100th Anniversary Historical Reflections
(This messsage was given by David P. Bokesch at the 100th Anniversary Celebration Banquet that was held in Cleveland, Ohio on June 22, 2002.)
Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests, it is my great honor as President of the Alliance of Transylvanian Saxons to briefly highlight the history and accomplishments of the Alliance over the past 100 years.
The history of the Transylvanian Saxons can be traced back more than 860 years when German colonists settled territory in Eastern Hungary. Consequences of the two World Wars resulted in Transylvania becoming part of the country Romania. Due to political oppression and poverty in Transylvania, the Transylvanian Saxons were forced to consider moving to other lands. The mass immigration of Saxons to America actually began in the late 1880’s and occurred primarily in three separate periods: First period begain 1886 and ended in 1914 due to the outbreak of the first World War. These immigrants settled primarily in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The second period of immigration began in 1918 when Transylvania became a part of Romania. The heaviest influx occurred between 1922 and 1930. The third period of immigration began in 1949; reached its peak in 1955 and then fell off sharply.
As the Saxon began their new life in America, they gathered together in neighborhood groups similar to what they were used to back home in Transylvania. They enjoyed fellowship and helped and comforted each other in times of sorrow and need.
The first Saxon club formally organized in America was the Transylvanian Saxon Sick Benefit Society founded in Salem, Ohio in 1891. In quick succession, more societies were formed in the cities of Alliance, Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio; and Sharon and New Castle Pennsylvania.
It became evident to the Saxon leaders of these various groups that it would be very beneficial to have all the individual groups join together in one central national organization. This resulted in the founding of our Alliance of Transylvanian Saxons. On July 2, 1902 delegates from four societies met in Erie, Pennsylvania and formed the Siebenbuerger Bund.
At the Bund’s first national convention held in August, 1902, the name of the new society was changed to the Central Verband der Siebenbuerger Sachsen. At the 62nd Convention held in 1965, the name was changed to the English translation, the Alliance of Transylvanian Saxons.
The Alliance began with four local Branches, three in Cleveland, Ohio and one in Erie, Pennsylvania with a total membership of 250 Saxons. Today, we have 27 branches with a membership of over 8500. Our local branches are located in fifteen cities in five states.
A very significant factor in uniting our members throughout the national organization was the founding of the Transylvania Saxon Juniors Association in 1931. Through this organization young people got to know each other as they traveled for their basketball and other sporting events from city to city. Many of our members met their spouses at these social events. It brought great unity to our society. Many of our national and local leaders today were members of the TSJA.
Our ATS constitution states that the Alliance shall be organized and maintained without profit for the mutual benefit and protection of its members and their beneficiaries. It shall provide for payment of death benefits and may issue to its members life plans and annuity certificates. In addition, it states that we wish to unite all Transylvanian Saxons and their descendants, and others interested in the Transylvanian Saxon culture, in a fraternal alliance that will provide opportunities for fellowship; provide help and support to its members; preserve the Transylvanian Saxon heritage and culture and to encourage all members to be good citizens in the communities in which they live.
Our Alliance is made up of two major thrusts—our life insurance and annuity program and our fraternal fellowship activities. The combination give us the opportunity to offer a wide variety of benefits to our members which is not available in others types of clubs or societies nor in commercial insurance companies. Our business has grown from the $150 to total assets of over $50,000,000. Our total insurance in force is over $23 million and our annuity deposits are over $35 million. We have a fine fraternal program with something for everyone. Our Saxon Orphan Fund provides financial assistance to orphaned children in our member families. They receive monthly cash payments. Over $290,000 has been paid out in benefits since the present program began in 1951.
Sixteen years ago we started our annual Scholarship Program. In 2002, nineteen scholarships were awarded to deserving members. From the onset of this program, a total of $156,560 has been awarded to ATS members.
The Saxon News Volksblatt is our official publication that is published biweekly and mailed to our members, providing news, announcements of activities and events on the local, national and even international level.
Our fraternal activities include national events such as the Saxon Heimattag celebrations, Annual bowling tournaments, and golf outing. Our Youth Activities program sponsors ATS Family Day outing; Saxon Summer camp; Bowling tournaments; coloring contests; Teen Weekend; the International Saxon Youth Rallies, plus other various events. In addition, our local branches have a great deal of activity, including monthly meetings, dances, banquets, picnics, social, children’s parties and a variety of other events.
The Alliance has been dedicated to promote the recognition and preservation of the Saxon Heritage by the publishing of Saxon history books, and cook books. We sponsor and support cultural programs and activities on the national and local levels. We financially support the Siebenbuerger Sachsen Saengerbund, which was founded in 1922, the affiliated singing and cultural groups and German language classes and also our Transylvanian Saxon Bowling Association that started in 1954. At our Home Office we have maintained a library of books, literature, videos covering our historical background and a fine display of artifacts, costume clothing, jewelry and art …all depicting the heritage of which we can be justifiably proud.
Our Alliance has spearheaded numerable fund raising campaigns to help our homeland of Transylvania:
In 1918, $20,000 was sent to Europe to bring Saxon prisoners of war out of Siberia back to Transylvania.
In 1920, $33,000 was sent to the Saxon National School in Hermannstadt to help support their financially troubled schools and orphan homes.
In 1956, the Saxons in America donated $6,000 to the Building Fund for the American Museum of Immigration that was later built at the base of the Statute of Liberty.
In 1970 and 1971, $21,900 was raised to assist our friends in Romania who suffered heavy losses in the great flood catastophy.
In 1975, another flood occurred and once again aid was given in the amount of $7,000
Our Current Saxon Relief Program that was started in 1982 has raised over $243,000.
Our benevolent acts continue at our Local Branches that work to assist various charities in the United States and within their local communities.
In March 1972 in Munich, Germany the leaders of the four largest Saxon Organizations in the world met for the first time and pledged to work together for the good and welfare and unity of the Saxon people throughout the world. This meeting helped promote increased communication and Saxon activity on a worldwide basis.
In 1983 the Landsmannschaft of Transylvanian Saxons in Canada, Austria, Germany and the Alliance of Transylvanian Saxons in the USA founded the Federation of Transylvanian Saxons. The Federation ties us all together in one worldwide body. It serves to unify all Transylvanian Saxons and the preservation of their inherent interests. The International Saxon Youth Rally, the Heimattag Celebrations, the Saxon Aid Programs, the Cultural Group Tour exchanges and the International Leaders conferences have all come about as a result of our working together on an international basis.
Our Fraternal Alliance has played an important role in bringing many of our people together in America. 100 years is a long time, it takes dedication, loyalty, determination and faith for any organization to survive that long. We had many strong presidents…do these names ring a bell? John Balthes, Fred Theiss, Edward R. Schneider, Michael H. Bokesch just to name a few. They worked hard to bring us where we are today and I can assure you this present group of ATS Officers are working just as hard to keep our Alliance on the move. I am sure that at our 25th , 50th and 75th Anniversaries the question was asked "Where will we be in 25 years from now. And now we can ask this same question. We have a strong foundation and dedicated members that will assure us of another sound 25 years and beyond. As long as we work and pray together, we will remain as dedicated American Citizens who are proud of their Transylvanian ancestry and proud of the corporation that we have built for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
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