Ethnic Women of Cleveland
Ilona M. Palasics Recording & Transcript
Listen to the interview as you read along.
- INTERVIEWEE: Ilona M. Palasics
- INTERVIEWER: Jeanette Tuve
- DATE: September 3, 1986
- PROGRAM LENGTH: 68:05 min.
JT: Mrs. Palasics, what was your maiden name?
JT: When and where were you born?
IP: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on Hamlin Avenue, which is in the nearby Buckeye community, the old Hungarian community.
JT: Where were your parents born?
IP: My mother was born in Sátoraljaújhely, Zemplén Megye in Hungary, in 1887. That is a lovely city which we, my husband and my family, visited in 1972. My father was born in Hernádvécse, and that is a very small village. We visited there.
JT: When did you parents come to Cleveland? Did they come to Cleveland directly from Hungary?
IP: Yes. My grandfather [John Szabo] came first. He was very discouraged in Hungary. He had a boot factory in Sátoraljaújhely [ he apprenticed himself in for several years learning the shoe and boot-making trade. In time he opened a boot factory employing about 25 men] and his first wife died. She had a very dicey illness, I am not sure quite what it was. She had a very lengthy illness and he spent so much money trying to get her help. He spent a so much money in trying to help her regain her health but it was hopeless. She died and shortly afterwards, he married her sister [on her death bed she requested he marry her younger sister. The wish was granted.] She was very, very young but he had two children. One was my mother and she had a brother and they came to this country. He came over first to establish resources. Then they all came out together after that to establish themselves in the United States. [My Grandfather decided to go to the United States alone in 1898. He would joke that he came with 50 cents in his pocket. He found employment and a year later he brought out his second wife, my mother, and her brother. I can remember my mother telling me she was only eleven years old and how much fun she had on the boat trip across the ocean, which lasted 30 days.]
JT: Why did they come to Cleveland?
IP: I imagine it was due to an already established Hungarian community. Also my mother always said that it was the safest city in the United States, free form high winds and bad weather, floods and other natural dangers. Also Lake Erie tempered the weather.
JT: What did your grandfather do when he came Cleveland?
IP: There is not a complete understanding of what he started out to do but he did finally get himself established [opened a shoe repair shop in the Buckeye Road area. Then in time he built the Szabo Dance Hall--8637 Buckeye Road] and he had in those days what was called a saloon but he built a very large hall. And this hall was used for general entertainment purposes, bowling, pool and coming in on Saturday nights to have a good time dancing.
JT: You have two photographs. Are they of the saloon?
IP: That's correct. It's located on Eight-Sixth and Buckeye, which was a very prominent and established Hungarian community in the lower part of Buckeye, below Woodhill. The building still stands and is in good condition: 8637 Buckeye, used by the Black Masons.
JT: Did your mother, or your grandmother, help him in the tavern?
IP: No. She was much too young, and she was trying to help the two children which were really her stepchildren. Then they had several children after that.
JT: So your mother came from a large family then?
IP: No, just the two of them, the brother and the sister, but then she had these other step children from her second mother.
JT: Now could you tell us something about your father's family?
IP: That I don't know too much of. I don't know why we don't know, my father could speak seven languages to begin with. He belonged to the Byzantine Rite religion, and some of the languages were practiced in church, that is, Hungarian or Russian, not like in the Roman Catholic Church where the Latin language was used or the English language. My father wanted to become a dentist, and he came over with his brother when he was in his late teens. His brother was also intelligent. He worked in a bank where he established his own system of banking in the department where he was working in New York City. But my father always wanted to be a dentist, and he knew that it would cost of a lot of money to become a dentist. After he married my mother, my grandfather sent him to the Western Reserve Dental School. He graduated from Case Western Reserve Dental School: John Szabo in 1918 and Stephen Szabo in 1929.
JT: So your father was a dentist, then, in Cleveland.
IP: Yes, in those days it was only a two-year education, and he got established immediately and had an office in the lower part of Buckeye. He was the only Hungarian dentist who could speak both languages. He had a very active practice because Hungarians, Slovaks and other nationalities went to him.
JT: How did your mother and father meet?
IP: I would imagine through Hungarian affairs.
JT: Was your mother active in the Church of the Byzantine Rite?
IP: No, she was Roman Catholic, and she went to St. Elizabeth's that's the Hungarian Roman Catholic Church, and my father belonged to St. John's Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, also on Buckeye.
JT: And so they were both active in church, but in different churches?
JT: What was your mother's education?
IP: She was only eleven years old when she left Hungary and she did not want to go to school to learn because she did not speak the language. Her education was very limited.
JT: In your home, did your mother and father speak Hungarian to each other?
IP: All the time. My father could speak English, but my mother spoke limited English so they always spoke Hungarian.
JT: How many children did they have?
IP: Three of us. She had five, but two died, one in infancy, and one during World War One, in flu, my brother, and then I came along and then my sister, so there were three of us. We're all living today.
JT: And you lived in the Hungarian ethnic community?
JT: And you spoke Hungarian at home?
JT: Do you remember any other Hungarian customs in your home when you were a little girl?
IP: Oh, yes, because we still follow all of them. Easter, Christmas, and my decorations for my home are red, white, and green. Oh, yes, and then I cook Hungarian as much as possible.
JT: And all that you learned from your mother at home?
IP: Oh yes, and my grandmother, because we were a close family at the time I was growing up.
JT: Did your mother belong to any Hungarian organizations?
IP: Not really. She was very busy at home with the children and trying to keep the family together.
JT: So she felt that her primary job was taking care of her family?
JT: How about your father? He was active in the community organizations? Or ethnic organizations?
IP: Very much so. [He was Secretary to the Old American Hungarian Settlers.] He was the Secretary to the Cultural Gardens, the Hungarian Cultural Gardens, of course that involved all of them, because they had to go to a joint meeting eventually. And then he belonged to the Hungarian Business Tradesmen's Club. Even though he was a professional man he was more comfortable there than in some of the professional groups. And he was very active at St. John's. [He was Secretary to United Hungarian Societies and when he moved to Youngstown he founded the Youngstown Old American Hungarian Settlers Organization.]
JT: You have a brother and a sister?
JT: Did he involve you young people in the activities of these organizations?
IP: He tried, but he could understand that where it wasn't in a person, like my sister and brother, he did not overpower them with whatever. We were growing up with a generation gap, and I fell that my generation is lost for the reason that they didn't want to be Hungarian, even though it was accessible; it was in the home, we had Hungarian newspapers and magazines, and we spoke the language, all of us.
JT: Why do you think that was?
IP: I can't answer that.
JT: Was it fashionable?
IP: I really couldn't answer that question. We have, my husband and I been searching for that answer for years.
JT: I know that my husband's family, they were Norwegian, they were very anxious not to be thought of as Norwegian.
IP: Now what was that reason, if I may ask?
JT: They wanted to be Americans. But you were involved with some things with your father. Was it singing?
IP: Yes. We always went out on the Hungarian occasions. My father was Secretary to the Old Amerrican Hungarian Settlers, and I became quite an active person in that as long as entertainment was required. He kept saying that it wasn't right to start the programs out with the Hungarian national anthem without singing the American anthem, so he said, “Now you learn that real well and that's what we're going to do.” So that was one of my very first basic learning, the two national anthems. That way people heard me, because on my occasions it was very noisy, or the hall did not have proper microphones even though I have a very large voice. When I sang the two national anthems, they thought, “Well, when she steps up again we must hear her.” So there was a method to all this. But I thoroughly enjoyed singing both anthems. In the first place, the Hungarian national anthem is a prayer, and it gives you a lot of understanding and feeling through God that you are searching for the right path to save Hungary; even though to this day we haven't, but we still have hope.
JT: That's interesting--the contrast in the national anthems, because certainly “The Star Spangled Banner” is very military.
IP: Yes, that's correct. [laughter.]
JT: I assume that you started taking piano lessons at an early age.
IP: Yes, how right you are. We had a piano in our house all the time, evidently that was quite the custom in those days. When I was three years old, I just sat down and started to play, and just pick out tunes here and there, and just play at random. But they were mostly Hungarian songs, because my mother had a lot of Hungarian records, and she played them on the old phonograph, and I really enjoyed playing these Hungarian songs whether it was just a little ditty or something melodious. Then my father decided we'd better have some kind of lessons, and he was in touch with a dental patient who was a piano teacher. He came to the home and he said, “You can play the piano and you can't even read notes?” I said, “No.” I was about ten years old, then I started to take piano lessons. The voice came much later, my mother did not want me to become a vocalist; she felt that that was not the proper thing to do in those days, but my father encouraged me. Further on in life, my husband, the man that really set the record straight and managed it and managed me, encouraged me to do a lot of singing that I ordinarily never would have done.
JT: That's wonderful. Where did you study voice?
IP: I studied at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, with Maurice Goldman. I did study privately, but the private teachers didn't last long. They either moved away, or became elderly or just stopped teaching. So I decided to go to the Music School Settlement which was recommended by my elementary school teacher, Mrs. Filitti. Her brother was in the Metropolitan Opera. His name was John Marshall. And she encouraged me to go to the Cleveland Music School Settlement to study. From there I went on to other things, but one of my great achievements was being part of the Robert Shaw Chorus in the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. That is where I learned a lot. It was my husband's encouragement. He said, “Oh, why don't you go over and audition,” and “Oh, you don't have the nerve to do this.” That very same day I decided I would just take him up on it and I called Robert Shaw, who immediately made an appointment to audition. I sang an aria from Carmen, and Robert Shaw said, “Just keep on singing, don't stop,” and I sang the whole aria. He said, “Now you sit in the second section.” I looked around, and there were maybe twenty of us. There were about a hundred on one side, and about ten on the other. When it was all over he said, “All those in the middle will report for rehearsal Monday sharp because we're ready to go.” And I'm looking around, here I'm sitting in that section! I came home and told my husband and he said “Oh?”
JT: That's great. Were you ever in any dramatic productions?
IP: Oh, yes. We presented Janos Vitéz, which is a very lovely Hungarian operetta. It was about the life of a young lady in the village who was in love. More I also had parts in many other musicals, but that stands out in my mind very much because it did a lot for my well-being to play the part.
JT: Did you have a native costume when you were a child or a young woman?
IP: As a young woman, yes. That I did. I had several costumes. The latest costume I wore was when my husband was in charge of a Hungarian ball at the Shaker Country Club. We wore provincial costumes of a certain period. I had one made from my mother's city, Sátoraljaújhely, and it was a lovely design and floor length, as these were the dresses of royalty. I also have peasant dresses, which are worn for picnic affairs. You have to dress appropriately whether it's a peasant, or whether it has to do with royalty, or in between. The blouse I have on, as you see here, is a special design that one of my clients made for my birthday.
JT: It's beautiful.
IP: Thank you.
JT: Did your brother and sister do as many things Hungarian as you did?
IP: They didn't do anything in Hungarian.
JT: Where did you go to school?
IP: All the way from elementary school all the way up, is that what you'd like to know?
IP: I went to Anthony Wayne Elementary School, which is on Woodland and East Boulevard, near Fairhill. Then I went to Audubon Junior High School, and I graduated from John Adams High School, twelfth grade. Nothing beyond that.
JT: Did you work then after you finished high school?
IP: Not immediately, but soon after that I did. It was during the depression that I graduated, 1938. Jobs were very scarce. Everywhere where I had to fill out an application they'd ask, “What is your father's occupation,” and I'd put “dentist,” [they said], “Go home and forget it.” [I worked in father's dental office for a year, but dentistry never appealed to me.]
JT: What did you do?
IP: Well, my first position was in a bakery. They had an advertisement. The manager was a true Hungarian lady, Olga Gall, and the bakery was on Euclid Avenue and Ninety-seventh when it was in its prime. We sold imported foods, imported candies, a lot of homemade bakeries, and very, very outstanding items. That was the first time I had ever seen chocolate covered ants and chocolate covered grasshoppers. [laughter.] Similar to Chandler and Rudd type of store.
JT: Did you think of this as something you were going to do until you got married, or did you hope to have career?
IP: I had truly hoped to be a ballet dancer or do something with my music! I had really hoped to be an opera singer. In between I concentrated on it but it just didn't seem to come.
JT: So while you were working in the bakery you were practicing your arias?
IP: Oh, yes. In fact, I joined the Baptist Church choir. Mr. Howard Tucker, who was an organist, came into the bakery and we got acquainted. He asked me to come over on Sundays ... because I did not sing anything in English at the time. He said, “I would like you to get into the American music, not all Hungarian.” I told him that I enjoyed what I was doing. He said, “But you should broaden your field.” I went to the Baptist Church, which was the Church of the Master at Ninety-seventh and Euclid, and I sang there, part solo, part choir, for three years and enjoyed it. I learned much about that type of music and the religion.
JT: When did you give up being an opera singer?
IP: [laughter] I don't think I ever did.
JT: So you worked in the bakery until you were married?
IP: Yes I did.
JT: And whom did you marry?
IP: I married John Palasics.
JT: How did you meet him?
IP: We were in a wedding together. He was not my partner. I had a different partner and he did also. We got acquainted and went together for two years before we got married.
JT: Is he Hungarian?
IP: Oh, definitely!
JT: Does he speak Hungarian?
IP: Very fluently. He can teach Hungarian.
IP: Not this moment or at this time. But he was teaching in the college-Cleveland State and he was also teaching in the Harvey Rice Elementary School, they had night classes and the Rice branch of the library.
JT: Was your husband born in Hungary?
JT: He was born in Cleveland?
JT: Did you ever go with young men of other nationalities?
JT: So you didn't consider marrying anyone who wasn't Hungarian?
JT: Did you have a Hungarian wedding?
IP: We had a very small wedding because my mother had just passed on. She had ailed for thirteen years, and my father requested that I not live alone without my mother. My father was having his practice at this time in Youngstown, so we had a very small wedding. His parents were still alive.
JT: What is your husband's education?
IP: He has quite a lengthy education. He has degrees in engineering and law as well as education in history.
Mr. P.: I have an engineering degree and a law degree and some liberal arts.
JT: In Cleveland?
Mr. P.: All in Cleveland.
Mr. P.: Fenn College, Cleveland State, Western Reserve, Cleveland Marshall Law.
JT: Is teaching your profession?
Mr. P.: No, it was engineering in various capacities. I retired from my position as manager of the engineering group of the Cleveland district of the U.S. Treasury.
JT: After you were married, did you live in the Hungarian ethnic community?
IP: I would say we did, even though we were further away from Buckeye Road, but it was still considered the boundary line of the Hungarian community.
JT: Did you ever think of moving to the suburbs. I know that now you've moved to Shaker Heights.
IP: Never! Never! This was done very recently because the City of Cleveland just cannot give us the protection we desire. We've been through too much and it's just hopeless. Our greatest reason for moving out of the community was that it lacked protection and we were suffering from a terrible, terrible crime wave that was not recognized, and still isn't recognized, in the Buckeye Road community.
JT: But you're not very far away from the Hungarian community here in Shaker Heights.
IP: That's correct, as you know.
JT: You have worked throughout much of your life. Can you tell us something about your work?
IP: Well, after the children were grown--by the way, both of my boys graduated from Benedictine High School. My older boy is in the business profession: he graduated from Baldwin-Wallace; he has a Master's degree from there. His undergraduate degree is from Dyke College. My other boy is a history teacher, and he is also a graduate of Baldwin-Wallace. He has a Master's degree from Kent State.
JT: Very good! But there must have been many in their fifties?
IP: There were quite a few but that was not my truly great concern. I was really concerned with the elderly American-Hungarians that were there, who could not understand when the new rules and health assistance were and to help them get some assistance. I tried to give them the same assistance that any other group, black group or ethnic group, was getting, because I felt that they were deprived. And I'm also told that even though many of these Hungarians have been here for a long time, after World War I, they could hardly speak English as they grew older. They would revert back to the Hungarian language. In fact, several times Dr. Christy called me form St. Luke's Hospital to come to the lady's bedside. One time I said, “What is her name?” and he said, “Mrs. Toth,” and I said, “She's from 117th Street; she always spoke good English.” “Well, she's not speaking English now.” And she was a woman in her eighties, so I went to visit her, and sure enough, she said, “I can't remember anything in English.” She had reverted back to her national language. When she was out of the hospital and home, she could speak some English again. But, how strange, and I understand through Lucretia Stoica that many of the other nationalities have the same problem: Polish, Ukrainians, where they revert back to their original language.
JT: I know that memory works that way. Older people remember their childhood better than they remember their adult years.
IP: Right. Isn't that amazing?
JT: Well, you did a great deal of volunteer work, then, for the settlement houses and so on. How did you get involved in that?
IP: I always felt that people needed help for some reason, and because of the language barrier...
Mr. P.: Tell them about St. John's.
IP: That's another problem because of our situation. At St. John's Hungarian Greek Catholic Church I was president of the P.T.U. because I could speak both languages. D.P.s living in the community had children attending school. The nuns would say, “But they don't understand what we want.” So at the PTU meeting, I would speak both languages so they could understand and get involved in helping children. Many children who came to St. John's could not speak the English language at all until they came to school. They learned the American language little by little. We had many Hungarians, we had Hungarian festivals, we had a Hungarian ball at St. John's Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, and... I'm trying to think what else was there.
Mr. P.: What about your cafeteria work?
IP: Oh, yes, that was another thing. We had a big flood at St. John's, and the whole kitchen was wiped out, so the children were taking cold lunches. I told Father Bobak, “No way is this going to go.” So I looked after it and we got the ladies help to get the kitchen in order. I managed the cafeteria for three years. Everybody got their hot lunches, with governmental assistance.
JT: Did you do that as a volunteer?
IP: Oh, yes, it was all volunteer.
JT: That's really noble!
IP: We had 220 children at that time. That was the largest school enrollment that we ever had. [I was also Music Chairman for 20 years for the Catholic Parent Teacher League.]
JT: How about ethnic women's organizations? Hungarian ladies associations and so on. Did you belong, or do you belong to any of these?
IP: Not really, because St. John's was the focus of my life and I felt that I couldn't do any more than that, and belonging to the Nationalities Service Center. There, too, I was honored for my outstanding work.
JT: You have so many awards. I see one right here in front of me: You were honored in 1985 as Hungarian Mother of Year.
IP: That's correct.
JT: Can you tell us how you happened to get that award?
IP: Well, through singing again, voluntarily. My singing was always voluntary and the Magyar Club honored that aspect of it.
JT: That's a very nice award. What other awards do you have?
IP: I got a reward from the Republican Club.
JT: Was your father a Republican?
IP: No, he was not.
JT: Was your husband a Republican?
IP: No, I can't say that either.
JT: How di you get involved in the party?
IP: Well, there too I did volunteer work when Mayor Burton was running for mayor, and that goes back many, many years. My father said, “You really ought to get out and meet more people.” I was just out of high school at that time. So I went along and they had some volunteer work available like stuffing envelopes. And I started to educate myself in the Republican Party.
JT: Go ahead.
IP: I think that's all I have to offer.
JT: What did you do for the Republican Party?
IP: Like I said, stuffing envelopes, sending out mail. Then wherever there had to be an explanation, like on the telephone, where they couldn't speak English. Already I was getting started on that... language barrier.
JT: Were you on any committees?
IP: I was not.
JT: Did you ever go to a convention, a state or national conventrion?
IP: No, I just belonged to the Fourth Ward Republican group here in the community.
JT: You were especially interested in Cleveland politics, then?
IP: Oh, yes, definitely.
JT: Do you think we've had some good mayors of Cleveland?
IP: Not really [laughter.] Sorry to say that.
JT: What do you think of the present mayor?
IP: I'd rather you wouldn't ask!
JT: He's a Republican...
IP: I know. I don't think so, I think he's an independent, and I think he announces that every now and then, when he feels the party is too much for him to handle. I think we have a wonderful President of the United States at this point, and he'd done a lot to show that the elderly can work, because he is up in years.
JT: I suppose he's the oldest President we've ever had.
IP: That's correct.
JT: How about your husband? Was he active in volunteer work, in ethnic organizations?
IP: He supported my cause. He did an awful lot to teach the language and the history of the language. And I think that he did much to organize Hungarian cultural education at Cleveland State and Case-Western. We also belong to another organization. It's called the Ittott organization. We just came back from convention and my husband is very active in that.
Mr. P.: Maybe I ought to give a little background, if you're interested in mine. I really got involved during 1956. We had a lot of Hungarian refugees from the Hungarian Revolution, and I got involved in the program for refugees. There were hundreds of them on Buckeye. We put them up in shelter. They couldn't stand where they were sent and many of them came to Buckeye because they knew it was a Hungarian community. So for about a year we found them food, shelter, and jobs.
JT: I see you have other awards, Mrs. Palasics.
IP: I got the food stamp information translated into the Hungarian language, which was never done before. I also worked through Cleveland State, with another organization, another professor, where they were working with the diabetes people, or people with nurses that were from Cleveland Western Reserve, not Cleveland State, Western Reserve. We translated many of the diabetic conditions into Hungarian, and they are still these Pamphlets or giving them out at the Diabetic Association. Many of the elderly do have diabetes. This was one great step forward and St. Luke's Hospital was very understanding about this and it helped them a great deal. Also at St. Luke's Hospital, the dental clinic was to collapse, and Dr. Christy didn't know where to turn. When I told him that at one time we had 24 dentists on Buckeye Road and we're down to one, I said, “Do you think this is the time to close up the dental clinic at St. Luke's Hospital?” This was in 1977. He said, “Well, how can we do anything when they insist that we close it?” So they had a great big luncheon and they had some gentlemen there from Washington, D. C. that were to give some of the funds. And I was invited to the luncheon and got up and made a little talk, and they got their funding within two weeks, and Dr. Christy was very satisfied. It's a wonderful dental clinic, it's still in existence today, so that's another, I think, accomplishment in behalf of the dentists.
JT: I can see that you've had a very busy career, with your volunteering and your work. Have we covered everything, do you think, about your career outside your home?
IP: Well, it's hard to say, because we also had this annual St. Stephen's Day parade, and my husband was fully in charge of that, and we tried to have that every summer, at this time in August, it was August 20th. And we have many floats, many people participated. We had at one time; I think there must have been about 7,000 people on Buckeye Road. I led the parade, sang the two anthems, and it was very outstanding. My husband worked very hard but it was worth it and it was a huge success.
JT: You mentioned donating a record to the Cleveland State University Library. Does this have you singing the two anthems?
IP: No, they're Hungarian folk song, and they're accompanied by a seven-piece gypsy orchestra.
JT: About your family, then, you have two sons?
JT: When were they born?
IP: Johnny was born in 1952, and Joseph was born in 1956.
JT: What language did you speak at home when your sons were small?
IP: We spoke Hungarian. Of course my husband's parents were alive at that time they too contributed much to the language being maintained. Because Grandma and Grandpa Palasics always spoke Hungarian they were instrumental in maintaining the language.
JT: Did you sons like to speak Hungarian?
IP: In those days, yes, very much so, and they had Hungarian costumes and always enjoyed coming to the affairs, and then of course they went to St. John's Hungarian Greek Catholic School, and my older boy also was an altar boy just in the Hungarian mass, so you can see that was carried on. But as they grew older, it was a little different. My daughter-in-law attended classes that my husband had in Hungarian, and she learned Hungarian very well.
JT: Was she Hungarian?
JT: Did either of your sons marry a Hungarian?
IP: No. My other boy is not married yet.
JT: They're both in their thirties now?
JT: Do they still speak the language?
IP: That's hard to say. [laughter.] I wonder.
JT: Did they both go to parochial schools?
JT: They must have learned some Hungarian there too.
IP: Well, just in the elementary grades.
JT: Did they belong to any of the groups, as you had belonged when you were a child?
IP: Yes, they belonged to St. John's Boy Scouts, and they were mostly Hungarian people in that, and they're both Eagle Scouts, so they carried it all the way through.
JT: Anything else they belonged to that was Hungarian?
Mr. P.: The dance groups.
IP: Oh yes, they always had that... we had what they called a szúreti mulatság. That's translated Fall Festival, and it takes place this time of the year. It's a gay time when the wheat is picked, the grapes are picked, and everybody just has a good time. They have these group dances, where each boy has a girl partner, and then these different age groups come into the hall and put on their performances, and then there's someone who teaches them.
JT: Is this a local group, or is it national?
IP: No, this is just individual, wherever you belong, because they just have these different groups, these are from church, mostly from churches.
JT: Is there any national young people's groups?
IP: Of the Hungarians? Yes, oh yes... but...
JT: Did your boys belong to those?
IP: No, at that time it was not organized... it's organized today.
JT: Did you do Hungarian cooking, and do you still do Hungarian cooking?
IP: Oh definitely, and in St. John's cafeteria we introduced it, and the government man came to see what we were up to, and he was very pleased with the food. He hadn't eaten anything quite like it. The government supplied us with good pork, and that's a good part of Hungarian cooking. No, I still cook a lot in Hungarian--Hungarian stuffed cabbage, chicken paprikash, and the bakery. I was not up to baking for you, unfortunately, Professor Tuve, but maybe some other time? But I enjoy cooking in the Hungarian style. I have many Hungarian cookbooks.
JT: And so when you had family holidays you did special cooking?
IP: Oh yes, all the time.
JT: Are there traditional dishes for Christmas and Easter?
IP: Oh, yes.
JT: And did you do those?
IP: Oh, definitely, and still today. And my daughter-in-law, when I wasn't here for Christmas, she carried it out with my son and they had their regular Hungarian food.
JT: Wonderful! Do you have any grandchildren?
JT: Of course, you've used your language really in much of your life in connection with your career.
IP: Oh, definitely.
JT: And it's been very important to you. And you've been very active in the church all of your life?
JT: How about your husband, he's active too? How about your children, your sons?
IP: Well our church was sold, and this makes it a very sad tale, but right now I'm going to a Slovak Catholic church. That's not very good, and I think part of my illness is that I just cannot accept this very well.
JT: What happed to the one you belonged to?
IP: It was sold.
JT: So it was a Catholic church that decided to sell the church?
IP: No it was the Byzantine Rite that I belonged to from Parma that made the decision that the church should be sold whether the people cared about the idea or not. There was a meeting about it but there was not much impact.
JT: Was the congregation invited to go to some other--join some other congregation?
IP: Oh yes, there were definitely different ways of solving the problem or whatever people thought. But anyhow the church was sold and it left me out in the cold. It was very difficult. I think this is where my two children completely changed because they had done so much and felt so much a part of that. I really think it turned them off completely from the language, from the nationality... the whole context of what happened on Buckeye Road. You can't explain this. People who have lived in a community for three generations like I have myself, and to look around and see that it's no longer there. We don't have a Hungarian community any longer, and we really don't know the real reason or the real answer. We are searching. I say “we”--my husband and I--because we have done everything to try to maintain the Hungarian community. And even if it would have become American to the point of language, that should not have interfered with its retention of the traditional life style, because there were thousands of people who enjoyed living in the community.
JT: It's a sad story! Do you take any Hungarian magazines? Do you read Hungarian regularly?
IP: Oh, yes, that I do. We have a Hungarian newspaper called the Szabadsag. And we take that weekly and I read that because it has a lot of good information in it and it helps me keep up with what's going on.
JT: This is not Mr. Gombos's paper?
IP: It was. He passed on, you know. That was his newspaper, Zoltan Gombos. He was a very good person for the community.
JT: A very distinguished citizen of Cleveland. So you read a newspaper regularly.
IP: Oh, yes.
JT: Published here in Cleveland.
IP: And then we get a newspaper from Hungary: [Magyar Mirek.] That way we can see what's going on in Hungary today.
JT: That's very interesting. Do you enjoy reading the newspaper from Hungary?
IP: Very much so. The pictures are done well and very explanatory.
JT: Is it an official government newspaper?
IP: Oh no. I wouldn't imagine it is. I don't know. I don't look at that.
JT: What do you find in there that's interesting?
IP: Well, It's just that it tells about the lovely things that are going on in the different cities and villages. The whole of Hungary is very active, and we were very pleased when we went home in '72 that after the '56 revolution they had done so much to rebuild it. Even though there were still scars from World War II they were really putting things together, and doing a very, very beautiful job.
JT: I was there in '72 also.
IP: In Hungary? Did you enjoy it?
JT: Very much. And I agree with you that it looked quite restructured and revived. Budapest, I thought, was prosperous and a wonderful place to eat [laughter.] and very interesting.
IP: Yes, you're right about that. We found the beautiful homes and inside running water in the villages in the new homes there that were not in existence just a few years before '72. It was like a very up-to-date modern place in some of the villages.
JT: You've been there more than once?
IP: No, this was the first time.
JT: So you were impressed with life in the country?
IP: Oh yes, very much so. The peace, and the friendship, and the communications among the people. Without a telephone, they would just get on their bicycles and spread the word. When we arrived at the station where my husband's relatives were, there must have been 50 to 60 people that were ready to welcome us with bouquets of flowers and joy and it was just unbelievable when we got off the train. They're very warm people, and they want you to feel and act like at home.
JT: And you did feel at home?
IP: Oh very much. Everybody talked Hungarian, and we enjoyed it. We covered many, many places while we were there in a month's time, but always in Hungary.
JT: That's great. You went to Lake Balaton, I suppose?
IP: Oh yes.
JT: What do you think of the United States' policy towards Hungary? Do you approve of it?
IP: No. I don't think I want to get into this.
JT: Well, what do you think we should do that we're not doing?
IP: Well, we don't have our human rights, and there are many Hungarians that are very, very, very badly depressed in Transylvania in Rumania, and that is unfair and unrighteous, and where are their human rights? American people don't realize how these Hungarians are abused, but they just don't have what they should be having.
JT: I think the oppression of the Hungarians in Transylvania is one of the clearest points of oppression in Europe today--perhaps the most difficult problem.
IP: It doesn't seem that any President is really concerned with it, even though we have organizations, and people that write letters constantly, and people that get up and take a stand about it. Even Billy Graham was there--I don't know whether that helped or hindered or what, but it's pitiful. And I think there are other sections of Hungary that was divided up after the First World War, such as parts of Yugoslavia. When you go there, the Hungarians may not be oppressed but that part should not belong to them--that part belongs to Hungary. There should not be a border there.
JT: But the people in Transylvania are most clearly Magyars or Hungarians.
IP: Yes. You are aware of this, Professor Tuve?
JT: Oh very much so. I think most anyone who knows a little about Europe knows about that situation. Do you correspond with anyone in Hungary?
IP: No, I don't. My work has kept me too busy for that.
JT: Yes, I would think so. I think I'm about at the end of my questions, unless you have something that you could add. I feel that we must have overlooked something.
IP: One other thing is that I belong to the Mother Singers of the public school because I also was active in PTA when my son attended Audubon for a couple of semesters. I became very active. Mrs. Green, Mary Green, wanted the soloist to present something quite different from what they had been used to hearing at Mother Singers concerts. She said, “Ilona, I want you to sing a Hungarian song in Severence Hall when we put on our concert.” She said, “I want you to bring some of the music that you have, because I feel that there is something here that will go over with the American public.” So I selected several pieces, I think there were five, and she picked out the song “Szep Varos Koloszvar,” and that is taken from Franz Lehar's operetta, [“Countess Maritza.” ] Anyhow, I sang it in Hungarian and it was unbelievable the way the people accepted it. And I was very proud of this, because she had said , “Oh, no, I don't want it in English.” And that made me feel real good. So it was very successful and I was very pleased because with the people the language didn't have any interference.
JT: Oh, yes, that is a beautiful costume. The embroidery on your blouse, you say a friend made that in Cleveland?
IP: No, that's the one I'm wearing now.
JT: Is that a typical Hungarian pattern?
IP: Yes, very much so. She brought one back from Hungary, the original, and she copied it. She had done this work when she was eleven years old, this embroidery work. She wanted to see if she was capable of doing it at the age of seventy, and she was.
JT: Are there many Hungarian women who do crafts of that kind.
IP: Oh, definitely. They're still doing it at the Buckeye Senior Center, which is on Buckeye Road, women who are still in the community or able to get out to do the work.
JT: I'm sure you've been too busy to do any of the crafts yourself?
IP: Oh yes.
JT: You have a picture of St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church. Can you tell us something about your connections with that?
IP: Well, it was rumored that they were going to go ahead and make it into a warehouse, and since I was working at City Hall and Mr. Cimperman is in that department of the historical sites of Cleveland, I approached him and he said, “Ilona, get me some of the details, and we'll get busy on it.” And I was the one that started the ball rolling and sure enough, it still is there and it's just as beautiful as ever.
JT: It's a historical site?
IP: Yes, a landmark.
JT: Who pays for its maintenance?
IP: That I can't tell you because I don't belong there, you know.
JT: It's a very interesting architecture. And what was this Hungarian Centennial Ball? At the Crawford Aviation Museum?
IP: Oh, this was honoring the one hundredth anniversary of the first Hungarian settlers on Buckeye Road. We could go on and on. My husband also had another Hungarian Affair at the Western Reserve Historical Society.
Mr. P.: You see I'm on the board, the Advisory Council of the American Hungarian Foundation. When the Buckeye neighborhood was a hundred years old we had a Centennial Ball, and it proved to be very successful. We had it at the Crawford Museum. In fact, we rented the whole museum, including the other part of the museum, because a lot of people who came to the ball had never been to the Western Reserve Historical Museum, so everything was opened that evening.
JT: It's a lovely place to have a ball. And more than two dozen guests of Hungarian descent wore period costumes. Did you wear one of yours?
IP: Yes, I wore the floor-length costume that I told you about that was copied after my mother's birth place. I also sang. We also had another affair at the Western Reserve Historical Society, and that was very interesting, because my husband gave a lecture about Louis Kossuth. [There is a statue of this great “Champion of Liberty” on University Circle.]
Mr. P.: It was the Hungarians of the Western Reserve, and we tied it in with this society's atmosphere. We put on those skits, and Mrs. Baldwin Sawyer who is on the board at the Western Reserved played piano for her when she sang.
IP: I didn't need to have someone Hungarian to play, she just played it beautifully.
Mr. P.: They had more people at that program than they ever had, before or since.
JT: Are you active in the cultural gardens?
IP: He was secretary. [aside] weren't you?
Mr. P.: Yes. We also had a civic organization that I was on for a time. We tried to maintain Buckeye. My wife was sunshine chairman of that. We called it the Buckeye Neighborhood Nationalities Civic Association, which combined all the nationalities of Buckeye that were all trying to retain their institutions, and we worked for about twenty years.
JT: And you fought the City of Cleveland for not providing security for the neighborhood?
Mr. P.: Oh, we did everything imaginable trying to preserve the neighborhood. There was too much money to be made in plundering the assets of the community, there's no other way to say it. And when something like that exists, there is no hope for the people because the bankers make money, the real estate people make money, the government agencies get involved and profit out of it some way. Everybody makes money on it except the native resident. He loses, he's got to leave, he sells his home at a fraction of the value, and then people will get it at a bargain with a government subsidized mortgage. We tried to stop the vicious cycle. We even had our own police force like Western Reserve does, but attrition took its toll, that's why it took so long. We just had people dying but nobody coming in to replace them.
IP: [In March 1973] I wrote an article in the Ohio Health Magazine of my accomplishments. This is the way my health flyer went out and the flyer was in both languages. [The Department of Health felt it had a commitment to the Buckeye Road area to help because the Health Center was closed.] So once a year at the Buckeye Multiservice Center a “Health Checkup Day” was held with the cooperation of the Diabetes Association, the Society for the Blind, Visiting Nurse Association, the School of Podiatry, and an ophthalmologist.
JT: Those are interesting comments. I hope you've thought of someplace to give your papers when you're through with them. I suggest the Western Reserve Historical Society.
Mr. P.: That's one of our problems here. We were very careful about moving here because we have so many papers and we didn't want to lose them. But now our job--one of my jobs--is to organize everything because we don't have it organized.
JT: Well I think the Western Reserve Historical Society has very good archives and that this is the sort of thing they like to have. I think that I am through with my questions. We thank you very much for your interview.
IP: You're very, very welcome, and I really will say I thoroughly enjoyed what I did, all the time, regardless of what--it took a toll on my health, but it might have anyway, according to some doctors.
JT: Thank you again. Addition:
JT: Mrs. Palasics, did you belong to the Hungarian Ladies Aid Society?
IP: Yes, I did, and I'm still active, and I still sing when I'm able to because I sang last year for their Mother's Day program, because they always have a luncheon in May for the Mother's Day.
JT: How long have you been a member?
IP: About twenty years.
JT: Have you been on any committees?
IP: No. Just entertainment.
JT: But I suppose you've enjoyed the sociability of it in addition to some of the...
IP: Oh definitely, it is women of my age group, and we get together and it's very nice. They have picnics and get togethers.
JT: Where do they have their meetings?
IP: Hundred and Twenty-sixth Street and Buckeye, in the First Hungarian Presbyterian Church. A couple of time a year they have socials.
JT: I suppose they raise funds for Hungarian institutions?
IP: Oh yes, they have donated every Christmas a thousand dollars to each church in the community that's a Hungarian church, and of course the priests and ministers are very glad to get that thousand dollars. We have raffles and we have trips where people--and people do donate, or bequest monies when they pass on to the Ladies Aid Society. I'm a lifetime member of the Old American Hungarian Settlers that my mother and father belonged to. There are no more meetings, but it is still in existence because they keep track of what's going on and they do supply pallbearers and flowers for everybody at the end of their time.
JT: And I hope their papers are at the Western Reserve Historical Society.
IP: I don't know, but that's a good question and I shall ask this one person about it.
JT: I understand that you worked rather closely with the Visiting Nurse Association?
IP: Yes. All they had to do was call me up and make an appointment that we went out to visit the patient in the home where there was a language barrier, but it was a very fascinating and interesting way of relating to the patient because the visiting nurses at that time, perhaps even today, were very kind and understanding. They enjoyed coming into the Hungarian homes because every visiting nurse said “How can these elderly people, the Hungarian people, have such clean homes?” and I said, “Well, we are that way.” So it was a real joy to work with them and we were able to help more people by being directly with the patient when their needs had to be met.
JT: Thank you again.