Board of Directors
Marie Kolich — Chair 1
This will be the second term for Marie serving on the Board of Directors. Like most members of the group, Marie was first introduced to the tamburitza by the late Don Lipovac. Marie started lessons with Don at an early age as a St. John Tamburitzan, and continued until she left to attend college. She grew up listening to tamburitza music. As a child, she remembers being at her grandparents’ house for the holidays, with her father playing the accordion, her grandfather playing the washtub bass, and her uncles playing tamburitza instruments - all singing late into the evenings.
As Hrvatski Običaj was beginning to form, she was excited to hear that a group of young men and women wanted to preserve the Croatian music and heritage and was eager to join them in their pursuits. And now years later, she values many of the friendships she has formed and has greatly enjoyed being a part of this family, the trips taken, memories made and the love of the Croatian music. Performing with the group brings back the memories of her childhood. She feels honored to be a part of Hrvatski Običaj and is looking forward to serving again on the Board of Directors.
Stephanie Sandelich — Chair 2
Stephanie has been listening to tambura music since infancy. Her dad, Steve Sandelich, a former Duquesne University Tamburitzan, played his favorite music from LP’s as they danced around the house. When the opportunity arose for her to join the “big kids” in the young St. John’s CC Tamburitzans, she jumped at the chance. Having learned to play the piano, it was an easy fit (if not easy on the ears or fingers!) As time went on, all 4 of the Sandelich children played making it a family affair.
This begins Stephanie’s second chance to serve on the board. Knowing that it is a group effort to accomplish all we have as an orchestra, it is once again time to step up to the plate. She recently retired as an operating room nurse and now has more time to devote. They truly are a tambura family with both sister and brother-in-law, Sarah and Brillo Soptic, and cousin Theresa Jaksetic playing together. Another cousin, Matt B. Thomas played until he passed away in the fall of 2021. It is such an honor to be a part of keeping the heritage alive and this fabulous music on “The Hill”.
Sarah Soptic — Chair 3
Sarah has been part of a tamburitza family since birth and is sister of board member Stephanie Sandelich. She grew up listening to Duquesne LP’s on her grandparent’s back porch, singing along and dancing to her heart’s content. Sarah played with the St John’s Jr. Tammies from grade school to high school. When the letter came about forming an adult tambura group, she was ready and eagerly joined with her husband Brillo. As a junior tammie she played the bass and played bass for several years with Hrvatski Običaj. Now she’s happily playing the prim, going from the largest to the smallest of the tamburitza family of instruments.
This is Sarah’s second opportunity to serve on the board. She’s recently semi-retired and loving the extra time off. As we all are adding a few years to our plentiful lives, we’re perhaps slowing down just a bit. Having fun has always been the prime directive of our group and we’re having the time of our lives traveling and playing together. Our band hopes to be playing our music for many years to come and we all enjoy adding our music to our rich heritage here on Strawberry Hill.
Rick Mikesic — Director
Rick started playing the tambura at age nine, when he first joined the Saint John Tamburitzans, the junior tambura group in Kansas City, Kansas. After just two years learning his way around the instrument, he became a part of the performing group. He fondly recalls the many performances and trips the group took, with the highlight of his young career being a three week tour of Croatia and Slovenia to perform. His knowledge of music is largely due to the nationally renowned Don Lipovac, who served for decades as the Musical Director of the junior group. After spending so much of his youth learning from Don, as an adult he returned as a guest performer on a regular basis. In addition, he was also a member of a local tambura band, Živili Hrvati, during the 1990's.
After more than a decade of being absent from the tambura scene to start a family and focus on a career, he jumped at the chance to once again play the tambura when Hrvatski Običaj began to come together. He credits the success of the group to the many dedicated members that share the love of the tambura music and the desire to "have fun". He's experienced immense joy in performing across the Midwest with Hrvatski Običaj and considers the recently released CD as a watershed moment for the group. He looks forward to many more years of playing the music he loves so much.
Jim Frankovich & Kristina Mikesic — Webmasters
Mario Viskovic — Music Coordinator
Mario came to the US in 2000 as a refugee from Bosnia with his pregnant wife, Ivana and son, Lukas. Having been on the front line as a soldier during the Homeland War in the early 1990s, beginning in a foreign country was daunting but not as difficult as his time at war. Like most other immigrants and refugees they had a hard time adapting to a new community. But with the help of a rather large Croatian population in Kansas City, Kansas and Croatian Fraternal Union #35 many made the transition a little easier. This community allowed him to embrace his Croatian heritage and love of music which has always been a part of his life. As a young boy, he was a part of "Hor 57 djevojčica i dječaka", a group of children who performed choral arrangements throughout his city of Bugojno, Bosnia & Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavia.
In 2006 when Rick and Kristina presented the idea at a CFU meeting that they would try to start a tamburitza group again, Mario quickly made his decision to join them. He was excited and thought to himself: "Finally, there is 'live' Croatian music going on around here". Even though he wasn't into tamburitza music as a child or young adult, and only played guitar and never played tambura, the love and passion for Croatian music was strong. Since arriving in the US he truly missed "our" music and being able to participate in something like this pushed him forward to join those great musicians of the former Saint John Junior Tamburitzans. Playing guitar and singing makes him excited and happy. It's like being back in the old country. Bringing to life all that music is a great feeling.
Four years later, he has made friends with all the members of the group and they enjoy every practice and performance, especially when Sljivo is floating around. He thanks his lovely wife and children (Lukas, Nikola and Martin) for being patient with him and all the time he spends away from them. Unfortunately, anything good requires hard work and in order to make Hrvatski Običaj what it is today there has been some hard work along the way. He is very happy to be a part of this group and hopes we will leave a mark in the community as we continue to preserve the passion of our Croatian culture for many generations to come.
Past Board Members and Appointed Members
- Joe Baric — Music Coordinator (2007–2009)
- Ann Cavlovic — Dance Coordinator (2007–2010)
- Rick Desko — Assistant Director (2010–2012)
- Rick Desko — Webmaster (2009-2013)
- Kristen Henry — Ad Hoc (2007–2008)
- John Mikesic — Business Manager (2011)
- Rick Mikesic — Business Manager (2007–2010)
- Bunny Rodina — Ad Hoc (2009), Music Coordinator (2010)
- Stephanie Sandelich — Ad Hoc (2010)
- Mario Viskovic — Ad Hoc (2010-2013)
- Sarah Soptic — Business Manager (2011-2014)
- Kristina Mikesic — Public Relations (2007-2015)
- Jim Frankovich — Chair 1 (2013-2016)
- Marie Kolichh — Chair 1, 2 & 3 (2014-2017)
- Nancy Calvano — Chair 1, 2 & 3 (2015-2018)
- Ann Cavlovic — Chair 1, 2 & 3 (2016-2019)
- John Mikesic — Chair 1, 2 & 3 (2017-2021)
- Joe Baric — Chair 1, 2 & 3 (2018-2021)
Photos courtesy of Don Wolf SNAP Photography and most recently Ivana Dordevic.