Walt Kolar passes away at 93

Walter W. Kolar
November 8, 1922 – June 9, 2016

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Walter W. Kolar on June 9, following several recent hospitalizations for various illnesses. He was 93.  As Executive Director of the BMNECC from 1995 through April 2016, Mr. Kolar was responsible for leading the organization in its mission to preserve, present and promote the cultural values and rich traditions of the Bulgarian and Macedonian people. Walter developed and directed the dance and music initiatives of the Center’s Otets Paissii Performing Ensemble and produced all of the group’s concerts. He also produced many of the Center’s major cultural and educational events, and was in charge of all matters related to the BMNECC building and properties.

Walt was a man of many interests, talents and passions. He was not only considered one of the world’s leading experts in ethnomusicology and folk arts, he was also a skilled and respected educator, author, musician, composer, administrator and goodwill ambassador who stayed young at heart by continually learning new skills and taking care of business day by day.

As a young man growing up in and around Ambridge, PA, Walt never dreamed he’d end up visiting over 40 countries and inspiring young and old alike to embrace the musical customs of their ancestors. But his destiny began early.

“It all started when I was six years old,” he once recalled. “My family was of Croatian descent, and they encouraged me to play the tambura, a stringed mandolin-type instrument popular in the folk music of Croatia. I played in a local children’s ensemble called The Bright Stars, and from that point on, I was immersed in ethnic music for the rest of my life.”

Walter W. Kolar at the Bulgarian Center in PittsburghAs a 15-year-old prep school student at Duquesne University, Walt was introduced to the school’s newly formed Tamburitzans performing ensemble. The year was 1937, and Walt would end up devoting 40 years of his life to this internationally acclaimed music and dance troupe.

After a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force as a decorated Technical Sergeant and war hero flying 35 missions, Walt completed his education at Duquesne University, earning degrees in business education and educational psychology and later becoming a tenured associate professor. He became Managing Director of the Tamburitzans in 1952. From that point on, he used his musical and management expertise to turn the Tammies into a world-class performing ensemble, leading them on 11 world tours, several of which were under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State.

One of the highlights of Walt’s leadership of the Tamburitzans was his creation and production of “An American Mosaic,” a two-hour program of American folk and modern music that the Tammies performed to rave reviews during a six-week tour in the former U.S.S.R. in 1969.

“Those Americana shows in the former Soviet Union are among my proudest accomplishments,” said Walt, “because it was so rare during the Cold War years for an American group to perform in Communist countries that were closed off from American culture. I felt that we helped bridge a huge social and cultural gap.”

In addition to these achievements, Walt also helped found the Pittsburgh International Folk Festival in 1956, instituted and chaired Duquesne University’s Institute of Folk Arts graduate program beginning in 1973, and founded the Pittsburgh International Folk Theater in 1987, directing it for 12 years. In 1995, he helped transform the former Bulgaro-Macedonian Beneficial Association (BMBA) into today’s BMNECC, an active 501c3 organization focused on education, cultural preservation, and community service.

Walt was the recipient of numerous international honors and awards, including The Kiril and Metodi Medal, Bulgaria’s highest award for contributions in the field of arts and culture, and The Henry Mancini Award for achievement in the field of music by a Pennsylvania musician. He served on a variety of boards and committees, directed myriad musical programs and projects, wrote dozens of musical compositions, and authored and/or edited 28 books on the subject of ethnomusicology and folk arts. His is a permanent member of Duquesne University’s prestigious Century Club.

Walter Kolar and Patrician French at the Bulgarian Center in PittsburghIn addition to these professional endeavors, Walt enjoyed a full and rewarding personal life. He was married to the former Jennie Iva Peternac, with whom he had a son, David René Kolar. He has 3 grandchildren. For the past 23 years he lived with his companion, Patricia French, in their home in Mt. Lebanon.

His hobbies were many – from building intricate jigsaw puzzles to amassing impressive collections of coins, stamps and playing cards. He loved to organize photos and memorabilia, and was the driving force behind the archiving of the BMNECC’s museum collections. And – determined to keep up with the latest technology – he became a proficient user of computers and digital equipment, with the goal of making the BMNECC a modern, world-class organization that serves future generations of folk culture enthusiasts.

Viewing:
Saturday, June 11 – 3:00 to 9:00 pm
Sunday, June 12 – 2:00 to 9:00 pm
Savolskis-Wasik-Glenn Funeral Home
3501 Main Street, Homestead, PA 15120
Click here to visit the website.

Funeral service:
Monday, June 13 – 10:00 am
St. Bernard’s Church
311 Washington Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Burial will follow the funeral service

Repast following burial:
Bulgarian-Macedonian Center
449 West Eighth Avenue, West Homestead, PA 15120

In lieu of flowers, you can make donations to:

The BMNECC
Phone 412-831-5101 for details.

The Pittsburgh International Folk Arts Institute (PIFAI)
Phone 412-396-5185 for details.


Take a listen to Walt’s original compositions for the Tamburitzans’ “Christmas In Croatia” album.