Hungarian-Americans Celebrate 66th Anniversary – Was it worth it? American Now

In memory of my step/adopt father, Antal Végh, who came to this country in 1956, at the age of 19 and died only eight days before the 40th anniversary.

What would my dad say now, if he saw the country he escaped to in 1956, to have freedom, in the wake of communism in Hungary? I wonder what he would think of his daughter, standing in line at Kroger, in New Albany, Ohio, for thirty minutes around 8pm because they only had one cashier. No more “Three’s a Crowd,” customer service rules there (from a long ago commercial). An impromptu and unplanned demonstration, you might say, was going on with those of us in line. We refused to use self-service because most of us were in our 50’s and 60’s and understood what self-service meant. We lived through having the luxury of gas station attendants who washed our windows and changed our oil for free. What started with one lane for “self-serve” at a gas station went to all self-serve and people in a kiosk who couldn’t care less about your car.

I had the unfortunate experience the other night, while at the same Kroger’s dealing with an angry kiosk employee. I had rapped on the window because I kept saying hello and she didn’t answer. I peered through the window around the corner and saw her standing there, out of view. When she got to the window she replied “You didn’t need to tap on the window.” I replied that I had tried calling out and she did not respond. Kroger Fuel will not accept Master Card, so I have to go to the kiosk to pay. I know what happens to pin numbers at the pump, by ne’re-do-wells. So, what would my dad say to my having to stand in line for food? He refused to go to any restaurant, when he was alive, if there was a line. This is because, in Hungary, he remembered food lines and would never approach one ever again.

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The Declaration of Independence, 4th of July 1776

As we celebrate the 244th anniversary of our independence from Great Britain and our right to exist as free peoples without fear of the King’s rule. Here are the actual words and a photograph of the document itself. Also, a little known fact of women’s history.

Jewish Women and the Columbus Jewish Historical Society

Founders of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Toby Brief, when she talked to the American Association of University Women, about the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and showed us around their little museum in Bexley.

The mission of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is to collect, preserve, and publish materials on the history of the Jewish people of Columbus and central Ohio; to encourage projects, celebrations, and activities which spread authentic information concerning Columbus and central Ohio Jewish history; to create a Society concerned with the past, present, and future; and to enlighten the membership of the Society, the Jewish community and the general public on the achievements of our people and the growth of Jewish community life from the days of the early settlers.

They began this organization in 1981 but the work toward Jewish refugees began after the 1830’s when Jewish people first came to the Columbus area. Anti-Semitism was not as huge in Columbus as in other cities, so they were able to start businesses (such as the Lazarus Department Stores), rent and purchase homes without much issue.

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Ohio Writer Margaret Peterson Haddix

This time I am not giving you an account of an Ohio Woman in History but a female writer from Ohio who writes children’s books. I chose her book, “Uprising” which is about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire which occurred on March 25, 1911. This tragedy occurred in New York and claimed the lives of 146 people (123 women and 23 men). The majority of the victims were between the ages of 14-23 years old. Ms. Haddix chose to do a historical fiction to discuss this terrible incident by focusing her story around three women who might have been involved. She carefully researched her book in great detail (which she tells you in an author’s note at the end).

This included a strike that occurred between the months of 1909-1910. This strike demanded many things, hoping to make working conditions fairer and safer. The union caved too quickly and did not even secure a “closed” shop which would have meant that Triangle could not hire non-union workers. Shortly after sending the strikers back to work, the “promises” quickly faded. It is odd that the union wasn’t called to the mat in court, as well as the owners of Triangle Shirtwaist Company, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris. Had the union succeeded in securing rights for the worker’s this horrible event would not have happened.

The story which unfolds is beautifully told. Ms. Haddix breaks the story up by the three girl’s names, so that we hear each of their voices. One is a Russian Jew, Yetta; then there is Bella an Italian that had recently arrived and finally there is Jane, a wealthy young American woman ripe on the heels of the suffragist’s movement. At first none of them even know each other but through various events are brought together. At the end, only one of them will survive and this is not a secret as you are told this at the beginning of the book. And, like with “The Nightingale,” by Kristen Hannah (another historical novel but about German occupied France) the ending is a surprise.

The story has romance, it is of course ripe with suspense and the characters all have self-reflection. In the end, the writer tells us how she knows what happened to the other two characters. This is Ms. Haddix’s way of answering all of the reader’s questions. The most significant is “How could she possibly know.”

Naturally, I knew about this piece of history and as it happened, it came up at least twice, prior to reading this, while I was judging National History Day. Since I had purchased the book a year prior, at Ohioana, I knew I needed to sit down and pour over the pages which were now begging to be read. While reading this book, another issue kept gnawing at me that always has since our factories were signed over to China under the Clinton regime. What a waste! For years since the trade agreement was signed and our small towns (quite a few in Ohio, including Middletown which you read about in “Hillbilly Elegy” by another Ohioan, J.D. Vance) have been turned into meth labs and are screaming for answers to bring back a dwindling economy stolen from them 20+ years ago. All the work that these men and women went through, several decades ago, to create: fair wage laws, equal employment, age limits and humane working conditions; completely lost by the stroke of a President’s hand. Now, American factories are in communist countries, third world environments that have none of these rights at hand.

When I read this book and I hope many of you will as well, I think particularly of 146 workers who died in vain. What would Yetta think if she saw that what the striker’s worked for only became a temporary fix? What has happened to unions that were there to protect the worker’s jobs? I keep wondering if the unions had caved just like they did at the end of the shirtwaist worker’s strike. Max and Isaac, the owners of Triangle Shirtwaist Company are just two CEO’s not unlike those of our big corporations today. These multimillion dollar companies, today, are no more interested in their employees or even their customers. Perhaps we have better laws now to protect employees from a fire breaking out in a building but there are just different issues at hand in this generation. As I am a therapist in my day job, I often hear employees talking about how 1. They can’t talk to Human Resources anymore because they are in another country or state (different time zones). 2. They are expected to work off the clock (or on salary) and take text messages and phone calls 24/7 in some cases. That is to say, whenever the boss has a question. Meanwhile, as a customer, when was the last time you called a corporation and actually spoke to a receptionist? Likewise, how often did you get the right person on the phone or had to call back several times. How long was it between the time you first called the company, till the time you got your answer?

Serious questions that politicians always fight about to get votes but never really solve.

Agnes May Driscoll – Westerville, Ohio

 Agnes May Driscoll, née Meyer (July 24, 1889 – September 16, 1971, Leo/Athena), known by colleagues as Madame X or Miss Aggie. At first glance you might see a very timid woman in her photographs. You are suddenly caught by her eyes and this is when you realize her wisdom, strength and character. Unfortunately, Agnes is probably the most difficult woman I have chosen to write about on this blog because only one paper has been written about her and she

Beth Weinhardt

was a cryptanalyst, something I know nothing about. I am extremely grateful to

Beth Weinhardt, Local History Manager at the Westerville Library, for allowing me to spend time in their history museum reading this paper. Beth is also the writer of the “Images of America: Westerville” booklet that can be found at stores here in Ohio (but also on Amazon). This coming weekend, July 22, 2017, at 2pm, the Westerville Library will be honoring Agnes by placing a plaque outside the front of the library. The section of the library where this will be placed also happens to be the home Agnes and her family lived in until 1903.  This is the time when the Anti-Saloon League purchased the property but then later sold it to the library in the 1930’s.

At the age of six years old, Agnes and her family moved to Westerville, from Illinois as her father had accepted a position at the newly opened “Otterbein College,” as a Professor of Music. Her father was Dr. Gustav Meyer, a German

Meyer family home 110 State Street.

immigrant from a town called Neustadt on Reibenberg near Hanover. Her mother, Lucy Andrews Meyer was American. The family had only three children at the time of the move to Westerville, with Agnes being the youngest but it would soon grow to a total of eight children. Dr. Meyer was also an accomplished pianist and like his father, he would share his love of music with the family. Agnes would go on to study music and become an accomplished pianist herself. Also, like her father, fluent in several languages. Dr. Meyer also ran a very strict household, demanding obedience. As you read the paper “The Neglected Giant,” 2015, by Kevin Wade Johnson of the National Security Administration (NSA), on Agnes, a deceased colleague from this agency, you begin to empathize with her personality.

Agnes was from a time before women had the right to vote. She would be 31 years old before she was able to do so for the first time. Prior to joining the U.S. Navy in 1917, she achieved degrees from both Otterbein and OSU. She received a Bachelor’s degree (listed in the paper as an A.B.) in Mathematics, Physics, Foreign Languages and Music and taught for some time. At the age of 28, in 1917, this was the first time the Navy allowed women to enlist and they were only allowed to be in clerical positions. Their view on women did not change much in her time and she was often slighted from promotions, pay raises, and dealt with heavy competition and jealousy from male peers; which caused her much distress. She was recruited as a Chief Yeoman and started with a pay of $1400/annum. This was in the middle of World War I and almost immediately she was transferred to Washington D.C. to work in the Code and Signal Section of the Director of Naval Communications.

Great Nephew Captain Victor A. Meyer, (retired USN).

Her time in the Navy started out as a short period of a couple of years. She was discharged and then went back to work as a civilian but quickly left for what seemed like a promising future in the small business world. After solving a puzzle (noted as being unsolvable), in a contest put together by Edward H. Hebern, she was asked to work at his company Hebern Electric Company, at their offices in D.C. as a Technical Advisor. This was to be a small stint as the company fell apart due to issues with finances. It would be 1924 when she returned to her post as a civilian in the Navy knowing that she was going to receive a 17.5% pay cut.  

At this time she was working for Captain Laurance Safford, who was to become known as “the father of U.S. Navy Cryptology.” It was also a time when Japanese and Americans were engaged in stealing secrets from each other, known as “black-bag” jobs. Soon she would be put on the task of breaking the codes from something known as “The Red Book.” It would take her three years before she was able to accomplish this. In the meantime she was training junior officers on the art of cryptology. This is about the time when her nicknames began to be formed by the men and she would be known as Madame X or Miss Aggie.

Agnes was a very refined woman, seen by colleagues as being tall and patrician, she was only about 5’ 5” which is an average height for women today, though it was tall for a woman at that time. It is mentioned that probably because she was in a “man’s world,” she was known to “curse like a sailor.” This certainly would not fit her personality based on the way she was raised and what you can gleam from her personal life. She also wore no make-up to work as attractive women were said to be in the military to marry a sailor. She would however, go on to marry Michael “Brownie” Bernard Driscoll on August 12, 1925. Brownie, his nickname, was an Attorney for the Interstate Commerce Commission. He was known to be a sentimental person who wrote poems for his wife. Brownie and Agnes loved to travel and garden and they never had children. They were close to her family and she enjoyed analyzing her nieces and nephews when they were at play, trying to determine a deeper meaning in this. She would have made a great play therapist, no doubt. The two of them loved to enter contests and gamble and Agnes was a great chess player. Her sister Margaret Eliza Hamilton, was eight years her junior. She had enlisted in the Navy during World War I as well and would end up working with her sister in the Code and Signal Section.

By 1930 the Japanese had realized the U.S. was onto their codes and so they established a new code which would come to be known as “The Blue Book.” This lasted until 1938 and then it became “The Black Book,” in two parts. However, around 1937 Agnes was in a terrible automobile accident. The driver of the faulty car would see two fatalities. Agnes had about four people in her own car but she apparently suffered the worst. She had two broken jaws and a leg that was never properly fixed so that she suffered pain and walked with a cane the rest of her life. In the video above, you can see a photo of her with her mother and what her leg looked like. Evidently she was too afraid of the surgery, which would require re-breaking the bone and probably not as nicely as the way it would be managed today with modern technology. However, this injury was known to have changed her personality quite substantially. Though the debate from her colleagues as to whether or not this was the case varies according to favoritism. At this time, she was accomplishing a great many things for the Navy meanwhile watching her peers surpass her in pay and rank. She wasn’t too happy about this.

After the accident, it would appear she had hit her peak and upon returning from her convalescence began to go on the decline in her job. It does appear though that she would be set up to fail by her colleagues, from what was written. Around this time Pearl Harbor would be attacked, to no surprise to Agnes or to U.S. Naval Intelligence (though I found it interesting to read this). Nonetheless she would be shifted to other things at this point and was no longer involved with Japanese intelligence. She would be involved with a German naval system called Enigma, in which her work came to no avail. Partly, this had to do with the Navy refusing to work with the British who had already achieved success in decoding this system. Partly, it had taken awhile because Agnes’s methods for de-coding were behind the times and she refused to keep up with them. There were machines now to help with deciphering codes but Agnes preferred to work manually (and did so the rest of her career). It was however, her only way to find the answers that she trusted. Then she was put on a project called Coral and a colleague by the name of Frank Raven, was successful at thwarting her accomplishments by sabotaging them. He was backed by people within. Agnes at this point had enemies and her cheerleaders were losing strength as they were retiring or deceased.

In 1949, toward the end of her career, she was transferred to the newly formed Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA). It appears that she was at this point merely patronized on the job. The officers in charge had no respect for people who did not go to war directly, so she was given tasks to keep her busy during the day.  From 1952-1959 she became a consultant for the NSA (National Security Administration) that was formed by the top people in the field.  Agnes was still very stubborn in the way she did her work and was using a magnifying glass to pore over pages of information that took much longer to do then the machines devised to speed up the process. She did finally retire in 1959 after her 70th birthday, though no mention of this was made in the NSA newsletter.

At the end of her life, she and Brownie continued to travel, sometimes with her mother, to New England, post-war Europe and Cuba (before Castro). Agnes was fond of collecting green stamps, which gave rewards (these were before you had cards to get discounts at stores). She and her husband kept to themselves and did not socialize much, outside of a few dinner parties. They did attend lectures on astronomy and anthropology. Her mother Lucy would go on to live to be 100 years old and died in 1964. Within the same year her husband Brownie died three days before his 74th birthday. Her family noted that she was very stoic about this but stated that this was just her nature. She was known to them as an iron-willed woman.

Her sister’s stroke in 1969, which left her unable to talk until she died in 1980, would prove to be the toughest for Agnes to take.  The two of them had worked together since World War I and had been close their entire lives. Agnes shared a floor at the same nursing home and would come to her death at the age of 82, in 1971. She and her husband’s bodies are interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

The reason for there being a lack of information about Agnes is that she did not keep a diary or journal. Much of what the author was able to deduce for his paper came from military archives and journals written by her peers, which happened to mention her but gave biased details about her personality. She herself is a bit of an enigma.

**The above (and below) photos are from the ceremony on July 22, 2017, honoring her with a plaque in front of the library (and her home).

Front of plaque.

Great Nephew Captain Meyer standing next to the plaque.

Back of plaque.

The Women of the Hungarian Church – Columbus, OH

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.

Loranttfy Zsuzsanna Ladies Aid Society c.1928

Loranttfy Zsuzsanna Ladies Aid Society c.1928

Loranttfy Zsuzsanna Ladies Aid Society c. 1981

Loranttfy Zsuzsanna Ladies Aid Society c. 1981

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.

Womens Guild c. 1981

Womens Guild c. 1981

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.