2023 ELLIE & GUS SCHAFER
This year, CroatiaFest is honoring siblings Ellie and Gus Schafer as 2023 Featured Young Croatian Award.
Fourth generation Croatian Americans Gus and Ellie are the children of Sarah and Gavin Schafer who trace their Croatian roots through their grandmother Helen (nee Budinich) Shafer to the Island of Losinj in Croatia’s Northern Adriatic.
Ellie and Gus were members of the Seattle Junior Tamburitzans from a very early age (Ellie joined at age 3 and Gus at age 4), performing with the group for 15 and 13 years respectively. In their time as Junior Tamburitzans, the duo was able to perform at the Croatian Fraternal Union Festivals in Orlando, Chicago and in Zagreb, as well as the Croatian Folklore Extravaganza in Los Angeles, and many times CroatiaFest . A highlight of their performing career was performing at the International Children’s Festival in Sibenik, and ...
2022 Madison Mustach
Madison (Maddie) Mustach is the daughter of John and Julie Mustach, and the granddaughter of Barbara and the late Steve Mustach and maternal grandmother Lorraine Asquith. Maddie has a large extended Croatian family through the Seattle area, Woodland Hills, Zagreb and Obrez where her grandfather Steve was born.
Croatian heritage has been an important part of her life. From an early age, Maddie always was putting on “a show” for anyone who would watch. Impromptu singing and dancing were always on the showbill. Maddie joined the Seattle Junior Tamburitzans (SJT) at the age of 9, singing, dancing and playing the prim. She continued with the group until her high school graduation. She was fortunate to have traveled with the SJT’s to the Croatian Fraternal Union Junior Federation Tamburitza Festivals in Chicago and Zagreb.
Maddie graduated from King’s Schools in Shoreline WA, where she played soccer, participated in track, was part of several vocal ensembles, and was a cheerleader. She excelled in marketing and within her marketing classes Maddie was able to be part of the DECA program which prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in careers in marketing, finance, management and hospitality in high school and colleges around the globe. Maddie’s efforts paid off and she was able to go to the DECA International Competition every year during high school.
Currently a senior at Duquesne ...
2019 Michael Marinkovich
Michael Thomas Marinkovich was born March 30, 1994 in Seattle, Washington. He is the son of Mark and Kelly Marinkovich, the grandson of Tom and Terry Marinkovich and the great-grandson of Nicholas and Marica Marinkovich. Nick and Marica both immigrated from the Island of Brać and the village of Bol. Nick was one of the founding members of Slavonian Hall in Tacoma and a commercial fisherman.
Michael grew up in Redmond, WA with his brother (Nick) and sister (Allie). He graduated from Aviation High School and Seattle Pacific University. He has faced many challenges over the years as the result of being born with a cleft lip and palate and without his right eye. He had 15+ surgeries over a 23-year period and has faced each one with amazing acceptance and strength. His positive spirit has been evident with each surgery and he has been an inspiration to anyone who knows him. Doctors and nurses were always amazed at his optimism. His wisdom and determination were often far beyond his years.
When Michael was only about 3-4 years of age, he became fascinated with airplanes. He started taking flying lessons when he was 15 at a local aviation company and earned his lessons by working for the company. He got his pilot’s license at the age of 18 and is only ...
2018 Matthew Tweten
Matthew Tweten was immersed in the music and culture of the Croatian community in Anacortes, Washington at an early age so much so that it became his very being. He recalls at the age of 3 going to parties at the Croatian Club and dancing to Tambura music. His parents, Pamela Olich Tweten and Brian Tweten mention the influence of George and Marija Franulovich inviting them to gatherings at their home with other Croats playing music, dancing, singing and enjoying good food.
“He found his grandpa’s accordion and started to play” said his mother, Pamela. “It brought the family together in an intimate connection with music and culture”.
Matthew is a humble young man as he explains growing up in Anacortes and noting that his grandfather, Boris Olich, was a fisherman originally from Vela Luka, Korcula, Croatia, reaching Anacortes after first emigrating to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Aunts, uncles and Grandmother Ann, emigrated to Canada from Sisak, Croatia. There were frequent visits to relatives in British Columbia and Toronto, Canada and Croatia. Matthew’s inspiration for his music comes from his passion and love of being a part of the Croatian community, the ...
2017 Željko Stipetić
Željko Stipetić is a 24 year old graduate from Western Washington University. He earned a double major in Business Finance and International Business. Recently he started working for Wyndham, a hotel and travel company. He’s had big ambitions to become a professional boxer one day, although he hasn’t fought in a couple of years. Right now he is getting his priorities together and focusing on work and his career, however he hopes to fight again one day.
Željko has lived in the Seattle area his entire life. Both of his parents Milan and Antonija Stipetić, are immigrants from Croatia, Ogulin and Mrkopalj. He learned to speak Croatian with them, his Stara Mama, Teta Maca and other relatives and friends. Although he was born in the USA he has always considered himself Croatian. It was his identity and with a name like “Željko” he was always known as the “Croatian” guy. Željko joined the Seattle Junior Tamburitzans at the age of 5 and was a member until he moved out of town to attend college. He sang, danced, and played the prim. While he is no longer part of the group, he still plays with Sinovi whenever he can. He takes his Tambura to Vancouver and plays with family and friends there. The music is something that he will always enjoy.
Željko takes great pride in his roots. He is grateful for everything his parents have taught him. That culture has shaped the man he has ...
2017: Margo Cochran
Margo is the daughter of Bill and Holly (Croce) Cochran and the granddaughter of John and Rose (Corak) Croce. She traces her family roots to the Lika region of Croatia, which she had the opportunity to visit last year. Margo was a member of the Seattle Junior Tamburitzans during high school, and later danced with the Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble. She has attended many CFU Festivals and Tamburitza extravaganzas around the country with family and friends, and can regularly be found on the dance floor while a kolo is playing. In addition to being a part of the Croatian community, Margo is a proud Italian American, and serves as the treasurer of the Sons of Italy Seattle Fedele Lodge. Her family owns and operates local wholesale food distributor Pacific Food Importers and its retail outlet, Big John’s PFI in Sodo.
“I fasten my final opunke and smooth my apron. As I wait backstage I feel the blood begin to pulse in my veins as I hear the tamburasi begin to play. A smile spreads wide across my face, and ...
2016: Max Vukas
Maxwell Ivan Vukas started dancing and playing the bass with the Seattle Junior Tamburitzans at nine years old. He was enamored by the classic folk music of Croatia and he was always an enthusiast when it came to singing. With the gentle persuasion that only Joanne Abdo can muster, Max danced his way through nine years with the group. Today, he looks forward to sharing the dance floor with the alum from his time in the group and easily recalls all of the lyrics. He and his family have traveled many times to Croatia. He is still in contact with the boys he met on Premuda during that first visit, fifteen years ago. He embraces his cultural heritage and proudly dons a tattoo on his chest of the three lions signifying the region of his family heritage, Dalmatia.
Max's grandfather and father were born on the island of Premuda, about an hours ride by ferry from Zadar while Nana, Milenka, is from Dugi Otok. He visits the family home which has been part of the family history for over 300 years.
Since Max was a young teen, he has helped his dad in the kitchen at the annual Festa Tri Kralje held in January to celebrate the end of the Christmas season. The lunch after Mass supports two orphanages in Croatia. In the last four years, Max traveled from Bellingham, no matter what the weather, to make sure he did his part to help a worthwhile Croatian cause.
”The Croatian community that I have been lucky enough to be apart of has provided me with lifelong friends, culture, and a tight-knit community. I pride my heritage and wear it on my sleeve where ever I go and cannot say how many people have influenced and guided me along the way within the community. Participating in the Seattle Jr. Tamburitizns during my ...
2015: Julie O'Brien
When I was a kid, at Seattle Junior Tamburitzan performances, Johnny Morovich would go down the line introducing all the many –ich last names and when he got to me, an O’Brien, I wanted to be an –ich too. I went home many times and asked my mom to change my last name to her maiden name of Ruljancich. Of course it never happened, but I think it says a lot about how I have felt about my heritage and about where we are in American society, when a kid wants to go from a socially common last name to a unique, and not to mention hard to pronounce, “ethnic” name.
Over the 20th century of American history, many people intentionally have played down their culture when they move to ...
2015: Matt Medalia
Matt is the son of Steve and Janet Medalia and the grandson of Steve and Mary Jane (Belanich) Medalia. He traces his family roots to the islands of Dugi Otok and Ilovik At the age of 4 he joined the Seattle Junior Tamburitzans, and continued with the group for 11 years. He was fortunate to take two performing tours with the Seattle Jr. Tamburitizans to Croatia, visiting the islands of his great grandparents along the way. He participated in many sports while he was younger, such as soccer, basketball, football, and swimming. At the age of 15, he began rowing at Green Lake, and his love of the sport began. In the fall of 2012, he was elected team captain of Green Lake Crew.
He was a member of the 2013 United States Junior National High Performance team, which traveled to Berlin, Germany, to compete. While rowing and working hard at Bishop Blanchet High School, he also earned his Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts. He was accepted to the University of Washington and was recruited by their rowing team. While rowing and working hard at Bishop Blanchet High School, he also earned his Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts. He was accepted to the University of Washington and was recruited by their rowing team. He has now won the PAC-12 Championship, two IRA National Championships, and gone undefeated in his first two years at the UW. He ...
2014: Paul Jovanovich
Paul Jovanovich is the son of George and Mary Kay and brother to Nick and Katie. He is the grandson of John and Joanne Jovanovich and Steve and Mary Jane Medalia. He traces his family roots to the islands of Dugi Otok and Ilovik and mountainous town of Mrkopalj in the Gorski Kotar region of Croatia. Born July 16, 1990, he attended St. Anthony’s Grade School. He graduated from John F. Kennedy Catholic High School. At Kennedy he was elected Student Body President and participated in several mission trips to Tijuana to build homes with his church youth group.
Croatian heritage has always been an important part of his life. He was a proud member of the Seattle Junior Tamburitzans, learning traditional dances, songs, and playing Bugarija, from the time he was young until graduation from high school. This year he graduated from The University of Nevada Las Vegas, where he earned a swimming scholarship, receiving an Interdisciplinary Degree with concentrations in Biology, Environmental Studies, and Sociology. He enjoys being so greatly invested in his heritage and hopes to follow his family’s example by joining Kišobran and Sinovi Seattle to continue playing Croatian music and to keep his family’s heritage alive for years to come.
In his own words:
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE CROATIAN: My Croatian heritage is no doubt one of the most important aspects of my life. The Croatian community has surrounded me for my entire life and I cherish it greatly. While growing up ...
2013: Katherine & Joe Joyce
Twins Katherine & Joe Joyce are graduating seniors from the Seattle Junior Tamburitzans this year. They trace their Krilich family roots to Baćina in the Dalmatian region of Croatia, about halfway between Split and Dubrovnik. Their great grandfather Anton Krilich immigrated to the US in 1918 and their great grandma Anna Katich Krilich came in 1928. They eventually settled in Ruston, a suburb of Tacoma, because it had a large Croatian community. Eighty-five years later the Krilich descendants still practice many Croatian traditions, including cooking favorite Croatian meals. Sarma is one of their absolute favorite Croatian dishes! When they were growing up, they thought that the way they ate was how ...