By Marge Woodfin
Pilot staff writer
Brookings resident Roberta Guthormsen fulfilled a dream in May when she was able to trace her roots during a visit to Croatia.
The trip was a Christmas gift from her daughter Barbara.
"Because I have always talked about wanting to go," Roberta said. "My grandmother came from Croatia as a teenager in the early 1900s," she explained.
Roberta lived in an International Order of Odd Fellow (IOOF) home for children in Gilroy, Calif., from the age of 5 until she was 18. Her parents were divorced and her father was in the military.
The (IOOF) home housed a varying number of children, between 60 to 120 residents at a time over the years. The children all went to public school, and Roberta said not many were actual orphans. "In fact I only knew one," she said.
Perhaps that background and visits with her grandmother, who lived in San Jose, may have influenced her strong desire to trace her roots back to Croatia.
"I knew that my grandmother, my father's mother, came from Mihanici and I knew it was outside of Dubrovnik," Roberta said. "My grandmother talked about it. It was very special."
Roberta wanted to see if she could find a cousin still living in Croatia. "I knew he was a famous artist with his own gallery and I knew the general area." She said an uncle in Nevada who visited Croatia 23 years earlier, gave her some information. "He said he thought he would like to go again."
After thinking about it for 20 years, but deterred by money and health, Roberta was truly excited when she and Barbara started out on their journey of discovery in May.
Although looking for relatives and seeing the land from which her forebears came was the primary goal, the two women enjoyed their visit to many famous places such as Venice, Rome, Florence, museums and historical sites.
"I was really taken with Florence," Roberta said. "It's so alive, people in the squares, gathering on church steps, singing and dancing and eating gelato. I found out I really like gelato."
But, of course, the high point destination was Croatia. When they arrived in Dubrovnik they began asking questions and a waiter introduced them to a driver he thought could help them. She said about the driver, "He was very friendly in the car and asked what we were looking for.
"It took awhile. When we found my cousin's art gallery, the driver knocked on the door and said, You have visitors from America,' and I introduced myself."
As she mentioned her grandmother, Mare, her cousin Miho immediately cried out, "Kravitch," her grandmother's family name. Her cousin then showed her a family chart that dated back to 1406, when a family member with a couple of children first came to Dubrovnik.
"I was so excited that the camera was shaking in my hands and Barbara said, Give me the camera,'"
Their reunion included a lunch of homemade wine, dried figs, bread and soup, while Miho told her stories of life in Croatia following the declaration of independence from the Serbs in 1990 and 1991.
"People in Dubrovnik didn't think that the Serbs would bomb what they call their fairy tale city.' Of Pearl of the Adriatic,'" she said.
Roberta explained that the city built of stone was a labor of love. She said that during the building 900 years ago, anyone who came into the city from the countryside carried one building stone if on foot, and three stones if they rode in a carriage.
She said that the Serbs attacked her grandmother's 600-year-old home and 50 shells were found around the yard. She learned that both her grandmother and her cousin had been shepherds in earlier years.
Her cousin told her that he was putting together 140 pieces of art for a trip to the United States when the Serbs stole his art and put him in jail for 14 months. After his release he said he painted in a cave to keep them from taking his paintings.
Miho currently has a successful and attractive gallery in Mihanici in the Dubrovnik area and is again trying to put together a large enough collection of his art for a trip to the U.S.
Roberta's Christmas gift trip to Croatia is a gift she will never forget. It has given her a new appreciation for her strong family inheritance and she is looking forward to entertaining her cousin and his family in her own home with her husband Ron, who held down the Brookings fort while she and Barbara took their trip into the past.