When Nancy Robaugh of Chartiers Township was 8, she fell in love with the St. George Junior Tamburitzan group. She also started falling for her dance partner and future husband, Eric.
“I loved it from the very first day,” Robaugh said. “It’s our life. We owe our relationship to it.” After being in the Tamburitzan group for 10 years, Nancy and Eric finally began dating, and eventually, he proposed on stage at one of their concerts.
“(There) was not a dry eye to be had,” St. George Junior Tamburitzan director Marlene Luketich-Kochis of Scenery Hill said. Luketich-Kochis now teaches Robaugh’s daughter, Isabella, who joined the group in 2010. “It’s a close-knit family that stays close-knit. How many people could tell stories like that?”
A group created to preserve Croatian heritage and its traditions, the Tamburitzans sing in Croatian, dance in traditional costumes and play Croatian instruments. Based in Cokeburg, the group was started in the 1950s by Luketich-Kochis’ father, Bernard. In fact, Nancy’s father danced in Luketich-Kochis’ father’s group.
The Tamburitzans have both a junior and adult group, and Luketich-Kochis said her oldest member is 94.
“It means something to these people,” she said.
The Tamburitzan group recently traveled to Croatia for its annual festival, held in July. For many of the younger members, it was their first time traveling to Croatia, but Robaugh had visited there before. The last time she visited, though, was before the Croatian War of Independence.
“Vukovar was the most memorable (part of the trip),” Robaugh said. “(We saw) a mass grave where over 200 people were killed. It was very moving. They do keep some of the bullet holes. They don’t want to forget, because (they say) history repeats itself.”
While in Croatia, the group performed three times – at the annual festival in Zagreb, in Karlovac and in Ogulin.
“(It) was a great experience a lot of them won’t forget,” Luketich-Kochis said. “(My) favorite part was having them perform at Lisinski Concert Hall. It was awesome, and I couldn’t have asked for a better performance. They got to meet a lot of people. … (They) met the president and former president of the country.”
Robaugh’s whole family attended the trip, and this isn’t the first time they’ve traveled together to a festival or Tamburitzan performance. In fact, Robaugh said they haven’t missed a concert since they joined the group. “Isabella (has been) going to concerts since she was born,” she said.