Growing up, I was on the south side for a great majority of my childhood (1967-1980). This is because my step-father (later adopted father) was Hungarian and he took his new family to the Hungarian Reformed Church off of Woodrow Road. My parents became very active in the various groups and events surrounded and indirectly involved with the church. The ladies and the gentlemen of the church became a second family to me. When I left to live in California in 1980, over the years, they began to pass away and soon the church became what it is today, a few remaining members. I decided to write a memorial to the women specifically for their hard labor and fond memories that they created for me and hundreds of other people since the time this church was erected in 1906.
The first church organization was the Lorantffy Zsuzsanna Ladies Aid Society, which was founded in 1921 with 17 members. These ladies spoke Hungarian as their primary language and in some cases their only language. I have no connection or memories of this group at all, as I never learned to properly speak the language and my mother was not a member. Instead, I identify with these women through my father who often went to their homes after church to pay his respects (and eat!). While they were conversing in their native language, I was entertained by langos (fried bread) and 7up, which seemed to be the soda of the Magyars! Being a nosy person as well, I was also entertained by the sights and smells of their kitchens. Old Hungarian women (and German women I knew) had that distinct scent that permeated their homes since they were forever cooking.
One funny story was of a very old woman named Claraneni, whose son was often at the church. She was what you would call a hoarder in this generation, though not to the extreme as people are now. As a result, she could not allow us to leave without giving us things to take home. Hungarians are generous people and would give you the shirt off their back. She had her “trinkets” to offer. Often it was a cigar box with things she had taken home from a restaurant (i.e., plastic silverware but she seemed to also have an endless supply of wet wipes from Kentucky Fried Chicken). On one occasion, she offered my dad a pair of white men’s shoes (Pat Boone style) that her husband had once worn. We would laugh tenderly on the way home at this little old lady with such a big heart.
The Women’s Guild came together in 1940, and it was originally called the Needle and Thread Guild. This was a place for the church women to gather and be responsible for producing and directing many of the events that took place in the church. We all looked forward to the events which almost always included delicious Hungarian food. My favorite was Easter morning breakfast. While I was sitting in church, my nostrils were gently caressed by the aromas that were rising up the stairs into the sanctuary. After service as I descended the stairs, the scent became stronger and stronger. I couldn’t help salivating with impatience. My ears took in the clinking of the cutlery against the plates, from those who were quick to sit down at the tables. Standing in line for the eggs made especially for us, I couldn’t wait to be allowed to make my choice. And then finally it was my turn, and I heard “How would you like them?” I had already heard the different selections from those in front of me. This was my first time to hear the words “Sunny Side Up” and I chose this every year because it sounded like a fun choice. These bacon, eggs, and toast were well worth the wait after having to be at Sunrise service at 6:00 am. After eating breakfast of course you would be treated to jelly beans and chocolates.
The Women’s Guild also hosted the making of the kolbacs (sausages) each year, to sell, from a recipe that was made from taste not instructions. At other times they made and sold cabbage rolls and kifli’s (cookies). A cookbook entitled “Our Favorite Hungarian Recipes,” has been one of their most successful fundraisers. I am not aware of too many Hungarian women in Columbus that do not have a copy of this book. In trying to decipher the origins of this book, now in its 13th edition, the current Consistory President of the church, Ilona Isaacs, discovered that the address in her book said Columbus 7, Ohio which puts this book somewhere in between 1943 and 1963, as postal zones were instituted during World War II and zip codes replaced them on July 1, 1963. Contact the church to find out about purchasing a copy as it is still in production and under $10.00 for costs and shipping!
Another special event was the mother/daughter luncheon each May. I really treasured this time and looking back now, I know it was the value of those moments. I recall looking out across the room one year (it was a small two-story house turned into a restaurant) and seeing who had arrived, which girls went with which mothers. Some were older daughters, who didn’t attend church, so I only knew their mothers. I am a visual person and often fancied myself taking a photograph with my eyes that I swore I would never forget. While I did not forget, I wish I had a photo to show you now.
The women’s guild held an annual Big Bear luncheon to raise money for the church. One year in particular, a lady who became Bethel Nagy (I don’t recall her maiden name) arrived from Big Bear, as the caterer and left to become the future wife of our then minister. You will see the two of them side by side in both of the photos I have of the women’s groups from 1981. They are not too hard to spot in the front row.
Sometimes the younger girls, such as myself would show up for these culinary events to be put in charge of peeling potatoes or setting tables and other such duties needed for the preparation. This was always an exciting opportunity to take in the ladies in their aprons working diligently together around the huge island which housed two sinks and prep area counters in the middle, along with stoves, cabinets and more counter space on the edges of this large kitchen. They always seemed to have it together as a team. It was well organized and functioned smoothly each year. At one time, there were 56 women involved. I recently purchased an apron I found at a local antique store. When I saw it, it reminded me of the Hungarian women in the kitchen. I imagined I could still smell the scent the onions and garlic emanating from the fabric. When I tried it on, it was a little small but I didn’t care. Wearing it while I cook now gives me the most amazing sense that I am being guided by those women.
Many women were involved with the women’s guild, so I have attached a photo here from 1981. I can’t recall all of their names yet when I look at their smiles, many memories come to mind. Perhaps you might recognize your great grandma, grandma or mother. Of course this would be Edesanya, Nagymama or Anya. Please note my photos, with the exception of one of them, were taken of a photo behind glass. I tried turning some lights off to get rid of the glare. Keep in mind the photo that you see here is better than it would have been. The glass could not be removed as you will note in one photo, the last time they did, it broke.
One woman, Rose Komives, hosted her own event whenever she would go travelling around the world. I recall a couple of Asian countries, which ones I don’t remember. We would all show up downstairs in the basement, where most of our events were held and she would give us a slide presentation. Afterward she would have a display of all the beautiful items she had purchased while there. Of course her display was never absent of a few doll selections, which I admired the most. This was an interesting occasion as we didn’t get much experience with other cultures, growing up, with the exception of the United Nations festival at the Lausche building each October.
In 1976, the Mary Szanto memorial scholarship was put together on behalf of Mary who came to America in 1921 with her sister. She was very active with the Lorranttfy Zsuszanna Ladies Aid Society and the church. This scholarship has sent many Hungarian young adults to Ohio State University.
I can’t forget the two ladies who played the organ for 40 years or more. One was my own mother, Janet Vegh (now Lawton) the other was Florence Bokoros. Florence played for Hungarian and my mother played for English services. They were also on hand for weddings which they would take turns attending depending on their busy schedules. Both sang in the choir and my mother performed solo parts on holidays. She also played for a men’s quartet at one time, though this was after I had already left.
I also want to make a note of the Sunday school and our annual Vacation Bible School which were manned by the women of the church as well. Erma Pache recently died but she had taught the kindergarten ages for hundreds of children. Until her passing, if one of her former students happened to be at the church she made a point of reminding the people she was with who we were. She cherished these years as I always imagined she valued her own children and grandchildren. Vacation Bible School also included a little Hungarian lesson, when we all merged together in the basement (after our separate age groups met for class) and were having our snack. Then we would all go out to the backyard of the parsonage and play Hungarian children’s games. These were all conducted through songs that I can still manage to sing correctly after all these years.
The women of the Hungarian church were very kind and nurturing to all the children who attended. On top of all of their duties as church women, they also supported us with our school activities as well. If we sold Girl Scout cookies or chocolate bars for school and band fundraisers, you could bet you would make your quota when you showed up at the church. If you achieved some merit or got your first job, they would be delighted with your progress.
It is sad walking in the church basement and adjoining kitchen now because I am no longer greeted by at least a dozen women, in aprons, who are happy to see me and offer me a hug. These ladies were a part of a generation that once was. This generation provided us with elders that you were anxious to learn from, look up to but most of all to earn their respect. Of course your parents instilled this value which no longer appears to be present in our current society with very watered down values. It is for this reason, I have put together this website, to honor and cherish my elders, ancestors who brought all of us to where we are today. I don’t want people to forget and I hope to remind people the importance of respecting their elders.
***Special thanks to Sarah Glowa who invited me over for lunch to talk about these old memories. I also want to remember her late husband Paul who put together a wonderful 100th anniversary booklet which she allowed me to borrow. It gave me so much information about dates and the actual history of the church which I did not know. This booklet was almost finished when Paul died and before it was taken to be printed, the church made sure to make a note of his hard work and dedication in the production of its contents.