My last name is GERENCSER. It is of Hungarian origin. It is pronounced Grr-IN-sir, though I have heard pronounced in more wrong ways than I can count. Grinsker, Grinsinger, Garuhenzer, Geringsir, Grensler, Grensker, Grincher, Grinzer, to name a few. And then there’s the various ways people write my last name, similar to the way they think it sounds.
When I have to call a business that will ask for my name, when I’m asked, I immediately say, Gerencser, G-e-r-e-n-c-s-e-r. Rare is the occasion that I don’t have to spell it twice. Recently, I had to spell my name four times before the billing clerk got it. Such times are a real test of my patience.
The misspellings that bother me the most are when someone has the correct spelling of Gerencser and still butchers it. Last week, I attended one of my granddaughter’s spring school programs. The printed program, of course, had her last name misspelled — Gerenscer. Tonight, I attended a theatrical production by one of my granddaughters. I told her father that I was pleased that the arts group had spelled her last name correctly. He laughed and replied, Actually they had it spelled wrong. I pointed it out to them and they corrected it. It was spelled, you guessed it, Gerenscer.This, by far, is the most common misspelling of my name, and Gerencer or Gerenser are also common. The reason for this is that there are no CS words in the English language, so when someone sees the CS in Gerencser they assume it is misspelled.(My editor pointed out there are a few words that end in CS, words such as basics,frolics, and logistics. The real problem is that a “C” followed by an “S” is always hard. Thus “Grinkster.”) One customer service rep asked me after I spelled my name to her, are you sure that’s right? I wanted to reply, are you fucking kidding me? It’s is my last name, I know how to spell it! Instead, I politely said that I had spelled it correctly, and then I gave her an English lesson about why people tend to misspell Gerencser.
My all-time favorite misspeller is my mother-in-law. Polly and I will celebrate forty years of marriage in July, yet my mother-in-law still, more often than not, spells my last name with the C and the S reversed.
Do you have a hard to spell first or last name? Please share your experiences in the comment section.
Pastor Steven Anderson of Arizona’s Faithful Word Baptist Church often claims to have a monopoly on “true,” undiluted “Bible-believing” Christianity. In his mind, Christ’s message is not of redemption and forgiveness, but of visceral rage and damnation for a wide range of people on his hate list.
In Mr. Anderson’s mind, homosexuality and pedophilia are inextricably linked. In his skewed private interpretation of Scripture, he also fails to consider that Leviticus does not refer to committed, monogamous same sex relationships (this concept is not present in Scripture), but rather to sexual encounters associated with idolatry. (For a detailed discussion of this from a progressive Catholic perspective, see the piece in the Liberal Catholic Digest.) While his worst vitriol is reserved for homosexuals, Mr. Anderson publishes anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic material as well, and his view of women (they are to eschew college and remain in the house) also raises eyebrows. In 2016, during a sermon, Mr. Anderson did an impression of the deceased Mother Teresa lying as a corpse in a casket, after which he started shrieking and flailing his arms, explaining to his congregation that “she’s burning in hell right now.”
Mr. Anderson is also a Holocaust denier. “I don’t believe that the official version of the Holocaust is true whatsoever,” he said in a video ominously entitled The Holocaust Exposed. He uses debunked writings of Holocaust deniers in his videos to argue that while some Jews, along with many other people, may have died in World War II, there was no Holocaust, no Final Solution and no concerted effort to annihilate Jews as such. He has also gone on to declare that Jews are the most “wicked” people in the world, holding them responsible for the spread of pornography.
The 36 year old Steven Anderson’s wife, Zsuzsanna Tóth, is Hungarian and the two met in 1999, in Munich, Germany. Zsuzsa had lived in both Germany and Britain and the young Steven seemed to be mesmerized by her “British” English. (She did not have much of a Hungarian or German accent, apparently.) The young Mr. Anderson was handing out Christian tracts in a public square and this is where the two first met. When Mr. Anderson returned to the U.S., the two remained in touch through email, regular letters and built a friendship. Yet Mr. Anderson believed he could never fall in love with her for a one very important reason. Mr. Anderson writes:
“She was still not saved, and I had absolutely no intention of ever falling in love with, dating, or marrying an unsaved girl, no matter how much I liked her…Every girl I ever dated was saved, and my first step was always to bring them to my church to see if they enjoyed the hard, biblical preaching.”
That very American and individualist understanding of Christian salvation as being a personal, one-time act of “accepting Christ into your heart” and the notion of “hard, biblical preaching,” was foreign to Christian culture in Hungary, be it Catholic or Protestant. Born-again Christianity was brought to the country, and to other parts of Eastern Europe, by American Evangelical and Baptist missionaries. Full disclosure: I am familiar with this first-hand. When I was living in Budapest with my parents in the nineties, they enrolled me in the International Christian School of Budapest (ICSB), located in the southwest Buda town of Diósd. The school was established by American born-again missionary groups, such as the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, Campus Crusade for Christ and a handful of others. The concept of being a “born-again Christian” was as foreign to me, growing up in a Catholic family, as it was to nearly every other student of Hungarian origins. The notion that somehow I, my family and Hungarian society writ large–built on the narrative of St. Stephen’s Christian state and historic Hungary as being a bulwark of western Christianity in the East–were not Christian, was incomprehensible.
To be sure, my time at ICSB was not characterized by the type of vitriol that forms the basis of Mr. Anderson’s preaching, even if there seemed to be a broad consensus that Catholics were not saved and anti-Catholicism most certainly existed in some circles. The American missionaries on the outskirts of Budapest worked hard to raise enough money in their churches back home to allow them to live quite modestly in Hungary. They often learned Hungarian, tried to integrate into Hungarian society and were clearly driven by a deeply held belief that they could bring eternal life in Christ for the people of this post-communist society by convincing them to perform a simple, personal gesture of faith.
When Zsuzsa visited the Steven and his parents in Roseville, California, “saving” this young Hungarian woman was clearly a consideration. The same day her plane landed, she was introduced to a most extensive collection of Bibles. Mr. Anderson explains:
“I showed her the big bookshelf in my room that I was pretty proud of which had 3 long shelves (I have always love books and done a lot of reading). The top shelf contained about 40 different King James Bibles…She thought having forty-some Bibles was a little bit excessive. I told her that at least if I were ever burned at the stake, there would be plenty of fuel, and that didn’t seem to make her feel any better about it…”
Mr. Anderson continues with his first impression of this young European:
“Being an unsaved girl from Europe, she had been brainwashed into believing a lot of left-wing ideology such as socialism, feminism, humanism, gay rights, etc., and she was definitely against spanking… I remember explaining to her why there was no way that evolution could actually be true. She had never in her life even heard of anyone questioning it.”
Indeed, even conservative Hungarian Catholics and Protestants would not generally question evolution–it was simply not a topic of debate in Hungarian society in the nineties…nor elsewhere in the region. But Zsuzsa was softening, as she was introduced to the Anderson family’s faith life. “On Sunday morning, we went to Regency Baptist Church with the whole family. This was her very first time in a Baptist church. She still wasn’t a believer, but she really enjoyed the service and said that she liked it a lot better than Catholic church,” recalls Mr. Anderson.
The young man had clearly developed feelings for Zsuzsa Tóth, but was troubled by the fact that she was not “saved.”
“I went to my room with a heavy heart. I had really become fond of Zsuzsa, and I was sad that she still wasn’t saved. I got on my knees and wept, praying to God that she would get saved. Little did I know that at the exact moment my tears were flowing as I prayed for her, she was upstairs in her room, asking Jesus Christ to save her.”
And there it is: Zsuzsa Tóth become a Christian. In Roman Catholicism, salvation is a life-long process and one’s relationship with the divine and indeed the mystery of the incarnation is more layered, multifaceted and much more communal in nature than to fit neatly into a one-time formula, invoked in private.
Despite her conversion, Zsuzsa, coming from a European background, was horrified by the death penalty in the U.S. and about Steven’s visceral hatred towards homosexuals. Mr. Anderson recounts:
“I told her that I believed that our government should give homos the death penalty. This made her very upset and became our first fight. It was not that she had a particular soft spot for homos, it was just that she had always been taught that the death penalty was wrong in general, and especially for something other than murder! Basically, she was just emotional because she considered me to be a nice guy and could not believe that I would condone of such a “violent” measure. It seemed like a contradiction to her at the time. Keep in mind that she had just gotten saved only 6 days before…”
The two spoke a fair bit about marriage as they got to know each other better. Somewhat oddly for a born-again Christian so serious about his faith, they tried to get married in 2000 at what they believed was a 24/7 wedding chapel in Reno, Nevada, which turned out to be closed by the time they got there. In the end, they had a 2-minute wedding ceremony at a place called the Chapel of the Bells, without even Steven’s parents present or knowing about it, upon which they “headed back to Roseville to consummate the marriage.”
Zsuzsa returned briefly to Germany, so the young couple were in a long-distance marriage for the next three weeks, until her return to the U.S. Zsuzsa was then baptized at Regency Baptist Church, one month after being “saved.” Mr. Anderson initially worked for a residential alarm company, installing home alarm systems. Zsuzsa gave birth to nine children and Steven established his church, Faithful Word Baptist Church, in 2005. He emphasizes that he never completed college or university, but is disciplined about memorizing large parts of the Bible–and has memorized nearly half the New Testament.
The Gerencser Family, circa 1950s Front: Robert (my Dad) and Irene Middle: Grandpa Paul Rear: Paul (Paulie), Grandma Mary, Mary, and Helen
My grandparents immigrated from Hungary in the early part of the 20th century. I don’t know much about them. I was six years old when they died in 1963. Paul was born in 1888 and died of a heart attack in February of 1963. Mary, six years younger than her husband, died of a heart attack six weeks later.
Paul and Mary Nemett Gerencser (grr IN’ sir or grinsir) immigrated through Ellis Island and settled in Ohio. (I don’t think Paul and Mary were their given names.) I think they originally settled in the Akron/Cleveland area and then moved to northwest Ohio. Best I can tell from what few official records remain, Paul and Mary Gerencser owned a farm in Defiance County, lost it, and then bought a farm in Williams County on the northwest corner of Williams County Road 14 and Williams-Defiance County Line Road.
Grandma Mary Gerencser, 1919
Paul and Mary Gerencser had six children: Irene, Paul Jr, Steven, Helen, Mary, and Robert. Steven died in a farming accident as a young boy. Irene died in 2009 at the age of 87. Paul (Paulie) died in 2012 at the age of 88. Robert, my father, died in 1987 at the age of 49. Mary and Helen, both in their 80s, are still living.
The Gerencser homestead was torn down decades ago. The new owners built a ranch home in its place. The old farmhouse was a white two-story structure. I do remember a few things about the house. There was an enclosed back porch and Grandma kept big sacks of flour and sugar on the porch. I also remember the wood-fired stove. I think there was a water pump at the kitchen sink. The house did not have indoor plumbing. There was an outhouse for necessary daily functions.
Mary, Paulie, Paul, Robert Gerencser, 1940s
I do have a vivid memory of the creek that ran a few hundred yards from the back of the house. One year, Beaver Creek overran its banks and flood waters turned a portion of the low-lying farm ground into a lake. To a little boy the flood water looked like a huge lake but I am sure it was probably much smaller.
I don’t remember anything about my grandparents’ demeanor. I do remember they spoke Hungarian to each other. I don’t know if they spoke English in the home. My father, aunts and uncle, were schooled at the nearby one room school-house that sat on the southeast corner of Williams County Road 14 and US Highway 6. The one room school-house was torn down many years ago. My dad also went to school at Farmer, Ney, and Bryan. I do not know where any of my aunts or uncle attended school.
Mary and Robert Gerencser, 1930s
Paul and Mary Gerencser settled in northwest Ohio, Williams County, because a number of Hungarian immigrants already lived here. Derek Harvey, a Toledo, Ohio man, wrote an interesting article about the Hungarians who settled in NW Ohio:
An important immigrant group to Toledo and Northwest Ohio were the people that came from the area in Central Europe known as the Magyars. This area stretched from Poland to the North to Belgrade in the southern region. The area would also encompass the large area known as Transylvania. (No Dracula jokes) With the redrawing of borders after the first World War much would have been considered Hungary would have changed. Many large populations after this time would live in Romania, Slovakia and northern Yugoslavia. Some groups prior to World War 1 would be misidentified as Hungarians.
The largest group of this ethnic group 1.7 million came to the United States starting in 1880. Many would locate in the Birmingham neighborhood in Toledo. In 1900 there were almost 17,000 people living in Ohio that claimed this nationality. By 1920 the number would increase to 73,181. The primary group of immigration was males under the age of 30. Almost 90% of them were literate, but would take dangerous jobs that involved using their hands. This job areas in Toledo included automotive, glass and railroad industries. They tended to only come to the United States temporarily and over 50% would return to their homeland. Many would come back or just stay.
The religion of the Hungarians in Toledo was Catholic. Their home church in town St Stephen’s Catholic Church. The early population of this church was almost all Hungarian. This is a valuable place to check for church records for people of this nationality. The church was the center of their socialization activities. It would later become the center of their fraternal organizations. In Toledo a popular event was the Grape Harvest Festival and the Easter egg sprinkling. These groups and events played a important part of the assimilation of Hungarians into the fabric of Toledo. Family units in Hungarian early life extended beyond the immediate family. It was referred to as the “sib” and included aunts, uncles, cousins and godparents who might not be relatives.
A common practice after 1910 was for Hungarian families to take in recent immigrants primarily males. The husband and the boarders would work outside the home while the women would take care of the chores necessary for maintaining a household. The diet would lean towards meat and very few dairy, fruit or vegetables. Wonderful opportunities exist for more understanding of Hungarians genealogy. Great strides have taken place in many parts of the United States to get a better understanding of this group. There heritages are being preserved and new resources are being discovered daily.
From time to time I will run into local Hungarians who remember my dad or my aunts and uncle. Mary and Helen sang on the radio in the 1940s and every so often someone will ask me if I am related to them. When someone notices my last name and asks me, are you related to ____________, the answer is always yes. All the Gerencsers in northwest Ohio are related to one another. I have second and third cousins in the Chicago, Benton Harbor Michigan, and Akron/Cleveland area whom I have never met. Locally, I have a few first and second cousins.
Grandma Mary Gerencser with the Family Cat, Pickles.
When my aunt with Alzheimer’s was over at our house last year, she didn’t know who the woman in the picture was but she with delight said, oh there’s my cat Pickles.
I am not certain what my grandparent’s religion was, but I suspect they were Catholics.
I regret not taking time to know my family history while those who could tell it to me were still alive. My dad died 25 years ago and my grandparents died over 50 years ago. Such is the lament of a man growing old. As death comes nearer and nearer to my door, I think more and more about the past. I wonder…what was it like for my dad to grow up on a farm? I will never be able to ask questions like this. Sometimes, when we drive down US 15/127 to Bryan, I gaze off to the left as we pass the Williams-Defiance County Line. I try to picture my grandparents, my dad, and my aunts and uncle, working the ground and taking care of the farm. I wonder about their hardships, about the hard work it took to eek out a living from the flat land of Williams County Ohio
I have lots of questions…
*dates and ages are approximate. My recollections are not what they once were. One reason for writing this post is to have a written record of these things before I some day can no longer remember them.