Thursday, August 23, 2012

Milan Mikich

Have you ever noticed how not all history is formed by the well-known names. And, aren’t you intrigued when you run across someone who has accomplished a tremendous variety of different things that made his or her life as well as the lives of their community better?

A young Milan Mikich
Well, I found one such individual while doing a little research at the Harbor History Museum. Milan Mikich is just one of those rare individuals.

I am going to allow a memory of Milan compiled by Margaret Jamieson Paul for the Gig Harbor Grange No.445 tell part of Milan’s story...

Gig Harbor’s Milan Mikich will be remembered by many of us as a man of many interests, which made him subsequently a most interesting person. Born in Benet, Yugoslavia in 1890, he lived a quiet life and was a modest, unassuming person. Yet he left his mark on this area and will be remembered by many citizens, young and old; he was many years ahead of his time in his observations about people and the world. He felt humans needed to be more responsible for their actions in order to achieve harmony with the rest of the world. He was a human concerned with humanity, curious about everything, and at ease with every generation. In his poverty-ridden environment, he had four years of formal schooling, wherein he learned the Cyrillic alphabet, the Serbian mother tongue; Hungarian, the state language, old Slavic, the church language, and geography, arithmetic and Serbian poetry.  He was quick physically as well as mentally.

“The homes in his town had dirt floors, and the mothers cooked over rudimentary fireplaces; the work was endless and opportunities for advancement for young people almost non-existent. There was an unbelievable lack of money and worldly goods, a shortage of provisions and “sometimes even of food,” Milan stated.  

“Milan’s two older brothers had already come to America when Milan was fifteen, in 1905. He was grateful to them for their help in getting him started in America, after he bade farewell to his dear parents he knew he would likely never see again. He was impressed by the Statue of Liberty’s inscription and felt, as he ended his long voyage to the United States from Yugoslavia, that he had been guided by a kindly fate. His relatives helped him find work and attend a barber college to learn a career, and to learn the English language. Milan worked as a barber while learning the trade, and at anything else which would pay; he worked for the railway, factories, a soap company, and learned all along the way. In the meantime he was going to museums and art galleries and parks; anyplace free! –including the New York Public Library. He used their dictionary to learn new words. At the time, he didn’t realize he would be eventually speaking several languages well, and translating poetry from one into another! He became quite a learned person, as everywhere he went; he studied and learned from experience as well as from books. His writings took on a style formalized by discipline and graced with dignity. Music and dance had always been of interest to Milan, and national and international affairs and history as well. A devotee of Henry David Thoreau, he also discovered Aldo Leopold and later naturalists. Always close to nature, he began writing poetry to try to express his awe of her miracles and wonders all about him.

“Later he traveled to Detroit and joined the U. S. Army, serving 5 ½ years. Wounded several times in France he was later dismissed and again became a civilian. An old Army buddy, Norman Kimball coaxed him into coming to Gig Harbor to live, in 1925.

Milan at mic during Midsommarfest in Gig Harbor. The Serbian
heritage costume he is wearing in this photo is on display in the
permanent exhibit at the Harbor History Museum.
“Milan liked Gig Harbor so well he settled and worked here, first digging (by hand) holes for poles for Peninsula Light Company, and later working in a bakery and at other jobs locally. Best of all, he stated, he enjoyed being a brush-picker, a gatherer of evergreen huckleberry, salal and fern sprays for brush packers who sold these to the wholesale florists trade. In the beautiful woods around Puget Sound, he felt a oneness with nature and a peace that brought out the best in his poetic nature. He for a while owned his own evergreen business. For recreation, and to further his musical interests, Milan sang in choirs and was a charter member of the Peninsula Singers, and sang with the Tacoma Oratorio Society and the Sibelians. He sometimes had his poems printed in the Peninsula Gateway, and he joined a dance group, first square-dancing, then doing ethnic folk-dancing. He wore colorful costumes, authentic, and some direct from their native lands. Milan was active in Grange work and in 1977 was given the Golden Sheath Award for his fifty years of work in the Gig Harbor Grange.  He was active in Pierce County Library work also, where he served two terms of six years each on the Board. Milan helped organize the first Bookmobile on the Peninsula.

“He married in 1955 and he and his wife Jane lived several years in Mexico. She died in 1962 and Milan spent most of his last years alone in Gig Harbor. He leaves a legacy of good works and fine examples; Milan truly was an unforgettable person. We are better for knowing him, and sharing his lively and intelligent personality, his humor and his concern for all people, for all humanity and for nature in its entirety.”

Milan Mikich left behind numerous collections of his poetry and here is one that might intrigue you.


Like some ship of old laden with gold
            rounding her maiden lee,
Within her hold treasures untold,
            promise from land, from sea,
Her form is slim her deck is trim,
            smoothly her lines conform;
Rigging is free that she might be
            worthy in calm or storm.
She plies her course with a grand resource
            touching each friendly shore,
Where throngs appear from far and near
            seeking her precious store.
Forward and aft on board this craft
            volumes and charts abound,
Farmers and clerks, merchants and cooks
            the captain’s bridge surround.
Brief is her stay, she must away---
            her shining sails unfold,
Seekers that be, on shore, on key,
            to you she bringeth gold.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Milan is a dearly remembered great uncle, whom I had the great fortune to meet twice while in my teen years. Throughout my life, for many reasons, including his love of nature, his vast curiosity, his love of language and words, and his concern for people and our planet, he has been a powerful inspiration and touchstone for my own life as I've sought to steer a course through our increasingly materialistic and profit/success obsessed world. Milan was the greatest of all successes, succeeding in bringing joy and beauty into the world, while appreciating the beauty and joy in the world. He is dearly missed, but the brief hours I spent with him have remained as deep memories throughout my life. I am deeply grateful for this wonderful acknowledgement of a wonderful life. Tripp Mikich