My grandfather, Nicholas Stipanovich, came to America as a young man from Serbia in 1910. Like so many others, he passed beneath the shadow of the Statue of Liberty to land at Ellis Island. From there he made his way to Kansas City, where there was a colony of Serbian immigrants, among whom were friends from the old country who had vouched for him.
Those friends got him a job working on the railroad. He saved to bring his fiancée, my grandmother, Mildred, to America to join him. He sent the money for her passage to her brother, who stole it.
He saved the necessary money again, and sent it to his family, who arranged Mildred's passage. A young woman alone who spoke no English, she managed to travel from her village in Serbia to the far away metropolis of Kansas City in order to marry my grandfather, a journey to a life about which she had undoubtedly dreamed daily during the years she waited for Nicholas to send for her.
Mildred, a homemaker, and Nicholas, who laid track for the railroad, had nine children, six boys and three girls. Their boys fought for America at Guadalcanal, Bougainville, the Bulge, and in the Chosin Reservoir.
Their grandchildren fought for America in the Central Highlands, Chu Lai, and Da Nang, managed a billion-dollar public pension fund, worked as a career diplomat in the State Department, built buildings, were plumbers, electricians, and iron workers, advised governors and helped elect presidents, and raised families to be proud of.
Replicate the story of Nicholas and Mildred by hundreds of thousands and you have the story of America, and an explanation of who and what made it great.
Neither Nicholas nor Mildred had any formal education to speak of, and they both spoke English poorly and infrequently to their dying days. In the America of tomorrow, they would not get any immigration points, and they could not come. Needless to say, I am glad they came yesterday. And I bet Lady Liberty is, too.
J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich served as chief of staff to former Gov. Bob Martinez, advised various Republican candidates for governor and worked on various presidential campaigns. He is a lobbyist in Tallahassee.