Eck Spahich as a combat correspondent inVietnam.
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Croatian-American serves country, homeland
Eck Spahich is proud of his Croatian heritage. The Vietnam veteran, former journalist, and current Realtor also is proud to be a United States citizen, Texan, human rights activist, humanitarian, andKiwanian.
"I enjoy Kiwanis because of the fellowship, the opportunity to visit other clubs and meet new people, and because of the many ways we support children in our community," says Eck, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Borger, Texas. "Our club is the largest fund-raising organization in a rural community of about 18,000 people. We do an annual pancake day and use the money to support the local library, sponsor a Boy Scout troop, fund outstanding student programs in the county’s three high schools, award scholarships, and undertake other child-related projects."
Like many Kiwanians, Eck’s first exposure to the organization was as a guest speaker. Born in Tuzla, Bosnia, Eck left his homeland as a 15-year-old in 1960 to join his father in Dumas, Texas. (His parents were separated during World War II, and he had stayed in Bosnia with his mother and grandmother.) Though he embraced his new country, Eck never forsook his homeland, speaking, writing, researching, supporting, and defending the Croatian nation’s right to self-determination as a free democracy.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, about the time of the collapse of Yugoslavia, Eck was in much demand as a guest speaker, reporting on current conditions in his homeland at meetings of civic groups and clubs, including local Kiwanis clubs.
"In 1991," he recalls, "I was asked to speak at a meeting of the Pampa (Texas) Kiwanis club. Four members of the Borger club went along with me as an inter-club. When we got back to Borger, they talked to me about the work of Kiwanis and asked me if I would be interested in joining, and I did."
Elected vice-president of his club a year after joining, Eck became president the following year. During his tenure as a club leader, he helped boost its membership from 17 to 35 people."We zeroed in on any possible prospect," he says. "We met with them and shared with them the benefits of being a Kiwanian. We stressed that it is a privilege to be a Kiwanian and to have opportunities to do good things for the community that you might not otherwise have."
Eck’s fervor for Kiwanis is typical of the enthusiasm he has shown in other aspects of his life. After graduation from Dumas, Texas, High School, he went on to West Texas State University—now West Texas A&M—in Canyon. He received his military draft notice a week before his college graduation in 1969 and joined the US Army a week after commencement exercises.
A year later, he was sent to Vietnam, where he served as a combat correspondent with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. While in the military, Eck was the recipient of the Bronze Star, the US Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, and 18 other military commendations.
"Serving in the military during the Vietnam War was not a popular thing to do in those days," Eck notes. "But I was proud to be serving my country even if we weren’t considered heroes."
After his discharge, Eck settled in the Borger-Fritch, Texas, area, where he lives today with his wife, Helen, son, Michael, and daughter, Holly. Through the years, he’s filled a variety of roles, including managing editor of the Borger News-Herald, the Balkan News Service, and The Trumpeter, the journal of the Croatian Philatelic Society. He’s written and lectured extensively in the US and Canada on the recent crisis in the former Yugoslavia, and has penned numerous columns and conducted dozens of radio and television interviews.
Fluent in Croatian, Slovenian, and Bulgarian, Eck also speaks German and Russian and serves as a volunteer interpreter/translator for the Catholic Family Service refugee division in Amarillo, and as an ethnic consultant for several institutions and firms.
Eck has yet to make it back to his homeland, though he did get close in the summer of 1998. He inherited his mother’s home in Tuzla after her death in 1990 and a huge backlog of court cases from the communist era delayed probating the will for several years. The will finally was probated and Eck sold the home, but because of continuing hostilities he had to complete the deal in the neighboring county of Croatia.
"I regret not going to Bosnia, but it’s still a combat zone," he said at the time.
Since then, Eck has kept in touch with cousins and other relatives via e-mail and does what he can to advance the cause for freedom from his home in Texas. He says his efforts complement his work as a Kiwanian.
"It’s all about giving of yourself to make the world a better place," he says.
Kiwanis: Serving the Children of the World
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