riviera Swim Club on Oberlin Avenue and some name changes were in order.
The organization dropped “Political.”
“The Club’s involvement in the political aspect, you know, fell by the wayside quite a while ago,” Grubic said. “We’re no longer the American Croatian Political Club because it just it really no longer replied.”
The pool became the Adriatic Swim Club, named for the body of water on the Croatian coast.
The Club maintains a private pool with memberships available for summer swimming.
It is part of a complex with a number of amenities on more than three acres.
Along with the 1,158-square-foot club room addition, there is a banquet hall for rent to seat 120 people with its own entrance, bar and restroom.
Outside, there are sand and grass volleyball courts and a basketball court; the members hope to expand the patio next summer.
The Cro Club is woven into the fabric of life in Lorain.
Members have quietly assisted local youth organizations, food banks and other charitable groups for 40 years, Thomas said.
The running total of donations have added up to the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For the expansion, the Club employed a number of Lorain-area contractors.
The list includes Fischer, Leitner Custom Builders, Harris Excavating, Erie Shore Roofing, Chris Fye Drywallers, Gidich Heating & Cooling, Raymond’s Plumbing, Service Tech for a walk-in cooler, Kush’s Custom Cabinetry, Carpet Warehouse Lorain LLC, Buckeye Electric, Europe Rolling Shutters, BCT Alarm System, Multiflow Beverage, Buckeye Sheet Metal and Lorain Music.
The Club has active Browns Backers and Ohio State University Buckeye boosters, with watch parties for them and the Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers — and the Croatian national soccer team.
Thomas and Grubic credited the work of Browns Backers President Robert Osburn and Vice President Francis Diaz for sustaining the Club.
Springowski holds her election night watch parties there.
Thomas said he would like to revive Croatian language instruction, dance groups and a scholarship fund.
There has been a Croatian princess almost every year for the Lorain International Festival and the Cro sponsors a tree at the annual International Tree & Model Train Display at Black River Landing in Lorain.
“We’re complete with construction and ready to continue to serve the community,” Thomas said.