Hungarian community celebrates heritage

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Martins Ferry officials and members of the First Presbyterian Church celebrated the first Hungarian Festival Saturday on Walnut Street. Many of Hungarian ancestry shared food, traditions and stories from the old county. Deacon Ron Yunterzuber, left, with Mayor Robert Krajnyak and his father, Robert Krajnyak Sr, and the Rev. David Stammerjohn, pastor of the church.

MARTINS FERRY — Hungarian music and smells of food filled Walnut Street Saturday as dozens of locals of Hungarian ancestry, and many more guests, gathered for the City of Martins Ferry’s inaugural Hungarian Festival.

The First Presbyterian Church was a center of of activity and hosted traditional Hungarian food and memorabilia in the basement. Visitors enjoyed cabbage rolls, goulash, noodles and poppy seed rolls, and looked at pictures of immigrant families and items from the old country. The Pittsburgh-based George Batyi Gypsy Orchestra performed, with Alex Udvary playing the cimbalom, a hammered string instrument, and the national instrument of Hungary.

The Rev. David Stammerjohn, pastor of the church, spoke at the ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m., saying that the church had served as a center of life for the Hungarian immigrant communities who brought their faith with them when they journeyed to the United States to search for new opportunities.

He said word spread quickly over social media.

“We seemed to have a tremendous response from that. Lots of people are here and we expect more to be coming as the day goes on,” he said afterward. He shared a few stories he had heard about the move of Hungarian immigrants who settled in the area in the early 1900s. He added that Ohio was an economic crossroads of the country with coal and steel mill work needed.

“That would be the way that many of the coal camps would get workers,” he said. “Many stayed.”

Stammerjohn added that further waves of immigrants would arrive later, fleeing the spread of communism.

“I’m interested to hear those stories. How do people get here and what was it like back in Hungary? Why did they come at that time? I want to know that.”

Mayor Robert Krajnyak commended the organizers of the event and hoped for many more in the future.

“I’d like to see this as an annual event,” he said, adding that he was honored to officiate at the ribbon cutting. He introduced his father, Robert Krajnyak Sr., adding that his family immigrated from Hungary and have been Americans for close to 100 years.

He shared stories from the coal-mining immigrant community.

“My grandfather would take a mule down to the mine and pick and shovel coal, load it up in the cart and bring it out. The Hungarian part is very special to me. We’ve been studying our history and have made contact with relatives from Hungary.”

“We’ve had a lot of interest,” Ron Yunterzuber of Bellaire, a deacon at the church, said. “There is a lot more Hungarian people in Ferry than I thought, and we all got together and created a Hungarian menu.”

Yunterzuber said many have preserved their traditions of food and music.

“A lot of people didn’t have a lot of money back then and they had to make do with items they could grow and raise around here. I think a lot of that was instilled in the kids. A lot of the Hungarian people today remember what it was like growing up in a big family,” he said. “They had different styles of Hungarian dances that they did, and they would all get together.”

Andy Sutak of Martins Ferry, former Belmont County auditor, was among those celebrating his Hungarian heritage. Among the memorabilia on display was a Hungarian dress his mother wore when she danced in the area.

“Most of the stories (were about) family and the Christianity that they all believed in. Mostly the friendly atmosphere of being together and having the Hungarian food. That’s what brings a family together,” Sutak said. “They came over here for a better life. There was a lot more work. A lot of them lived out in the country, farms, they wanted something better for their families. … They worked in the coal mines and the steel mills and we had a lot of migration after the 1956 revolution (against Soviet control and the subsequent Soviet crackdown).”

“My grandfather was born in Hungary,” Mike Yeso of Martins Ferry said. “He probably came around 1902 … looking for a better life for his family. They settled in Western Pennsylvania in the coal mine area.”

“My mother was born in the United States in 1910,” Paula Ginther of Shadyside said. “My grandfather thought it would be a better life. He became a coal miner and they traveled all across the Pennsylvania/West Virginia (area). … My cousins are into the genealogy. I did the cooking.”

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