ShareThis Page

Musician lived for family, Croatian heritage

| Sunday, April 20, 2014, 10:36 p.m.
William J. Cvetnic, 84, a life-long resident of Chalfant, died Thursday, April 17, 2014.

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.