Joseph Petras Kazickas
April 16, 1918 – July 9, 2014
KAZICKAS, Joseph P.—Joseph P. Kazickas passed peacefully at home in East Hampton, NY on July 9, 2014 at the age of 96. A devoted family man, a statesman, a generous philanthropist, he led a wonderfully full, productive and exciting life.
Born in 1918 on the steppes of Russia where his ancestors had been banished from their homeland of Lithuania by the Czars, he returned to Lithuania as a young boy but was forced to flee again in 1944 when Communists invaded. After three years in displaced persons camps in Germany, he won a fellowship to Yale University to study for his doctorate in economics, and with his wife Alexandra and daughter Jurate settled happily in America.
He had a successful career as a businessman and entrepreneur and was always grateful for the opportunities his new country gave him. But he never forgot his homeland during the nearly 50 dark years of Soviet occupation. He worked relentlessly to help secure its freedom – lobbying US government officials and supporting the independence movement Sajudis. When Lithuania was an independent country again, he helped bring in global business, established the first cellular phone company and created a family foundation to support educational, cultural and social causes.
For his many good works, he received numerous honors from universities, organizations, and the Lithuanian government. But family was his first and foremost enduring love and pride. He adored his beloved Alexandra who died at age 91 three years ago just weeks before their 70th wedding anniversary. He was a loving father to Jurate and sons Joseph, Michael and John and suffered the loss of Alexander who died in 1976. He was a doting, playful grandfather to 11 wonderful grandchildren, inspiring them and sharing his advice and wisdom. He will always be remembered for his enthusiastic love of life, his charm, his many friendships, and his never-ending gratitude to God Almighty for the countless blessings in his life.
Please send donations to:
The Lithuanian Foundation
14911 127th Street
Lemont, IL 60439
Published in The New York Times on July 12, 2014.
For more remembrances of Joseph P. Kazickas, please visit www.kff.lt.
Alexandra Kalvenas Kazickas
June 17, 1920 – June 17, 2011
Alexandra Kazickas died early in the morning of her 91st birthday at the family home in East Hampton, NY. My mother was often in great pain those last months, but she rarely complained. The stoic strength she had shown in the early years of her life, living on her own as teen-ager, and then during the stressful war years was a constant in her character and personality. Her courage, as well as her engaging charm and candor, all come through in her diary entries in Odyssey of Hope.
December 12, 1940 – We’re waiting for Professor Jurgaitis to begin his lecture. The guy sitting behind me strikes up a conversation by complimenting me on my hat. I retort, “What can you say about the girl wearing it?” He rises to the bait, tells me I’m much lovelier than my hat, and without another second’s pause, invites me to go for a walk sometime. P. 43
And so began the wonderful love story of my mother and father. He had spotted her years earlier at a basketball game – the beautiful dark-haired woman in a sea of blondes, battling it out against the Polish team. Later he saw her again, running in a relay, the wind tossing her black hair. And then by chance, he found himself sitting behind her at the university. That flirtatious exchange led to dinner and dancing, courtship and finally, marriage on August 15, 1941.
While my father’s voice powers the stories in Odyssey of Hope, it is my mother’s candid expression through her diary entries that gives the book an even greater emotional resonance. So much of the time she was frightened, anxious, and worried sick about what fate awaited them in the chaos of war.
“We hate the Germans but we can’t muster up any joy over the Russian victories either. All I feel is the sense of an absolute unknown. What will happen to us? If the Germans win this war, a sad fate awaits us. But if the Russians return, it will be impossible for us to stay in Lithuania. ” P. 90
Often during their ordeal as refugees, roaming through Germany from Breslau to Dresden on the eve of the bombings, to Bavaria with a toddler daughter (me), when Alexandra and Joseph were separated for days, my mother exhibited the fortitude needed for survival.
“I felt so lonely – without my birthplace, with no home and now without my husband either. Holding Jurate’s little hand pressed tightly in mine, I held back my tears, knowing I had to be strong.” P. 109
But she was secure in the knowledge that somehow, through his ingenuity, intelligence and sometimes sheer luck, her husband Joseph would find a way out of even the most calamitous of situations. As he did, eventually securing passage on the boat SS Ernie Pyle to a new life in America.
I am filled with mixed feelings. I am very happy that the period in our lives of just waiting and having no clear objectives has finally come to a close. Though America is very far away, beyond this ocean that is endlessly rising and falling in waves, my heart pounds in anxious anticipation. I believe we’re sailing to a land of freedom and endless opportunities.” P. 162
But first this college-educated woman worked her fingers raw sewing buttons in a factory and then with barely any knowledge of English, typed hundreds of pages of my father’s dissertation for his PhD in economics at Yale. She reluctantly accepted his decision to go into business rather than, to her way of thinking, the more prestigious world of academia because
“… he is primarily a man of action… Business offered him much better opportunities to make use of his personality traits, talent, drive and energy.” P. 199
Sadly, my mother never wrote another word in her diary after 1959. Today, how I would have loved to read her accounts of life as a mother to four boys (in six years!) and the wife to a now successful, world-traveling businessman and finally, a grandmother of eleven. She enjoyed a comfortable life in the United States but it was obvious that those early years as a displaced person during the war affected her deeply. She took nothing for granted. Deeply religious, she thanked God for all her many blessings. And she loved Lithuania, even venturing back alone during the dark Cold War years when it was deemed too risky for my father to return because of his anti-Communist activities.
To honor my mother’s memory, my father and my brothers, Joseph, Michael and John, and I have created the Alexandra Kazickas Grants Program (AKGP) which provides support for the 37 Lithuanian Heritage schools throughout the United States. In these schools, more than 2000 children, some third or fourth generation, learn about Lithuanian history, culture and customs.
My family’s “odyssey of hope” brought us to the new world of America, but we know that one must never forget one’s heritage, and the homeland that Alexandra cherished to her dying days.