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Musician lived for family, Croatian heritage

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William J. Cvetnic, 84, a life-long resident of Chalfant, died Thursday, April 17, 2014.

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By Bill Zlatos
Sunday, April 20, 2014, 10:36 p.m.

An inductee into the hall of fame of the Tamburitza Association of America, Billy Cvetnic once received an unwanted assist from a waitress.

He was getting ready to hit the highest note of his signature song, “Lost Lamb,” in an Ohio club when a waitress pinched him.

“He went a little bit higher,” his buddy and bandmate Bob “Butch” Baburich said with a laugh. “After that, I had to stand behind him with the bass facing him so nobody could get behind him.”

Following in his father's footsteps, Mr. Cvetnic played Croatian folk music in clubs all over the country and once performed for then-King Peter of Yugoslavia in the Roosevelt Hotel in Pittsburgh.

William J. Cvetnic of Chalfant died at UPMC McKeesport on Thursday, April 17, 2014, exactly two years after his wife, Sandra, passed away. He was 84.

He was born Nov. 4, 1929, to Joseph and Rose Cvetnic. His father worked for Westinghouse Electric in East Pittsburgh, and his mother was a homemaker. His father played with the Sloboda Tamburitza Orchestra of East Pittsburgh during the 1920s and '30s.

Mr. Cvetnic joined the Nick Naglich Orchestra while he was attending the former Turtle Creek High School. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War in 1951 and served in Japan.

He retired as a mechanical engineer from Aetna Standard Engineering Co. and later started a business, Mr. Bill's Home Remodeling. But his passion was Croatian music.

He played a variety of tambura, stringed instruments, but mostly the bugarija, a sort of guitar, and the ukulele-like prim. Often, when he was not playing the instruments, he was making them as a hobby. He played with the Balkan Four, Danny Kukich Orchestra, Balkan Serenaders, Dunav and Novi Glas.

Mr. Cvetnic was not one to be easily ruffled. A man with a gun once entered a club in Akron, Ohio, and was looking for the man who was cheating with his wife. The crowd wrestled him to the ground, and the police arrested him.

“The bartender said, ‘Keep playing, keep playing, keep playing.' We didn't miss a beat that I can remember,” Baburich said.

One of the women who often attended his performances was the former Sandra Yoha. The couple was married for 32 years. About 10 years ago, she fell off the deck of their home and had difficulty walking.

“The last two years (of her life) were really difficult, and he was a good caregiver for her,” said his sister-in-law, Patsy Krenicky of West Mifflin. “He did the washing, the cleaning, the shopping. She would supervise, and he would cook.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Cvetnic was preceded in death by his sisters, Caroline Polesnak and Betty Palocsko. Survivors include his son, Dr. William D. Cvetnic of Florida.

Friends will be welcomed from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in Patrick T. Lanigan Funeral Home, Turtle Creek/Monroeville Chapel, 1111 Monroeville Ave. at James St., Turtle Creek, where a blessing service will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Entombment with military honors will follow in Penn Lincoln Cemetery.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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