Filed Under Biography

Slovak Journalist Jan Pankuch

"The Pen is Mightier than the Sword"

In 1926, this may not have been a reassuring adage for John Pankuch, long-time editor and publisher of Hlas ("The Voice"), Cleveland's only weekly Slovak newspaper. Pankuch had just lost his publishing company located at 634-38 Huron Road in downtown Cleveland, because, according to one of his grandsons, he had refused to publish certain articles in his paper that his major advertisers demanded he publish. However, as a result of this business loss, Pankuch now had some extra time on his hands. Ever the active journalist, he used this time judiciously, writing and then publishing in 1930 a book entitled "History of the Slovaks of Cleveland and Lakewood." The book, which draws in large part upon oral histories and written recollections of Cleveland's first Slovak immigrants--many of whom were still living at the time, is today an invaluable resource for learning about life in Cleveland's immigrant communities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Pankuch's own Slovak immigrant story is a compelling one. He became a newspaper editor, and consequently a leader in the Cleveland Slovak community, by accident--literally. In 1883, as a 13-year old, he had immigrated to the United States and joined his father, working as a coal miner in western Pennsylvania. A year after arriving in America, young John was involved in a mine accident in which he suffered a severe injury to one of his legs, nearly resulting in its amputation. When he finally recovered from that injury a year later, his mother refused to allow him to return with his father to the mines. Instead, the family gave the 15-year old boy the name of a Slovak immigrant friend living Cleveland and sent him there to study business.

Arriving in Cleveland, John Pankuch found a small, but closely-knit Slovak community. He never forgot the caring nature of this early community. As a result, "unity" became a theme that he would preach to the Slovaks of Cleveland and Lakewood for the rest of his life. While Pankuch was compelled to leave Cleveland and return to Hungary in 1888, after the death of his father in a coal mine accident, Pankuch returned to Cleveland just one year later in June 1889, bringing with him his soon-to-be wife, Rose Gasgaber, and a renewed determination to make his life in Cleveland. In October 1892, John Pankuch became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and was already beginning to become involved in local politics, his church, and in the printing and publishing businesses in Cleveland.

The story of John Pankuch's leadership in his immigrant community is a lesson in the importance of ethnic journalists to nineteenth century immigrant communities. Newspapermen, along with clerics, were often the most important leaders in these immigrant communities. While publishing "Hlas," Pankuch also served as a lay leader of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Cleveland's first Slovak Lutheran church. He founded the Slavonian Republican Club of Cleveland in 1897 and became a precinct committeeman. As a member of the Association of Slovak Journalists, Pankuch was instrumental in organizing the Congress that met at Cleveland's Grays Armory on May 26, 1907 to create the Slovak League of America--an organization subsequently of critical importance to the formation of the first Czechoslovak Republic in 1918.

After World War I ended, Pankuch remained active in the Slovak community. In 1923-1924, he chaired the committee which completed the purchase of and erected the General Milan Stefanik memorial statue in Wade Park near the Cleveland Museum of Art. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, he was a featured speaker at almost every important event in the Cleveland Slovak community, always preaching his theme of ethnic success through ethnic unity. In 1937, Pankuch capped his civic career by serving as the national president of the National Slovak Society. Having resurrected his newspaper Hlas in 1932, he continued to publish the weekly Slovak paper in Lakewood until 1946. He died in that suburb in 1952 at the age of 82 years old.

Images

John Pankuch (1869-1852) An ethnic Slovak living in Hungary during the period of Magyarization, 13-year old John Pankuch immigrated to America with his family in 1883. As the result of an accident he suffered while mining coal in western Pennsylvania in 1884, he put down his shovel and eventually picked up his pen instead. He came to Cleveland and became the most successful and important Slovak journalist in Cleveland in the first half of the twentieth century. Source: Slovak Institute
Facing up to Hanna On March 3, 1903, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran an article on the attempt of the Hanna political machine in Cleveland to exert control over delegates to the State Republican Convention to be held in Cleveland. One of those delegates was John Pankuch, who represented a precinct with a large population of Slovak immigrants. Pankuch claimed that Hanna's men offered him money to withdraw as a delegate. He indignantly refused, saying that the Slovaks living in his precinct deserved representation at the Convention. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Editor of Slovensko Hlasnika The above photo, taken in 1905, shows John Pankuch (third from left), editor of the Cleveland Slovak newspaper "Slovensko Hlasnika," standing in front of his print shop at 369 Woodland Avenue (today it would be 2299 Woodland) with several of his employees. Image courtesy of John C. Pankuch
The Founding of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church It was a challenge to organize a Slovak Lutheran church in Cleveland. In the 1890s, the vast majority of Slovak immigrants coming to the city were Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, on February 14, 1892, Cleveland's small Slovak Lutheran community formed the Evangelical Club of the Holy Trinity and elected John Pankuch as its first president. The Club then founded the parish of Holy Trinity Church. In 1905, it erected its first permanent church (1934 photo above) on Harmon Avenue (now East 20th) near Woodland Avenue. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Slovak Congress of 1907 The Association of Slovak Journalists, in response to violence committed against ethnic Slovaks in Hungary in 1906, organized a Congress of Slovak national organizations to be held in Cleveland in May 1907. John Pankuch was a member of the committee which organized the Congress, whose purpose was to present a unified response by Slovak-Americans fraternal organizations to this violence. Members of several fraternal organizations are shown above marching from Cleveland's Union train station to Grays Armory where the Congress was held. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
Shop Downtown Cleveland American newspapers rely upon their advertisers for their survival. This Christmas ad placed by Bailey's Department Store, one of Cleveland's largest downtown department stores in the early twentieth century, was published in John Pankuch's "Hlas" Slovak newspaper in December 1912. The ad claims that Bailey's has the biggest Christmas bargains in Cleveland. Years later, Pankuch lost his newspaper in a fight with his advertisers involving the content of the articles he printed. Image courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society Library
John Pankuch Family In addition to his work as a journalist, his leadership in his church, and his civic activism in the Slovak independence cause, John Pankuch was a devoted family man. In this 1917 photo, 48-year old John Pankuch is seen with his wife Rose, their 11 children, and their oldest grandchild. Image courtesy of John C. Pankuch
Announcing the Czechoslovak Republic On October 30, 1918 edition, John Pankuch's Hlas newspaper published a front page article announcing that, on October 28, the Austria-Hungarian state had unconditionally surrendered and agreed to the dismantling of its empire, thereby paving the way to the official recognition of Czechoslovakia and the other new post-World War I states of Europe. Many members of Cleveland's Slovak community would have first learned about this event so important to their community by reading about it in this edition of Hlas. Image courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society Library.
The Milan Stefanik Statue Cleveland's Slovak community was shocked and saddened by the death of General Milan Stefanik in an airplane crash on May 4, 1919. Stefanik was a World War I hero and an important Slovak leader in the new Czechoslovak national government. In 1923-1924, John Pankuch organized and chaired the committee which completed the purchase of and erected the Stefanik statue which today stands at the intersection of Jeptha Drive and MLK Boulevard near the Cleveland Museum of Art. In the photo above, Pankuch (center) presides over a gathering on May 6, 1934, commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Stefanik. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Journalist and Fraternal Leader During his long and productive life, John Pankuch was a member, and often an officer, of a large number of Slovak fraternal organizations on the local, state and national levels. In 1937, he served as President of the National Slovak Society in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The NSS, founded in 1890, is the oldest Slovak fraternal organization in the United States. In the photo above, Pankuch is shown sitting at the end of the boardroom table, surrounded by other officers of the organization. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
Grace Lutheran Church - Lakewood John Pankuch was a founder in 1892 of Holy Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church of Cleveland. However, in 1915, as a result of a policy disagreement with the Church's pastor, he left the parish and became a member of Saints Peter and Paul Lutheran Church (now Grace Lutheran) in Lakewood. Not surprisingly, Pankuch became a leader in this church too, helping to organize the fund drive that built the new church (shown above) on the corner.of Madison Avenue and Grace Avenue in 1926-1927. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
A little house on Elbur Avenue John and Rose Pankuch raised eleven children. After all of their children had grown up, they purchased this house at 2159 Elbur Avenue in Lakewood. On the morning of February 27, 1952, John Pankuch, then 82 years old, decided to brave a Cleveland winter snow storm and walk to his printing shop on Madison Avenue--about a one-half mile walk. On the way, Pankuch suffered a fatal heart attack and died. Image courtesy of Jim Dubelko

Location

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “Slovak Journalist Jan Pankuch,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 4, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/598.