Often, change and improvement doesn’t come from a huge organization or powerful political leader, but rather humble and hardworking locals who care enough about their community to recognize an issue and do something about it. The Cleveland area, especially, is known for these modest leaders—one of which is Anton Grdina. Born in a small Yugoslavian village in 1874, Grdina came to the United States in 1897, settling in the Cleveland area. By 1899 Grdina married Antonia Bizeli and the pair had six children (Anthony, Frank, Catherine, James, Mary, and Joseph). He performed a variety of odd jobs in his local neighborhood before opening his own hardware store in 1904. Grdina found this concept of owning a business quite fulfilling, and decided to expand his entrepreneurial reach by becoming an undertaker and opening Grdina and Sons, Home Furnishers and Funeral Directors in 1928. Being a funeral director, Grdina got to know his community very well, and soon found himself in a variety of community-oriented projects.
Grdina helped organize two local Slovenian Banks (Slovenian Building and Loan Association which is now called St. Clair Savings Association, and North American Buildings and Savings Co. which was later renamed North American Bank). Grdina would remain president of North American Bank until his death. In addition to the financial sector, Grdina also helped in the reconstruction efforts following the EAST Ohio Co. Explosion and Fire in 1944. Grdina was part of an organization that bought the sites of destroyed homes and built new homes—over 16 in total! Grdina put forth $5000 out of pocket to aid in the restoration, not to mention countless hours of hard work and dedication. Grdina also served as treasurer of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation from 1926-1957.
Anton Grdina also made sure to stay true to his Yugoslavic roots by taking on several leadership roles in Yugoslavic groups including being president of the Yugoslav Cultural Garden, organizing the Grand Carnolian Slovenian Catholic Union, founding the National Slovene Catholic Union, and being a member in 16 Slovenian lodges. Grdina made history when he became the first U.S. Slovenian to receive the Third Order of the Yugoslav Crown, awarded to him by King Peter in 1938. However, the most notable achievement of Grdina was his knighthood in the Order of St. Gregory—he was inducted under papal decree and dedicated his life to the Catholic faith.
Grdina passed away on December 1, 1957. His dedication to his faith and heritage provides us all with a wonderful example on how to live our lives through dedication to Christ and others. Grdina’s legacy lives on through the projects he aided, as well as the Anton Grdina Investment School (part of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District). Grdina is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland, OH. (Section #9, Lot #4, Grave #4).
Post written by Katie Karpinski