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Nestor Paslawsky, the Soyuzivka resort's general manager, grew up with a strong sense of his Ukrainian identity. He says there are many "who have moved to other parts of the country where it's hard to maintain the culture."

Continuing the Culture

'Suzy-Q' honors Ukranian heritage

By Deborah J. Botti

Photos by Michael Bloom

WITH EACH WAVE THAT ARRIVES ON SHORE, sand is stirred, settles, then blends. On closer inspection, there still are individual grains, but with each subsequent wave, uniqueness blurs a bit more. Nestor Paslawsky, general manager of Soyuzivka, a Ukrainian National Association estate and cultural center in Kerhonkson, says there have been four immigration waves from Ukraine, beginning with the turn of the last century.

"There are all sorts of stories about hardships escaped," says Paslawsky, whose parents left during World War II. Although the need to escape oppression is strong, there is another need: to preserve a sense of identity.


Trying to maintain a culture

"I went to Ukrainian school on the weekends growing up in New Jersey. ... My children speak Ukrainian. We live in a community that makes that possible," he says. "But there are many immigrants who have moved to other parts of the country where it's hard to maintain the culture."

And historically, even in Ukraine it's been a challenge to keep its identity.

"The eastern section is much more Russified than the western," he says. "If you go to Ukraine now, there's still a big mix. ... It's important to maintain the Ukrainian culture and language, and not what the Soviets are preaching."

Certainly, a big component is language. Russian and Ukrainian are not the same. Along with language, integral to the Ukrainian heritage, are music, dance, art and sports.

"You either sang, danced, played sports or some combination," says Paslawsky, whose family also had a summer home in Glen Spey. Because Glen Spey in Sullivan County is not that far from Kerhonkson, he was no stranger to Soyuzivka in his younger days.

"I was pretty athletic. My first memory is the Labor Day swim races and tennis tournaments," he says of the events that continue today at Soyuzivka, affectionately nicknamed Suzy-Q generations ago. "When I was older, it was volleyball."

Soyuzivka, or Suzy-Q, was established about 60 years ago in Kerhonkson as a way to offer cultural benefits to Ukrainians.

60 years in Kerhonkson

Soyuzivka was established about 60 years ago by the Ukrainian National Association, a fraternal organization now based in New Jersey that provides insurance products to members. The UNA was formed by the first wave of immigrants in 1894, who settled in Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines. The UNA aided families who lost men in the mines. About 60 years later, UNA members purchased the property in Kerhonkson, a setting in which to provide year-round resort and cultural benefits to its growing membership. Because of its draw, people of Ukrainian descent have settled in the Kerhonkson area over the decades. Today, Suzy-Q, now seasonal, is structured on preserving the culture.

"We offer dance camps, heritage camps, Scouting camps, the festival, and more," says Paslawsky.

The dance camps follow in the footsteps of internationally acclaimed prima ballerina and choreographer, the late Roma Pryma-Bohachevsky, and is now run by her daughter, he says.

The first camp is an intense dance workshop that attracts Ukrainian dancers far and wide in their late teens to early 20s. Following two weeks of training, they perform at the annual festival in mid-July.

Thereafter, there are two different sessions of the same camp for younger children, whose two weeks culminate in a story-based recital for their parents and a local audience.

There are also different levels of Heritage Camps, Paslawsky says, that mix various activities with Ukrainian traditions. The day camps for younger children touch on art, pysanky (decorated eggs) and embroidery. The camps for older children also include hiking, camping in the woods and rock climbing. "Our property connects with Minnewaska, but there are no designated trails," he says of the 200 acres that are home to about 20 buildings, each named for a city in Ukraine, and many of which replicate the rustic architecture found in Carpathian Mountain resorts. "To get to Minnewaska, you'd be trail-blazing because there are no established trails."

Korinnya, a Ukranian-American family band, performs at last year's festival.Pre-Scouting camps at the end of June help parents introduce Ukrainian Scouting to their youngsters. "There are also sports camps run by Ukrainian sports organizations that include soccer, volleyball and tennis," he says. "All told, there are upward of 500 kids in a season."


Other activities

But Soyuzivka is not just for kids. There's a seniors week for primarily older UNA members.

Adoption week addresses the large number of Ukrainian children who have been adopted and not necessarily by people of Ukrainian descent. This event is coordinated with the Ukrainian Embassy for parents interested in learning about their children's culture.

Weekend bands perform a mix from Ukrainian music to rock 'n' roll. The public is invited for a nominal fee. The approximate 100 rooms offer accommodations for family reunions or weddings.

Daily and themed dinners in the dining room – as well as open-air dinners surrounded by nature – are available to guests and the public, prepared under the director of a chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and who's also Ukrainian. You can also grab a pirohy (or pierogi) “a dumpling filled with a potato mixture“ or other quick bites from the Q Cafe.

Amenities include a large pool, hockey rink, volleyball courts in the sand, tennis courts and hiking trails. Art exhibits and films are routinely scheduled. The gift shop sells Ukrainian crafts. It's a venue to tie the knot – whether Ukrainian or not. And there's great loyalty among members.

"This is their 10th anniversary – they started with me – that BUG, or the Brooklyn Ukrainian Club, comes up in the spring to plant, rake, paint, do whatever's needed," he says. "There are trees down; we're still recovering from Sandy. Winters can be pretty harsh."

And to augment the summer staff in positions from housekeeping to dining room, Paslawsky says he works with American companies that assist with student visas – resulting in about 20 college students from Ukraine. Families often pool resources to purchase airline tickets and cover agency fees to bring the students to Soyuzivka.

"When they arrive, they're really worried about earning money," says Paslawsky of all the hours they want to work to cover those expenses. "By the end of August, they're Americanized and hope for a few days off to do the Jersey Shore or visit Niagara Falls.

"I get to do interviews on Skype," he says. "This is an opportunity for them to practice English and Ukrainian – but not Russian."

2013 Heritage Festival

July 12-14 marks the seventh annual Heritage Festival at Soyuzivka.

“It’s been a very successful concept in which to maintain our culture and heritage, while introducing it to new people as well as to reintroduce it others who want to reconnect with their Ukrainian roots,” says Nestor Paslawsky, the general manager. “We use the entire resort for the festival.”

The festival has attracted big-name artists, such as singer/songwriter Ruslana, who has been awarded title of People’s Artist of Ukraine.

The festival showcases all things Ukrainian throughout the weekend.

The tennis courts are tented. One will shelter more than 40 vendors with offerings in art, embroidery, pysanky (or intricately decorated eggs), music, etc. The other tented tennis court area will house food – everything from pirohy (or pierogi – a potato dumpling) and holubsti (stuffed cabbage), kielbasa and sauerkraut to chicken and hot dogs – and even Ukrainian beer.

Here are some highlights:

● Vika Vasilevich, a singer-songwriter from Ukraine, will headline the festival.

● Other performers include violinist Vasyl Popadiuk and the Papa Duke Band, the Dumka Chorus, the Dwzeen chorale and the Dunai Dancers.

● On Friday night, there’s an opening show with dancers, singers and musicians. The featured artist will also make a short appearance.

● There are two shows on Saturday – an approximately two-hour performance in the afternoon and one a little longer in the evening, which includes music, dance and headliner performance. At press time, all the names (and visas) were not all confirmed, but the dancers who participated in the intense two-week Dance Camp will perform. Saturday attendance can top 8,000.

● Because the grounds are hilly, shuttle service is available.

● Admission is $10 on Friday, $25 on Saturday, $5 on Sunday or $30 for the weekend.

● For more information, visit soyuzivka.com or call 626-5641. The Heritage Festival events will be updated on the website as confirmed.

The camp is at 216 Foordmore Road in Kerhonkson.


Want to help?

This year’s Project Soyuzivka is a fundraising drive to replace tired pool furnishings. Donations can be made at the main office or sent to The UNA-Soyuzivka Pool Project, P.O. Box 280, 2200 New Jersey Route 10, Parsippany, NJ 07054-5305.

Suzy-Q also depends on membership support. For information, visit the website or call 626-5641.

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