Board of Directors
Kristina Mikesic — Public Relations
Kristina has been listening to Croatian music since the day she was born. Her memories include her father, Joe, playing the guitar and listening to tapes and later videos from Croatia. His passion for the music was evident when ever she would see him tear up to a song that touched his heart. When the opportunity to join the Saint John Tamburitzans presented itself at age nine it seemed like the natural place to be. Dancing, playing and singing through the tamburitzans was as close as she could be to her heritage without actually living in her parents homeland. Learning about all of the other Eastern European countries through Don Lipovac was just an added bonus.
After some time away to start a family and focus on a career, the opportunity to be a part of Hrvatski Običaj presented itself and it has been wonderful. Working with members of the former tamburitzans who were either with her during her years or either came before her or after her has been tremendous. Although we may not all be fluent in the language we do share a love for the music which makes us all connected in a very special way. She enjoys her role as the public relations director. Promoting and preserving the Croatian heritage and culture through this fabulous venue has been a great opportunity and she hopes that it continues for many years to come.
Sarah Soptic — Business Manager
Sarah was born into a Croatian family with deep roots on Strawberry Hill, a Slavic neighborhood
in Kansas City, Kansas, and enjoys many of the Croatian traditions brought here by her grandparents.
She grew up listening to albums of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans, where her dad went to college
on a scholarship performing the dances and wearing the costumes of the European countries represented.
She remembers playing with her dolls under the kitchen table while her grandmother and great aunt went
round and round the table stretching the dough and spreading on
the nut mixture to make Povitica, which she still makes with her family. Easter and Christmas are especially full of the Croatian traditional foods, drinks, music and our beloved Croatian church, Saint John the Baptist.
Sarah learned to play the tamburitza from Don Lipovac and was a member of the
Saint John Junior Tamburitzans from the fourth grade until graduation from high school. 25 years later she received a letter stating that there was interest in forming an adult tamburitza group. She and her husband, Greg, were excited to join and have enjoyed being members of Hrvatski Običaj since its inception. Sarah is proud to be serving as a member of the board and will uphold the new and old traditions that we are sharing with our families, friends and peoples of our modern era.
Mario Viskovic — Ad Hoc Committee Chairman
Mario came to the US in 2000 as a refugee from Bosnia with his pregnant wife, Ivana and son, Lukas. Having been on the front line as a solider during the Homeland War in the early 1990s, beginning in a foreign country was daunting but not as difficult as his time at war. Like most other immigrants and refugees they had a hard time adapting to a new community. But with the help of a rather large Croatian population in Kansas City, Kansas and Croatian Fraternal Union #35 many made the transition a little easier. This community allowed him to embrace his Croatian heritage and love of music which has always been a part of his life. As a young boy, he was a part of "Hor 57 djevojčica i dječaka", a group of children who performed choral arrangements throughout his city of Bugojno, Bosnia & Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavia.
In 2006 when Rick and Kristina presented the idea at a CFU meeting that they would try to start a tamburitza group again, Mario quickly made his decision to join them. He was excited and thought to himself: "Finally, there is 'live' Croatian music going on around here". Even though he wasn't into tamburitza music as a child or young adult, and only played guitar and never played tambura, the love and passion for Croatian music was strong. Since arriving in the US he truly missed "our" music and being able to participate in something like this pushed him forward to join those great musicians of the former Saint John Junior Tamburitzans. Playing guitar and singing makes him excited and happy. It's like being back in the old country. Bringing to life all that music is a great feeling.
Four years later, he has made friends with all the members of the group and they enjoy every practice and performance, especially when Sljivo is floating around. He thanks his lovely wife and children (Lukas, Nikola and Martin) for being patient with him and all the time he spends away from them. Unfortunately, anything good requires hard work and in order to make Hrvatski Običaj what it is today there has been some hard work along the way. He is very happy to be a part of this group and hopes we will leave a mark in the community as we continue to preserve the passion of our Croatian culture for many generations to come.
Rick Mikesic — Director
Rick started playing the tambura at age nine, when he first joined the Saint John Tamburitzans, the junior tambura group in Kansas City, Kansas. After just two years learning his way around the instrument, he became a part of the performing group. He fondly recalls the many performances and trips the group took, with the highlight of his young career being a three week tour of Croatia and Slovenia to perform. His knowledge of music is largely due to the nationally renowned Don Lipovac, who served for decades as the Musical Director of the junior group. After spending so much of his youth learning from Don, as an adult he returned as a guest performer on a regular basis. In addition, he was also a member of a local tambura band, Zivili Hrvati, during the 1990's.
After more than a decade of being absent from the tambura scene to start a family and focus on a career, he jumped at the chance to once again play the tambura when Hrvatski Običaj began to come together. He credits the success of the group to the many dedicated members that share the love of the tambura music and the desire to "have fun". He's experienced immense joy in performing across the Midwest with Hrvatski Običaj and considers the recently released CD as a watershed moment for the group. He looks forward to many more years of playing the music he loves so much.
Rick Desko — Assistant Director, Webmaster
Rick was first introduced to tambura music by listening to the 78 rpm records that his Slovenian and Croatian grandparents played when he was a child. Finally, some forty years later, he decided to learn more about this music that he always wanted to play. So, he procured a bugarija and joined Hrvatski Običaj in the fall of 2008. Besides performing, Rick also assists in arranging new material for the group and developed and maintains this website.
Rick started playing guitar and 5-string banjo in grade school and was introduced to bluegrass
music by one of his teachers, Ben Dehner. In high school, Rick played with
a few different bluegrass bands and also played bass in the stage band directed by Dennis Hord. Rick credits both of these teachers with his early appreciation of music that has lasted all these years.
Rick has performed regularly since high school with many bands in Kansas and Colorado.
In addition to Hrvatski Običaj, he currently plays bass in a bluegrass
band and guitar in a jazz combo — all with the loving support of his wife, Lisa.
Mario Viskovic — Music Coordinator
In addition to his role on the Board of Directors as Ad Hoc Committee Chairman,
Mario also leads the group in its search for new material.
Past Board Members
- Joe Baric — Music Coordinator (2007–2009)
- Ann Cavlovic — Dance Coordinator (2007–2010)
- Kristen Henry — Ad Hoc (2007–2008)
- John Mikesic — Business Manager (2011)
- Rick Mikesic — Business Manager (2007–2010)
- Bunny Rodina — Ad Hoc (2009), Music Coordinator (2010)
- Stephanie Sandelich — Ad Hoc (2010)
Photos courtesy of Don Wolf.