Bara ‘Barbara’ (Suc) Sestric Pavich

(1900-1962)

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My grandmother arrived in Kansas City, Kansas via Ellis Island in 1919 at the eager age of 19 and at a whopping 4 feet, 9 inches tall. She was alone, having been encouraged by her parents to leave her Croatian home after her older sister, Helen (Jela) refused. She quickly settled into life in the Croatian settlement of Strawberry Hill in Kansas City, working at the Armour Meat Factory, marrying Mike Sestrich (1891-1931), and raising their two little girls, Ann and Katherine, my mother. Her goal – to immerse her girls into American life while celebrating her past.

When her husband died, she single-handedly moved her family to Brooklyn, New York, for a new start and then a few years later, to Detroit, Michigan. There she met her second husband, Mile ‘Miles’ Pavich (1895-1972) and had another daughter, Barbara ‘Bobbie’. The placemat at her setting links together maps from the four places she lived in her lifetime.

There are wonderful stories from my older siblings of Grandma and Grandpa Miles making homemade wine, brandy, and sauerkraut in their basement – perhaps one endeavor taken on to drown out the smell of the next! During WWII, she headed up to Canada to get meat and other rationed food to feed her family…brave soul. And darn if she didn’t have the coolest TV remote that was well before its time, used mostly to watch All-Star wrestling!!

I never had the privilege of meeting her as she died the year before I was born, but I am drawn to her. She, more than any of my other ancestors, feels as though she had a vision of life beyond herself…to her grandchildren, of course, but also to the future of this country filled with newcomers who would soon meld into its fabric. A true pioneer woman!

Also honored at this place setting is Bara Suc’s daughter, Ann Sestric (1921-1972) whom we all called Auntie Ann. Having no children of her own, she spoiled us with Christmas gifts of sports equipment, bikes, record players, and dolls. On one glorious Christmas morning, I recall opening up boxes, one after the other, each holding a doll that could do a trick – ride a bike, blow up a balloon, talk. A very good day for me!

And she spoiled the older kids with a memorable trip to Wisconsin Dells where they played blackjack instead of looking at the boring cliffs and bought a stuffed bear to appease my sister left behind because she was too young.

A pioneer in her own right, she coached girls’ teams long before Title IX came along – basketball, field hockey, swimming – hence the coach’s whistle around the bear’s neck.

And her two little dachshund dogs are also present, Heidi and Tressa, one fat and one skinny. Both slept on their respective pillows under the end tables in her living room.

Having died when I was only eight years old, Auntie Ann is a bit of a blurry memory for me that I wish was clearer.  Despite this, I can definitely feel in her another strong, pioneer woman added to the guiding forces of my life.

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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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