Top: Dr. Balázs Somogyi, the guests, Christopher Ball, Honorary Consul.Bottom: Previous President Vilmos Kovács , Current President Ákos Horváth, singer Floros Zoi, Wallingford Mayor William Dickinson
The circle of friends of the oldest Hungarian House in Connecticut, but most likely in all of the United States, celebrated a hundred years of existence on October 5th, 2018. After Mayor William Dickinson, local leaders and representatives greeted the audience that filled the large hall, Christopher Ball, professor at Quinnipiac University, remembered the sacrifices of the founders in his speech. Ákos Horváth, current President of the House, expressed his thanks to the team that maintains the House, and Consul Imre Szakács conveyed greetings from Ambassador László Szabó, wishing much success for friendly Hungarian get-togethers in the upcoming 100 years. Dr. Balázs Somogyi, who presided over the celebration, could officially close the event only long after midnight.
Wallingford lies in the Quinnipiac River Valley, and is a city of 40,000 inhabitants. Founded by 38 families in 1667, it is the largest settlement between Hartford (capital of Connecticut) and New Haven (where Yale University is located). At the end of the 19th century, its important lead and silversmithing industry attracted many European immigrants, including Hungarians. Many of today’s inhabitants are descendants from these. Unfortunately, we have no figures concerning the number of Hungarian immigrants, but by the turn of the century, they had seven organizations and a Reformed church. Of these, two societies decided to establish a Hungarian House in 1918. At the same time, a Workers’ Home was also established, which presumably became part of the Hungarian House. The Reformed Association, the Roman and Byzantine Catholic Association, the Szent László Society, the Rákóczy Society, the Zrinyi Miklós Society, the leaders of the Hungarian and Slovak Society, as well as Reverend Béla Kovács of the Reformed Church pledged monetary assistance for the construction, for a total of $4,675.
The Buza and Bazsila Construction Company finished construction of the Hungarian House at 147 Ward Street by the end of 1923. On January 1st, 1924, the Hungarian House Society was officially formed, which to this day is the owner of the building. The building was expanded to its present-day size in two pőhases: in 1948, they enlarged the back of the building, and in 1958, the front.
Similar to other old industrial settlements of the East Coast, the economy of Wallingford and its surroundings has been significantly transformed over time. The old “rust belt” has been replaced by the contemporary chemical and precision instrument industries. Two ingenious Hungarian engineers established a lamp factory in the area, many of whose 300 workers belong to the Hungarian House. Since then, Christian Sauska has expanded his factory to Hungary as well.
Wallingford is the cultural center of the area. Oakdale Theater and the Wallingford Symphony Orchestra attract large crowds. This is where one of the most prestigious prep schools of the United States – Choate Academy – is located. The Hungarian Club has “adopted” the Beodray Ferenc Scout Troop, Connecticut’s first.
Outstanding among the Hungarian House’s numerous annual programs are the May Ball, the Hungarian Festival, the Annual Picnic, the Székely Ball, Octoberfest, New Year’s Eve Shindig, as well as numerous musical and literary events. One of the most active Hungarian Societies, the Hungarian Cultural Society of Connecticut is also a member of the Hungarian House, and holds some of its events here. Dr. Balázs Somogyi, President, and Lenke Kata, Secretary, lead the team which unites Hungarians of the area.
László Papp, Hungarian-born architect, living in Connecticut, was the moving force behind the 1956 Memorial Monument set up in New York last year. He is also known for his design of the Hungarian Museum of New Brunswick, New Jersey. In October of 2017, he was awarded one of the highest decorations of the Hungarian government. He is an Extern Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Vice President of the American-Hungarian Foundation. He writes frequently about issues of concern to the Hungarian American community.