He's no Martha Stewart, but Local Senior Knows Weddings
By David Kline, Editor, Spectrum Newspaper*
Haven't heard of the Croatian Hall? That's because its owners don't advertise, not even at bridal fairs.
"We don't have to," Zupan says, without a hint of boastfulness.
"Right now there is really high demand for the facility."
And, it's got Mike Zupan in charge.
"He isn't your typical wedding coordinator," says Sonny Gallardo, co-owner of Exquisite Entertainment DJ Services. "Normally in our business, most of the wedding coordinators are female, and he comes off looking more of the upper-management type."
However, Gallardo says, Zupan is one of the easiest coordinators to work with, and he pays attention to even the smallest details to make sure weddings run smoothly.
Michele Santee, of the photography business Santees Designer Weddings, echoes those sentiments.
"He really, truly cares about his bride and groom, that things run smoothly," Santee says. "He puts a lot of personal effort and care and concern into what he does."
A small but telling example was last year when Zupan had his in-house caterers fulfill a couple's request to have cevapcici - a Croatian beef and pork roll seldom seen at weddings - served as an hors d'oeuvre.
"I think the personal touch is very important," he says.
Word of mouth keeps the hall booked almost every weekend of the year, and Zupan stays for every minute of every wedding, watching attentively to ward off problems like shortages at the buffet or drunken guests at the bar.
His experience leads to this advice for prospective brides and grooms: "Do your homework in checking out the facilities,... hire a good photographer, hire a good florist, and hire a good caterer..."
Finally, he says, listen to people who are experienced in arranging weddings: "It's when people want to do things on their own and don't follow the advice that they run into bottlenecks."
Zupan is a man of few words, and rather than talk about himself, he prefers to discuss the building where he spends much of his time. He points out highlights such as the just-completed courtyard, the huge painting depicting the birth of modern Croatia, and the attractive library-in-progress which soon will hold 3000 books on the tiny country off the Adriatic Sea.
T'he Croatian Hall - open to all, not just those with Croatian blood - is more than a building to Zupan and other elders in the Croatian club. They raised money for its construction, and with their own hands built their legacy to future generations of Croatian-Americans.
"A lot of guys came through and basically worked for free," says John Susac, club president and Zupan's nephew.
Susac estimates that 85 percent of the labor was donated by club members who worked on weekends during the three-year construction period.
T'he hall clearly was built with weddings in mind - Zupan even consults wedding photographers when planning changes to the structure - but other events are held there, too. Companies rent it out for parties, and the club hosts many dances, picnics and banquets on the property. A black-tie dinner in March raised money for scholarships for seven students in Croatia.
Zupan has been coordinator of these events from the beginning.
"I kind of fell into the job, really," Zupan says. "I became budget director for the building project and kind of fell into the position."
A chemist by profession, Zupan took a "golden handshake" from Shell Oil in 1988. He had been easing out of his side job as a respected soccer coach - for the club's teams as well as for the short-lived Sacramento Gold team - and was planning a new career as an accountant. Instead, he got more and more involved in the club.
"I kind of got tired of soccer ... and I devoted a lot of time and put a lot of effort into this building," he says.
Much of the money for the structure came from the Croatian Extravaganza - the club's annual two-day festival of entertainment and food.
The hall's growing prestige and the continued success of the Extravaganza are sources of pride for the club, which has about 100 members and an equal number who follow club events but haven't become full-fledged members.
There have been emotionally trying times, though. Zupan, who left Croatia as a child, says it was hard on many club members to watch news reports of their homeland being ripped apart by Serbian bombs through much of the '90s.
"The war kind of unified all the people," Zupan says. "It got a lot of the people that were second and third generation active."
The club even teamed up with a Croatian church in San Jose to send food and clothes to the war-torn country.
Although Sacramento also has a Serbian cultural club, Zupan says problems didn't erupt because "both sides kind of kept their cool."
This time of year, the events coordinator is busy preparing for the 18th annual Croatian Extravaganza, and is looking forward to increasing the club's membership and establishing a language school for young Croatian-Americans interested in their ancestors' native tongue.
With peak matrimony season rapidly approaching, his short-term goal may be to teach brides that Zupan is Croatian for "storybook weddings."
*David Kline is the editor of the the Senior Spectrum weekly newspaper. This article was published on May 16, 2000.