KERHONKSON, N.Y. – Dozens of members of the Ukrainian National Association from across the United States and Canada gathered at the Soyuzivka Heritage Center on May 18-20 for the fraternal organization’s 39th Regular Convention.
This year, the UNA marks the 124th anniversary of its founding in Shamokin, Pa., in 1894. Its official publications, Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly, this year celebrate 125 and 85 years, respectively.
The quadrennial convention is the highest governing body of the organization; during its business sessions, delegates review the challenges and necessary changes for the future and elect a new board of officers, auditors and advisors.
The three full-time executive officers of the UNA – President/Chief Executive Officer Stefan Kaczaraj, Chief Operations Officer/National Secretary Yuriy Symczyk, and Chief Financial Officer/Treasurer Roma Lisovich – were re-elected. The new first vice-president is Gerald Tysiak (New York), a former auditor, and the new second vice-president is Eugene Serba (Delaware), also a former auditor. Ewhen Osidacz (Quebec), a former advisor, was elected as director for Canada.
A new slate of auditors was elected: Andrij Skyba (Illinois), Luba Walchuk (New Jersey) and George Fedorijczuk (Pennsylvania). The following were elected as advisors: Lubov Streletsky (Pennsylvania), Olya Czerkas (Florida), Oksana Stanko (New Jersey), Nicholas Fil (New York), Irene Jarosewich (New Jersey), Gloria Horbaty (Connecticut), Bohdana Puzyk (Florida), Julian Pishko (Minnesota), Dr. Andrij V.R. Szul (Penn-sylvania), Oksana Koziak (Pennsylvania) and Michael Luciw (Pennsylvania).
New this year, and as a mark of the UNA’s move toward incorporating cutting-edge technology for its business operations, delegates received the convention reports loaded on an Amazon Kindle Fire 7 tablet.
Convention participants began arriving at Soyuzivka on Thursday evening, May 17, with registration and dinner in the Main House, followed by an orientation session for new delegates and a meet-and-greet social.
The convention officially opened on Friday morning on the Veselka Patio with an introduction by the current first vice-president, Michael Koziupa, and the singing of the national anthems of the United States, Canada and Ukraine led by Advisor Luba Keske of Los Angeles. Ukrainian American Veterans Petro Polny and Hnatenko Zinchuk, as well as Myron Groch, UNA director for Canada, served as a color guard. This was followed by the singing of “Zapovit” (Testament), written by Taras Shevchenko, the patron of the UNA. Marika Oprysko, dressed in a traditional Ukrainian costume, greeted the delegates with bread and salt.
Women of the UNA General Assembly – Treasurer Lisovich, and Advisors Horbaty, Puzyk, Keske, Streletsky, Czerkas, Walchuk and Maya Lew – laid a wreath at the foot of the monument to the Rev. Hryhoriy Hrushka, the first president and co-founder of the UNA, and the first editor of Svoboda.
Friday’s business session was opened with a greeting by President Kaczaraj, who welcomed guests and delegates to the UNA’s 2018 Convention. In his statement, Mr. Kaczaraj recapped the previous four years’ work and outlined plans for the coming years, noting that the UNA – the oldest and largest Ukrainian organizations in North America – will be marking its 125th anniversary next year.
The Rev. Dr. Ivan Kaszczak, who was his branch’s delegate at the convention, led the participants in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Mr. Kaczaraj then introduced the General Assembly members seated at the dais.
Bohdan Doboszczak, chairman of the Credentials Committee, reported on the delegate verification process. Once delegates were reviewed and verified, a voting quorum was established.
A moment of silence was held to commemorate those UNA activists and executives, notably National Secretary Christine Kozak, who had passed away during the previous four years. Branch secretaries who were remembered included: Nicholas Bobeczko, Wsewolod Hnatczuk, Michael Sawkiw, Emilia Smal, Roman Kuropas, Stephan Chorney, Eugene Gulycz, Peter Pytell, Janet Bardell, Sofia Semanyszyn and Vera Banit.
Dr. Wasyl Szeremeta was elected as the convention chairman, Mr. Skyba was elected vice-chairman, and Dr. Szul was tapped as the convention parliamentarian. Recording secretaries for the Convention were Christine Syzonenko and Lydia Semanyszyn.
An 11-member Election Committee, chaired by Dr. Andrew Hrechak, was selected by the convention. Other committees selected included the Petitions Committee, Resolutions Committee, Press Committee, as well as sergeants at arms.
Selected prior to the Convention were the Committee on Revision of By-Laws and the Finance Committee.
Mr. Kaczaraj introduced the convention keynote speaker, Joseph Annotti, president of the American Fraternal Alliance, the umbrella organization of fraternal benefit societies in the United States and Canada.
Mr. Annotti noted that one of the most important trends in our fraternal system is the regulatory emphasis on corporate governance. He emphasized that regulators believe there is a direct correlation between good decision-making (i.e., governance) and organizational sustainability. The preferred governance structure, and one they believe has proven to be the most effective for both not-for-profit and for-profit corporations – is one in which a society’s members or delegates elect qualified board members and then the board is responsible for hiring a qualified CEO. Then the CEO is charged with hiring a management team to assist him or her in managing the operations of the organization.
This structure enhances the accountability of the CEO to the board, and the board to the members; enhances the ability of the organization to identify and retain the most highly qualified leaders; and results in the organization’s leaders making sound decisions for the benefit of its members – current and future.
Mr. Annotti further noted that most fraternals have implemented similar governance structures or are making progress toward doing so soon. Despite this fact, many society leaders still bristle at the notion of making such significant changes to their corporate governance, arguing: Our governance structure has served us well for more than 100 years. We are financially strong and don’t need anyone telling us how to run our organization. This attitude will negatively impact the long-term sustainability of these fraternals in the future as corporate governance laws are being adopted across all states, Mr. Annotti commented.
Mr. Annotti also noted that essential to membership growth is the adoption of new technologies to appeal to the younger generation through online applications, text messages, e-mail, focusing on phone and web interfaces. “Youth do not attend lodge [branch] meetings,” he said. Ultimately, Mr. Annotti noted, each fraternal society must consider that “to find your way, you must first find your why.”
The UNA’s structure has not changed since 1894, and today, Mr. Annotti said, the organization must focus on flexibility, adaptability and a good governance structure. These will help to ensure that good decisions are made by the UNA leadership and secure the organization’s future.
Following a break for lunch, Mr. Kaczaraj delivered his “State of the UNA Address,” with a focus on the slogan “Success by Design.” He noted that he was proud to announce significant positive financial results for the period since the previous convention in 2014. Five years of both significant capital surplus and net income growth are evidence of the UNA’s continued success. The UNA continues to thrive, thanks to prudent financial management and an adaptable business model. As of December 2017, “UNA’s total net admitted assets stand at $187.8 million, and our surplus stands at $10.6 million, a milestone event, and our net operating income reached $1.3 million,” he said.
Mr. Kaczaraj also cited the sale of Soyuzivka in 2015 to the Ukrainian National Foundation, an affiliated company that performs charitable activities on behalf of the UNA.
Mr. Kaczaraj stressed that the UNA must continue to grow both its life insurance and annuity products in the future.
National Secretary Symczyk highlighted the reasons for choosing the convention theme “Success by Design,” as success isn’t something achieved by accident, but rather by design. The UNA’s achievements over the past four years were accomplished following a carefully designed strategic plan, he said. New regulations, industry experience and adapatability will need to guide the UNA’s vision for the future.
Mr. Symczyk also recalled his journey across the U.S. to visit UNA districts, branches and members. The UNA looked to partnering with other organizations in community events to broaden its membership outreach and increase the UNA’s visibility. Community breakfasts were only one type of the successful events that helped expand the UNA’s prominence and role in the community. Another successful effort was the UNA’s “Ridna Shkola” program, used as a means to educate the community about the UNA and interact with potential members.
The UNA has significantly increased its online presence with social media through sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as LinkedIn. Mr. Symczyk also informed the convention that the UNA has launched a new modern website with interactive online tools for members. More information will be released by the UNA as it becomes available.
Partnering with other fraternals to minimize costs is another avenue the UNA has pursued. For example, the UNA is one of the fraternals that joined efforts to engage a marketing PR company to develop a branding and marketing campaign. The UNA launched its latest “Guide to Life” magazine, which outlines UNA products in Ukrainian and English. Both an online interactive edition and print copies are available.
Mr. Symczyk thanked UNA employees who collaborated on the content and design of the website and the new magazine, adding that more additions are in the works. Mr. Symczyk explained how he and Ms. Lisovich have represented the UNA at American Fraternal Alliance events in New Jersey and nationally, where the UNA has cultivated a network of fraternal leaders who share their experiences with issues and industry challenges. Mr. Symczyk cited the work and example of his predecessor, the late Christine Kozak, and the support he has received from the staff of the Home Office during the difficult time after her death.
Treasurer Lisovich welcomed the delegates and noted it had been a challenging, yet rewarding four years. She said there was much good news to report as 2017 was a milestone year for UNA. The UNA’s financial capital surplus, which is the fiscal bedrock of every insurance company, has more than doubled since the 2014 Convention, to $10.6 million as of December 31, 2017. This is a significant improvement from the $4 million achieved as of 2013 yearend. Not since 1993 has the UNA stood on such a solid financial foundation, she underscored.
Strong and profitable operating results, as well as strong investment returns, continue to bring about positive results, even though, industry-wide, annuities (the main revenue generator for insurance companies) and life insurance products were experiencing a downtrend. She emphasized that success rarely happens at random. Successes happened with a combination of hard work – the efforts of many, a dedicated staff and the implementation of a strategic plan.
Also, through the period 2014-2017, the UNA achieved a solid financial performance with annual net profit gains of an average of $1 million-plus during each year. The UNA has not had five years of consecutive net profits since the late 1980s, Ms. Lisovich observed. On the other side, careful expense management has resulted in a significant reduction in fraternal benefit expenses – and overall general administrative expenses were below projections.
Lastly, she reported that the UNA will need to continue to build upon the outstanding performance record of the past four years to ensure the UNA’s corporate sustainability as an insurance company for the next 100-plus years.
On the regulatory front, by 2020 the UNA will need to change its corporate governance structure. This will be a milestone change for the UNA that will help ensure its future.
The UNA’s publications were covered in the report given by Roma Hadzewycz, editor-in-chief of Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly. She stressed the important role of the newspapers in the UNA’s marketing and communications. Ms. Hadzewycz acknowledged the employees of the newspapers present at the convention, including Petro Chasto (Svoboda), Matthew Dubas (The Ukrainian Weekly) and Christine Syzonenko (The Ukrainian Weekly).
The advisors, who had submitted their reports to all delegates prior to the convention, had an opportunity to add to their reports. Messrs. Groch and Oscislawski, outgoing director for Canada and second vice-president, respectively, thanked the UNA for allowing them to serve and to represent the UNA. They opted to retire and have been elected as honorary members of the UNA General Assembly.
The Auditing Committee noted that there was an addendum to their report, with print copies to be made available to the delegates. The convention body agreed that the Auditing Committee’s reports that were made throughout the four-year period and the Executive Committee’s responses would be mailed to the delegates.
Following discussion and questions from the delegates, the convention unanimously accepted the reports of officers, auditors and advisors.
The Secretaries Committee discussion on “Roadmap for the UNA,” led by Mr. Symczyk and Oksana Stanko, focused on increasing the UNA’s membership and highlighted the recommendations from the previous convention. The UNA has developed classes for branch secretaries and invited them to be guests at the UNA Convention.
The committee recommended that the UNA annually host a one-day meet-and-greet, and that branch secretaries work to encourage youth to become officers, learning about the work of the Home Office and attending courses for UNA secretaries and organizers. Mr. Symczyk added that the UNA continues to investigate options and opportunities for new products, including a webinar service.
Friday’s business session concluded with the Election Committee reading off the names of candidates entered in the primary round of elections to the General Assembly. Each candidate then had to accept or decline the nomination.
That evening, a “Vyshyvanka Dinner” was hosted on the Vorokhta Lawn under a tented canopy. The UNA anthem was performed by soprano Swiatoslava Kaczaraj with accompaniment by Dr. Szul on electric piano. Awards were presented to UNA secretaries, district chairs and General Assembly members, as well as Home Office staff, for their years of service to the UNA.
After dinner, guests enjoyed Lvivska Kava dessert and coffee, followed by a lively sing-along session accompanied by a trio of accordionists – Mr. Koziupa, Alex Chudolij and Mr. Dubas.
As delegates gathered for the Saturday session, a group photo was taken by a professional photographer in the Veselka Hall. The convention resumed business with a comprehensive presentation by Dr. Szul, chairman of the By-laws Committee, on proposed amendments to the current UNA By-Laws, which forsee a corporate governance structure that replaces the Executive Committee with a new Corporate Board of Directors, with the financial competencies and fiduciary responsibility to run insurance operations in accordance with new with regulatory mandates. A separate Fraternal Advisory Board is being proposed to handle the fraternal side of the UNA’s activity.
Delegates approved an amendment to the By-Laws, whereby UNA’s three full-time executive officers will now be known as President/Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer/National Secretary and Chief Financial Officer/Treasurer.
Another amendment approved by the required two-thirds majority vote provided for the appointment of four standing committees of the General Assembly: Finance Committee, Governance and Compliance Committee, Nominations Committee and By-Laws Committee.
In addition to corporate governance, the discussion at the convention concerning the proposed new UNA By-laws also included the important topic of succession planning, both in terms of nominees for election to UNA offices and the filling of vacancies, due to disqualification or disability, death or resignation, on the UNA’s General Assembly.
The final round of elections was held after each candidate presented a statement. When the session reconvened after lunch, the By-Laws discussion continued with voting taking place on two motions.
The Finance, Petitions and Resolutions committees also presented their reports and recommendations, and the Election Committee announced the results of the final vote for General Assembly positions.
On Saturday evening, a fund-raising gala banquet for Soyuzivka was hosted by the UNA inside the Veselka Hall.
Master of ceremonies Roman Hirniak invited re-elected UNA President Stefan Kaczaraj to be sworn in by newly designated Honorary Member Oscislawski. The remainder of the new General Assembly was sworn in by Mr. Kaczaraj, who administered the oath of office.
Mr. Hirniak welcomed the newly installed consul general of Ukraine in New York, Oleksii Holubov, Consul Denys Semenovych, Judge Bohdan Futey, and the Rev. Dr. Kaszczak of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Kerhonkson. Guests included Christine Bihun, Ukrainian American Youth Association; Stepan Kaczurak, chairman of the Ukrainian National Federal Credit Union, and his wife, Natalya, as well as Zenon Halkowycz, CFO of the credit union, who was joined by his wife, Olenka; and Walter Zarycky, president of the Center for U.S-Ukraine Relations.
The banquet’s keynote address was delivered by Andrew Futey, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. Mr. Futey noted the illustrious history of the UNA since its founding in 1894 in Shamokin, Pa., and pointed out that next year the UNA will celebrate its 125th anniversary. In the course of its history, he said, the UNA has made lasting impacts and contributions to the community, “by publishing two of the most important newspapers in North America – the Ukrainian-language Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly in the English language – an outlet that has allowed our community to keep abreast of Ukraine-related news, but even more importantly, to be informed about the work and accomplishments of our organized Ukrainian American community.”
Other notable contributions of the UNA included its role in the formation of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America in 1940 and the creation of the Ukrainian World Congress (known previously as the World Congress of Free Ukrainians) in 1967. Also noteworthy, Mr. Futey continued, was the UNA’s purchase of the property today known as Soyuzivka Heritage Center, which is now owned by the Ukrainian National Foundation.
Mr. Futey went on to explain the role that the UCCA serves in the community. He spoke also about his visits to Ukraine, where he met with high-level officials and government representatives, as well as religious hierarchy and representatives of various NGOs. Through these trips to Ukraine, the UCCA has gained a solid understanding of the situation on the ground in Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and has been able to communicate that reality to U.S. government officials to foster cooperation in economic sanctions against Russia as well as continue support for Ukraine by supplying lethal defensive weapons. Mr. Futey noted that Javelin anti-tank missiles and anti-sniper equipment had already arrived in Ukraine.
He said the UCCA invites all of its members and member organizations to join them on July 18 in Washington for its Ukrainian Day advocacy event, and he thanked the UNA for its continued advocacy for Ukraine and support of the UCCA. He urged members of the community to become involved, from festivals to bazaars, politics to cultural events – there are many ways for people from all walks of life to be active. Mobilizing the community is important now more than ever, Mr. Futey underscored, as the world wakes up to the reality of the Russian menace and formulates a response.
Mr. Futey added: “Here I would like to emphasize the importance of our Ukrainian American mass media – in particular Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly – these newspapers provide forums for our community to not only be informed of what’s going in Ukraine, but more importantly, what is happening within our organized Ukrainian American community. And they deserve our support – so if you do not subscribe to these papers, I implore you to do so as soon as possible. By subscribing, you will not only become plugged in to our efforts to support our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, but will learn about the various endeavors to maintain and strengthen our vibrant Ukrainian American community.”
Consul Holubov, in his statement of greeting, noted that the UNA is a global example as the oldest and largest Ukrainian organization in North America. “As Ukraine defends itself against Russian aggression, Ukraine thanks [you for] the support of the UNA and wishes the UNA continued success as it celebrates its 39th Convention,” he said.
Yuriy Vitrenko, deputy permanent representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, wished the UNA and its convention participants continued success in the realization of the organization’s plans and goals. He thanked the UNA for its support as one of the oldest Ukrainian diaspora organizations.
Dr. Szeremeta, president of the Ukrainian National Foundation, also greeted the banquet guests. He noted how through Soyuzivka there is an integration into various facets of the Ukrainian community, such as credit unions and various other organizations, and he reminded guests to respond to the call to action to preserve this Ukrainian diaspora treasure. He called for support of Soyuzivka’s capital improvement needs, saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”
Walter Kozicky of SUMA Yonkers Federal Credit Union explained the longstanding history of cooperation between the UNA and SUMA Yonkers, as the two organizations continue to work together toward shared goals of supporting Ukrainian youth. As the UNA celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2019, I wish “eternal youth for Batko Soyuz” and peace for Ukraine, he said.
Marianna Zajac, president of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, recognized the work of the UNA’s publications, Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly, and congratulated them on their work as part of the longstanding history of the UNA. She said she looks forward to continued cooperation between the UNA and the UNWLA.
Guests enjoyed their dinner, prepared by Chef Andrij Sonevytsky. Headlining the evening was the renowned Taras Chubay of Ukraine, who sang songs while accompanying himself on guitar. Singer Pavlo Tabakov from Ukraine entertained with ballads and pop tunes, as well as duets featuring vocalist Anya Kosachevich of New Jersey.
The 39th UNA Convention was successfully concluded with delegates bidding farewell to one another on Sunday morning following breakfast served in the Main House. Special thanks went to the 39th UNA Convention Organizing Committee: Myron Kolinsky, Nestor Paslawsky, Ms. Puzyk, Ms. Walchuk, Mr. Symczyk and Oksana Trytjak. In addition, Soyuzivka General Manager Paslawsky, Assistant Manager Stefko Drabyk and the entire Soyuzivka staff were cited for their hard work in helping to make the convention run as smoothly as possible.