The connection began with two members of the American Slovak Cultural Association. According to Loretta Ekoniak, it was when Susan Summers began thinking of working on a book about Slovak settlers in the Mahoning Valley that she was contacted by her, hoping she would be interested in becoming involved.
“Now we’re really great friends,” said Ekoniak, adding, “We’ve found we have so many things in common."
In the earliest stages of their research, Ekoniak said she and Summers wrote to all of the Slovak area churches, furthering their search for Slovaks who had settled in the area with magazine ads.
Although the book is primarily focused on the Mahoning Valley, Ekoniak said it did spread to Warren, as well as Sharon and Farrell, Pa., where they gathered information from nearly 100 families, as well as the 19 area churches with Slovak roots.
Writing of a life they call ripe with promise and prosperity for the Slovak immigrants who fled poverty to come to the United States during the 1800’s and into the new century of the 1900’s, Ekoniak said the book’s content begins with the origins of the Slovaks and the hardships they faced in their home country, and moves on to speak on the variety of places they worked, concluding with what Ekoniak said is the largest chapter, the families.
Having promised everyone who submitted photos that they would attempt to include at least one from each family, Ekoniak said they were so glad to be able to do so. Readers can also find information on many schools, sports teams, enterprises, and more.
From that initial phone call from Summers to the book's publication, Ekoniak said 18 months passed, and on Sept. 19, Arcadia Publishers released their book, entitled "Slovaks of the Greater Mahoning Valley," as part of the company’s Images of America series.
The co-authors believe that their book will be of interest to people who grew up in the various Mahoning Valley communities in our area, people who are currently working on genealogical research, and people who are interested in how the Slovak Americans in our Valley have contributed to its growth and development.
On Saturday, Oct. 29, Ekoniak and Summers held an overwhelmingly successful book signing at Barnes and Noble Booksellers at the Shops at Boardman Park, at which Ekoniak said they sold out and have been invited back for a second signing. The book is available through the store, or by contacting Ekoniak at Loretta.firstname.lastname@example.org, or Summers at email@example.com.
Although the book has already been released successfully, Ekoniak said she and Summers are still gathering photos and information as their Facebook continually expands.
Ekoniak and her husband Mike, with whom she has two sons, live in Canfield. Summers, who is originally from Campbell, is married and has a daughter and two grandsons. She and her husband currently reside in Hermitage, Pa.
“We’re trying our best to save what’s left of our heritage,” said Ekoniak of the book’s purpose. Sharing that it was a real learning experience, and that they heard the most fascinating stories, “We just really go the idea that if we didn’t start saving some of this ... it was going to go by the wayside,” she said.
Not unlike the Slovak settlers about whom they’ve written, “It’s been an amazing journey through this,” said Ekoniak.
Photo special to the Town Crier
'Slovaks of the Greater Mahoning Valley,' features Loretta Ekoniak’s grandfather, Michael Baker, who is pictured on the far right.