Joseph P. Kazickas, was born in 1918 in the tiny village of Ciornaya Padina on the Russian steppes where his ancestors had been deported from Lithuania during the uprising against the Tzars in 1863. His family returned to Lithuania when he was four years old.
It was not until 2002 that he saw his birthplace again. He and his wife, Alexandra, and some family members and friends, flew to Saratov and then travelled for several hours by bus to reach Ciornaya Padina. When he saw it again after 80 years, he said it seemed to have barely changed from his childhood memories.
It was a very emotional visit as the entire village of 250 or so turned out to greet them, including several Kazickases, distant cousins, who still remembered a few words of Lithuanian.
Over the subsequent years, Kazickas kept in contact with some of the villagers, providing support, sending gifts and even building a small chapel for them as they had requested.
In 2016, a journalist from Saratov, Oleg Strelnikoff, became very interested in the story of this American from Ciornaya Padina. Strelnikoff was familiar with Kazickas’s autobiography, Odyssey of Hope, originally published in Lithuanian (Vilities Kelias) in 2002 . It was he who raised the idea that this autobiography should be made available to Russian readers. He felt that the people of Ciornaya Padina would be very interested to learn the life story of someone born there long ago who left, returned to Lithuania, ended up in America against all odds and finally made a return trip to his birthplace.
But Strelnikoff convinced the family that the book, with its dramatic personal story of challenge, perseverance and success, spanning almost all of the 20th century in Europe and America, would appeal to even a wider Russian speaking audience.
And so, the Russian edition of Odyssey of Hope was published in July, 2018 by Liberty Publishing of New York, timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Kazickas’s birth. Two hundred copies were delivered to Ciornay Padina in November, 2018. The book was also distributed to some schools and libraries in Russia and Russian speaking communities in other countries.
One hopes that the people of Ciornaya Padina, reading this book, will be filled with pride that one of their own, Joseph Peter Kazickas, went on to create a fine life, filled with high achievement, personal success and happiness in the United States from his origins in a tiny village in Russia.
But more importantly, one hopes that every reader absorbs the true message of Kazickas’ life. As he wrote:
“Economic success and fairy-tale wealth do not bring joy. A person can only feel true happiness in creating a more beautiful life for others – not only for one self. The worth of a person is not measured by how much he or she has but how much one is able to give. Life only has meaning when one is sharing good fortune with others and contributing to a better life for everyone. “
Joseph Kazickas died on July 9, 2014. His children and grandchildren continue to support the residents of Ciornaya Padina through the Kazickas Family Foundation (www.kff.lt). The family has donated computers for the school, which has about 45 students, helped repair the one main road and install street lights along with other assistance.
Kazickas’ legacy of good works lives on.