Andrew Hudak was born in Kecerovské Pekl’any, in the Šariš region of Slovakia, in 1928. His father (also called Andrew) owned a farm, which he had purchased after returning to Slovakia from the United States, where he had raised money working in an Iowa mine. Andrew says that growing up, he and his family ‘produced everything they ate’ and that the farm his family lived on employed ‘progressive’ agricultural methods, which his father had learned in the United States. Andrew attended elementary school in his village before being sent to Nitra to study at the Mission of the Society of the Divine Word. He returned to Kecerovské Pekl’any at the end of 1944 when the seminary was closed because of WWII. He says it was at this time that he decided not to become a priest. Following liberation, Andrew moved to the Czech border town of Aš, where he says many hundreds of Slovaks settled following the expulsion of Sudeten Germans under the Beneš Decrees. There, he helped establish The Slovak Catholic Youth Association and had a radio broadcast, called Hlas Slovenska [Voice of Slovakia]. He moved back to Podbrezová, Slovakia, after a short time having lost his job, for what Andrew says were political reasons. Again unemployed in the fall of 1947, Andrew decided to move to the United States and join his father, who had been working in Cleveland for a year already.
Andrew arrived in Cleveland on January 8, 1948. He quickly found a job at the White Sewing Machine Corporation. He says he was pleasantly surprised by the amount of Slovak activity he found in the city and subsequently established the Slovak Catholic Youth Club (later the Slovak Dramatic Club) with some of the new immigrants he met at English-language night classes. After two and a half years in his first job, Andrew bought a restaurant called the Lorain Square Lunch Room, where he worked as a chef. He became involved in property development and construction and eventually established his own travel agency, Adventure International Travel Service, which he opened a branch of in Bratislava in 1992. Andrew remained extremely active in the American Slovak community, as president of the Lakewood Slovak Civic Club for ten years and founder of two branches of the Slovak League of America, in Parma and Strongsville, Ohio. In 1982, he became president of the Slovak Garden retirement community in Florida – a position he held for fourteen and a half years. In 2002, he became head of the Cleveland Slovak Institute, an organization which aims to preserve and protect the history of Slovaks in America. Andrew is married to Sophia Beno Hudak and the couple have three children, Andrew, Paul and Steven. In 1993, Andrew became a dual citizen of Slovakia and the United States.
“My father came from a little village in the mountains, about ten miles away from our village, there was an opal mine there, his father worked in the opal mine and almost everybody out of this village emigrated to the United States. My father, [his] two brothers beside him, almost three quarters of the village ended up here. He worked in an Iowan mine and after… Like at that time there was a system that people from a poor country come and make some money, so he could save and come home and buy a farm and a house and marry some Slovak girl and start a family. That’s what happened in my father’s case. So he married my mother, and I have three brothers and one sister, and we lived in a little village as farmers. My father was a very progressive farmer because he gained a lot of experience in America about life. In a little village, in the mountains, you don’t know nothing about it. For example, we had one of the best orchards in town – fruit orchards – and we had about 120 bee houses, which he made good money out of selling honey.”
“There was another American down there living. His name was Mr. Mišík. And he was sitting on the front of his house, on a bench, and wore American jeans pants and an American jeans jacket, like a typical American. And all those kids around him, around there, asked him how things are in America [compared to] how things are in Slovakia. And Mr. Mišík says ‘Ha! In America, they put the bull at one end of the factory and at the other end come the sausages. And they taste the sausage and if its good, fine, if it’s no good then they throw it back and the bull comes back out.’ And we kids [said] ‘Oh yeah?’ And he said ‘Oh yeah!’ So we got up in the morning and ran to see Mr. Mišík for a story.”
“I was amazingly surprised by the activities of the Slovaks in Cleveland. My father about three days later took me here to the Slovak Benedictine Abbey, because also he was a good Catholic. And I met Father Andrew Pier, who was in the same job as I have right now. And my uncle took me to the lodge, the Jednota lodge, and you know, about three or four months later I became a secretary because they were looking for some young blood looking to work. And then there was… In school, okay, at night school, I saw a lot of Slovak people – almost three quarters of the class were Slovak kids, boys and girls, so I figured well, I must do something. So I founded the Slovak Catholic Federation in America. We had about 80 members – it even still exists now, it changed its name to the Slovak Dramatic Club. We did Slovak plays, I can show you some pictures, Slovak dances, and sponsored the Slovak celebration on March 14 and the Tiso celebration, the Slovak day. And the Štefánik monument, we went down there to sing. So, our generation, us – the Slovak Republic generation – prolonged the life of the Slovaks in America for another 50 years. Because sure there were old Slovaks, but that was old, and that was dying, that was tired, you know. So we prolonged its life for 50 years.”
“Saturday morning, my aunt took me out shopping, okay. She put $350 on the table and she said ‘We’re going to go shopping, and when you get a job, you’re going to pay the money back.’ So we went shopping and I came back with a brand new suit. But she burned up everything I brought from Slovakia, she burned it up! Because you are going to bring some flies or something. Anyhow, so she bought me the suit, we came back from shopping and I thought, ‘Hmm, I’m in America two days and I owe $1,500 already!’ – at that time! So I got a job in White Sewing. He happened to give me a good job. After about six months, he gave me [the job of] timekeeper, and every time he needed help, he asked me, ‘Andy, you know any Slovak boys?’ And I got him maybe… one time there was working maybe about 40 Slovak boys at the White Sewing Machine Corporation down there. You know I got, I ended up being a timekeeper.”
“Before I became the president, there were about 120 people coming to the Slovak Day in Florida. When I was president, for 14.5 years, the highest amount I had one time was 1,200, and never less than 600, okay – people coming to the Slovak Day. So it was very successful, and the next thing you know, they are coming to [celebrate] the liberation of Slovakia. So, the people from Slovakia, they don’t really want to come to Cleveland, you know, Florida was a nice attractive thing, by the sun, by the beaches; they started coming to Florida, the ministers, the mayors and so forth. And so then I organized some groups coming to Florida and here to Cleveland. It was very successful. Then I finally one day, everything was hunky-dory, straight, I decided in 1997 to quit.”
“I keep things up the same way as it was originally founded – to preserve, protect, all the materials concerning Slovaks in America. When I come here with Joe – I appointed Joe as my assistant here, Joe Hornack, maybe one tenth of what you see was here. Everything else was in boxes, like this pile, and unsorted. So we created a lot of systems, a good filing system, we created a personality file; we have a list of maybe 600 personalities, everything, whatever was said about them, we’ve got it in a special file. Same thing on the organizations – if they’re not found in that file, I’ve got them in a big box, that’s what I’m doing right now. So now my question is here how long this can survive here as is. The abbot is here is no longer a Slovak. We have a couple of Slovaks in here, but they are not that interested in things up here. I personally believe that all this precious material belongs to Slovakia, because that’s the history of the Slovak nation is here in America, or the Slovak people. Now I’m in the process of negotiating with the Matica Slovenska, which is a cultural organization, to move some of the stuff to Slovakia, and also with the Catholic University of Ružomberok, to move some stuff. So we are in the process of that thing. They have invited me sometime in the summer time for a final meeting, so I think we are talking between now and five years that we’d start moving some of the stuff. We’ve got an okay from the abbey to move it, the only thing is finances.”
Thanks to America
“I know that I could not have accomplished one tenth in Slovakia what I have accomplished in America. Because when I compare myself to my friends, with the same education – don’t forget, it’s a smaller country, smaller opportunity. This is a big country, if you have the guts and know how, you can move as far as you want. It’s a beautiful country. I love America.”