Carpatho-Rusyns are one of the major ethnic groups of Pennsylvania. From the time they settled the state’s small towns and cities in the late 1870s until the present time, Carpatho-Rusyns have left an indelible mark on the state, and their story should be told. This blog is about a project that will do just that. Read more

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tribute to American Rusyn Olympians from PA and with PA Roots

With today's closing of the Summer Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, we want to remember a pair of American Olympians of Carpatho-Rusyn heritage. One of them is a Rusyn Pennsylvanian, and the other is a Rusyn American of probable Pennsylvania roots.

First, our Pennsylvania native:

Christa Harmotto Dietzen (born Christa Deanne Harmotto), of Hopewell Twp., Pa., is a 29-year-old indoor volleyball player who plays the middle blocker position. She competed on the U.S. Olympic Team this year in Rio, as captain of the U.S. Women's Volleyball Team. The team lost to Serbia in the semifinals, taking home a bronze medal. Congratulations!

Christa's Rusyn roots include the Harmotto (in Rusyn, Harmata) and Gaydos (Gajdoš) families who lived in Ambridge, not far from where she grew up.

Grave of Jan Harmata and Tereza Babej, both from the Rusyn village Krajnja Bŷstra/Krajná Bystrá, Šaryš County.
Grave of Nykolaj Gajdoš and Anna (Majdak), both born in the Rusyn village Čirč, Šaryš County.
And the coming together of these two Rusyn families from whom Christa is descended. Ella Harmotto was the daughter of Nicholas & Anna Gaydos. (All graves in Economy Cemetery, Economy/Ambridge, PA)

Sam Mikulak, born in Corona del Mar, California, and now living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a 23-year-old gymnast and two-time Olympian (2012 and 2016). In Rio in 2016 he was the captain of the men's gymnastics team. He didn't win any medals, but he did respectably well: 5th (team); 7th (all-around); 8th (floor); 4th (horizontal bar).

Sam's father is Stephen Mikulak. While we don't know where he was born, we were told that he has roots in Forest City, Susquehanna County, Pa. If indeed that is true, we believe these could be his Rusyn ancestors.

Grave of Jan Mykuljak/Mikuliak, 1871-1904, born in Šambron, Šaryš County. (St. Agnes Roman Catholic Cemetery, Forest City, Pa.)
Grave of Anna (Mika) Mikulak, born in Šambron, Šaryš County. (St. John the Baptist Greek Catholic Cemetery, Forest City, Pa.)
Even if the Forest City connection turns out to be wrong, we can provide any number of other Mikulaks of Rusyn heritage who could very well be Sam's ancestors.

Congratulations to all of Team USA for a fantastic showing in Rio!

Now, for a look back at a Rusyn Pennsylvanian who competed at Olympics past, here's a very interesting profile that appeared in the Russian Brotherhood Organization's newsletter The Truth (orig. Pravda) in 1996.

John B. Terpak was born in Mayfield in 1912. His parents were Vasyl' "Wasco" Tŷrpak (born in Došnycja/Desznica, Jaslo County) and Ksenja (born in Halbiv/Halbów, Jaslo County).

Grave of Vasyl' and Ksenja Tŷrpak/Terpak. (St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cemetery, Mayfield, Pa.)
Numerous Rusyn American sports figures of some renown originated in Pennsylvania. My hope is to mention them in my book in the context of the story of the community they were raised in.

Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.

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