Artist Spotlight- Dirva

In a modest office space in North Collinwood, the word “Dirva” faintly visible on the front door, one man carries on a one hundred year-old legacy.

The offices of Dirva – the Lithuanian National Newspaper – sit along Cherokee Avenue, almost brushing the City of Euclid border. Dirva (roughly translated to “The Field”) is a bi-weekly Lithuanian language newspaper led by Algirdas V. Matulionis – “Al” for short.

And it’s one of the last remaining Lithuanian newspapers in the United States.

Matulionis leads the production of the paper, along with one part-time office assistant and a content editor based in Chicago. He’s done so for the past several years after taking over as president of Viltis Inc., the organization that publishes Dirva.

Even with a small crew, Dirva reaches hundreds of subscribers regionally and – surprisingly – internationally. The paper’s content spans local and national news – from a gathering at the local church to a recent convening of NATO countries.

The Cherokee Avenue location is probably the seventh for the paper over its history, says Matulionis. The paper has called St. Clair Avenue, Superior Avenue and a handful of other locations home over the years.

You can trace the movement of Driva’s offices along with the Lithuanian community in the city.

At the time of Dirva’s inception on November 25, 1915, many post-World War I immigrant communities were centered around churches and civic centers. For the Lithuanian community along Superior Avenue, Saint George’s Lithuanian Church was the center of their neighborhood. But as Matulionis explains, the paper’s founders believed the community needed a central source of information.

Thus, Dirva was born, or rather, Santaika was born. The paper only existed as Santaika (“Friendship” or “Peace” – Matulionis prefers “Friendship”) for about one year between 1915 and 1916. It then became Dirva (and has remained for the hundred years since).

Over the years, the paper waxed and waned as the Lithuanian community shifted in the city. At its height, Dirva was published three times per week, employed numerous members of the community and had a robust board of directors. In its present state, the paper comes out  twice per month, and its main employee – Matulionis – works as a volunteer.

How does a one hundred year-old paper get by with only one full time employee? A lot of hours. And a few nights camped out at the office.

Matulionis was first hooked into the paper in the mid-90s, after the then-editor requested someone with financial experience assist the paper with internal audits.

Following his arrival to Cleveland with his parents in 1951, Matulionis eventually began a long career with Beneficial Corporation, one of the largest consumer finance companies in the U.S. before it was acquired by Household International Inc (now HSBC Finance) in 1998. There, he specialized in personal lending.

As his career matured, Matulionis became involved with stateside politics and even hooked into the Lithuanian community in North Collinwood. He was at one time on the board of directors for theLithuanian Village (also known as the Lithuanian American Citizens Club) and became a regular parishioner at Saint Casimir Parish.

These days, Matulionis easily puts in fifty hours per week at Dirva, and it’s not just the audits. From writing stories to photographing special events to curating additional content from contributing writers, it’s all primarily done by Matulionis. New technology has helped Matulionis keep up with the work load, but aging hardware at the office presents a new challenge every day.

When asked about the major changes he’s seen among the Lithuanian community, Matulionis is quick to point out – like many ethnic communities – the large migration of Lithuanians from the city to the suburbs.

While a shift in the location of Dirva’s subscribers hasn’t been insurmountable, the limited exposure with new generations does make the job more difficult. Matulionis faces challenges engaging new generations of Lithuanians and reaching a broader audience.

To remedy this, he’s exploring an online platform for the paper. But it’s just one more piece of technology to manage.

As Matulionis looks to the years following Dirva’s centennial, he seems assured of its future. Adopting online content and continuing to develop relationships with the new generations of the Lithuanian community should keep the paper going strong. And just maybe help it grow.

New and current subscribers can reach Al Matulionis by email atdirva@ix.netcom.com or at the office at 216-531-8150. He welcomes feedback from all of Dirva’s readers, and gets worried if he doesn’t hear anything.