Andrew & Josephine Zagorsky
2008_Their Lorain Love Story
Linda Jean Limes Ellis
1587 Edgefield Road
Lyndhurst, Ohio 44124
June, 2008 (copyright)
Everyone loves a love story! Please join me for a glimpse of how this one began a little more than a century ago in Lorain, Ohio, and spanned 41 years in the lives of my maternal grandparents.
As a young lad living in the 1880’s and 1890’s, Andrew Zagorsky roamed Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and France as an orphan. Born in a region that later became Czechoslovakia, he learned to speak several languages and, along the way, taught himself to play the button box. After Andrew matured into a young adult, he became a miner by trade to earn a living. In 1904, America beckoned him to its shores, and specifically, Lorain, Ohio, where his brother-in-law was already living. There he met and married a young illegitimate Polish immigrant girl who spoke only her native tongue. Together, they watched their family grow during one of the darkest decades in American history – a time forever defined by its name – “The Great Depression.”
Andrew Zagorsky’s driving desire was to renounce his allegiance to Franz Joseph I, (later Charles – 1916 – 1918), Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary by becoming a naturalized American citizen. His mind must have swirled with such thoughts when he disembarked from the ship, S. S. Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse, after it docked in New York from sailing its final voyage of the year from Bremen, Germany.
It was almost the end of the year – December 14, 1904*. Andrew, with the sum of $18.00 in his pants pocket, was ready for his next step. He boarded a westbound train and headed for his final stop, Lorain, Ohio, where he would spend the rest of his life.
American citizenship for Andrew Zagorsky would not come for 33 years, however. After all, he was still a young man just turning 24. Finding a suitable wife who cherished raising a family, and who faithfully practiced Roman Catholic teachings, came first with Andrew – but he would have to wait a bit longer. Another three years would pass before she would enter his life. In the meantime, he began to establish himself in work that would sustain him throughout his lifetime.
Early Twentieth Century progress brought the hard labor industries of steel making, ship building, and railroad work to Lorain, Ohio and transformed the entire community into a manufacturing hub. Many Eastern European immigrants, among others, knew their skills would be needed by these employers making Lorain a popular destination. Andrew Zagorsky quickly gained employment there as a car repairman with the B&O Railroad Company. Later, he switched to the Lake Terminal Railroad at the National Tube Company which had bought the Lorain Steel Company in 1902. He welcomed the opportunity to learn his new trade, and learn it well he did. Andrew stayed with Lake Terminal Railroad throughout the Great Depression and until his retirement.
Meanwhile, Josephine Szczepankiewicz’s life in America began on July 2, 1907 when she made her way alone through the masses of immigrants who had arrived that day at Ellis Island. She had traveled on the passenger vessel, S.S. Statendam, which had departed from Rotterdam ten days earlier for its long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Josephine’s entry appears on Line No. 5 of the ship’s manifest which lists the following: Name – Jozefa Szczepankiewicz, Age – 18, Marital status – single, Occupation – servant, Last residence – Kasimiro, Russia**. Her ethnicity was “Russia Polish.” Barely readable, the writing states that she was coming to live in Lorain, Ohio with her uncle. His name was Anthony Szczepankiewicz who worked as a laborer in the car shop of the National Tube Company.
The Szczepankiewicz household of Anthony, his wife, Victoria (nee Krokos) and their four small children had become noticeably more crowded after the arrival of his teenage niece. My Aunt Irene revealed to me that her mother’s uncle, Anthony, and her father, Andrew, met through a connection with a co-worker at the National Tube Company. Did Anthony ‘play cupid’ so Josephine would find a husband and thus move her out of his house? I cannot prove he did, but if true, he was highly successful in the role!
Young Josephine quickly won Andrew’s heart as he was said to be “quite smitten” with her after their first meeting. His marriage proposal to her came shortly afterward and Josephine accepted. The couple exchanged their wedding vows at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, a Polish parish, in Lorain on January 8, 1908; just six months after her arrival in America.
By today’s standards, Andrew and Josephine’s matrimonial leap could be construed as having been an arranged marriage, but for this couple the ensuing years proved theirs was a union meant to be.
Josephine’s mother, Antonina Szczepankiewicz (maiden name), was still living in Poland. The identity of Josephine’s father was, and remains to this day, unknown. Since birth, she had taken her mother’s maiden name as her own surname.
When Josephine became Andrew’s wife her isolated world as an only child of a single mother changed forever. Their first child, Joseph, was born in October of 1908. Their second son, Frank, was born on March 4, 1910. Anthony Szczepankiewicz was the child’s godfather. Within a few years, it became necessary for Josephine’s mother to leave her Polish homeland to come to her daughter’s aid and help with raising the fast growing Zagorsky family. She died in 1918, however, at age 56 and was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Lorain.
Andrew Zagorsky filed his first Declaration of Intention for citizenship on March 17, 1919, however seven years then passed and the record became invalid so he began the process again on January 3, 1935. Ultimately, Andrew took his Oath of Allegiance to become a naturalized American citizen on December 7, 1937. By then, though, the Austro-Hungarian Empire no longer existed. Aunt Irene vividly remembers her father expressing to her how important that day was in his life. Ironically, December 7 is also her birthday.
Yes, Andrew Zagorsky’s life had come a long way in 30 years. He had good reason to feel pleased with his accomplishments, not the least of which was supporting a wife and eleven children. That became much more difficult, however, as the Great Depression of the 1930’s relentlessly dragged on. Lake Terminal Railroad reduced Andrew’s schedule to a three day work week; yet he felt thankful because many friends of his were unemployed.
Andrew did not drive or own an automobile, but that fact mattered little to the younger children who eagerly waited for him to step off the Lorain Street Railway streetcar after work on his pay day. They knew their daddy would be bringing them candy!
The older children began working as they entered their teens and early 20s. Helen and Mary, the two oldest daughters, took jobs as dishwashers and cooks at the Park Restaurant and Antlers Hotel in Lorain. Joseph, the eldest son, began working as a drill press operator at the Thew Shovel Company. By the mid 1930’s, Irene gained employment at a West Virginia tobacco factory and was joined by Virginia and Helen who found work at the Central Glass Factory in Wheeling. Whatever earnings the trio could spare were sent back home to help support the younger children still living with their parents. Unfortunately, this meant the girls had to move away from home and did not graduate from high school.
Josephine contributed to the family circle by sewing most of the children’s clothes including their underwear. She was the household’s shopper and known to ‘drive a hard bargain’ with the neighborhood merchants, many of whom were Polish Jews. While browsing at a haberdashery to buy a better suit for one of the younger sons, Josephine might find the prices were more than she could afford. If so, she abruptly took the little boy by the hand and led him out of the store. Mother and son walked only a few steps down the street when the sales clerk bolted out of the doorway and pleaded: “Mrs. Zagorsky, please come back; let’s talk about the price!” The shop owner knew there were more sons at her home, and he hoped she would return. Josephine cooked traditional Polish fare and made such dishes as dandelion soup that cost little money. She enjoyed crocheting and hardanger embroidery – when there was time.
Andrew and Josephine owned their modest three bedroom home at 2715 Apple Avenue in Lorain during the 1940’s when their sons Floyd, Stanley, and Alex joined the U. S. Navy, and Edward entered the U. S. Army. Theresa, their youngest daughter, served in The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Like millions of American families during WWII, the Zagorskys in Lorain fervently prayed and patiently waited for their loved ones in uniform to return home safely to them. All five did come back in good health after the war ended. Everyone was reunited, and the family photographs taken during this time prove how happy they were to be together again.
Andrew Zagorsky died at home on November 20, 1949 at age 68. His funeral was held at the family residence with religious services conducted at Holy Trinity Church in Lorain prior to his burial at Calvary Cemetery.
Josephine lived until June 7, 1960 with most of her children nearby in her final days. Andrew’s railroad pension check of $66.00 a month helped to provide for Josephine until her death. She never mastered speaking the English language but was said to have understood it quite well. Because the children had attended parochial schools at both St. Stanislaus (Polish) and Holy Trinity (Slovak) churches in Lorain, they had no trouble communicating with her.
Today, all of the Zagorsky children are deceased except for my Aunt Irene who has so warmheartedly shared many of her special childhood memories with me. Without them, I could not have come to understand and appreciate the sacrifices Andrew and Josephine made for each other and their children.
On June 10, 1960, Josephine was laid to rest by Andrew. In death as in life, she was together with her husband, and it was the last time he would have to wait for her to begin a new journey with him.