Lithuanian minister of defense visits grandmother's home — in Scranton
The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
SCRANTON, Pa. — The Lithuanian Minister of Defense had always dreamed of visiting Scranton.
Juozas Olekas fulfilled his longtime ambition to see his grandmother's hometown on Sunday. He traveled to Northeast Pennsylvania between meetings with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other top international officials to discuss NATO defense plans.
Many Lithuanians settled in Northeast Pennsylvania more than a century ago among the wave of Europeans who came to America at the time.
"We have very, very old Lithuanian communities here," said Simonas Satunas, a deputy ambassador from Lithuanian who accompanied Mr. Olekas. "They're all over Pennsylvania."
Mr. Olekas said his grandmother, Adela Maciulaedas, was born in Scranton in 1904 after her parents had moved to the United States among the immigrants.
On Sunday, he visited what was once his grandmother's home on Theodore Street in North Scranton. She lived there before her family moved back to Lithuania when she was 10 years old.
Ms. Maciulaedas went through some hard times when she returned to her family's homeland.
In 1922, her family was deported to Siberia, where Mr. Olekas was born, during Lithuania's struggle for independence from the Soviet Union.
"It was very difficult conditions — cold, a lot of hunger; there was a lack of food," Mr. Olekas said. "A lot of people died during that time."
In 1940, the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Lithuania and the other Baltic states. Lithuania re-established independence in 1990 when the Soviet Union fell apart.
Mr. Olekas' family returned to Lithuania when he was 10 years old.
Now 58, Mr. Olekas visited a site in Scranton honoring a hero in the independence fights for both his grandmother's homes.
City, county, state and federal representatives welcomed Mr. Olekas in a ceremony in North Scranton at the Kosciuska (the Lithuanian spelling) Healing Garden, named after Gen. Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
Kosciuszko had a key role in the helping American Revolutionaries win the Battle of Saratoga, which historians regard as a turning point in the war.
He later returned to help lead a Polish and Lithuanian insurrection that was ultimately unsuccessful against czarist Russia.
Carol Gargan, Ed.D., also spoke of Kosciuszko's fortifications at West Point, where he left behind gardens.
She said the recently dedicated North Scranton garden flowers that had once been at Lithuanian families' homes.
"The flowers I first planted here, the one rose was in my mother's garden, so when they put the new levy in, the Army Corps of Engineers ... took all those flowers and gardens away," she said. "But some of the flowers from the gardens are still here. The Lithuanian spirit is in this garden."
Mr. Olekas was returning to Washington, D.C., on Sunday night but said he hopes to return to Scranton with his wife and children someday.