A Short History of the Ukrainian American Youth Association's "Oselia" on the Occasion of its 50th Anniversary
by Tania Sawa-Priatka
This first appeared in "America" — Philadelphia, PA, Saturday, May 21, 2005
On the fifth anniversary of the Ukrainian American Youth Association's founding on American soil, the organization, commonly known as "SUM", was experiencing a period of rapid growth, a reorganization and an expansion of its' goals, strategies and methodologies. During the second World War, thousands of Ukrainians emigrated to the United States of America. During this time, the goal of the organization in the United States shifted from one of a largely political nature to one primarily focused on educating nationally-conscious young Ukrainians. The mission of the organization was, and still remains today, to educate Ukrainian youth about their history and culture, as well as cultivating them to become active members of their Ukrainian and local communities while serving God and their Ukrainian homeland. Of primary concern in 1954, the year of the anniversary, was the need to find a space, a piece of property, on which SUM's young, active members could blossom in an environment steeped in Ukrainian heritage and pride during the summer camping months. Thus began the search for a little slice of Ukrainian heaven here in the United States.
Vyshkilnyi tabir, 1960.
During the fifth annual gathering of SUM members, held in Newark, NJ, SUM's Holovna Uprava, or board of directors, called together a Search Committee to be chaired by the late Mykola Semanyshyn. Additional committee members included Hryhorij Czebrij, Mychaijlo Furda and Yaroslaw Humeniuk. In addition to identifying property to suit SUM's goals, the committee would also be responsible for driving a critical and energetic capital campaign. After a thorough examination of the committee's objectives, it became obvious that the ideal property would need to be fairly sizable, have a suitable terrain for camping and recreation, be centrally located with the possibility of easy access, and have a close proximity to water, whether a lake, river or other. After months of searching and with thanks to the tireless and selfless efforts of the Search Committee, the perfect property was located along Route 209, approximately one mile north of the town of Spring Glen in Ulster County, New York and nearby to the popular summer vacation destination, Ellenville, NY, located nearly 80 miles north of the city of New York. At the time it was discovered, this property was called the "Fontaine Manor House," a largely forest-covered property of nearly 140 acres in the foothills of the Shawangunk mountains. The property offered a picturesque, mountain scene complete with a small lake and babbling stream, the Soundberg Creek. There were currently eleven buildings on its grounds and it was a convenient drive from most major cities along the east coast. Meeting nearly all of the committee's search criteria, with the generous financial support of hundreds of SUM members, SUM immediately pursued the purchase of the grounds.
"Sailors". September 3, 1956.
To direct the ongoing financial and management needs of Oselia, SUM's Holovna Uprava called together the first directorship. The directorship was headed by Mykola Semanyshyn and included members of the Holovna Uprava as well as, representatives from the Parents' Committees (Batkivskyj Komitety) of various east coast SUM Oseredky. Combined with the efforts of countless SUM members, the members of the directorship set about actively preparing for Oselia's first summer season. It is necessary to note that the Oselia, upon purchase, was found to be in a serious state of disrepair and neglect by its previous owners. Therefore, there was painting, cleaning, renovation and some clearing of forest overgrowth to be done. In addition to the upgrades, Oselia's directorship undertook the building of a physical tribute to Ukrainian heroes ("Trybuna"). Countless hours of voluntary manpower and effort eventually paid off and the days of June 18-19, 1955 witnessed the ceremonial blessing and opening of the SUM Oselia in the scenic Shawangunk mountains of upstate New York. From that day forward, Oselia became a center for cultural-educational work and relaxation, a place of summer SUM camps, sports Olympiads, and home to innumerable memories, as seen in the photographs here, across multiple generations.
Children in flight. September 3, 1956.
Following the first successful summer season on Oselia, discussion began regarding the continuing development of the grounds. It was decided that the primary directive be to work towards developing better camping facilities for SUM's young members, who arrived at Oselia in increasing numbers each summer. Therefore, heeding the call of the Holovna Uprava, the SUM oseredky of Trenton, NJ and New York, NY undertook the first major renovation on Oselia - the building of two additional barracks (there were six in existence.) Additionally, oseredok Yonkers, NY set to work to build two chapels for the weekly conduct of Holy Mass during the summer months - one for the Catholic service and one for the Orthodox. They also agreed to completely renovate the main congregational building, "Svitlytsia". The completion of all of this work occurred in 1959.
Girl's tabir, 1971.
Beginning in 1960, Oselia entered a new period of growth in two distinct directions - the building of new camp facilities for the youth and the building of a new hotel for the ever-increasing number of families and older adults who spent their summers at Oselia. Still in the winter of 1959, the then director of Oselia, Mykola Semanyshyn, prepared a detailed account of Oselia's financial standing and presented it at the Plenary Meetings of the Holovna Uprava of SUM. In this plan, Mr. Semanyshyn outlined the following plan for the continued development of Oselia: the construction of two additional camping barracks; the construction of a second hotel; the construction of a new kitchen along with a separate mess hall for campers and a formal restaurant for vacationers; and, the construction of a large casino/Svitlytsia with a ballroom. The aggregate of this work was to be completed over the course of the next 15 years, according to Semanyshyn's plan. All of the attendees at the Plenary gathering confirmed this plan and with a vision for the future, eagerly set about it.
Patriarch Cardinal Joseph Slipyj and His Excellency Bishop Joseph Shmondiuk, 1967.
In 1964, the Holovna Uprava voted in a new group of directors for Oselia. From 1964-71, the committee of 16 was chaired by Volodymyr Kostyk. With comparable enthusiasm, the new directors continued the plan set in motion by the previous board with slight modifications of the priorities. It became obviously necessary that a new, larger hotel was necessary for vacationers, parents coming to visit their campers/children, visitors during Zlets, Zdvyhs and other events. Thus, on Sunday, July 4, 1965, just prior to the opening of the new summer season, the ceremonial blessing and opening of the building "Krynytsia" took place. This new building offered 32 rooms and could house nearly 80 occupants. During the years of 1967-70, the directorship of Oselia focused in earnest on the renovation of many of the older buildings, upgrading the plumbing systems, separating and fencing off the camps from the general resort areas, and renovation of the Svitlytsia and kiosk. In this fashion, Oselia became increasingly updated and accommodating in subsequent years. Additional projects included the building of a new camp Komanda building, led by a committee comprised of members from Passaic, NJ, Willimantic, CT and Bayonne, NJ oseredky. A modern "Svitylytsia," heated and air conditioned, was built with two main entrances, a large terrace, a large ballroom on the second floor able to accommodate between 450-600 guests, restrooms, a large buffet, kitchen and two additional rooms for miscellaneous uses. This new addition hosted and continues to host multiple conferences, seminars and social events, such as weddings, banquets, etc. In 1962, during the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), Oselia unveiled its tribute to Ukrainian heroes during the celebrations taking place the 21-22 of July 1962, in which nearly 5,000 Ukrainians participated. The tribute was built in the center of Oselia on a natural hill. From left to right are cast stone busts of Simon Petlura, Evhen Konovalets, Roman Shukhevych-Chuprynka and Stepan Bandera. All of these heroes sacrificed their lives in the battle for Ukraine's sovereignty and nationhood and serve as an inspiration to all Ukrainian youth. Dr. Lev Dobrianskyj, then head of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, led the opening ceremonies along with representatives of various other community cornerstone organizations. To this day, the tribute to heroes stands on Oselia's grounds and with every passing summer camp, Zdvyh and Zlet, SUM's members pay their respects and give recognition to these fallen heroes with a salute.
Dancing at Oselia, 1967.
While undergoing such major changes, Oselia truly became a community center during the summer months. As such, it was appropriate that major community events take place here. One such example took place on August 8, 1967 when in the early afternoon hours, the Patriarch Cardinal Joseph Slipyj, with assistance from His Excellency Bishop Joseph Shmondiuk of the Diocese of Stamford and other clergy, paid a visit to Oselia. They were greeted by SUM's then head of the Holovna Uprava, Evhen Hanovskyj, and five yunatstvo in uniform, carrying the traditional Ukrainian symbols of greeting - bread and salt. Cardinal Slipyj spent the day meeting with community leaders, the SUM yunatstvo and performing a moleben to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The words of his homily were inspirational and highly patriotic, and gave credit to SUM members for holding dear to the highest ideals of God and Ukraine. With nearly 3,000 in attendance during this historic visit by Cardinal Slipyj, it was an event covered broadly in both the Ukrainian and American press and continues to be a significant moment in the memories of those fortunate enough to be involved.
From the earliest days of Oselia's history, SUM's Holovna Uprava and Oselia's directorship felt a strong need to build proper sports facilities to be used by campers each season, including volleyball courts, a soccer field, track and field terrain and tennis courts. Admittedly, there were tennis courts on the grounds of Oselia prior to its purchase by SUM, but they had long ago been neglected and forgotten and were in need of serious repair. With one word, Oselia did not yet offer any sporting accommodations of a suitable quality. Therefore, to resolve this matter, in April of 1967 it was decided that work on the construction of a new sports field would begin. The late Yaroslav Petryk was called by the Holovna Uprava to chair the committee that was formed to lead this undertaking. Under his guidance and expertise, the sports field was successfully completed in the summer of 1972. Originally, it was decided that ceremonies to mark the new sports field would be held in June of 1973 with an SUM Olympiad, however, this plan changed when youth from other Ukrainian diaspora organizations voiced their interest in participating in these activities. Subsequently, on the 25-26 of June 1973, the first-ever Sports Olympiad auspiciously took place on the field with nearly 485 contestants from SUM, Plast, ODUM and YTSAK as well as, nearly 3,000 spectators. Following the Olympiad that summer, SUM's first successful sports camp transpired in which 85 participants took part.
CYM Zlet, 1994.
In the years following, the remainder of the original 15-year construction overview took place with many new features being added to Oselia's grounds. In 1980, two regulation tennis courts were opened and tennis became an activity enjoyed by campers and vacationers alike. In 1982, Oselia completed and opened an Olympic-sized pool to its public, which instantly became a hit with its seasonal visitors and the camps' children as well. Due to the pool's construction, instruction in swimming became a part of the summer sports camp. Additionally, you could always count on finding vacationers on Oselia lounging on the chaises surrounding the pool and relaxing among friends. Oselia continued to flourish and grow in popularity, hosting not only summer camps and vacationers, but also honorable Ukrainian dignitaries such as political activist, historian and former political prisoner, Valentyn Moroz; past president of Ukraine Leonid Krawchuk; former president of the Ukrainian World Coordinating Council, Mychailjo Horyn; and, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, Major Archbishop of Lviv as well as many others.
Left: A visit by Patriarch Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, 2004.
Right: A visit by the first Prsident of the newly-independant Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, 1999.
This year, we celebrate an important and impressive milestone in the history of Oselia - its 50th anniversary. A number of celebratory events are being planned , including an Anniversary banquet and post-banquet cocktail benefit (July 9th); an Oselia Family Day, including a volleyball tournament and zabava (July 23rd); a Wilderness Camp (Praktychnyj Tabir) Reunion (Aug.6th); and, a culmination of the year's anniversary with special events planned during the Labor Day 2005 weekend at Oselia. Watch for details of these events in the Ukrainian Weekly's Calendar of Events section as well as at www.cym.org/US/ellenville. We invite the entire Ukrainian community to participate in these planned activities during the upcoming summer months.
Tabir singing, 1990.
Over the years, Oselia has truly become much more than just a piece of land dedicated to SUM camps. It has thrived and blossomed into a pivotal center of Ukrainian culture, patriotism and community in the diaspora. It is a unique place where parents can confidently send their children and expect them to make lasting friendships and have positive experiences. It continues to welcome thousands of guests each year and to receive eminent dignitaries and clergy. Oselia is currently experiencing a renaissance. New and modern camping facilities were completed in 1994 on the infamous "Blueberry Hill"; a beautiful new chapel in the Lemko architectural style is being built in commemoration of the lives destroyed during "Aktsia Visli" and its ceremonial consecration is scheduled for June 26th; and, Oselia has proudly attained a mortgage-free status due mainly to volunteerism and the kind financial support of its members, along with with the help and generosity of our Ukrainian financial institutions. With the kick-off of a new Capital Improvements Fund, Oselia's accommodations, roads and other infrastructure will be upgraded and portions rebuilt, getting ready to welcome the next generations of SUM members.
These ladies make sure that no taborovyk goes hungry. 1998.
We invite you to join us in celebrating the occasion of our 50th anniversary. Whether you are returning to Oselia after many years or you are arriving for the first time, you will no doubt find something that will enchant, entertain and keep you and your families returning for many years to come. For further information on the 50th anniversary celebrations, please visit www.CYM.org/US/Ellenville.