July 25, 2014

Elyria
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Puerto Rican Home celebrating 50 years

LORAIN — Fifty years ago, a small group of  people from Puerto Rico created a place in Lorain where they could feel at home despite being 1,800 miles away from their native island.

The Puerto Rican Home has survived recessions, loss of jobs and dwindling membership that nearly forced the social organization to close. But it has stayed afloat, and Saturday its members will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

“The Puerto Rican Home is more like a family environment,” said Rosie Reyes, treasurer for the group. “If there’s a baby shower or wedding anniversary, it’s all same people. Everyone is family.”

Reyes said it’s no accident that the club has endured through so many tough decades.

At one time there were four Puerto Rican social organizations in Lorain, but three of them closed in the 1980s. Even the Puerto Rican Home was in danger of dissolving when declining membership caused bills to pile up in 1982, but those who remained used their own money to take care of the overdue payments.

“That’s what we’re all about,” said Reyes. “It’s the unity. It’s the teamwork.”

On Saturday, the only Puerto Rican social club in the county will host a sold-out party to celebrate the contribution it has made to the surrounding community.

Guest speaker Gene Rivera, a Puerto Rico native whose father was one hundreds of Puerto Ricans who were recruited by the steel mill in Lorain, will discuss what the club has meant to him and his family.

Rivera served on the Lorain Board of Education and has written several articles about Puerto Rican immigration. He moved to Connecticut in 1988.

When it was founded in 1957, inside a converted bowling alley on Vine Avenue, musicians from as far as New York and Puerto Rico would stop by to play for its more than 1,000 members.

Lorain’s urban renewal program in 1977, which expanded streets and tore down buildings, forced the club to move to its current location.

Reyes said the club, now with only about 200 members, is still vital to the community, offering domino competitions, festivals and a place for families to remember their heritage. With an aging membership, however, she hopes the anniversary celebration will entice the city’s youth to take over the reins and keep the club going.

“It’s their time now,” she said. “We want them to see how special this place is."

Contact Adam Wright at 653-6257 or awright@chroniclet.com.