The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Home Lands

November 28, 2010

Descendants carry on their ancestors' traditions

Faith in God carried Hungarian immigrants across the ocean to a new land.

America was a melting pot of various cultures and the Hungarians clung to their traditions as strongly as the newcomers from other lands.

A big tradition was the Hungarian Grape Festival, held in the fall in Hungary to celebrate a successful harvest.

The tradition made it across the Atlantic, and was a staple at the former St. Emerich Roman Catholic Church in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

The event, featuring colorful costumes, also was popular with Hungarians from other churches.

Barb Petruska of Brownstown Borough, who is of Hungarian and Slovak descent, said her mother, Ann (Havrilla) Stofa, handmade costumes for her and her three siblings.

“We decorated the church hall with leaves and branches that we gathered in the woods,” she said.

Petruska’s grandparents, Joseph and Rose Havrilla, immigrated from Hungary and settled in Woodvale.

Her grandfather worked in the steel mill while her grandmother took care of the house and raised their nine children.

Marion “Dutch” Lehman of the Edgewood neighborhood of Lower Yoder Township said her grandparents, Joseph and Martha Toth, kept alive the tradition of having an extra place setting for Christmas dinner for an unexpected visitor.

Another tradition was inviting cousins and other family members for a Sunday meal, she said.

Her grandparents already were married and had one son who died in infancy before coming from Hungary.

Her grandparents arrived in the early 20th century with her grandfather working in the steel mill and her grandmother taking care of the house and the six additional children born to them.

Her grandparents first lived in Cambria City before settling in Oakhurst.

Margaret Slick of Geistown said her grandparents on her mother’s side left Hungary in the early 20th century and settled in Windber.

Her grandparents, Mike and Bertha Lodinsky, raised four children.

The immigrants quickly learned English and remained close to each other, she said.

“Churches were a big part of their lives,” she said.

She said entire families would attend weekend dances, highlighted with a live Hungarian orchestra.

Frank Myers of Mundys Corner, whose grandparents Alex and Pauline Mata arrived in central Cambria County in the early 20th century, said folks brought their recipes with them to America.

He said his grandparents made Hungarian sausage and pigs feet, plus smoked their own ham and bacon.

“I still make pigs feet Hungarian style, the way my grandmother made it,” he said.

Barbara Horvath of Mine 37, Richland Township, whose parents, Andrew and Theresa Molnar, immigrated from Hungary in the early 20th century, said the women baked their own bread and made their own cottage cheese.

Chicken paprikash was a favorite dish along with beet relish, made by mixing horseradish and slices of beets.

Toni Kohler of Windber, Horvath’s daughter, said it was an Easter tradition for families to take food to Mass on Easter Sunday to have it blessed.

“They would cover the basket with beautiful, embroidered cloths that usually were inscribed with a picture of the Resurrection,” she said.

The women made their own coverings, she said.

Alexis Kozak of Westmont said the Hungarian immigrants founded a social club in Johnstown during the 1920s to support each other.

Originally located behind the former St. Emerich Roman Catholic Church, the American Hungarian Citizens Club would advise members on where they could learn to improve their English skills, she said.

The club, which moved to the former Gilbert Street School in the Brownstown area in the 1960s, also was a way to keep in touch with the motherland, she said.

During the 1956 revolution in Hungary when Hungarians revolted against communist rule, the club helped many people who fled the  communists and settled here, she said.

As a girl in the latter days of the club, which closed in 1985, she remembers that everybody at the club was like family.

“Even if people weren’t your aunt or uncle, you called them that out of respect,” she said.

A Hungarian-language newspaper, The Hirado, was published in Johnstown as a weekly from 1910 to 1924.

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