Hungarian Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles

Hungary's children honor tradition

By Nancy Bigler Kersey, Society editor
Plain Dealer, May 5 1980

Keeping tradition alive was what Saturday night's Hungarian Centennial Ball at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum was all about.

For an evening black for the 432 guests there to commemorate the first Hungarian settlement (1880) in the Western Reserve.

"Those who have come to America have kept the turn-of-the century culture alive," said former Clevelander August J. Molnar, president of the American Hungarian Foundation, which benefits from the evening's proceeds. The foundation is headquartered in New Brunswick, N. J.

"People in Europe have become urbanized, which has really clouded rural or folk culture," said Molnar. "Not only is our effort to preserve, but to share the American heritage with Hungary.

"The foundation has sent many thousands of books about American literature to Hungarian universities. (There is also a reciprocal student exchange program sponsored by the nonprofit organization founded in 1954.)

The benefit, with Mr. and Mrs. Zoltan Gombos as honorary chairmen, was particularly festive. More than two dozen guests of Hungarian descent wore period costumes. "Then you came in, you looked like something from 'Fiddler on the Roof,'" said Herald Long to the Rev. Rick Orley of St. Emeric's Church, who was attired in Prince Albert long coat, and full-brimmed black pastor's hat.

"I'm not going to fake the collar," said Orley, indicating that he was indeed wearing part of his formal vestments, a satin embroidered black matyo, under his jacket, which was rented from a costume company.

The Rev. Stephen Szabo of the First Hungarian Reformed Church gave up his religious garments for the formal attire worn by men at the turn-of-the century. His was tailored for him in Budapest when he was 22.

Evelyn Kovachy, wife of Edward M., wore a long black velvet dress aglitter with rhinestones at the neck-line, sleeves and hem, which she said was reminiscent of the vestments of the Golden Fleece.

"My great, great, great uncle was Baron Pongrate, king of Northern Hungary. My mother's family were members of the order of the Golden Fleece, the oldest order of chivalry in the world," she said. "The vestments are on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

"When my son was at Harvard, he was never interested in his heritage. Now he is since he learned about the Golden Fleece."

The feeling of a shared cultural heritage was strong among the young who attended. "Our parents were born in Europe," said Andrea Kovacs, 18. "They have passed everything down to us. We want to keep up with other nationalities in keeping our heritage alive."

Also attending was her younger sister, Melinda, in court-dress attire as the MHBK (Hungarian Veteran's Association) 1980 debutante of the year.

The dinner served was a traditional one, chicken soup, veal paprikash, pork stuffed with smoked sausage, sweet and sour cabbage and nut torte.

"When I was a child, I saw dinners with 22 to 25 courses," said Gabriel Pallavicini, a baroness and lived on a 60,000-acre estate in Romania before World War II and now lives here with him.

After dinner, the 12-member Hungarian Theater and Dance Company of Cleveland entertained in authentic costumes with the polatas, a court dance, and the Huszar in full military costume.

The orchestra, which played traditional Hungarian music, featured the cimbalom, a large type of dulcimer. "It's an ancient Hungarian instrument which you hear in 'Dr. Zhivago,'" said the Rev. Frank "Juhasz" Shepard.