top: Erika with Cousin Peter Vajk, with Zita Balogh and Olympic Champion Ecaterina Szabo (Szabó Kati)
middle: cake, Olga Vállay Szokolay (our "Poet Laureata") reading her poem
bottom: the "MNO Bunch" - seated: Karolina Szabó, Olga Vállay Szokolay, Éva Wajda, standing: Paul Soos, Zsuzsa Lengyel, Charles Bálintitt, Erika
The rain of the forecast politely waited until most of the guests were leaving. Yet, few availed themselves of the lovely terrace adorned with flowering plants, overlooking Lake Kenosia. The event’s attractions were plentiful to keep people indoors. Pictures from the Papp family’s life were projected in a continuous stream, courtesy of Zsuzsa Lengyel and Karolina Szabo.
The guests were seated at tables of eight. The center pieces at each table, hand-crafted by Erika and her friends, had a red-white-and-blue theme. At each setting, a “party favor”, a copy of her new book “With God’s Little Finger Over Us” greeted the participants. Title of the book was inspired by her Mother, who used to say that they had survived that horrendous bombing attack in April 1945 only because "God held His little finger over us." In addition to her childhood memories, selections from her Dad's diary and correspondence provide details of the daily lives of regular people who lived through World War II and after, details that one does not find in history books.
Benediction by Father Gregg Mecca, Pastor of St. Peter’s Church, opened the festivities. Father Ivan Csete, whom Erika met when he was still a layperson standing in line to hear Cardinal Mindszenty at Fordham University, followed with greetings.
Erika welcomed the guests. She expressed thanks to all who made the day possible:
- to the good Lord for having helped them through the war, its aftermath and kept her for 70 years;
- to her aunt and uncle who helped her family survive and who sponsored them to come to this country;
- and to the United States for taking them in and giving them the opportunity to live free and to prosper.
Erika introduced her cousin, Peter Vajk and his wife Dr. Helen Vajk, who flew in from California for the occasion, representing his late parents "Uncle Raul" and "Aunt Louise". “Little Peter” was there with his siblings when the Papp family arrived at the railroad station of Princeton-Junction, New Jersey on that memorable July 11th, in 1949.
The guests gave a warm appreciation to the couple of veterans – John Edmond, a Navy veteran of World War II, and Paul Soos of Hungarian parentage who served as a Bombardier in the Vietnam War.
A special treat of the occasion was the participation of an Olympic champion. The world knows her as Ekaterina Sabo, but we call her Szabó Kati. She is the sister of Zita Balogh, Treasurer of our monthly webpage Magyar News Online. As part of her 20-medal collection, Kati won four gold medals in gymnastics at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
The event was enhanced by the visit of Erika’s paternal third cousin, once removed, Haeffner Donát and his fiancée. Don just finished an assignment as Communications and Press Officer at the Hungarian embassy in Paris, France.
Erika also introduced two non-Hungarian fellow-immigrant couples: André and Gedi Campé from Lithuania who arrived by boat the same year as she did, as well as Joseph and Anna Thampoe who came from Sri Lanka 25 years ago. She also presented an adopted member of her family, Amy Doorga and her Mom Sheila from Guyana. Her son, Scott was born here, so he is a “native American”. She also thanked all those who had helped her with the arrangements, including Eva Wajda and Barbara Raimundo, both of whom had offered decorating suggestions and provided much appreciated assistance.
The culinary offerings and the service were certainly exquisite and greatly appreciated. All raised their glasses of champagne to a toast to the United States and sang God Bless America.
At dessert time, Charles Balintitt introduced Olga Vállay Szokolay who read her congratulatory poem of 10 seven-line stanzas, depicting the synopsis of Erika’s lifeline, from Budapest to Danbury… each stanza ending with our heartfelt wishes: “Happy Anniversary!”
The inscription on the cake expressed Erika’s feelings concisely:
1949 – 2019
Olga Vállay Szokolay is an architect and Professor Emerita of Norwalk Community College, CT after three decades of teaching. She is a member of the Editorial Board of Magyar News Online.