Hungarian Settlement

By Graham Ulkins - bio | email

The bell atop the Hungarian Presbyterian Church has been ringing for more than a century. For members like Helen Nyeki, it's a sound that brings back a lifetime of memories.

"I was in the choir in this church at the age of 15 and I'll be 84 years old in August and I'm still a member of that choir," she said.

Three young Hungarian immigrants first arrived in south Louisiana in 1896. Word of louisiana's open land and plentiful employment spread through Hungarian newspapers. By 1920, 200 Hungarian families had formed what they called Arpadhon. Physically, there's not much left of it. All that remain are an old school house, two churches, family farms and a bakery. However, perhaps more important than the buildings, are the descendents of those who built them.

"In 1941, this was a close-knit settlement," said Louis Bartus. "Hungarians married Hungarians."

"This settlement was nothing but Hungarians. We had Hungarian dances, Hungarian dinners," Nyeki explained.

Today's congregation is more diverse, but the history and traditions are always only a glimpse away. In the church cemetery, five generations of Hungarian-Americans can be found lying together. Each grave tells a different story of a different family, like Eugene and Kathryn Kovacs, Hungarian immigrants in 1951. They are the grandparents of Graham Ulkins.

After passing through Ellis Island, the family settled in Pennsylvania before moving to south Louisiana. Neighbors say no one in the community is considered a stranger.

"I grew up knowing Hungarian and lots of Hungarians," said Royanne Kropog. "There are no hard feelings. Everyone is just almost like family out here."

At the Hungarian harvest dance each October, young and old dance to traditional songs under a canopy of freshly harvested fruit. Just as meaningful are the pot luck dinners held for just about any occasion. With each scoop of pasta and each slice of cake, the stories of Hungarian settlement live on.

"It's a life that I wouldn't trade for anything. It's a wonderful place to live," Nyeki added.

Copyright 2010 WAFB. All rights reserved.