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Tag: Robert Gerencser

Short Stories: G&B Trains, Findlay, Ohio

train store
Not from G&B Trains, but similar to what the store looked like when I worked there.

In the early 1970s, my father, Robert Gerencser, and Gary Ziessler, fellow deacons at Trinity Baptist Church, started a hobby store business on North Main Street in Findlay, Ohio. G (Gary) & B (Bob) Trains sold new and used Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx trains and accessories, along with slot car tracks and cars. G&B Trains had one employee — teenager Bruce Gerencser, whom they paid twenty-five cents an hour minus the cost of the pop he drank from the pop machine. After school, I would walk or ride my bike five city blocks to the store, working until closing time. It was here that I was first exposed to the business world. It was also here that I fell in love with Lionel O Gauge trains. Over time, I collected a number of diesel and steam engines, along with a bunch of train cars and accessories. I hung on to these trains when Dad up and moved us to Arizona. When I moved back to Ohio for the last time in 1975, Dad promised to sell my trains for me and send me the money. Forty-seven years later, I’m still waiting. Dad also promised to sell my 1967 Chevy station wagon too. Evidently, that check got lost in the mail too. When it came to money, Dad was a hustler and a con artist. He had no problem sticking it to family and strangers. I knew Dad would likely keep my money, but I thought with him knowing how much I needed the money, he would refrain from stealing the proceeds of these sales. Alas, Dad proved that a leopard can’t change his spots. Gary would later learn that when he and Dad had a falling out over . . . you guessed it . . . money.

I worked at G&B Trains for a year. One night, I had a physical altercation with a relative of Gary’s wife named John, a recent returnee from Vietnam. John was hired to do repairs on engines and other train equipment. I was taking care of the front of the store while John repaired an engine in the back. I went to the back room to get a bottle of pop. I knew very little about John, but he and I had a conversation that quickly got out of hand. Best I can remember, I said something smart to him — not uncommon for me. All of a sudden, John stood up and kicked me as hard as he could, sending me flying, and knocking the wind out of me. While I was down, John kicked me again. Fearing for my life, I ran from the store and went home, never to work there again.

A year prior to this experience, my alcoholic uncle kicked the shit out of me because I moved his beer. In both instances, I was blamed for inciting these men to violence, even though I was a child and they were grown-ass men. I can only remember one time my Dad stood up for me — an altercation with a different drunken uncle. This uncle had raped my mother a few years before. We were at his home for a party when I decided to give Dad a ride in my 1970 Nova SS. As we were leaving, I tromped the gas, laying down a track of rubber. When we returned, my uncle got in my face and attempted to physically assault me. My uncle was a large man, and even in a drunken state, he would have likely caused serious physical harm to me. Fortunately, my dad grabbed a hold of my uncle and slammed him into the garage. This is the first and only time Dad stood up for me

Not long after I quit G&B Trains, Dad and Gary had a falling out over money. Gary took over sole possession of the business. Dad and Mom would later divorce, as would Gary and his wife. Both families would leave Trinity Baptist Church. I was the only one of the bunch that remained in the church. It was not long before G&B Trains closed its doors. The building the store was in no longer exists. The City of Findlay razed it and other downtown businesses to provide a green space to handle flood waters from the nearby Blanchard River.

Two years ago, after a forty-five-year hiatus, I picked up the Lionel train bug again, starting a layout project in an unused upstairs bedroom. I was so excited to pick up a hobby from my youth, especially after having to abandon photography due to my health. Unfortunately, increasing health problems, which severely limit my mobility, have kept me from completing this project. I refuse to give up, hoping that I can finish the project before Christmas. I want my grandchildren to experience the same joy I had decades ago as I maneuvered my trains along O-scale tracks.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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My Hungarian Grandparents, Paul and Mary Gerencser

gerencser family 1950's
Paul and Mary Gerencser and Children, 1950s

The Gerencser Family, circa 1950s Front: Robert (my Dad) and Irene Middle: Grandpa Paul Rear: Paul (Paulie), Grandma Mary, Mary, and Helen (As you can readily see, I look nothing like my dad and his family)

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 someday can no longer remember them.

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.) 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 during the Depression, and then bought a 100-acre farm in Williams County on the northwest corner of Williams County Road 14 and Williams-Defiance County Line Road. It was here I first met my grandparents and where they died.

mary gerencser 1919
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 (he fell off the tractor and was hit by a plow or disc) as a young boy. Irene died in 2009 at the age of 87. Paul (Paulie) died in 2012 at the age of 88. Marry died in 2018 at the age of 88. Robert, my father, died in 1987 at the age of 49. Helen is 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 1940's
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 floodwaters 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 at home. My father, aunts, and uncle, were schooled at the nearby one-room schoolhouse that sat on the southeast corner of Williams County Road 14 and  US Highway 6. The one-room schoolhouse 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 robert gerencser 1930's
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.

mary gerencser and pickles
Grandma Mary Gerencser with the Family Cat, Pickles.

When Aunt Helen with Alzheimer’s was over at our house several years ago, she didn’t know who the woman in the picture above 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 35 years ago, and my grandparents died almost 60 years ago. Such is the lament of an old man. 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 eke out a living from the flat as an ironing board land of Williams County Ohio.

I have lots of questions…

I originally wrote this post eight years ago. Since then, I have learned that “Dad” was not my biological father; that my father was a truck driver who had a brief fling with my 17-year-old mother; that I have half brothers and sisters. Regardless, for good or ill, Robert Gerencser was my father. (Please see Questions: Bruce, How Was Your Relationship with Your Father?)

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser