MEXICO — Pat Hopkins believes that immigrants in the early 1900s greatly influenced the development of the area. Now, she wonders how that ethnic group influences today’s population.
That’s one of the many questions the newly formed Lithuanian Heritage Club hopes to answer.
A joint meeting of the Rumford and Mexico historical societies last winter to discuss the various ethnic groups in the River Valley area prompted the start of an organization of people of Lithuanian ancestry or those interested in that Baltic country.
“We decided to continue the discussion, and we met for the first time in June,” said the unofficial chairman of the group, Matt Kaubris.
On Sept. 12, an old-fashioned, Lithuanian-style picnic will be held to hear stories, sample Lithuanian food, and discuss the culture of the once-Soviet dominated country. Oral histories will be taken and photographs shared. There’s even talk about having a young woman from one of the families dress in the traditional colorful garb to welcome everyone.
But already, the documentation of the people living in the area of Lithuanian ancestry has begun.
And at least four on the organization committee — Hopkins, Kaubris, Olga Richardson and Barbara Buotte Arsenault, have already visited the country of their ancestors. Hopkins counts Beeakers and Bartashes among her family; Richardson’s mother’s name was Kawlaicze; and Arsenault’s grandparents’ name was Pocius. All speak at least a little of the Lithuanian language.
Most of the ancestors of the people with Lithuanian roots arrived in the Rumford area in the early 1900s when the Oxford Paper Co. began. While people from other ethnic backgrounds arrived at about the same time, mostly for economic reasons, Hopkins said most of the Lithuanian immigrants left their homes because of persecution and to find jobs.
The Baltic country had been dominated by Russia for centuries, and only became fully independent in 1991.
Lithuanians lived in specific parts of the area’s towns, including Holyoke and Spruce streets in Rumford, Kimball and Osgood avenues in Mexico and various places in Peru. Hopkins said some of the first Lithuanian settlers had no place to go, so they lived for a time in caves in the Smithville Crossing section of Rumford.
The committee wants to ensure that the young people learn about their heritage and customs, too. Arsenault said her son has begun to show interest.
Kaubris said the annual picnic will be great time to bring all generations together, including young children.
As oral histories, stories and other information is gathered on the Lithuanian population living in the area, Kaubris said it will be archived by both the Rumford and Mexico historical societies.
The group plans to meet two or three times a year. More than 60 people attended the exploratory meeting in February.
Those interested in learning more, or joining, may call Arsenault at 364-3966, Richardson at 562-4482, or Kaubris at 364-2306.

Lithuanian Heritage Club organizational committee members show each other sections of the Baltic nation that were homes to their ancestors. The new group aims to preserve its heritage and teach children about their ancestors’ culture. Shown are Olga Richardson of Peru, Barbara Buotte Arsenault of Rumford, Pat Hopkins of Rumford and Matt Kaubris of Rumford.

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