Judge Ray Pianka
“Dla chcącego nic trudnego” is Polish for “Where there's a will, there's a way”. Judge Raymond L. Pianka often quoted this Polish phrase when explaining how he was able to accomplish so much for the people of his Cleveland neighborhood, other city neighborhoods, as well as his city.
Ray Pianka was always about public service. The author Alex Kotlowitz described him as “humble, a student of history, courageous, empathetic, filled with a (sometimes corny) sense of humor and directed by the belief that life ought to be fair.”
As a young man, Ray Pianka organized residents on West Clinton Avenue, his street on the west side of Cleveland, to get trees planted, some of which still shade the street. He also tried to save a historic home where Theodore Roosevelt had once stayed; although he lost that battle, his commitment to his Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood led to his dedication to the City of Cleveland, and the belief, in a time when others were abandoning all hope for the nation’s urban areas, that cities were unique places that could provide the sense of community so necessary for a healthy society.
Educated in Cleveland public schools, Ray Pianka graduated from the old West High, where he met Karen Olson, who later became his wife. He graduated from Cleveland State University, and then attended the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law while helping start the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization in 1973; he became the organization’s first executive director.
Pianka was a key player in many economic development and community projects, and was instrumental in saving the Gordon Square Arcade building from demolition, which is today the centerpiece of the thriving Gordon Square Arts District.
Ray Pianka first ran for Cleveland City Council in 1985 because he felt that his neighborhood wasn’t getting the service it needed; he knew he could do more for his neighborhood than he had already done running the community organization. Ray was a long-shot candidate running against a well-known incumbent, but he ended up winning the race (Dla chcącego nic trudnego).
As a Councilman, his hallmark was his accessibility to his neighbors, even on one Christmas Eve evening when someone stopped by his house looking for help. But Ray Pianka’s other equally important hallmark as a Councilman was his commitment to pass legislation and implement policies that strengthened Cleveland’s neighborhoods. All of Cleveland’s neighborhoods.
He championed neighborhood development and sought innovative ways to help the community. For example, he used block grant funds to hire neighborhood residents to plant trees and beautify the I-90 corridor in his ward. Pianka became chair of Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee, where he led the effort to equalize spending federal community development funds in all city neighborhoods. He also worked to strengthen the city’s building and housing codes and increased funding for building inspections.
Ray Pianka was first elected to the Cleveland Housing Court in 1995. As judge, Pianka implemented numerous innovative programs to help people comply with the City of Cleveland's building, housing, and health codes. These programs included requiring negligent landowners to pay neighbors for the blight their properties cause and imposing daily fines on landowners who didn't show up in his courtroom for housing code violations.
Often when individual homeowners, residents who might be on the cusp of foreclosure or struggling to pay health care bills or needing a job, ended up in front of him, Judge Pianka just wanted to know what got them there — and what he and the city could do to help get them back on their feet. He and his court staff worked with the homeowner to get the violations corrected as well as get stabilized in other areas. But when people came into Cleveland to make money off the misfortune of others by flipping homes, Judge Pianka fined and even jailed them when they refused to maintain their properties. Steve Lorenz, of Cleveland’s Kamm’s Corners neighborhood, wrote, “He (Ray) was keen at discerning the story tellers from those who really needed help.”
There may be no one else in the city who has the same depth of knowledge and the compassion toward Cleveland's neighborhoods that Ray Pianka had. Frequently, he would surprise defendants in the court by knowing details about their own street.
Ray Pianka was involved in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood, supporting efforts by the Polish Catholic churches to teach Polish language and culture.
In 2017, the Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus posthumously awarded Ray its annual "Four Eagle Award", which honors an individual who has been especially noteworthy in building up the greater community.
Ray knew that a street in his Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood was where the famed boxer Johnny Kilbane had lived, and worked with the Irish American Archives Society on the Johnny Kilbane Sculpture Project. The Society honored him with its’ Thomas J. Campbell Award in 2015.
Judge Ray Pianka once wrote, “Nothing I have done or could do to serve my community is more important, or more fulfilling, than being the Housing Court Judge.”
Author Alex Kotlowitz wrote this about Ray Pianka: “He’s our north star. He’s what we all should aspire to. He’s the best of America. He was a good friend. And a good man. He’s shown us the way.” Dla chcącego nic trudnego.
Judge Pianka will be inducted by Councilman Anthony Brancatelli
Ralph J. Perk, Jr.
Ralph J. Perk, Jr.
Ralph Perk, Jr was born during World War II in Cleveland, Ohio as the eldest son to Lucy (Gagliardi) and Mayor Emeritus Ralph Perk. He has 5 brothers and one sister. He is married to Kelli, an assistant county prosecutor and has 4 children his daughter Vicky who is married to David Wells and they have two children, Ryan and Allison, and her children, David, Danielle (Chris) and their daughter Milena, and Daniel (Nicole).
Mr. Perk attended Our Lady of Lourdes Grade school and High School and graduated in 1963. He went on to graduate from Ohio State University with a BS in Business Administration in 1968. He also was commissioned as a lieutenant into the Army ROTC from John Carroll University that same year, and was honorably discharged in 1976. He graduated from Cleveland state University, John Marshall College of Law in 1983 and passed the Ohio Bar that same year.
Ralph Perk started his public service career in November 1967 as the youngest, at that time, elected Cleveland City Councilman. Among other committees, he served on the Finance committee and the Air Pollution Committee which upgraded the city’s air pollution code on two separate occasions. He was reelected 4 times and served 5 terms from the area mostly now known as Slavic Village. In 1983 he was elected to the Cleveland Board of Education and reelected in 1987. He served a president of the board in 1985 and 1989, where he oversaw progress in implementing the Federal Judge’s Desegregation Order and headed the board during its successful labor contracts negotiations in 1985 and 1988/89.
In early 1991 Perk was appointed to the Cleveland Municipal Court by then Governor George V. Voinovich. Judge Perk retained his judicial seat in the 1991 election and was reelected in 1997. He served 13 years as judge and retired in January 2004. Since then he has occasionally filled in as a visiting judge in municipal courts across north east Ohio, except for the 3 years that he spent as a per diem magistrate for the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court from 2008 to 2010.
He is a member of many nationality organizations while currently serving as president of the American Nationalities Movement since 2011. the Delta Theta Phi International Law Fraternity where he serves as Chief Justice of its Supreme Court, Dean of its Local Chapter; Honorary trustee of the Silver & Gold, Inc, where he is the Scholarship Chair; Honorary Trustee of the Justinian Forum; Finance Committee member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish where he was baptized; C.A.M.E.O.; Italian Son & Daughters of America (ISDA), Sam Gagliardi Lodge; First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association; Czech catholic Union; Sokol Greater Cleveland, the Hungarian Business and Tradesmen’s Club and more.
As president of the American Nationalities Movement, he has highlighted the lives and deeds of numerous ethnic leaders throughout our community in their fight for freedom to come to America and their efforts to free their countries from dictatorial control in its semi-annual dinners and brunches. Today there may be only a handful of recognized Communist Countries, but so many more are oppressed by their government. Also highlighted is their work to maintain and perpetuate their individual ethnic cultures here in America. The work of The American Nationalities Movement has brought the cause of the Captive Nations to the attention of thousands of people since its inception in 1959.
He has also been honored by many organizations, most recently: Man of the Year by the Merchants Guild of Slavic Village; Alumni of the Year by the Cleveland alumni Senate of the Delta Theta Phi International Law fraternity; alumni of the year of the Cleveland Marshall Law Alumni Association; the Service Award of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers; the John J. McMahon Outstanding Jurist Award, and the Service Recognition Award of the American Nationalities Movement.
Rocky will be inducted by Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar
Sheila Murphy Crawford
Sheila Murphy Crawford
Sheila Murphy was born to Ollie and Betty Murphy in Cleveland, Ohio. She was the
youngest of four children including her brother, Ollie, and her two sisters, Joan and Maureen. With grandparents from County Cork and West Meath, she grew up in a loving Irish-American family where the importance of service to others was stressed.
Christ the King was the family parish and grade school on the east side, then she attended Regina High School, the University of Dayton (B.S. degree in Education) and Cleveland State University for a Master’s degree in English. She married her best friend, Bob Crawford in 1981; after 36 years of marriage, they are still best friends.
Sheila taught English at Brush High School for 32 years and coached the majorette corps for 20 years. She coached several sports teams and choreographed numerous musicals for the high school Music Department and community theater groups. Sheila was honored as Teacher of the Year in 1973.
After being certified as an Irish dance teacher and adjudicator by An Coimmisiun in Ireland, she founded the Murphy Irish Arts Center in 1978. Then she established the Murphy Irish Arts Association as a 501c3 non-profit organization to support Irish Cultural activities. This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Murphy Irish Arts Center.
The Murphy Irish Dancers are known for bringing Irish culture to the community through their highly skilled dancers and exciting unique choreography and costuming. In 2015, the Senior Dance Drama Team won the 1st place World Championship title in Montreal. She has proudly led the Murphy Irish Dancers in thirty-nine consecutive St. Patrick’s Day Parades in Cleveland; and this year she was elected to be the Grand Marshal of the Irish parade, an honor voted on by all twenty-eight Irish organizations in Cleveland.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Sheila served five terms as President of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish charitable organization; and with her sister Joan was Co-Director of the Ohio Degree Team, a ceremonial unit, for ten years. In 1993 she was honored as Hibernian of the Year.
Her parents were very active in the Irish Cultural Garden. In 1993 Sheila became the Director of the Irish Cultural Garden and continues in that role today. She has volunteered over forty years in the Cultural Gardens, spearheaded a restoration of the Irish Cultural Garden, served as Vice-President of the Cultural Gardens Federation for eight years, Chairman of the Design & Preservation Committee for five years, and President of the Federation for five years.
She chaired the One World Day celebration the past two years which brought twenty thousand visitors to the gardens and the 100th Anniversary celebrations of the Cultural Gardens in 2016.
At the same time, Sheila belonged to the West Side Irish American Club on Madison Avenue and taught ceili dance lessons for the Cleveland Gaelic Society. She joined the Irish American Club, East Side forty years ago and taught ceili lessons there for over twenty years.
Sheila has attended every Cleveland Feis since the beginning in 1957; first as a competitor and then as a teacher and adjudicator. In 2015 she was inducted into the North American Feis Commission’s Hall of Fame for her life long dedication and service to the Irish community and the world of Irish Dance. The Greater Cleveland Feis Society nominated her. Serving as secretary for the United Irish Societies in the 70’s, she currently represents the Murphy Irish Arts Association as a delegate.
In recognition of her service, Sheila has received many honors: She was elected Queen Deirdre in 1969 by the Irish American clubs, St. John Vianney Church honored her for her cultural contributions to the Irish Community of Cleveland in 2005; she received the Irish American Archives Society “Walks of Life” award in 2008; she was elected “Honorary Co-Chair” of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2011; the Irish Echo Newspaper selected her for their Irish Woman of Influence Award in New York in 2015, and in 2018, Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade . She is the 3rd woman in the 176 year history of the parade to receive this honor.
Service, especially in the Irish Community, was part of the family tradition. Sheila has taught and inspired thousands of students over the years to embrace and cherish their heritage, to work hard to be the best they can be, to learn from defeat, and to never ask someone else to do something you would not do yourself. Through dedication, hard work, and service, she has modeled her ideals and the joy in life through good works.
Sheila will be inducted by Gerry Quinn
James M. (“Jim”) Craciun was born on August 31, 1951, and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated cum laude from St. Edward’s High School 1969. In 1973, he graduated from Cleveland State University with a Bachelor’s degree in business with a major in labor and industrial relations. In 1976, he became a licensed funeral director, and began working in his family’s business. Jim, with son Jonathan, brother Joseph and niece Alexandra manage, Craciun Berry and Corrigan Craciun Funeral Homes. Jim is a proud Romanian Italian American.
Jim married Marcy Rocawich, and together they had five children, Noelle Fitzpatrick (Jake), Jason (Monica), Jonathan (Michaela), Jesse and Nicolas, before her untimely death in 2010. Jim is the proud grandfather of 5.
In 1974, his odyssey unfolded. Jim smuggled bibles and catechisms into Communist Romania. So began his lifetime commitment to human rights. At an International Human Rights Conference in London in April 1977, he helped draft and sign a memorandum condemning the impact of the Helsinki Accords and it’s lies on the Soviet Bloc countries. This same memorandum was prepared and signed simultaneously in Romania and Czechoslovakia by courageous dissidents, who were all later imprisoned for this act.
Jim began his public speaking in 1982 as a member of the Metropolitan Speaker’s Bureau of Northeastern Ohio with his topic, “Life under Communism.” Jim was a founding member of the World Union of Free Romanians (WUFR) in 1984 in Geneva, Switzerland. He was Vice President of WUFR from 1987 to 2004. Jim advised the Clinton administration on January 13, 1995 on the enlargement of NATO.
In 1985, he was chairman of the anti-pornography campaign (Holy Name Society) that stopped local convenience stores from openly displaying adult magazines. From 1989 to 1991, he served as president of the Diocesan Union of Holy Name Societies covering 8 counties in northeastern Ohio and 245 churches.
Jim’s other Civic leadership has included serving as President of West Cleveland Jaycees in 1980, President of the West Cleveland Kiwanis in 1983, and board member of the West Side Ecumenical Ministry from 1985 to 1988. Jim was the co-chair of the Cultural Committee for the International Children’s Games in 2004. Jim served from 2002 to 2009 as the chairman of the board of the International Services Center, a United Way agency that resettles refugees.
He is past chairperson of Cleveland’s 2000 and 2001 International Folk Festivals in Playhouse Square. In 2006 Jim ran unsuccessfully for State Senate of Ohio in District 23. Jim was founder of Cub Scout Pack #541 of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School, in Cleveland, Ohio, where he also currently serves as Our Lady of Mount Carmel School Foundation president. Jim, today is honored to serve as vice president of the Cleveland Police Foundation, of which he was the incorporating secretary in 2010. He also proudly serves on University Hospitals ENT Council.
Jim was honored to receive the Freedom Award in 2007 from the American Nationalities Movement for his contributions to world peace, human rights, and his dedication to a wide range of community organizations.
Councilman Matt Zone inducted Jim Craciun into the Cleveland International Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech, Jim mentioned the many mentors who influenced his life. Click on the white arrow below to watch the video of Jim Craciun's induction.
Basil M. Russo is the National President of the Order Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA), having been first elected at the organizations biennial convention in Chicago in 2014. The ISDA is one of the largest Italian American organizations in the United States.
Under Basil’s leadership the ISDA’s new website and Facebook page have, in just 18 months, developed a following of 325,000 Italian Americans who look to the ISDA to remain connected to their heritage. The ISDA’s insurance and annuity company has also grown to be the largest Italian American fraternal insurance company in the U.S. with assets of over 100 million dollars. Basil has also initiated a new 32 page monthly newspaper, La Nostra Voce, to keep the ISDA’s membership educated and informed.
Due to his success in reenergizing the ISDA, Basil was offered a seat on the Board of Directors of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), in Washington, D. C. NIAF serves as the national spokesperson for the 18 million Americans of Italian descent, with both the United States government and the government of Italy. Basil was also recently elected to the position of Vice Chair of the National Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations, which unites 40 of the largest Italian America organizations in the country.
Basil now holds leadership positions in three prominent Italian American organizations in the United States, and as such, is now regarded as one of the most influential Italian American leaders in our country.
At the local level, Basil has a long history of involvement with the Italian American community. He serves as President of the Justinian Forum, Cuyahoga County’s Italian American Bar Association, representing 300 attorneys and 29 judges of Italian American descent. He has served as chairman of Cleveland’s Columbus Day Parade for the past twelve years. Basil helped found, and serves, as Chairman of Cleveland’s Italian Film Festival, which has helped raise over 500 thousand dollars for the renovation of the Italian Cultural Garden in Rockefeller Park. Basil was also a founding member and trustee of the Northeast Ohio Italian American Foundation (NOIA), which has raised over 3 million dollars for charitable purposes. In 1995, Basil was instrumental in leading the effort to create the Bishop Anthony Pilla Italian American Studies program at John Carroll University.
As a native Clevelander, Basil ’s career has been as varied as it is impressive. He has served as Judge on the Ohio Court of Appeals, Judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, for which he received the Excellent Judicial Service Award from the Supreme Court, and Majority Leader of Cleveland City Council. He also founded one of Cleveland’s best known law firms, Russo, Rosalina and Co., from which he retired in 2014. Basil also served as Executive Producer of the independent film Pieces, which was written and directed by his sons, Anthony and Joseph.
Basil and his wife Patricia have served as chairpersons of the Advisory Committee to the Department of Marriage and Family Ministry of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese. They are the proud parents of four children, Gabriella, an attorney who serves as the managing partner of Russo, Rosalina and Co., Angela, an accomplished television writer and producer, who also teaches at Case Western Reserve University, and Anthony and Joseph, who are successful directors, writers and producers of film and television. Basil and Patricia happily spend all their free time with their twelve beautiful grandchildren.
Basil Russo's daughter Gabriella and son-in-law Joseph Rosalina inducted Basil Russo into the Cleveland International Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech, Basil spoke of the Italian community as well as the contributions that all immigrants have made to the US. . Click on the white arrow below to watch the video of Basil Russo's induction.