Anka entered this world on July 12, 1931, the feast day of Saint Peter in Grahovo, Montenegro, in what was at that time Yugoslavia. Born to Kosto and Novka Vujacic, Anka's arrival was a momentous occasion. With relatives already gathered to celebrate their family's saint, Anka’s mother, Novka, quietly slipped away to the barn rather than disrupt the festivities when she went into labor. There, surrounded by farm animals, Anka was born. Novka always said, “I didn’t give birth to my daughter. God handed her to me.” As a young girl, Anka often slept in that same barn with the animal companions of her horse Bedevija, her sheep Kamila, her dog Kurir, and her cat Mugina.
She remembered her early years, including at age three when her grandmother passed away and Yugoslavia’s King Alexander was assassinated for political motives. She often spoke of her halcyon childhood days of playing with her siblings and friends, walking through the forest, observing nature, and looking at the stars in the night sky. As events were unfolding, she perceived that the adults of her circle were affected by an ominous sense of an impending war.
In 1939, World War II began in Europe, unleashing unprecedented grief and loss. When the Axis Alliance invaded in 1941, Yugoslavia disintegrated, and internal civil strife erupted between several major movements, of which the Communist Partisans were the dominant. Anka witnessed a horrifying political recruitment process. Communists sought volunteers for their cause, but initiation was only validated by the ritual murder of the existing community leaders. When her father and uncle rejected such a system, they were murdered in a gruesome manner by the Communists, and their remains were desecrated thereafter. This haunted Anka throughout the rest of her life. Even in the last years of her life, she would occasionally weep tears from her recollections.
Although education had been a priority in her family, the school was stopped during the war, and a regressive school process was established by the Communists thereafter. Regardless, she persisted in her own personal process of education, teaching her siblings and other village children while also reading to continue learning, self-taught. She especially loved books on medicine and healthcare and set up her “little pharmacy” - as she called it - in which she used medicinal plants and herbs to prepare therapeutic ointments, tonics, and teas. In later years, education remained at the forefront of her values. She frequently took her children to the library, readily bought books desired by them, and was amazed to be able to purchase the entire Encyclopedia Britannica set from a traveling salesman.
Though the end of World War II brought relief to Europe, Yugoslavia was fated to suffer continued strife from within, as the Communist government instituted a new system. Multitudes of selected people suffered imprisonment, oppression, and forced labor. Anka’s family endured this. She was conscripted to work in several labor camps, enduring arduous manual work building roads and railroads, and toiling over boiling vats of linseed oil. The conditions were harsh, humiliating, and demeaning. Several years later, she returned to Grahovo and worked at the local sawmill, where all of her wages went to providing for the family.
Anka married Jovan “John” Bulaich in 1958. He had emigrated from Grahovo to America many years prior before deciding to return home for a visit. She came over to America aboard the Queen Mary. Arriving at Ellis Island, her original name, Ana, was somehow changed to Anka, which became her American name. She traveled to Watsonville, California by train, enchanted by the beautiful scenery of America. One enduring memory she had was witnessing wild horses roaming free across the plains of Wyoming. Watsonville became her lifelong home.
Anka took to her new homeland with open arms. As she adjusted to her new environment, she took driving lessons, began learning English, and did extensive gardening. From her marriage to John, she had five children, and while expecting her fifth, she proudly obtained U.S. citizenship in 1965. She venerated the American tradition of constitutional freedoms and the rights of the people to petition for justice. She appreciated the citizens’ right to elections and reminded her family of the importance of that right.
Having survived through the ravages of war, she was keenly aware of the poverty and adversity her relatives and fellow citizens struggled with back in Montenegro in the aftermath. Anka became resolved to help and she found a way. That way was the U.S. Post Office. For over six decades, she sent thousands of packages filled with clothes, shoes, medicines, food, and sundries overseas. Throughout all of those years, all the staff at Watsonville’s U.S. Post Office branch were a critical conduit for her and Grahovo, especially during the years when telephones were rare in the village. The skill and competence of the American postal service was something she came to appreciate and hold in high esteem. She would often lecture her children not to take such an institution for granted.
But it was not just the postal service. Anka appreciated the full spectrum of civic institutions of America and had a profound respect for the sacrifices made by veterans for the nation.
John Bulaich passed away in 1969, leaving Anka the difficult job of being a single mother of five. With a measure of uncertainty, she set out to manage the family's affairs to the best of her ability despite not being completely familiar with the ways of her adopted land. Over time, and with the assistance of many people in the Watsonville community, she coped and adapted to the challenges of her situation and felt very blessed to have such support.
Her family endured another tragedy when her daughter Janice passed away in 1982. The loss of her daughter was the most heart-wrenching grief she endured. In profound sorrow, Anka summoned the strength to impart resilience and an appreciation for life's gifts, however fleeting. She taught her children to find joy in nature and generosity - the sweet taste of honeysuckle, nurturing an injured bird or cat. She found strength, even in the darkest times, to carry on and honor the memory of loved ones.
For the past twenty years, Anka had multiple ailments that limited her mobility. In response, her children provided the assistance for living at home. Having been self-reliant throughout her life, she sometimes felt she was a burden. With a good nature and sense of humor, she actually was a barrel of fun and truly imparted a unique life force to all around her that was deeply felt.
When Montenegro became independent in 2006, the grip of communism had diminished. A dear family friend, Radomir Bulajic, collaborated with Anka to design and erect a monument in Grahovo - a family grave marker memorializing relatives who had been buried without ceremony or honor due to the turmoil of politics and war. This simple act of remembrance brought a profound sense of peace to her.
Anka passed away at home on October 16, 2023, surrounded by her children. She was 92 years old. Anka lived many different experiences, including some heartbreaking ones. Throughout, she strove for a positive disposition. She encouraged people to be generous, especially in times of need, and would often cook meals, bake treats, and donate to those less fortunate.
Anka is survived by her adoring children Ivan, Ilia, Nikola, and Marta, as well as Marta’s fiancé Steve Wozniak. She is also survived by her nieces-in-law Milka V. Bulajic of Montenegro, Nancy Bulaich of Santa Cruz, Rosemary Bulaich of Capitola, and Lucille Deretich of Gilroy; numerous relatives in Montenegro, Canada, and America; dear family friends Radomir Bulajic and Stevo Vujicic of Montenegro; and many friends across the world.
The Bulaich Family appreciates Anka’s devoted primary care physician of 20 years, Dr. Jennifer Schreck, all of her caring doctors, the nursing team at Heartland Hospice, and the Carroll Family and staff at Ave Maria Memorial Chapel for her final services.
A public viewing service will be held on Wednesday, November 1st, at Ave Maria Memorial Chapel in Watsonville, California from 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM, with a religious service and remembrance at 7:00 PM. A private funeral service will be conducted at Pajaro Valley Memorial Park at a future date. For well-wishers who are so inclined, memorial donations can be made to the St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church in Saratoga or a favorite charity of choice.