Outstanding Croatian Awards


Dedication to sharing and preserving the cultural history of Croatia is a keystone in Brenda Huber’s life. Brenda Longnecker Huber, Outstanding Croatian of the Year for 2023, is an accomplished musician, artist, mother, intellectual and steward of the Croatian culture. She believes in the preservation of the Croatian culture and its diversity, extending back over 1,000 years.

Brenda’s Croatian roots trace back to Mali Lukoran, Otok Ugljan, where her mother, Marija Pera Bariċ,  was born. At age 16, Marija came to the US and settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, marrying her husband, Robert Longnecker, 5 years later. It was there that Brenda was born. Traveling to Croatia at age 1, the family brought Brenda’s grandmother Eleonora back to the US to live with them. Brenda first saw Croatian tambura music onstage in Philadelphia at the age of 6. At age 7 she began taking piano lessons. When Brenda was 8, the family moved to Edmonds, Washington. In the greater Seattle area, the family discovered the large Croatian community and saw the Seattle Junior Tamburitzans (SJT) performing at a CFU event. Brenda joined SJT at age 9. Her Croatian Nana, a couture seamstress, sewed her first SJT costume.

Over the years Brenda continued piano lessons and trained competitively as a concert pianist. When she was 14 years old, Representative John Jovanovich had a piano rolled onto the House Floor in Olympia, stopped the legislative proceedings, and proudly presented Brenda to play the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8. At age 15, Brenda began to teach piano to children and adults, and in college began teaching beginning tambura for SJT. Her deep understanding of music and leadership led her to becoming the musical director for SJT’s tour of Croatia in 1986.

True to her interest and commitment to cultural legacies, Brenda graduated from the University of Washington with degrees in Slavic Languages & Literature and Russian & Eastern European Political Economy from the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. During this time she continued her service as a beginning tambura instructor for SJT.

In 1991 she married, and the Croatian War of Independence broke out. She volunteered getting relief supplies to Croatians and also acted as a medical labor and delivery translator for resettled refugees in the Seattle area. Her two oldest children, Marian and Mark, both became performing members of SJT. In 2011, Brenda rejoined SJT as music director and has sustained her commitment to teaching music in that role. Her passion for music and children learning music is a North Star for Brenda. She said, “Music is incredibly beneficial to children’s development. Above all, lessons must be fun for children.”

In recent years her colleague, Artistic Director Johnny Morovich, obtained original costumes from the Bratina region, as well as from Sveta Nedelja. He obtained all of the pieces to the new collection with the exception of an important jewelry accessory – their respective necklaces. Purchasing these necklaces (if located) in the Zagreb Dolac market would run approximately $300 USD per necklace. When it came to the Bratina necklace, John mentioned this to Brenda, and she enthusiastically expressed, “I bet I can make that!”

For completing a Kraluš necklace, Brenda found a course online via Udemy taught by Zagreb native Vesna Vurušić, who had learned the craft at the Samoborski Muzej. The course taught Brenda how to complete a 12 strand Samoborski Kraluš composed of over 6,000 beads. Brenda then converted the pattern to authentically create the 8 strand Kraluš native to Sveta Nedelja.  It takes 25-30 hours to complete each Kraluš. Brenda was fascinated by learning the history behind the necklaces, its meaning as well as cultural significance of patterns and colors used. The Sveta Nedelja and Samoborski Kraluš necklaces were featured on the 2019 Croatiafest poster. Brenda went on to co-host the 2019 Croatiafest Skype presentation on the Kraluš with her online instructor, Vesna Vurušić.

During the pandemic lockdown, Brenda kept busy beading accessories for SJT’s Slavonian costumes. She researched and collected all the information on creating Slavonian coin necklaces, back dangles (“šalange”), and scarf pins (“drmavice”). These beautiful costumes debuted in a suite of dances performed for SJT’s 50th Anniversary Kavana in 2023.

When the ensemble reopened for practice and performances for the 2022-23 season, Brenda researched original costumes for the island of Susak. Because of her work and direction, SJT volunteers sewed, hand-sewed and upgraded 24 girls’ Susak costumes which were worn at the St. Anthony’s Croatian Cultural Festival in Los Angeles in February of 2023, and SJT’s 50th Anniversary Kavana celebration in May of 2023.

Brenda shared that she stands in complete awe of the costumes and the craftsmanship behind each costume. She said, “The costumes are Croatian Intangible Cultural Heritage. It is vital to preserve and share this part of our Croatian culture so it is not lost to future generations. We truly have a rich and diverse cultural heritage to be celebrated.”

Today, Brenda Longnecker Huber serves as the SJT Music Director along with Artistic Director Johnny Morovich and Dance Director Joanne Morovich Abdo. This powerful triumvirate continues to advance youth engagement in learning instruments, dance, music, song, language and culture. Brenda is also a member of the CFU and musician in Tamburaški Orkestar Kišobran, which performs annually at Croatiafest and the Fešta Tri Kralja.

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