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International Women’s Day Holds Special Significance for HOK Architect and War Refugee

Dusica Stankovic always celebrated March 8; life circumstances taught her to cherish it.

Before war led her to a new life in Germany and, later, the United States, Dusica Stankovic grew up in Sarajevo, where March 8 was always special.

“It was the Day of the Women, a state holiday in the former Yugoslavia,” says Stankovic, now a senior project architect in HOK’s St. Louis studio. “We’d spend the month of February in school crafting gifts for our mothers. As March 8 approached, we’d go to the market to buy flowers for our mothers, grandmothers and teachers.”

As a new mother in the late 1980s, Stankovic looked forward to her own daughter experiencing the tradition of the Day of the Women. But in April of 1992, fighting and shelling from the Balkan Civil War reached their Sarajevo neighborhood, and Stankovic and her three-year-old daughter fled to Germany. Stankovic’s husband, also an architect, would remain in Bosnia for the next four years before reuniting with his wife and daughter in Germany.

In 1997 the family moved to the U.S. They’d spend the next two decades in the San Francisco Bay Area and then in Iowa, where Dusica and her husband worked as architects focused on higher education, research labs, healthcare, K-12, municipal and retail design. When their daughter moved to St. Louis, they followed suit.

Dusica had just recently joined HOK last year when to her surprise and elation her female colleagues gathered on March 8 for a group photo in recognition of International Women’s Day (below).

“It was the first time in my 20 years of being in the U.S. that I was part of an organization that recognized Women’s Day,” says Stankovic. “I was in awe and thought to myself, ‘OK. This is the place for me.’”

Stankovic notes that Women’s Day actually got its start in the United States with the socialist movement of the early 1900s. But it was in Europe and the former Soviet Union (where the day became an official state holiday) that Women’s Day has enjoyed its greatest popularity.

“I’m happy that it’s now gaining more recognition here in the U.S. and elsewhere,” says Stankovic, who plans to spend today celebrating International Women’s Day with both her daughter and her mother, who now lives with her. “Architecture is my profession, but the past two-and-a-half decades have put everything into perspective. I’m first and foremost a mother and daughter.”

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