Tag Archive: Robert Gerencser

The Fundy World Tales — Part Three

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Shortly after I began the seventh grade school year at Ney Junior High School — the same school my dad graduated from in 1954 — we suddenly moved thirty-four miles south to Deshler. I was angry with Dad — yet another move to a new school; yet another year of being the “new kid.” But I knew that my thoughts and feelings didn’t matter, so I said nothing. I had started playing football at Ney Junior High, and I continued my football career at Deshler. I was a short, lightweight boy, ill-suited physically for football, but I wanted to give it a try. I played very little, and once the season concluded I decided to focus on baseball and basketball instead.

By the time we moved to Deshler, my parents pretty much stopped being my parents. Mom was in and out of manic states, and Dad busied himself working as a district manager for Combined Insurance and selling firearms at weekend gun shows. I pretty much had the run of the town. Mom would ask what I was up to and where I was headed, but never said no. Dad? I don’t remember him being much involved in my day-to-day life. Well, except for the pool hall incident, that is.

Growing up as the son of Bob Gerencser, I learned at an early age that if I wanted anything that cost money, I either had to steal it or earn the money to pay for it. While living in Deshler, I began delivering morning newspapers for the Findlay Republican Courier. Seven mornings a week, I would get up early and deliver my route. I also was responsible for collecting subscription payments from my customers. Dad helped me open a checking account at the Corn City Bank. My collections were supposed to go into this account, and then once a month I would write a check to the Courier to pay for my papers. Whatever was left was my profit.

Unfortunately, my parents gave me no instructions as to how to manage money. In my immature mind, the money I collected was mine — all of it. I started hanging out at the pool hall, playing pinball for hours on end. When I needed money for the machines, I would write a check to the pool hall. After a month or so, the Courier contacted Dad and inquired as to why I hadn’t paid my paper bill. Dad quickly found out that I had spent all the paper money. I was a pinball addict. Well that, and pop and candy bars. The Courier fired me as a delivery boy, even though Dad paid my past due bill. Dad somehow knew that children my age were not permitted to be in pool halls, so he threatened the pool hall owner, telling him that if he didn’t return all the money I had spent at the hall, he was going to report him to the state. The pool hall owner quickly coughed up the money and banned me from entering his establishment.

During the ten months I lived in Deshler, my parents, siblings, and I attended Westhhope Bible Church — a rural Evangelical congregation north of Deshler. Tom Vanarsdall was the pastor. The one thing I remember about him is that he had an attractive daughter whom he kept an eye on lest she get too close to a boy. The other memory I have of this church is the black choir that came to the church to sing one Sunday night. I could count on one hand the blacks I had seen up to that point, and here was a stage full of people who looked very different from me. While the choir’s music was typical of what I had heard for years, their body movements were different from anything I had seen in the Baptist church. The choir “felt” the music, unlike the staid northern Baptist Christians of my tribe who thought such feelings were Satanic.

In May, 1970, Dad packed up his family again and moved 23 miles southeast to Findlay. I will pick up my story here in the next installment of The Fundy World Tales.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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The Fundy World Tales — Part Two

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In the 1920s, Paul and Mary Gerencser left their home in Hungary and emigrated to the United States. After spending time in New York and northeast Ohio, Paul and Mary migrated to rural northwest Ohio, buying a hundred-acre farm on the Defiance-Williams County line. There they would raise six children: Steve, Paul, Mary, Irene, Helene, and Robert. Robert, their youngest child, was my father.

For much of her youthful life, my mother, Barbara, grew up on a Missouri farm. Raised by alcoholic parents and a father with a violent temper, Barbara had a difficult childhood — made worse by her father sexually assaulting her. By the time Barbara turned 18, she had moved from Missouri to her then-divorced mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio. It was while working as a waitress at a local truck stop and service station called The Hub, that Barbara would meet a Hungarian farm boy named Bob. Months later, Bob and Barb — who was two months pregnant — drove to the justice of the peace in Angola, Indiana and were married. Barb was 18 and Bob was 20.

In June 1957, Barbara gave birth to a fat, redheaded boy at Cameron Hospital in Bryan whom she named Bruce. For some unknown reason, Bruce was nicknamed Butch, a name only close family dares to call him to this day. And so my life began. . .

Years later, I learned that some family members questioned whether Bob Gerencser was actually my biological father. The extant evidence suggests that their doubts were well founded. I bear no resemblance to my father or my younger siblings. My sister and brother both are darker-skinned with typical Hungarian facial traits. I am light-skinned, blue-eyed, and in my younger years, I had flaming orangish-red hair. My brother was born sixteen months after me, and was given the name Robert Gerencser, Jr. — another sign that the man I called Dad was not my biological father. Mom had an oil painting and a hand-painted plate of me as a child. These items were sent her by her redheaded cousin while he was overseas. I have concluded that it is likely that this man is my biological father. Either that or I am truly the milkman’s son.

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Paul and Marry Gerencser and Children, 1950s.

During the first few years of my life, dad worked for the Williams County Sheriff’s Department and Carroll-Ames, a hardware/appliance/department store located on High Street in Bryan. Dad also drove truck for the Bryan Elevator. Mom and Dad moved a good bit when I was young. By the time I was school age, we had lived in half a dozen rentals. While I am not certain as to why Dad kept moving us around, I suspect he had a hard time keeping the rent paid. Several years ago, I was asked about why I moved around so much while in elementary and high school. “Did you dad get transferred a lot?” I snickered, and replied, “No, Dad just had a hard time paying the rent.” By the time I was in high school, the pattern was clear: Dad didn’t pay the rent, utilities, and other obligations, and we would have to move. By the time I was eighteen, I had lived in 17 homes and attended schools in eight different school districts: Bryan (three times), San Diego, Harrod, Farmer/Ney, Deshler, Findlay (twice), Mt. Blanchard, and Tucson.

In 1962, Dad packed up his family and moved us 2,300 miles to San Diego, California. Dad believed that the pot of gold at the end of rainbow could be found in California. Lamentably, fortune eluded Dad, and he ended up working sales jobs and driving truck to support his family. I attended kindergarten, first, and second grade in the San Diego school system, After both of Dad’s parents died of heart attacks within six weeks of each other, he packed up our household goods, loaded us into a car, and drove us back to Bryan, Ohio.

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Gerencser family headed for church, Bryan, Ohio, early 1960s.

Barb and Bob Gerencser returned to Ohio very different people from the ones who left in 1962. My parents had attended the Episcopal Church in Bryan. It was there I was baptized as an infant. Our family, prior to moving to California, were nominal, church-going Christians. This all changed when my parents came in contact with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Tim LaHaye — of Left Behind fame — and the church he pastored, Scott Memorial Baptist Church (now named Shadow Mountain Community Church). Mom and Dad made professions of faith and were baptized at Scott Memorial, and from that day forward my parents were hardcore Fundamentalist Christians. While in California, my parents were exposed to the nationalist teachings of the John Birch Society. Coupled with their Fundamentalist Baptist beliefs, the right-wing ideology of John Birch founder Robert Welch, Jr. turned my parents into insufferable, evangelistic Christian Fundamentalists, bigots, and racists. Mom, in particular, was a flag-waving warmonger who would later publicly say that Lieutenant William Calley, Jr. — of My Lai fame — did nothing wrong by committing mass murder. It’s war, she would say, and the United States had to do whatever was necessary to defeat Communism. Mom would also defend the Ohio National Guard when they murdered unarmed students at Kent State, saying the protesting students got exactly what they deserved.

After returning to Bryan, Ohio in 1965, my parents joined First Baptist Church, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack’s wife, Creta, was the sister of one of my dad’s brothers-in-law. Over the next decade, I would move in and out of the Bryan area several times, but while living there, First Baptist was the church I called home.

Shortly after beginning the seventh grade school year at Ney Junior High School, Dad suddenly moved us thirty-four miles south to Deshler — the Corn City. I will pick up my story here in the next installment of The Fundy World Tales.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

My Hungarian Grandparents, Paul and Mary Gerencser

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.