253

 

upsurge in amateur performances in the dramatic arts, the second generation gained stage experience, self-confidence and a real appreciation of Hungarian Literature.

       People shared what little they had, the 1930s was a decade of great solidarity in the community. One Buckeye resident recalled how two or three families would get together and share a simple meal of cabbage dumplings, the taste of those dumplings was wonderful because: "...In those days we were hungry and what little we had tasted so good."54

D. HUNGARIANS IN POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

       Hungarians in Cleveland have played a substantial role in local and regional government. The Buckeye Road Hungarian community, which encompassed Ward 29 and Ward 16, provided an excellent voting bloc. It was generally said that, "If your name isn't Hungarian, forget about running for election in 29 or 16." The first Hungarian Councilman elected from Ward 29 was Louis Petrash; he was elected in 1921. Petrash set the trend, soon other talented lawyers and professionals realized that politics could be actively pursued by anyone, not only established Clevelanders. Furthermore, they realized that it was their responsibility to provide effective leadership and representation for the large Hungarian constituency in Cleveland.

       For nearly forty-five years Ward 29 was represented by Hungarian representatives to City Council. In Ward 16, Hungarian representation spanned thirty years, from 1939 until 1971. Approximately twenty-six Hungarian-Americans from the Buckeye Community were elected or appointed to various offices in the city, county and state levels of government (See Appendix). The Hungarians who immigrated prior to the First World War

 


 

254

 

and their children participated most actively in local politics and government. Hungarians immigrating after the Second World War and 1956 were far less politically conscious when compared to these "old-timers". The Buckeye Hungarians voted overwhelmingly Democrat, as a direct result of the Depression and the Roosevelt Presidency.

       Several generations of assimilation were not required for Hungarians to become active in local politics. Immigrants were frequently elected or appointed to high ranking government positions. Joseph Fodor (Investigating Attorney, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio), Frigyes Gonda (Ohio State Parole Board Supervisor), George Matowitz (Cleveland Chief of Police), and Hugo Varga (Director, Department of Parks and Public Property), along with many others, were all born in Hungary. Imre B. Freed, an immigrant from the County of Bereg, was appointed United States District Attorney under the Roosevelt Administration. Freed is the only Hungarian immigrant from Cleveland known to have served in the federal government. Usually these Hungarians immigrated as children with their parents and completed their education in this country. It is interesting to note the comparatively large numbers of professionals, especially lawyers, who emerged as part of this generation. Their immigrant status was an added hindrance to the difficult upward climb, but for the majority, the disadvantages only made them more determined to achieve their goal.

       From 1931 to 1974, there were usually two and oftentimes three Hungarian judges out of nine serving on the bench of the Municipal Court of Cleveland. These judges devoted decades of service to the citizens of the city, they were the pride of the community: Julius M. Kovachy (thirty

 


 

255

 

years), Louis Petrash (thirty-two years), Joseph Stearns (twenty-one years) and Blanche Krupansky (seven years). Andrew M. Kovachy and Blanche Krupansky also served as judges of the Common Pleas Court of Cuyahoga County.

       One of the most influential politicians in the history of city government was Jack P. Russell, the son of immigrant parents from Abauj County, Hungary. Russell was born in Cleveland on lower Buckeye Road. As a young man, he changed his name from Pal Ruschak to Jack P. Russell.55 In 1943, Jack Russell was first elected to Cleveland City Council as councilman from Ward 16, which encompassed lower Buckeye Road. Russell retained this Council seat for twenty-eight years, or fourteen terms. Within a few years, he was chosen by his fellow Democrats to serve as their majority leader, a capacity in which he served for eight years.

       In 1957, Jack Russell was elected President of Cleveland City Council, a position of considerable power and influence. Russell held this position for eleven years, during which time his leadership abilities were repeatedly tried and proven. Eric Sevareid produced a half-hour special report for national television about the life and activities of Jack Russell. The program portrayed him as the ideal local politician. Russell even taught a course on practical politics at Harvard University.

       Jack P. Russell initiated and organized the annual "Night in Budapest" social galas, which became one of the most exciting events in the City of Cleveland. The first one was held in 1957 at Bethlen Hall on Buckeye Road. Within a few years, however, because of the overwhelming crowds attending, the event was moved downtown to the Sheraton Cleveland Hotel.

 


 

256

 

Page from program of "Night in Budapest."

 


 

257

 

       The "Nights in Budapest" were famous for the Hungarian atmosphere. American audiences could enjoy excellent Hungarian cuisine, top gypsy orchestras and bands and the finest entertainers, such as: opera stars, pianists and comedians. The guests were welcomed by a lineup of young Hungarian men, outfitted as Hussars. Their sabers were outstretched and raised, forming an archway for the incoming guests. Two hundred women from the community, dressed in stylized Hungarian costumes, were the hostesses to the average attendance of one thousand. The outstanding attractions were the local and national celebrities; each year several Hollywood actors and movie stars attended.

       Hollywood producer, Joe Pasternak, who immigrated from Hungary as a young man, sponsored the exciting array of celebrities. As National Chairman, Pasternak attended the annual gala event, bringing with him different actors and actresses each year, such as: Zsa Zsa Gabor, Edie Adams, Kurt Kasznar, Mitzi Gaynor, Bill Dana, Jimmy Durante and Kaye Stevens. Annually, prominent individuals on the local and national level were honored for distinguished service to the Hungarian-American community. In 1970, after fourteen years of organizing the famous "Nights in Budapest", Jack Russell retired and the prestigious galas were discontinued.

 


TABLE OF CONTENTS | HOME | NEXT TOPIC