Reflections and tributes poured out for two beloved community pillars during a fundraiser in support of the Shelter for Ukrainians Society Wednesday evening, June 8, at the Royal Alexandra Hall in Cranbrook.
The event, honouring Frank Sandor and Johann “Johnny” Romich, celebrated the lives of those two prominent Cranbrook citizens while also weaving in their respective histories as immigrants fleeing post-War Europe who cultivated deep roots in the community.
That history was outlined by family and relatives. Heidi Romich walked through the story of her parents, Johnny and Brigette, who came to Cranbrook from Austria and Germany, respectively, to escape the European devastation of the Second World War.
They met each other at a cafe in Cranbrook owned by Brigitte’s relatives, and married two years later. The family grew with the addition of two daughters — Heidi and Susie. In 1962, they purchased the Parkview Trailer Court and Laundromat, and six years later, Johnny opened Johnny’s Laundry and Drycleaning.
Sandor arrived in Cranbrook via a circuitous route through Europe and Canada, after escaping a concentration camp in Hungary following that country’s revolution and subsequent Soviet invasion in 1956.
With initial stops in Michel-Natal near Sparwood, and then Kimberley, Sandor settled down in Cranbrook, starting a concrete finishing company in 1968. Two years later, his hard work ethic and determination led to the establishment of Sandor Rentals, which became one of Cranbrook’s most iconic and successful businesses.
“I think the common thread with all the immigrants was hope,” said Heidi Romich. “They left destruction, they left lack of opportunity, lack of safety, hoping for a better future. And when I think, even some of those names, my dad, Frank [Sandor] … they were truly trail blazers with just an amazing spirit.”
While honouring two community icons, the evening also served as a fundraiser for the Shelter for Ukrainians Society. A dinner, catered by Heidi’s own business, The Heidout, featured Ukrainian-themed cuisine such as chicken Kyiv and pierogis.
The event also included stories of the legendary pranks both Sandor and Romich used to pull, often against each other.
The Shelter for Ukrainians Society, which had humble beginnings as an ad-hoc group of local residents concerned about the fate of Ukraine following Russia’s military invasion in Februrary, quickly evolved into a non-profit with charitable status.
Bonnie Spence-Vigne, who serves as president of the society’s board, noted that there are already five families who have arrived in Cranbrook to join relatives who live in the area. Documentation is in the works for six more families who are on the way to Cranbrook, Creston and Sparwood.
“We have had a great experience with Ukrainian families who are already in the community who have stepped up to help us in the society for the work that we do,” said Spence-Vigne.
“They have provided a great amount of interpretation and translation, and a huge amount of support to their own families, and helping us to understand what it must be like for these folks coming here.”
In addition to the society board, the group has a pool of approximately 60 volunteers who help out in all kinds of ways.
“This initiative…is a long term initiative and we really, really appreciate your support, financially and otherwise,” said Spence-Vigne, “and the support of a number of businesses and everyday people in the community of Cranbrook, but we’re really going to need that in the long haul.”
Every Sunday night, locals have been meeting at Rotary Park in Cranbrook in solidarity of Ukraine but this weekend’s gathering on June 12 will be more unique, with the event running from noon to 8 p.m. Volunteers have made 500 dozen batches of pierogies for sale, and musical entertainment will take place at the bandstand.
All funds raised will go towards the Shelter for Ukrainians Society.
Anyone wishing to support the Society can do so through the Community Foundation of the Kootenay Rockies, which is providing tax-deducible receipts for charitable donations. A number of payment are available, including credit card, cheque and cash.
Donations to the Society in honour of the Sandor and Romich families can be dropped off at The Heidout and Sandor Rentals. For more information, contact Terry Segarty at 250-581-1318 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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