Westmoreland City man shared love of Serbian heritage

September 19, 2018

Known to his grandkids as Djedo -- Serbian for grandfather -- Eli Bogonovich passed down a love for his Serbian heritage to his family through language, songs and traditions.

But that’s not all he shared, his daughter, Renee Jovanovic said, describing the values of family, church and work ethic he shared with her and her siblings.

“He enjoyed life,” she said. “He always wanted to make his life the most. He always had a spirit and energy.”

Ilija (Eli) Bogonovich (Bogunovic), of Westmoreland City died Tuesday, July 31, 2018, at Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg. He was 91.

Born Feb. 9, 1927, in Biddle, he was the youngest son of the late Rade and Jelena (Jelaca) Bogonovich, Serbian immigrants from Donji Lapac, Lika. They arrived in the United States about 1910 and worked in coal mines. They also helped to found the Serbian National Federation Lodge 64 in Biddle.

Mr. Bogonovich later served as president of the lodge and loved to share his heritage “any way, any chance he got,” said his daughter, Rebecca Fiorini.

He invited friends and neighbors to Serbian picnics and sang Serbian songs on the porch of the family’s home in the evenings. He passed down his faith to his children, who still observe Slava, a Serbian Orthodox Christian holiday celebrating the family’s patron saint, St. John the Baptist. The family patron saint was passed down from father to son for generations, his daughters said.

Mr. Bogonovich was a proud veteran. He served in the Army during World War II as a military police officer, arriving in Japan shortly after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

From March 1946 to September 1947, he worked as a guard in the prison where Hideki Tojo, a prime minister of Japan during World War II, and his cabinet members were held. Tojo was executed for war crimes in 1948.

Mr. Bogonovich described Tojo as “an emotional man; he never flared up, never got excited, but knew what his fate was,” in an early-1990s interview about the experience with the Tribune-Review.

Having grown up in a small town, his time overseas shaped his view of the world, Fiorini said. He encouraged his children to take a chance on spending time abroad.

“I went overseas, and it changed my life, brought new perspectives to me,” Fiorini said of her time studying in Moscow.

Mr. Bogonovich worked for Westinghouse Air Brake as a tool and die maker. In the early 1950s, he started working for the Export-based Extrusion Tool and Die company. He retired in 1990.

He was married to the late Sylvia Felluca Bogonovich for 63 years.

Mr. Bogonovich is survived by three children, David Bogonovich and his wife, Judy; Renee Jovanovic and her husband, Rodoljub; Rebecca Fiorini and her husband, Caesar; and grandchildren.

Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday at James W. Shirley Funeral Home, 176 Clay Pike, North Huntingdon. A pomen service will take place at 7 p.m. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church, Monroeville. Interment will follow in Penn Lincoln Memorial Park.

Memorials may be made to St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church or the American Cancer Society.

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