If the BMNECC presented MVP awards, Julie Rhyner would have a handful. She’s been serving our organization for 36 years — as a dancer, costumer, wardrobe supervisor, board member, fundraising and event planner/organizer, off-site sales coordinator, kitchen whiz, and all-round indispensable volunteer.
It was music and dance that first attracted Julie to the organization. She had been dancing with Folkways, a Russian performing ensemble, under the artistic direction of BMNECC member Daniel Karaczun. The year was 1976. “I was blown away when I saw the Bulgarian Center’s Otets Paissii ensemble perform in the round at the old Civic Arena that year,” she recalls. “I knew I had to join! I was fortunate to perform with the group from 1977 through 1999 — under the direction of artistic director Nicholas Jordanoff, Sr. and later under his son Nicky.” When Pat French and Walt Kolar formed the Pittsburgh International Folk Theater 1987, its artistic director Nick Sr. chose Julie as one of the first dancers to perform with the group. She danced with PIFT during the entire 10 years of its existence. “Pat and Walt worked hard to promote the group and secure bookings in Pittsburgh’s largest concert halls and at venues as far away as Montreal,” she said.
One of Julie’s fondest memories is traveling with the ensemble’s 40-plus members to Bulgaria in 1990. “We spent two weeks touring and performing around the country,” she says. “It was absolutely the best group vacation of my life. Stories continually resurface among those who took part in this adventure. You know who you are and we all know what we did! ”
Julie currently serves as BMNECC wardrobe supervisor and costumer for the performing ensemble. She repairs authentic costumes transported from Bulgaria by Pat French, and constantly adds to the ensemble’s inventory by creating new costumes and accessories. Thanks to Julie’s wizardry, the Otets Paissii dancers are always the best dressed performers at the Folk Festival.
And, as if that’s not enough, she also serves on event planning and fundraising committees and supervises the Center’s participation in off-site markets. She spends many weekends throughout the year selling BMNECC soup and gift items at the Rivers of Steel Pump House Heritage Markets. You’ll find her hard at work in the kitchen during most Vecherinkas and social events. And at Christmas time she even helps Santa “deliver” toys for the annual BMNECC holiday party!
For 36 years Julie has been watching the Center evolve, and she’s optimistic about continued growth: “I would like to see the club emerge as a desirable event space that generates event revenue on a weekly basis. We are well on our way, thanks to the hard work of members who have donated time to clean, refurbish, and transform the Center into an attractive, functional venue.”
Julie has a long history of energetic participation in myriad activities. She was senior class president in high school and lettered in basketball, swimming and softball. She initially went to Marshall University to pursue a career as a physical education teacher but finished out at business school instead. Thirty-five years later she’s proud to have finally completed her bachelor’s degree and MBA specializing in sports, arts and entertainment management through Point Park University.
She’s employed full time as an event specialist and sales office administrator for All Occasions Party Rental. She’s also on the staff of the Pittsburgh Irish Festival as an entertainment coordinator. “My cousins, BMNECC members Maura and Nan Krushinski, are the festival’s founders and executive directors,” she says. “Thanks to them, I’ve been involved in 22 of the 23 festivals.” She served as program director for the Pittsburgh Folk Festival for six years, director of the Multicultural School Program of the Pittsburgh Folk Festival for seven years, and entertainment coordinator for the International Taste of Pittsburgh.
Julie’s husband Jack Rhyner has been active with the Bulgarian Center even longer than she has, beginning as an ensemble dancer. They have two children — Nadine, 27, and Karac, 21—both of whom began performing when they were only 3 years old. “We’ve all performed in the Otets Paissii ensemble,” she says. “Karac was only 9 when he graduated to performing in the adult group, thanks to former ensemble manager Diane French Melodia, who gave him that opportunity. As a family, we all hold special memories of being members of the Center.”
It’s no surprise that Julie’s hobbies extend to sewing, with either fabric or with beads. “I enjoy the costuming work, quilting, and making jewelry using beadwork techniques — all done with just needle and thread,” she says.
Julie is especially grateful to her cousin Maura for introducing her to Pittsburgh’s diverse ethnic community many years ago. “Maura first exposed me to the Folk Festival, and that was the start of my involvement in international cultural groups and eventually the Bulgarian Center,” she says. “The friends I’ve made during my 36-year involvement in the Center are like family to me, and I’ll cherish them forever.”