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South Neighborhoods
Bulgarian-Macedonian cultural center thrives in West Homestead

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

By Margaret Smykla, Tri-State Sports & News Service

Ed Markoff of Munhall, 53, has danced from the time he was a boy with the Bulgarian Macedonian Dance Group, the performing ensemble of the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center in West Homestead.

Participants dance the Pravoat during an evening last month of song and dance called the Vecherinka at the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center in West Homestead. Music was provided by Lyuti Chushki & Friends from Washington, D.C. (Gabor Degre, Post-Gazette)

Plamen Karagyozov of Shadyside, who emigrated from Bulgaria in 1995, also dances with the group.

While their journeys here differed, their reason for participating in center programs and events is the same: to help preserve, and partake of, the cultural values and rich traditions of the Bulgarian and Macedonian peoples.

On April 20, the men and their families enjoyed an evening of traditional Bulgarian/Macedonian music, song and dance called the Vecherinka, the center's monthly dance party, which is preceded by free Bulgarian dance lessons.

"It's a little oasis," said Karagyozov of the center's role in helping Bulgarians and Macedonians preserve their roots.

The families' involvement in the center appears assured for years to come: Karagyozov's 4-year-old daughter, Karolina, attends the Saturday morning children's dance program that her mother, Elsa Limbach, teaches. Markoff's children, Hayley, 13, and Steven, 12, are dance group members. (Hayley was adopted by Ed and Marilyn Markoff from a Sophia, Bulgaria, orphanage in 1990.)

Macedonian immigrant Lambe Markoff co-founded the center in 1930 as the Bulgaro-Macedonian Beneficial Association-Otets Paissi. Markoff, grandfather of Ed Markoff, served as the social club's first president, holding meetings in his apartment until the present building at 449 West Eighth Ave. was built in 1935.

Lambe Markoff also co-founded the West Homestead Baking Co., famous for its rye bread. While the latter closed in the early 1960s, the social club flourished, becoming incorporated under its present name in 1995.

Center president Patricia French, whose parents were co-founders, said the center helps instill tradition and customs that forge a strong sense of community, regardless of one's ancestry.

While early members were predominantly of Bulgarian or Macedonian heritage, today's approximately 100 members are largely a mixture of various nationalities. "People are attracted to the rich culture, camaraderie, dancing and the songs," Ed Markoff said.

The major components of the educational and cultural center are its museum, library, archives, performing ensemble, learning center and gift shop.

The museum and library, housed in the center's bottom floor, feature paintings, sketches, artifacts, musical instruments, journals, audio and video recordings, plus graphics and academic manuscripts.

To maintain and enlarge the acquisitions, as well as renovate and refurbish the building, the center is seeking to raise a minimum of $700,000 over five years through grants and fund-raising.

The April 20 dance was a fund-raiser, as was the two-hour show by the performance ensemble the following afternoon at Carnegie Library in Homestead. On Memorial Day weekend at Heinz Field, the dance group will perform at the Pittsburgh Folk Festival, with proceeds benefiting the center.

Another fund-raiser is the sale of homemade Bulgarian and other soups at the center from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays from September through May. Quarts cost $3.50 for vegetarian entrees and $4.50 for those containing meat.

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