Vytautas Cekanauskas, a former Hughes Aircraft electrical engineer who served as honorary consul general of Lithuania in Los Angeles for more than 30 years, has died. He was 80.
Cekanauskas died of cancer Nov. 30 at Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, said his daughter, Vida Bruozis.
The Lithuanian-born Cekanauskas was appointed by the chief of the Lithuanian Diplomatic Service in 1977 and served in the uncompensated position until his death.
In 1990, during his tenure, the Baltic republic's legislature declared its independence from the Soviet Union.
"I care about my heritage," Cekanauskas, who became an American citizen in the 1950s, said in a Times interview in 1986. "Our consular and diplomatic service represents a continuation of our country. We are recognized officials of our country. It is important for us to have a continuity, just standing as a reminder that the U.S. government never recognized this illegal occupation."
Cekanauskas gave numerous speeches to Lithuanian communities across the country and to local groups in Southern California, some of which were published in Lithuanian-language newspapers in the U.S. and Lithuania.
"He was a very loyal American citizen; he loved this country for what it stood" for, said Albinas Markevicius, a past president of the Lithuanian American Council, who knew Cekanauskas for more than four decades.
"At the same time, he came from Lithuania as a boy, and he worked diligently in every possible effort toward the eventual restoration of freedom and independence" in Lithuania, said Markevicius.
Born in Kaunas, Lithuania, on March 7, 1929, Cekanauskas left Lithuania when the Soviets occupied the country in 1944 and finished high school after the war in Ravensburg, Germany.
Before immigrating to the United States in 1949, he worked at the headquarters of the International Refugee Organization in Neuenburg, in the French Zone of occupation in Germany.
While in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he served with the Korean Military Advisory Group and received a Purple Heart after being wounded in action.
After earning a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois in 1957, he worked at North American Aviation from 1957 to 1963. He then worked at Hughes Aircraft Co. until 1991, first in the Space System Division and then in the Missile System Division.
Before his appointment to honorary consul general, Cekanauskas served on the board of directors or as chairman in numerous organizations, including the United Lithuanian Relief Fund of America, the Lithuanian American Council, the Captive Nations Committee, the Lithuanian American Assn. and the Lithuanian Republican Club.
In addition to his daughter Vida, he is survived by his wife, Janina; daughters Daiva Navarrette and Rita Zukas; his brother, Algirdas Sprindziunas; and nine grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Casimir Catholic Church, 2718 Saint George St., Los Angeles.