For Whom Freedom is a Precious Commodity

 Fiftyyears ago, a shy, unassuming young man, barely 17, crossed the Hungarian border and entered Austria with no suitcases, no relatives, no money, no friends, no fanfare. It was mid-November,  near the bridge at Andau (the Bridge at Andau, James Michener). Little did he know, that it would take over three decades before he could return. He didn’t do anything earth-shaking during the ill-fated 1956 Hungarian Uprising, that was so brutally crushed by the Soviet Army, other than take an active part in the fight for freedom.  He says today, “freedom is a very precious commodity and the longer you are denied it the stronger the desire to obtain it, regardless of the price one has to pay for it”. Hegedus was only a child during the war years – born in 1939 – so freedom to him was only an instinct, like it is for a bird in a cage. So he did not hesitate to march along with the crowd to break into the jail to free the political prisoners, and proceed toward the AVH’s (the Hungarian KGB) headquarters to free the revolutionary messengers from Budapest. He was photographed while he attached the rope to the Red Star on top of the obelisk to tear it down. It’s because of this photo that he could not stay at home, since it was posted publicly with this message . . . “if you know the whereabouts of any or all of these counter-revolutionaries, report it to the authorities , , , “

 

After spending just a couple of weeks in Austria he was given a chance to emigrate to the United States, where he arrived a few days before Christmas. Since he came courtesy of the US Air Force there was no Statue of Liberty waiting for him, no greeting by Emma Lazarus “Give me your downtrodden . . . “, it was a low point in his life. Suddenly he was very alone in a strange country, where even the language was foreign to him. When he was presented with a choice of  being adopted by an older couple or going to a boarding school near Buffalo, he chose the latter. He can still vividly recall clutching the train ticket in his hand, with the words “when the train stops five times get off” penciled in Hungarian on the back.

 

“I arrived on the lakefront near the present Marine Midland Arena, frightened out of my mind, lonely, hungry, and desperate to visit the facilities, but not knowing where to go or even how to ask.” The eventual ride to Derby, NY was a great relief. It was there that he spent the next five year working as an aide, teaching the other 47 resident students about the Hungarian language, history and geography, while working to finish his own High School education at St. Francis in Athol Springs. Hegedus later earned his degree at Erie Community College in Construction Technology.  It was no picnic to commute to Buffalo daily on the Greyhound bus. He was given room and board plus $40 for the 50-60 hour work week helping to run the boarding school. Of course the $40 was not even enough for the bus fare so Hegedus earned extra money by doing odd jobs, household chores and work as a Mason’s/Carpenter’s apprentice during the summer months. In fact one summer he built the house for the caretakers, sort of hidden behind the servant’s quarters of the magnificent Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Greycliff house,  the former summer residence of Mrs. Darwin  Martin, which then served as the Mother House of the Piarist Fathers.

 

After leaving the boarding home he completed a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Mathematics at The State University of New York at Buffalo. He also earned three National Science Foundation Grants in Wayne State University in Detroit, Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, and Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Mr. Hegedus eventually became a teacher at Calasanctius Preparatory School for the Gifted, which was founded by the same Piarist fathers who ran the boarding school he grew up in. He  quickly rose from a classroom teacher to Prefect of Discipline, Chairman of the Mathematics Department and eventually Academic Dean and Assistant Headmaster. He also planned and participated in the school’s innovative Field Trip Study Program, taking him to 42 states and three Canadian provinces. Years of service at Calasanctius Schhool  1962- 1979 “I am proud to be the kid who in 1956 didn’t have two nickels to rub together, who without knowing any English at all, and not having any parents or relatives in this country, was able to accomplish the so much.”

            My second career was in Radio station management from 1979 to present where I quickly rose from part time salesmen to salesmanager,owner General manager.

 

On the personal side, Hegedus is married and has two children, five grandchildren, and takes immense pride in all of them. He also enjoys gardening, photography, sports, and especially soccer where he has won numerous championships and is still an active player. He has also recently published volumes of poetry, and has an extensive collection of woodcarvings that he made recently .Web site   www.buffalowoodzoo.com How does his life differ from that of others? How is his philosophy of life different from others? This is how he sums it up in on of his many poems,

I Would Rather Be

Love and Liberty the two most important things for me

I would give my life for love without hesitation

I cherish freedom, for which

I would give my love as compensation

But if I can’t have at least one; Love or Liberty

My life is worthless, dead I would rather be.

 

Somewhere in here it’s hidden why he wouldn’t or couldn’t go back to visit his family, which to this day is still in Hungary. During the dark days of Communism they made an attempt to recruit him to serve them as a spy which he obviously turned down, but from that very day even his regular correspondence was censored and/or confiscated. The fall of the Berlin wall, the demise of Communism, coupled with the free election in Hungary opened the window of opportunity for his first visit to his loved one in 34 years. The Year was 1990.

 

He’s also very active in the Hungarian community, whether it’s being Master of Ceremonies or the Main Speaker at special anniversaries and commemorations or just being active socially. His friendship with his contemporaries is as strong as it was four decades ago. It’s a friendship that now involves two more generations.

 

He is still concerned about the future of his former homeland. He worries about the decision they have yet to make and he hopes and prays that the decision is going to be for the betterment of his beloved country, Hungary and for the freedom of her people. He can’t agree more with one of Lincoln’s famous sayings “those who deny freedom from others deserve it not for themselves.”

 

Even at age 69 he still practices and competes twice weekly in his favorite sport, soccer. Hobbies include, photography, gardening, woodworking, poetry writing but most of all he is an expert in loving his grandchildren of which he has 4 boys and a girl

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