About The Anchor Benevolent Society

In the late 1800’s, due to harsh economic conditions, many men from the islands of Cres, Losinj, Unije and Krk as well as the Istra Peninsula, left the comfort and security of their small towns on the Northern Adriatic Coast to seek financial prosperity in America – the land of promise and opportunity. They left behind loved ones and the only life they knew, in hope of finding employment and increasing their family’s standard of living. With courage and determination, they boarded ships bound for America and accepted that the future was unknown.

Their sacrifice brought them to the shores of New York City. They arrived with only the meekest of belongings to a place where they knew neither the language nor the culture. Most lived together in boarding houses in Brooklyn and Astoria, and worked as laborers on tugboats or longshoremen in the harbors. They were surrounded by an unfamiliar environment and in mutual need of financial and emotional support. In 1895, Mark Gladulic (from Losinj) and his friends Peter Larkin, Frank Harabalja, Andrea Nicholich, Andrew Vlakancich, Domenick Kucich and Anton Vlakancich had the dream and idea of helping their fellow countrymen in America. Together they formed a group of volunteers that provided assistance, companionship and support - both moral and material - to one another.

On November 9, 1896, this group of volunteers became a constituted organization recognized by the State of New York as the “Austrian Benevolent Society of Brooklyn #3”. The sole objective of this fraternal brotherhood was to help its members in all cases of sickness and misfortune. Provisions were made for sick benefits as well as death payments to the named beneficiary. Members relied on the Society for much needed camaraderie and help in times of sickness. It acted as a substitute for family left behind in the old country.

If a man wished to become a member of the Society he was required to be “of good character, that is to say a decent and honest Austrian or son of an Austrian” and “of good health and not older than 50 years of age and not younger than 18”. Each member had to be recommended by an existing member before being allowed into the Society. It was also required that he be examined by the Society’s physician to obtain a clean bill of health. He would then be accepted into the Society and take an oath before the Chairman. Members between the ages of 18 and 30 paid $3 in initiation fees, ages 30 to 40 paid $5, and ages 40 to 50 paid $8. All members were referred to as “brothers”.

The Constitution and By Laws were written in both English and Croatian. It required that all officers be good, trustworthy men who would manage the Society rightly and honestly. The officers were elected in the rank of: 1 Chairman, 1 Vice President, 1 Secretary, 1 Cashier, 1 Assistant Secretary, 1 Door Keeper, 3 members of the Board of Trustees, 1 Warden, 2 Standard Bearers and 1 Chairman of the Sick Committee.

Meetings were held monthly and special meetings were called when necessary. Meetings were taken seriously and no one was allowed to speak out of turn. Regular dues for the members were $0.50 per month. If a brother did not pay the dues and his debt was $1.50 he was denied all benefits, and would be excluded from the Society if he did not attend the 4th meeting to reconcile his debt. All brothers were expected to adhere to the regulations set in the By Laws and to satisfactorily perform the duties they were assigned or be subject to $0.10 for each offense. Fines ranged from $0.25 to $5.  

In order to hold a meeting a quorum of 7 members was necessary. Over the years, meetings were held in Astoria, New York at Bohemian Hall, John Kucich’s bar (on Astoria Blvd., presently the Istra Club), Lincoln Hall (on 30th Ave. and 25th St., presently Mount Sinai Hospital), Turn Hall (on 44th St. and Broadway) and the now Istra Club. Only English and Croatian were to be spoken at the meetings.

The Society provided a doctor to tend to sick members, and each member paid $1 per year for the doctor’s services. Sick benefits were paid to a brother in good standing who had been a member for 6 months; the brother would be visited by the sick committee officer and upon doctor’s proof of illness for one week, he would be paid $6 per week for 13 weeks or a maximum of $78 per year. A brother who resided in Austria would receive sick benefits equivalent to $0.42 per day, for a maximum of $2.52 per week.  In the event of death, all members in good standing would receive $75 for their funeral expenses, or $31.50 if they resided in Austria. If a brother became sick due to his own negligence, he would be denied benefits from the Society.

The Society provided 6 grave spaces in Calvary Cemetery for its brothers. For members who lived in New York, it provided funeral expenses in the amount of $75, one wreath valued at $10, two horse carriages and 8 members, who would serve as pallbearers.  For members residing elsewhere, $75 in funeral expenses and a wreath valued at $10 were provided. In a situation where the member did not have any family, the Society would provide the funeral in a Christian-like tradition. Eight members were selected in alphabetical order to watch over the deceased brother for 48 hours and attend the funeral. If the selected brother was unable to fulfill his obligations of serving for the deceased brother for any reason other than illness, he was to find another brother to serve in his place. If the selected brother denied his responsibilities, he would be fined $5 or excluded from the Society. Every member was expected to pay his respects to the late brother by attending the wake, wearing the memorial member’s badge and contributing a death indemnity of $1.

In 1918, the By Laws were revised to the standard of the times. In America, membership dues were changed to $0.75 per month, sick benefits to $1 per day and $100 for death benefits. They were also equally updated for those residing in Austria.

The Society often held fundraising events for its members and their families. As social conditions improved and the need for economic and medical assistance decreased, the Society evolved into a more social organization that sponsored gatherings such as Carneval dances, Christmas parties, Dinner Dances, picnics and excursions. Funds collected from dues were allocated to sick and death benefits, while the “Sunshine Fund” was reserved for monies raised from social functions.

On June 18, 1948 the name of the organization was officially changed to The Anchor Benevolent Society, Inc. At the time, another plot of graves was purchased. After World War II, as political upheavals caused immigration to increase significantly so did membership in the Society. The By Laws were amended again, this time requiring that all officers be US citizens. In 1993, a major motion allowing women to join was approved, and in 2003 the By Laws were again updated according to the standard of the times.

In 2010 the Anchor Benevolent Society celebrates its 115th Anniversary. Its history is a reflection of a century of Croatian immigrant experience in America. Its mission remains to uphold the old tradition of providing support and assistance to one another. For its members, the Society is a permanent and sacred link connecting life in America to the ethnic traditions, ancestry and rich heritage of their forefathers. An appreciation for the Anchor Benevolent Society, Inc. what it stands for, and its many accomplishments has - and always will - inspire pride in each of its members.

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