|The Oravetz, Rebar, Prusak, Kuzio, Herpak, and Kovachik Families of Pennsylvania|
Welcome to the 15th family reunion of descendants of the Rebar, Lelak, Oravec (Oravetz), Kozak, Prusak, Herpak, and Kovachik families. I think you'll like the newsletter very much this year because Jim and I have put a lot of work into two articles at the end that add a human touch to our family history. My story is from personal memories and first-person accounts of a small slice of life in Barnesboro, while Jim's story attempts to breath life into our Oravec ancestors as he tells the tale of how they ended up in America. Jim hopes to turn his stories and my recollections into a complete family history someday, and I think you'll agree that we have a pretty interesting story to tell.
According to our sign-up sheet, we had 62 people attending the family reunion last year, including children.
The largest attendance was in 1990, which was about 97 people. The first reunion might have had more attendees, but we didn't count them at that time. We have lost many family members since our first reunion in 1983, all faithful attendees. In the last several years the attendance has been holding steady in the 60s.
Florida: Frank and Barbara Rebar
Maryland: Joyce Rebar, Jim and Carolyn Rebar, Jean Rebar, Mary and Ed Rebar and son Alan, Kathrine and Duane Fleshman.
Michigan: Karen and Rick Semik and children, Valeree, Leah, and Erica; John D. and Vicki Rebar and children Heather and Teresa; Joe and Heidi Rebar and children Joey and Kristy, Donna and Bill Breyer and sons Willie and Tim.
North Carolina: Michelle McCaulley and daughter Kaitlyn.
Ohio: Bill and Mary Prusak.
Pennsylvania: Sara and Paul Mohar; Mark and Evelyn Stoops; Verna Kuzio; Mike and Jean Kuzio and daughter Lorie; Dot and Andy Polenik; Dave and Elsie Rebar; Tisha and Carl Gallaher and son Zachary; Betty Lechene and friend Mike Berzonsky; Dennis Stoops; Bob Stoops; Joe and Barb Stoops; Sharon Wolf and son Cody; Elma and Earl Venerick; and Shelley Cunningham.
Virginia: Tony Pasquale; and Beverly Rebar.
Debra Anne Pasquale and Kenneth Michael Wright were married on June 1, 1996, at the Pender United Methodist Church in Fairfax, Virginia. Debra is the daughter of Nancy Rebar and Benjamin Pasquale and granddaughter of John S. and Margaret Ann (Oravetz) Rebar. This is the second marriage for both of them, and Debbie's daughter, Kristina, and Kenny's sons, Christopher and Bryan, participated in the marriage ceremony.
Emily Jeannette Prusak was born on November 17, 1995. Emily is the daughter of William, Jr., and Tamara Marie (Miller) Prusak, granddaughter of William and Mary (Woodley) Prusak, and great-granddaughter of Jack and Zella (Herpak) Prusak.
John Stephen Jablonski was born on May 12, 1994. John is the son of Caroline (Herpak) and Gary Jablonski, grandson of Steve and Phyllis (Paxton) Herpak, and great-grandson of Joseph and Josephine ("Aunt Pepi")(Lelak) Herpak. Gary and Caroline have just moved to Richmond, Virginia, where Gary now manages the ash program for Virginia Power and Light Company.
Allison Elizabeth Nees was born on February 11, 1995. Allison is the daughter of Steve's and Phyllis' other daughter, Linda, and her husband, Steve. Linda and Steve were married on September 17, 1994, and reside in Columbus, Ohio. Steve is an accountant with British Petroleum Corporation, and Linda is attending nursing school and is 1 year away from becoming a Registered Nurse.
Congratulations to Gary and Caroline and Linda and Steve on your children and your newfound good fortune.
Adam Jacob Helt was born on August 15, 1995. Adam is the son of Roy and Dawn (Stice) Helt, granddaughter of Georgia (Rebar) and William Stice, and great-granddaughter of George and Anna Jane (Chatnick) Rebar.
Zachery Michael McCaulley was born on October 11, 1995. Zachary is the son of Michelle (Kuzio) and Christopher McCaulley, grandson of Michael and Jean (Parrish) Kuzio, great-grandson of Verna (Oravetz) and Michael Kuzio, and great-great-grandson of Joseph and Mary (Lelak) Oravetz.
Zachary Alan Rupert was born on May 1, 1996 to Paula Burkholtz and Jeffrey A. Rupert. Zachary is the grandson of Pauline (Burkholtz) and great-grandson of Matilda (Kovachik) and Gust Burkholtz, and is the great-great-grandson of Joseph and Margaret (Lelak) Kovachik.
Jean Marie Fleshman, daughter of Kathrine (Rebar) and Duane Fleshman, graduated from Salisbury State University on May 18, 1996, with a B.A. in Psychology. Not content to sit idle after graduation, Jean is already back at Salisbury State, working on a second B.A. in Social Work.
Karen Elizabeth Fleshman, Kathy and Duane's second daughter, graduated with honors this Spring from Ursinus College. Karen was named to Who's Who Among College Students in the U.S. She starts Graduate School on September 3rd at the University of Maryland Medical School, where she will major in Genetic Counseling.
Jean and Karen are granddaughters of George and Anna Jane (Chatnick) Rebar. Congratulations to both of them on jobs extremely well done!
Helen E. Linsenbigler died January 31, 1996. She was born on March 8, 1911, to Alex and Elizabeth (Javorsky) Oravec, and was herself the mother of 7 children. Helen's father and my grandfather, Joseph Oravetz, were brothers; Alex came to this country first, and he sponsored my grandfather's immigration. Helen wrote my mother, Margaret (Oravetz) Rebar, a letter every Christmas, and for many years that was the only contact there was between her family and ours. She was a wonderful person.
Raymond Kozak of Ginter, Pennsylvania died on June 18, 1995. He was a son of Andrew Kozak, and grandson of George Kozak, one of the original immigrants to this country on the Rebar-Kozak side of the family. We are pretty sure that Raymond's father, Andrew, and my grandfather, Andrew Rebar, came over to this country on the same ship, and that George's wife, Anna (Barnic) Kozak was with them. Andrew apparently had a sister, Gizella, who was with them, but she died not long after their arrival in the United States.
Alfred Williams died on April 3, 1996 after an extended illness. He was 95 years old. Alfred is the father of Elsie (Williams) Rebar, wife of my brother, David Andrew Rebar. We all knew him as "Pappy". He was a preacher, and he really knew the Bible. It was always a pleasure to talk to him. He will be missed by friends and family.
Nicholas Joseph Gallaher, infant son of Tisha Lynn (Baum) and Carl Gallaher, died on December 25, 1995 at Altoona Hospital. Nicholas was one day old. Our sincerest condolences go to Tisha and Carl during this sad time.
Kathy Fleshman, who works for the U.S. Government, left on July 1st for a month temporary duty assignment to Southeast Asia. Kathy will not be able to attend this year's reunion because she plans to stop over in Hawaii on her return and spend a glorious week on the beach. Her husband, Duane, is going to fly to Honolulu and meet her, and they plan to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary two months early -- that big day comes for them on October 1st. Congratulations, you two beach bums!
Sharon Kuzio, daughter of Michael and Jean (Parrish) Kuzio, will be getting married on October 19th to Michael Berkheimer of Altoona. Best of luck to you both, Sharon and Mike.
In mid-June, Mike and Jean Kuzio's daughter, Shelly, was forced off the road by a truck and rolled her car over three times. Her two children, Kaitlyn and Zachary, were in the car with her. Miraculously, the three suffered only bumps and bruises.
The Herpaks and Rebars are truly cousins because we are related on both sides of our parents.
Joseph Herpak's mother, Anna (Kozak) Herpak, and my dad's mother, Kathrine (Kozak) Rebar, were sisters. That means that my dad, John Rebar (and, of course, his siblings, too) and Joe Herpak were cousins.
My mother's mother, Mary (Lelak) Oravetz, and Joe Herpak's wife, Josephine (Lelak) Herpak, were sisters. Therefore, my mother and Zella (Herpak) Prusak and Steve Herpak were cousins.Well, when my dad got a job in Barnesboro in the coal mines, he went to board at Joe Herpak's house, a logical place, since they were cousins. Dad really loved Josephine ("Peppy") Herpak, and he told me once that he always teased her. Peppy also told her sister, Mary, how she missed John when he left because he always made sure her coal buckets were filled and wood was brought in. Zella and Steve were young at that time.
(Photo: Back (L-R): Veronica (Oravetz) Kuzio, Joseph Pizur, Jennie
Ragusa (poss), Unknown, Michael Rebar, Zella (Herpak) Prusak
My mother, Margaret (Oravetz) Rebar, would go to visit her Aunt Peppy, and naturally my dad would be there, and he fell in love with this beautiful girl. Mom was around 16 and Dad was about 22. They kept company and got married on September 20, 1926, and I was born August 3, 1927, followed by my 6 siblings through 1946. Mom was 18 and Dad was 24 when I arrived. That's how the Herpak children, Zella and Steve, and all of John Rebar's children (John, Frank, Ed, Nancy, Dave, Jim, and I) are related on both sides -- Lelak and Kozak.
This is interesting, because all of my dad's brothers and sisters and their descendants are all cousins (second and third) of the Herpaks and all of their descendants, so there are many people who attend the reunion who are not aware that they are related!
Another interesting tidbit is the fact that my dad's mother had another sister, Mary (Kozak) Valco, who also lived in Barnesboro. Dad would visit her also, but I met her only once. She was a tiny woman. I went with Dad to visit her when she was visiting from Michigan (in her later years she had gone to live with her daughter there). I remember that she was very happy to see Dad. Her eyes lit up, and she called him 'Johnny.'
Uncle Joe Herpak had a brother, Peter, who entered the United States illegally through Canada to visit Uncle Joe and other relatives. Uncle Joe made a trip to Scranton to visit with him before he went back to Canada. Presumably, Peter returned to Slovakia. When Jim and I visited Slovakia in 1995, we made a trip to Vyná Mya, the Herpak ancestral village, and we saw many Herpak tombstones in the church cemetery -- for now, we can only speculate that many of them are descendants of Peter Herpak. There also were numerous Herpaks buried in Niná Mya, the Rebar and Kozak ancestral home several miles away.
The Oravetz Family
The family of Joseph and Mary (Lelak) Oravetz of Barnesboro, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, as with nearly all the Slovaks who emigrated to this country, had its American roots in the rich coal fields of Western Pennsylvania. The mines that brought Joseph to Barnesboro in search of work are the same mines that ultimately drew my father, John S. Rebar, to Barnesboro some 15 years later. However, John was also attracted to the town because of several relatives he had living there: Mary (Kozak) Valco, Barney's wife, was John's mother's sister; and Joseph Herpak, son of Peter and Anna (Kozak) Herpak, was his first cousin, as Anna was another of John's mother's sisters. The Rebars and Oravetzes did not originate in the same village in Slovakia, and they had little in common by way of family life experience, but the events that brought them together in America were almost scripted for the kind of extended immigrant family that grew out of America's industrial heartland as a buffer against a strange and often hostile land.
However, the Oravetz and Lelak stories are a bit more convoluted than the Rebar tale, and they require a little more background information here.
The Old Country
In the latter part of the 19th century in Northern Hungary, as Slovakia was called at the time, numerous forces were slowly grinding away at the economic stability that the Slovaks in the mountains and valleys around the city of Kosice had enjoyed for more than two centuries.
South and southwest of Kosice the land is agriculturally rich; the flat plains and hot summer temperatures are ideal for growing grains and sunflowers, and the angle of the sun on the rolling hills to the north of the flat land is perfect for growing grapes. Working the fields and vineyards was the only life that the Rebars had known for centuries. The valleys are wide and stretch far into Hungary, and the Rebars, Kozaks, and Herpaks followed the planting southward each spring and, just as faithfully, followed the harvests northward in the fall.
The First Migration
The rail line from Kosice to Miskolc, Hungary, had been laid in the 1840s, and was followed a few years later by the line that ran north from Miskolc deep into present-day Slovakia. North of Miskolc in Slovakia are the grapevines, and north of the vineyards are the Rudohorie, the Iron Mountains, that had produced the precious metals that had made this a major trade route for centuries. When the gold and silver ran out, there was still plenty of iron ore and copper here to keep the work booming for several more centuries in the foundries in the Rudohorie region itself and in the towns and cities supplied by the rail lines. But the ore eventually ran out, too, and the people in towns like Smolnik, Zakarovce, and Opatka, who had mined the ores and worked in the foundaries for generations, suddenly found themselves without jobs in the 1870s and 1880s, so they moved south, to places with strange-sounding names like Diosgyor and Pereces, where the factories and mines were still producing, and where there were plenty of jobs.
In Diosgyor and Pereces, the other half of my family history unfolds. When the ore ran out in the mines around Smolnik, Slovakia, the able-bodied men one-by-one began to move south to industrial Pereces, near Miskolc, Hungary, where there was plenty of work for a strong back. In looking at the Roman Catholic parish records of births, marriages and deaths for the main parish at Diosgyor, it seems as though entire villages went south. Beginning with a recession in the 1870s, the exodus lasted well into the first decade of the 19th century. It was under these circumstances that Gaspar Mathias and Theresia (Majdik) Mihalik moved with the youngest of their eight children in the late 1870s from Smolnik to Pereces.
In about 1881, Gaspar's and Theresia's daughter, Josephine, met and married Matthew Lelak, a young man two years her junior who had himself emigrated in search of work to Pereces from Zakarovce, a town barely 18 miles up the main highway from Smolnik. Life for Matthew and Josephine was not easy; their first child, Mary Josephine, died of scarlet fever when she was only three and a half years old. Their next child, Mary, my maternal grandmother, was christened with one of the names of her dead sister, while the other name was eventually given to another sister, Josephine "Peppy" (Lelak) Herpak, my great aunt. In all, four of the Lelak children survived the many diseases that thrived in the crowded work camps of late 19th century Hungary. According to family lore, Josephine (Mihalik) Lelak herself died from an injury she sustained while lifting heavy, wet carpets that she had just washed at the stream in Pereces. I do not know the year that she died, but it was before my grandmother emigrated to America in 1908.
In the same village of Pereces there lived a man named John Oravecz. Both he and his wife, Etel (Soltesz) Oravecz, had been born in Opatka, Slovakia. John had gone to Pereces sometime around 1890 to work, and he returned briefly in 1894 to marry Etel, whom he took back to Pereces. Sometime probably late in the 1890s, John's brother, Joseph, my maternal grandfather, came to work in Pereces as well, probably staying with John and his family.
The New World
It was in Pereces that Joseph met Mary Lelak, probably in about 1905 or 1906. They decided to marry, but not until Joseph was financially capable of supporting a family. Joseph's brother, Alex, had emigrated to the United States a few years earlier, and Joseph and Mary gambled that the New World would give them the financial stability they probably would never know if they remained in Hungary. And so, on an early Winter day in 1906, Joseph boarded a train in Miskolc and made the journey through Budapest and then southwest to Fiume on the Adriatic (now Rijeka, Croatia), where the S.S. Ultonia of the Cunard Line was waiting to take him to the New World.
Joseph Oravetz arrived in New York City on January 5, 1907, just two days shy of his 26th birthday. After clearing the immigration hurdles at Ellis Island, he took a ferry to the city and boarded probably the first available train for Graceton, Pennsylvania, where his brother, Alex, was living with his wife, Elizabeth (Javorsky). Alex worked in the coal mine and got Joseph a job there; workers were always in short supply, and it did not matter that Joseph spoke no English, as nearly all the miners were foreigners, and the Slovaks worked together.
The pay at the Graceton mine was good, and Joseph was quickly able to pay back the money he owed his brother for his passage. By carefully watching what he spent, he managed also to save enough money to send for Mary a mere 15 months or so after his own arrival. She took a train in late September or early October 1908 and travelled to Bremen, Germany, where she boarded the S.S. Friedrich der Grosse, leaving behind her father and three sisters; two of her sisters, Josephine and Margaret, would follow her several years later, but it was the last time she ever saw her father. It is not known if her sister, Gizela, was still alive at that time, but her memory was preserved later by Josephine (Lelak) Herpak, who named her only daughter, Gizela (Herpak) Prusak, in her sister's memory.
Mary arrived in New York on October 14, 1908, only 20 years old. She lived with Joseph for several months at Alex's and Elizabeth's house, and then they moved to Barnesboro in the early months of 1909 where they were married on March 31, 1909.
For the next several years, Joseph and Mary worked hard, saving their money for a house for their growing family, but more importantly to buy the tickets to get Mary's sisters, Margaret and Josephine, to America. That is another installment of this story, perhaps for next year's newsletter.Well, that about wraps up another newsletter. Please keep us in mind when special events happen in your family. Any genealogy information and the latest family news are always appreciated.
Dot (Rebar) Polenik
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