MPO History - George Lebamoff Keeps MPO Coffers Full; Reaches Out to Help Macedonia
George Lebamoff is known for his absolute genius in raising funds for the MPO. Nobody has ever done it better.
What may be less known is his absolute burning desire to set things right for Macedonia. It is almost like an obsession his need to continually talk about the way it used to be, the way it should be today.
He travels to Macedonia often to meet old friends and contact new people, and has done the same in Australia. He has reached out to Macedonians everywhere, usually by telephone, but always, always telling the MPO story and listening to what people have to say.
He single-handedly sought out the daughter of Todor Alexandroff and saw to it that she met "Chicho Radko" Ivan Mihailoff (who made sure the Alexandroff family was financially secure after Todor's assassination). He visited Christo Tsavella to talk with him and see his library.
A couple of years ago he researched the gravesite of Vlado Chernozemski, and travelled to Marseilles to see it, touch it, and make plans to place a plaque there.
He also has contacted educated historians throughout Western Europe, and Macedonian nationalists everywhere. When he first met with Macedonia's representative to the United States Ljubica Acevska he talked for hours explaining MPO beliefs and the history of the early emigration.
This type of work isn't new to George. When he was younger, his YMPO friends often called him "Gabby" in fact, Bob Pargoff still does.
"When we were young Luben Dimitroff and my nunko Peter Atzeff always told us stories about Alexandroff, Mihailoff, (Jordan) Tchkatroff, and (Kiril) Drangov, and we could ask questions about them. Later Borislav (Ivanoff) told us more."
He read Christ Anastasoff's The Tragic Peninsula when he was a senior in high school. "It was easy to comprehend because it was written in plain English." Since then he reads as much as he can find. If it isn't written in English, he gets someone to translate for him.
"When I was growing up there was no argument about who we were. We were Macedonian. Then the Greek Civil War happened, Macedonia began leaning toward Serbia and Tito switched the language. Then there was nothing but mass confusion.
"The big issue wasn't the Civil War, but arguments over who we are and what language we speak, even though I distinctly remember getting letters about relatives who had been imprisoned."
Recently, in a Skopie restaurant, a man called out to George, 'hey, Lebamoff, te see Makedonets eli Bulgarin? (hey Lebamoff are you a Macedonian or a Bulgarian?)
George asked what language was spoken in Visheni (his family's village in Aegean Macedonia) at the time of Ilinden, and the man answered, 'Macedonian, of course.' George responded, "if it was Macedonian then, why did Tito change it in 1945?" The man couldn't answer.
"I believe that if people feel they are truly Macedonian, good, but don't make me what I don't want to be."
Despite differences such as these he continues to work for Macedonia in every way he knows. Since he became treasurer of the MPO Central Committee at the 1991 convention held at Detroit, he has been part of a team that has spent thousands and thousands of dollars working in behalf of the people of Macedonia. The money was spent on mailings to world leaders, on visits to Washington to meet with influential people in Congress and the State Department, and in printing larger issues of the MACEDONIAN TRIBUNE which contained more information and then were distributed worldwide to educate world leaders.
He is disappointed that the MPO has received no response from the government in the Republic of Macedonia for all the work the MPO has done to help the fledgling country gain recognition and aid necessary to develop in a democratic style.
But, he knows he will continue his work because be believes in it, has spare time to devote to it, knows his history and was raised by parents who taught responsibility in working for a free and independent Macedonia.
The first MPO convention he remembers was also the first family vacation. His father closed the store and they traveled to Toronto in 1946. But it was the 1948 convention at Ft. Wayne when he really got interested in the organization..
He also remembers the basketball and bowling tournaments sponsored by the YMPO from the mid 1940s to the mid 1950s. George was treasurer of the Ft. Wayne YMPO where his wife Rosie (Tsiguloff) was active as well.
"The YMPO tournaments were great. We played two days, held a dance and a dinner on Sunday night, then we drove home all night, and went to work on Monday. They brought our youth together. Many of us met our spouses at the tournaments.
"We came to conventions for a good time, but the Central Committee never worked to bring us in. The only one was Nick Dotin. He talked to us and for us at the delegates' meetings.
"If the MPO ever made any mistakes it was in not getting the children involved early enough and in not learning to change with the times.
"I think the future of the MPO lies in those over 50 thinking very deeply about where the organization should go in the next 20 years. Our conventions need to address questions posed by our youth. We need to listen to their thoughts, hold seminars, even two a year, and continue them at the conventions.
"In the future I see MPO conventions having shorter meetings and more social events. As time goes on I think we will get away from politics all together and become more of a benevolent society. Our young people are not interested in feuding about who we are or what we believe. Everyone's rights need to be respected and everyone needs to be welcome.
"I believe our young people know that the MPO has prevailed on the American political scene, that we have strong roots in American beliefs and that we know our way around Congress. In the end they are the ones who pass the laws anyway."
Upon graduation from Huntington (Ind.) College George followed in his father's footsteps as a retail businessman. Today there over 15 Lebamoff's Cap 'n' Cork stores in the greater Ft. Wayne area. The business is run by his son Andy and his son-in-law Joe Doust.
George and Rosie have four children Debbie Doust, Andy, Johnny and Tommy; and several grandchildren Kara, Joshua and Joseph Doust, Olivia Natalie and Nolan Lebamoff, Chloe, Ciara, Claire and Whitney Lebamoff. When George isn't on the road in Macedonia, he and Rosie spend their time in Ft. Wayne, Naperville and Scottsdale, where he meets with many people in the Macedonian community.