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Don WolfPhotographer and author Don Wolf has written a new book, “Croatian Love Story,” including stories and photos about Croatian-Americans on Strawberry Hill in Kansas City, Kan. (Staff photo)
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Don WolfPhotographer and author Don Wolf, right, recently showed his new book to actor Ed Asner at a benefit reception at Wyandotte High School. (Staff photo)
A lifelong love of Croatia and Croatian-American culture is displayed in a new book by Kansas City, Kan., photographer and author Don Wolf.
Titled “Croatian Love Story,” the 200-page book is the work of a lifetime, Wolf said. It includes stories and photos about Croatian-Americans on Strawberry Hill in Kansas City, Kan., along with stories and photos about the Wolf family, autobiographical accounts of Don Wolf’s life, and stories and photos about the old country.
Wolf, a 1954 graduate of Wyandotte High School and a 1956 graduate of Donnelly College, likes to say that he is a 1958 graduate of the U.S. Navy.
Church and school figured greatly in the culture of Strawberry Hill. Wolf grew up during the Depression years on Strawberry Hill and attended St. John’s Grade School there.
“I didn’t have one relative that didn’t go to St. John’s,” he said.
His early inspiration for his love of Croatia came from his paternal grandfather, Rudolf Wolf, who would tell him stories about the old country.
Wolf, 77, credits his teachers at Donnelly College with giving him the skills to write the book. Sister Faith Schuster helped him with the technical skills of English composition, and Sister Liguori Sullivan helped him with self-esteem, he said.
Wolf had written many stories, little snippets about his life, heritage and his trips to Croatia. He credited Pat Antonopoulos at Donnelly College with help in editing and pulling them all together with a Croatian-American theme. He also credited designer Sarah Green, his wife Mary and his daughter for their help with the book.
After completing college in 1956, there was the Navy, where Wolf learned the skills to become a professional photographer.
“I went into the Navy, and when I came back, half of the neighborhood was missing,” Wolf said about the hundreds of homes lost to the construction of I-70 in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood. “It was traumatic.” He added he can still walk the neighborhood, remembering the homes that were formerly there.
Many of Strawberry Hill’s inhabitants moved away during this period, finding homes in other areas in Kansas City, Kan., or other nearby cities. But, Wolf said, they tend to come back for festivals or other events on the Hill.
Wolf has worked through the years in the area as a photographer, and his outstanding work is known for its emphasis on texture. One of his photographs of Strawberry Hill hangs in Kansas City, Kan., City Hall.
Wolf felt drawn to his Croatian roots, and made a total of 17 trips there through the years. Many photographs from these trips are featured in his book. He kept in touch with cousins in the old country; some of his great-aunts in Croatia had been sent to Italian concentration camps during World War II.
The immigrants on Strawberry Hill combined their “ethnic traditions with a fierce patriotism for their new home,” Wolf wrote in his book’s preface. The small settlement on Strawberry Hill sent more than 400 young men to the U.S. military service in World War II.
Following the war for Croatian independence in the 1990s, Wolf was instrumental in raising funds for orphanages in Croatia. He has received several awards mentioning his charitable work on behalf of Croatian orphans, and has been inducted into the Donnelly College Hall of Fame.
“I was the first in my family to go to college, the first to go back to the old country, and the first to write a book,” he said.
“As the first in my family to receive the gift of a college education I feel the obligation to acknowledge and honor those who made my life possible,” Wolf wrote in his book’s preface.
Wolf recently showed a copy of his new book to actor Ed Asner, a Wyandotte High School alumnus who was back in town recently for a benefit performance. Asner has endorsed the book.
Published by XLibris (www.Xlibris.com), “Croatian Love Story” is available on amazon.com, as well as at some book signings planned soon. Book signings are scheduled at 2 p.m. Aug. 10 at the West Wyandotte Library auditorium, 1737 N. 82nd, and at 5 p.m. Aug. 15 at Donnelly College, 608 N. 18th St.