One of the earliest of the Syrian immigrants in Cleveland was Salim Farres, who came to this country from Lebanon in 1891 and first made his living as a peddler. He later opened a store at 508 Woodland Avenue which supplied small dealers and other Syrian peddlers in Northern Ohio with thread, needles, safety pins and sundry items. Salim Farres came to America well versed in the English language and American history, having been educated at the American University of Beirut, in the Lebanon, a Presbyterian college established in the 1860's and one of the leading universities in the Middle East today.
Among the oldest settlers in Cleveland were members of the Caraboolad and Otto families.
Mr. Michael Caraboolad, a Cleveland insurance agent, in tracing his family's history, gives the following information:
Mr. Salim Caraboolad came to Cleveland in 1892 and married Najeebie Otto in 1893. They are listed in old records of Cleveland newspapers as pioneer Syrian families. They are from Lebanon, which at that time was a state in Syria; now we have our own country, Lebanon.
Since about this time, more and more people were immigrating to the United States. In 1898, my father organized and was first president of the St. George Society, a fraternal organization. The purpose of this club was to help these new immigrants get settled in the Cleveland area. They helped them get jobs, housing, get legal aid, and apply for citizenship and register and vote.
Since my father was a personal friend of Mark Hanna, he voted Republican from the start, but he encouraged our people to register and vote for the best man no matter what party he belonged to. We had no church for our people, and we attended various churches nearby. In 1905, my father organized and founded St. Elias Church, with help from the St. George Society. This was the first church of the Syrian Lebanon people within a 500 mile area of Cleveland. It was attended by Melkite Catholics, Maronite Catholics and Orthodox and other groups.
They bought two old houses on Webster Avenue and remodeled one into a rectory, and built a brand new small brick church next door. Our first pastor was Rev. Marcia; since this was the only Syrian Lebanon Church, all of our young people attended these services. The second church we bought was a former Protestant Church at 3166 Scranton Road. We spent a lot of money to remodel this building into a Catholic Church, rectory, and Sunday school quarters.
On Christmas week in 1952, our new assistant pastor, Rev. Ignatius Ghattas, arrived in Cleveland from Lebanon to help Rev. Malatios Mufleh, who had been here since 1921. Later, Rev. I. Ghattas, because of Rev. M. Mufleh's health and age, took full charge of the church.
Rev. Ghattas started a building fund to remodel the Church, and after spending a lot of money, and having auto parking problems, we found that a lot of our people who formerly lived nearby had moved to the outskirts of the city, so we decided that we should buy a lot in the outskirts of the city and build a brand new church. We bought a two and a half acre lot and later bought additional property, so that now we have about five acres of land with a beautiful new Byzantine Catholic Church at 8023 Memphis Avenue in Brooklyn. We have about 325 families in the parish.
In 1953, I organized a St. Elias Holy Name club and was its first president. Our church, which cost over $650,000 to build, includes a rectory, large hall and meeting rooms, and a large auto parking area, fully cemented.
Kalil Caraboolad, my uncle, who was a charter member of St. Elias, was godfather to one hundred and fifty-five children in the parish, and a picture was taken in front of the old church on Webster Avenue, which many members of the parish still have in their homes. He is listed in "Believe it or Not" by Ripley in his Florida Museum.
As our population grew, my oldest brother, George Caraboolad, organized the Syrian Boys Club, and he was its first president. This club membership increased to 350 members, and the main purpose of the club was to assist our people to become United States citizens. It was the duty of every member to volunteer to be a witness for these new
citizens. Two witnesses were required, and since my father had a store on Bolivar Road, I was called on more often than anyone to be a witness, and some days I would be a witness for as many as three new citizens.
Our other activities were to invite candidates for office to speak at our meetings so our members could meet them. One week we would invite Democratic candidates to speak, and we would ask them questions, and the following week we would invite Republican candidates to speak and do likewise. We did not show any partiality to any one. My brother, Ellas Caraboolad, was elected president of the Syrian American Club and some years later I was elected president.
During the First World War, the Syrian American Club took an active interest in the war effort. We sold War Bonds, collected blood donations, encouraged our boys to enlist in the service of our country, and helped the Red Cross in their work.
My mother, Mrs. Najeebie Caraboolad, organized the Syrian Red Cross group and was its leader, and they assisted in many activities such as making bandages, wrapping packages to be sent to boys in service, corresponding with them, giving them local news to show them that we appreciated their war effort. Our small group was honored for their devotion to our country and making such an outstanding record.
In 1931, the Zahle Club, which owned a dwelling on West 14th Street, south of Clark Avenue, finding the older members were dying off and wanting to keep the club alive, asked younger members to form a club. Mr. Alfred Anter, a son of one of the founders of the club, Michael Anter, asked me to attend a meeting to help organize such a club. To make a long story short, we organized the first Lebanon Syrian Athletic League in the United States. We had six backers the first year and I was elected President, against my will, as I didn't feel qualified to lead this organization. Fortunately, we had many qualified officers to assist me, such as Mr. Ernest Sabath, our secretary, and Mr. Zig Shaheen, who knew more about the rules of the game than any person in the league.
This organization had a baseball division, basketball and bowling. This same year, the end of the 1931 season, we helped to form a similar league in Detroit, Michigan, and we have been friendly rivals each year, playing at the end of the season, once in Detroit and the following week in Cleveland. This Athletic League has done more to unite our young and older people together, than any other organization.
We are now entering our forty-fourth year, with a total membership of over 200 in the Cleveland area. During the second World War, we organized a Lebanon Syrian War Committee,
like other nationality groups, to help in the war effort. I was elected Executive Secretary, and our purpose was to get blood donations, encourage sale of war bonds, encourage enlistments, help Red Cross donations and we had a house to house drive in which we not only collected our $1,900 quota but were oversubscribed with a total collection of $5,500, which we turned over to the Red Cross.
We had a lot of help from the Syrian Junior League girls who kept corresponding with over 450 of our boys in various branches of the armed services. They mailed them every year fifty packages in the name of the Lebanon Syrian group. Without their help, we could not have made such a good record for our people. Many of the boys wrote to thank us for our war effort. Our group was honored by the local chapter of the American Red Cross, Mayor Frank Lausche, and public officials for our outstanding civic devotion.
I was elected Executive Secretary of the Knights of Columbus Luncheon Club, and during my term of office, we elected Mr. Ernest Bohn National Housing Director, Catholic Man of the Year. A few years before I took office, we elected Mr. Ralph Perk Catholic Man of the Year, who became our Mayor of Cleveland. I had been formerly active in the Citizenship League, Conference of Christians and Jews, Council on World Affairs, Founder and president of the Syrian Lebanon Cultural Gardens, which is now being reorganized by a new group, charter member of the First Friday Club, and a member of many clubs too numerous to list.
My brother, Elias Caraboolad, organized an insurance and surety bond agency in 1923, and, in the middle of the depression, in 1931, I took over the business.
In 1950, my nephew, Salim Caraboolad, a graduate of Princeton University, entered the agency, and we sent him to the Insurance Company of North America home office training course. In 1953, my other nephew, Walter V. Spellman, after he left the United States Air Force, entered the agency, and we sent him to the Hartford home office training course.
On April 1, 1962, my nephew, Salim Caraboolad, left the agency and formed a new life insurance company. That same year, we incorporated the agency in the name of M.S. Caraboolad Insurance Agency, Inc. with Walter V. Spellman as president, Nora G. Caraboolad as Vice President, and Michael S. Caraboolad as secretary and treasurer. In January of 1974, we changed the name of the agency to Spellman and Associates, since he was the main producer and brought into the agency many nationally known accounts, supermarkets, shopping centers, contractors, manufacturers, golf courses, tobacco jobbers, and so forth. Our small group has been law abiding and civic minded, and we want to keep this tradition alive for the sake of the younger generation as they are not familiar with our local history.
----------- Michael S. Caraboolad.