Daughters of Lithuania

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News from Seattle, Washington

The organization Daughters of Lithuania is well-known in the United States as Lietuvos dukterų draugija, and in this post-independence era of decline in many Lithuanian organizations, it was encouraging to follow up on a chance email encounter with the secetary of the Seattle chapter, Ona Spaniola. We asked her to tell us about the Daughters and its history, and she kindly gathered the following information for tevzib.com.

Who are the Daughters of Lithuania (Lietuvos dukterų draugija)?

The Daughters of Lithuania was established as a nonprofit organization in Chicago in 1958, with the motto, “A helping hand for the needy.” Of the organization’s five founders, two – Aleksandra Gylys and her daughter Aldona Minelga – moved with their families to Olympia, Washington in 1959-1960. Together with several other local Lithuanian women, they established the Seattle chapter in 1976.  Birute Gylys, Zita Zvirzdys and Alisa Lapatinskas also numbered among the founders of the Seattle Chapter.

A photo from the early 1990s with the original group of Seattle Daughters: back row, l-r: Nijole Raisys, Zita Zvirzdys, Ina Bray, Birute Gylys, Irena Morkunas; middle row: Emilija Tutlys, Alisa Lapatinskas, Aleksandra Gylys, Aldona Minelga, Giedre Girdauskas; front row: Irena Kinderis, Maryte Jozaitis, Diana Palas

Currently a new generation comprises the Seattle board. We are humbled and honored that nonagenarian Aldona Minelga continues to be an active member of our Seattle Chapter. Our board is made up of local women (see picture below) who grew up in the Seattle Lithuanian community.

Daughters of Lithuania, Seattle Chapter current board : (l to r) Tonya Floria (President), Ona Spaniola (Secretary) and Paulina Gaurys (Treasurer)

What is the purpose of the organization? 

The Daughters of Lithuania mission was, and continues to be, providing charitable aid to Lithuanian immigrants living in the United States, as well as to those in need in Lithuania. Since the organization began while Lithuania was still under Soviet Occupation, initially the goal was to act as “daughters” for those in the US who had been separated from their families. The Daughters would bring meals, assist with daily errands, make hospital visits, and enjoy socializing during fundraisers like garage sales and bake sales. The Daughters hosted parties to socialize and keep customary traditions ongoing with crafts (Easter eggs, Christmas ornaments, etc.). We had many annual group activities such as our fall luncheon, spring membership meeting and summer blueberry picnic (raffle and auction).

These activities have continued over the decades in Seattle and evolved. We continue to function as part of the national non-profit, although autonomous as a private chapter. This means that we get to focus our particular mission to what works and is decided on locally, while upholding the national mission to serve. We continue to support Lithuanian charities, both in Lithuania proper and for Lithuanians living in the US, as we as an organization have long done. We organize meal trains for those who are in need after a surgery, illness, a death in the family or having given birth to a new community member as well as offering rides to elderly folks to community events. We enjoy socializing in person (pre-Covid of course!) during group picnics and meetings.

Each year the Seattle chapter holds our annual membership meeting in the spring and this is the time when we review the charities that we support and vote to decide for the future. Our most popular event, and our biggest fundraiser, is our summer Blueberry Picnic. This is a social event where we enjoy a potluck and come together to raise money with a silent auction and raffle. Our raffle is a long-standing Seattle Daughters tradition. In 1998, conceived by Zita Petkus, a second Grand Raffle called the Treat-of-the-Month was added and continues to this day. The winner receives a treat every month from a member of the Seattle Daughters group. This is a highly anticipated event and a creative way the Daughters have raised monies. In 2020 the Seattle chapter donated $5,000 to the charities we support in Lithuania.

The Daughters of Lithuania-Seattle Chapter has remained a vibrant asset and support of our local community since its founding. Locally, we are well known in the community. In non-pandemic times (as mentioned above) we hold multiple events year-round while continuing to support Lithuanian-based charities as well as our local community. We have “changed guard” over the years to keep enthusiasm and energy fresh. We are proud of our local community and organization’s dedication to involving the upcoming generation in our endeavors and gatherings. We are in the process of updating our website to detail more of this and use Facebook as a means to advertise events.

Does it function in any other locations?

Chapters exist in several other cities, with the headquarters remaining in Chicago. The majority of the Daughters’ group activities include fundraising so that we can continue to give. As written earlier, in the beginning that included art and craft sales, bake sales and garage sales. We have a history of teaching traditional Lithuanian crafts like Easter egg coloring or Christmas straw ornaments. Pre-Covid, the Seattle chapter started Lithuanian cooking workshops that became very popular. We hosted our annual Blueberry Picnic Treat of the Month raffle virtually this year and continue to work on serving others in a distanced or virtual way during this pandemic.

A few pictures over the decades: Straw ornaments and Easter eggs
Cooking workshops

Blueberry Picnic Social and Fundraiser 2019