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Croatian heritage becomes family affair for Belle Vernon family

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By Les Harvath
Sunday, May 15, 2011

Belle Vernon resident Ted Sebetich credits his grandfather, Frank Sebetich, for instilling in him some of his fondest childhood memories of his ethnic background.

"My grandfather wanted his grandchildren to remember our Croatian heritage," Ted Sebetich said. "He emigrated from Karlovac, Croatia, but never forgot his Croatian background and culture. I was close to him growing up and remember his old-country values."

But, it wasn't until Ted Sebetich's wife's grandmother visited her hairdresser that he soon started playing the bugarija, a guitar-like instrument of Croatian origin, and eventually visited his grandfather's homeland.

Chuckling, Sebetich recalled how he and his family became intertwined with Croatian culture, as members of the St. George Croatian Lodge No. 354 Junior and Adult Tamburitzans in Cokeburg.

"It's simply coincidence," he said, "and we are fortunate the way everything turned out."

It seems that it took a visit to the hairdresser to get the ethnic ball rolling.

Sebetich's wife, Mary Ann, told the story that starts with her grandmother.

"She was getting her hair done and a friend told her about her daughter singing with the Junior Tamburitzans in Cokeburg. I thought it was great how they kept their culture alive, so I told my husband about it, got more information, and said, 'Let's take the girls (Chelsea and Sarah). My husband was tentative at first, so we went to see what it was all about.

"Our older daughter (Chelsea) has an ear for music and picked it up right away, and Sarah has remained just as active with the group. And I have to add that my husband loved it right away as well."

In fact, Ted Sebetich loved it so much that he plays the bugarija with the adult Tamburitzans.

"Ted never played Croatian instruments before joining the adult group, but he did have a background with the guitar," said Marlene Luketich-Kochis, who directs both the St. George adult and junior Tamburitzans. "Ted is more than a good musician. He is also president of our Junior Tamburitzans parents organization and serves as the Treasurer to the Croatian Fraternal Union Junior Cultural Federation."

Any reluctance Ted Sebetich may have had initially is now a distant memory.

"There is a wonderful Croatian community in the Pittsburgh area and being with so many family and friends has been a wonderful experience," he said. "You are with people you may not normally see and my wife and I and our daughters have gotten so much from the organization. That's what it's all about. Mary Ann works with the costumes for the Junior Tammies and this is about the kids and an opportunity for them to learn about their Croatian culture."

Daughters involved

Chelsea Sebetich, 18, a 2010 Belle Vernon Area graduate and a freshman Spanish major at Bethany (W.Va.) College, plays the prim, and relishes the opportunities she has enjoyed in traveling with the Tamburitzans.

"Being involved with my Croatian culture has become very important to me," she said. "Being in college, I am surprised at how many people are not aware of their cultural and ancestral backgrounds, and many do not even know where their ancestors are from."

Sarah Sebetich, a freshman at Belle Vernon, was 5 years old when she met her Cokeburg-Tammie family and admits to not understanding what it was about at that time, but is "glad my parents got me involved at such a young age. This is my heritage and I am proud to be a part of the organization and learn about my heritage. I may not have understood before, but now I appreciate my parents getting me involved."

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