Dorothy Tesner

John and Anna Kramer Palguta, Dorothy's paternal grandparents

John and Anna Kramer Palguta, Dorothy's paternal grandparents

Dorothy Tesner’s grandparents came to the U.S. from Slovakia in the late 19th century looking for a better life.  Both of her grandfathers worked in steel mills, first in Pennsylvania and later in Youngstown. Her grandmothers worked as housemaids.

Dorothy explains that while one of her grandmothers felt very proud of her Slovak heritage, her great aunt – her grandmother’s sister – identified as Hungarian, because she saw Slovaks as peasants, while Hungarians were, in her mind, more sophisticated.

When Dorothy’s parents were growing up, the church – Sts. Cyril and Methodius – was the center of their lives.  Dorothy’s family still belongs to that parish today.

Dorothy's aunt (tzeka) Catherine Palguta, in Slovakian dance costume, 1927

Dorothy's aunt (tzeka) Catherine Palguta, in Slovakian dance costume, 1927

Emil Palguta, Dorothy's father, with his sisters and brothers, 1919

Emil Palguta, Dorothy's father, with his sisters and brothers, 1919

Her parents spoke Slovak at home, and many of their neighbors were also Slovaks.  While her parents never really taught her the language, Dorothy knows some words and phrases, and she remembers singing Slovak songs at St. Cyril’s Catholic school.    She also remembers all the church pageantry and the fun of helping to clean the church when she was in 6th grade.

The nuns at St. Cyril’s were pretty strict at the school, even checking on what movies the children had seen over the weekend to be sure that the films had been approved by the Catholic Exponent. Dorothy and her friend, Mary Helen, ran the school store for a while.

Easter at Sts. Cyril and Methodius, sometime in the 1940s

Easter at Sts. Cyril and Methodius, sometime in the 1940s

She also recalls Christmas in her neighborhood, and how one neighbor counted on Dorothy’s brother to come by every year and offer a traditional Slovak greeting.

She also remembers enjoying a number of ethnic foods during the holidays – home-smoked kielbasa, kolachi, babalky, and several kinds of cookies.

One of the highlights of the year when Dorothy was growing up was Slovak Day at Idora Park. Some of the teenage girls competed to sell the most tickets, in order to be named the Slovak Queen, but Dorothy and her family just went to the park to enjoy the day.

Dorothy (in the frilly white pants) with her cousins, aunt, uncle, and mother Emily at a Kielbasa Roast in Mill Creek Park, circa 1945

Dorothy (in the frilly white pants) with her cousins, aunt, uncle, and mother Emily at a Kielbasa Roast in Mill Creek Park, circa 1945

Dorothy became a teacher when she was about 20, having trained first with the cadet teacher program offered by the Youngstown Diocese and then at the university.  She taught in the Youngstown City Schools.

While she says that most people at that time married people from their own ethnic background, both she and her siblings married people from different backgrounds – people whose parents or grandparents were German, Hungarian, English, and Italian.  She sees the next generation, her sister’s sons, becoming increasingly American, though they still look forward to Slovak traditions at Christmastime.

For more of the story, read the full transcript of Mary Ellen Wilcox’s interview with Dorothy Tesner.

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