Program Book overview
Cleveland International Hall of Fame
2013 Class

The following appeared in the Cleveland International Hall of Fame program book.

We are all Immigrants

The dictionary defines the word 'immigrant' as "A person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another."

Maybe you are a recent or first-generation arrival. Or maybe your descendants came on the Mayflower. Maybe they came here in chains. Unless you are Native American, you or your ancestors came to this country from another land. You, or your family members before you, are immigrants.

Immigrants struggled with leaving the familiarity of the land of their birth and venturing to a new land. It certainly wasn't easy and each generation, group and family has stories of the hardships that range from language and cultural issues to blatant discrimination. Prejudice against Jews, Catholics, Polish, Italians, Asians, Hispanics, Middle Easterners or whatever group was currently on the "unwelcome list" was endured. Immigrants suffered through the days of the Chinese Exclusion Act, "No Irish Need Apply" and even German and Japanese-American internment camps.

But they keep coming. The United States, with all the promise and potential of freedom and the American Dream, has been the destination of choice for millions of people. Ratanjit Sondhe says, "I don't consider America to be a country. I consider it to be an experiment where the human race sent its best and brightest to see what they can do." With the current discussion of immigration reform it is wise to remember that the socially entrenched nationalities of today were at one time the unwelcome groups.

Cleveland is blessed because we have people from a lot of these groups here. There are about 120 distinct ethnic groups represented in Cleveland. Their diversity makes our city a richer place. At ClevelandPeople.Com we have experienced the music, dance, faith, costumes, food and other cultural aspects of these groups. Our mission is to promote, celebrate and assist these groups so that Cleveland becomes a destination for their families and friends as well as all those who understand the enhanced quality of life that this diversity yields.

We need to spread the word about our cultural assets and welcoming attitude because Cleveland desperately needs people. Sure we want the talented engineers and PhDs to come here. But we need all kinds of people. Whether they migrate from other parts of the US or emigrate from a foreign land, we want them here. They need to see the welcoming spirit of our city that we at ClevelandPeople.Com witness as we attend about 100 cultural and ethnic events each year.

We encourage you to visit the Calendar at ClevelandPeople.Com and browse through the dozens of upcoming ethnic events. Be sure to submit your group's events too. From small meetings of a particular nationality group to visits from heads of state, international business events, parades, holiday celebrations and festivals our region is bursting with activities with cultural flair.

Tonight's inductees into the Cleveland International Hall of Fame have made significant and lasting contributions to our multicultural society. They were selected from a list of almost 100 worthy nominees by an advisory committee with input from previous Cleveland International Hall of Fame inductees.

You can read more of the inductee's impressive bios in this program and, more completely, on ClevelandPeople.Com but here is a snippet on each.

Jack Coyne has been active in the Irish community since he was an Irish club drum major as a teen but it was the violence in Northern Ireland that really got him going at the national and international level. Jack and his wife Mary ran Project Children in Cleveland which provided a respite from the grim lives of Catholic and Protestant kids by placing them with families in Cleveland and showing them they had nothing to fear from each other and could live together.

Josef Holzer was very excited when he learned of his upcoming induction and we were very excited to be inducting this terrific community leader. Joe and his family came to Cleveland in 1952. Like other immigrants they wished to find a place in their new country where they were understood and felt like family. Joe became a leader at both local and national levels and was elected President of The Society of the Donauschwaben in 1966, an office he would hold for 30 years. Tragically, Joe passed away one month to the day before his induction. We know he is looking down tonight with his beloved wife of 62 years Franziska, who died in 2011. Rest in Peace Joe.

Sam Miller is well known for his significant contributions to the local and national Jewish communities. But he rails against prejudice wherever it may be. His generosity and passionate commitment extend to a plethora of organizations serving various communities. For example, he has been called the best friend the Catholic Schools of Cleveland ever had. There is hardly a university, hospital or other people-serving organization in town that doesn't owe Sam Miller a debt of gratitude.

Nacy Panzica will tell you two things. His name is "Nacy' (from Ignatius) not 'Nancy' and though many associate Sicily with the mob, he is proud of his Sicilian heritage and his hard-working family. In 1999, Nacy established The Anthony M. Pilla Program in Italian American Studies at John Carroll which is unique in exploring "the meaning of family, its heritage, and the role of spirituality in one's life".

Bishop A. Edward Pevec built a lifetime of service to the community on the foundation of his strong faith and Slovenian roots. He will tell you that his successful years of service, from teaching assignments at all levels to serving as State Chaplain, were made possible by the start he received at St. Vitus Elementary School and then Cathedral Latin High School.

Maria Pujana was born in Spain and grew up in Colombia before coming to the US. She is a Renaissance woman - a medical doctor but also a jewelry designer with her creations sold in Saks Fifth Avenue. She teaches in a pioneer program at CWRU that focuses on the Hispanic and Latino population's inclusion in the medical system and process. Her dedication to the Red Cross comes from a personal story of her grandfather in the war in Spain in 1936.

Ratanjit Sondhe emigrated from India in 1968 with $8 in his pocket. He grew a very successful company but more importantly he developed a philosophy. His philosophy of business, leadership and life has made him a sought after author, consultant and TV personality. "Mr. Stress Free", as he is known internationally, practices the tenets of his Sikh faith with his many hours of active participation in community service.

We hope these snippets have whet your appetite to learn more about the 2013 Class. Share their stories to inspire new leaders who will continue the efforts to make Cleveland prosper by celebrating our cultural diversity.

After all, we are all immigrants.

Be sure to mark May 7, 2014 in your calendar for next year's Cleveland International Hall of Fame induction.

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