Today is the 78th anniversary of the death of my paternal grandfather, George Kucharik, aka George R. Sabo. I never knew him because he died sixteen years before I was born. My grandmother, Julia, loved him very much – she wanted to be buried with her wedding band on – and said he was a wonderful, kind, loving man. They both adored their only child, my father, who was named for his father.
Here is the story of my grandfather so he won’t be lost to history.
George Kucharik was the seventh of eight children born to Stephen and Mary Kacsenyak Kucharik. I have written before about my great grandparents. Three of Stephen and Mary’s children were born in Vysna Sebastova, near Presov, Slovakia before the family emigrated to the United States: Son John was born 25 Aug 1877. Daughter Mary was born 15 Jan 1881, followed by Anna born 4 Feb 1885, but who died soon.
They first lived in Delano, Pennsylvania, but attended St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in nearby Mahanoy City. Another daughter, also named Anna, was born 18 Apr 1889, in Pennsylvania,, then son George, born 24 May 1893 and youngest son, Stephen, born 18 February 1897, both born in Delano. Somewhere in the gaps, Mary lost two more children.
George’s Baptismal Certificate
By 1900, the family had moved to Passaic, New Jersey and are found in the census there. Stephen worked for the railroad and perhaps saw more opportunity in Passaic, which is only about 15 miles from New York City.
Here are the George and Steve with, I think, brother John who died 1910-1915, probably in Passaic, New Jersey.
Details about this family are hard to come by. My grandmother was fond of her mother-in-law, Mary, but she didn’t care much for George’s father or his siblings. By all accounts, my great grandfather was a bit difficult.
Passaic was an industrial city, full of factories and work. Many Slovaks gravitated to the area around St. Michael’s Byzantine Catholic Church, today St. Michael’s Cathedral, because of the large ethnic neighborhood. All of the immigrant families rented space in two- or three- family homes and they moved around often. The Kuchariks were no different.
I have no idea who took these photos, but they look very much like a friend or neighbor had a camera and took pictures of them at home. As poor as they were, they embraced the American dream of a better life and determined that their children would have a better life than they did. Stephen and Mary’s children all had the opportunity to attend school. My grandmother kept my grandfather’s school certificate; I found it among her old papers and photos when she passed away.
Have you notice the surname change for my grandfather? In the 1900 census, the family was enumerated as “Kuharik,” which actually was misspelled “Kucharik.” Somewhere along the line, the family stopped using their legal surname (which means “Cook” in Slovak) and adopted the surname “Sabo,” which means “tailor” in Hungarian.
I had no idea this had happened until 1980 when I mailed away for copies of my grandparents’ marriage record at St. Michael’s and from the state of New Jersey. Neither the church nor the state had a record for George Sabo marrying Julia Scerbak on 6 September 1915. When I asked my grandmother why no record was found, she said, “Because the family name was Kucharik!” I was dumbfounded. When I mailed out new requests, both the church and the state sent copies of the marriage record.
I have never found any court papers indicating that Stephen legally changed the family name and I don’t think he did. First, Stephen and Mary worked at unskilled labor jobs. They didn’t have the money to pay court costs for name changes. Second, the fact that George gave his true name, Kucharik, at the time of his marriage indicates that the name was only used socially. Even the church record states his name as George Kucharik.
After George and Julia married, they rented homes in Garfield and Passaic, the chosen neighborhoods for many immigrants from Julia’s home village of Ujak (today Udol.) Like many of her friends, Julia worked in Passaic’s factories.
George became a butcher and, by 1930, he was in a partnership with my grandmother’s brother, Peter Scerbak, and two other men. They owned Central Market Market and Julia also worked in the store.
Amazingly, the meat market continued to prosper through the Great Depression. A friend of my grandmother’s, Anna Stanchak, attended Julia’s funeral in 1985. I asked her how she came to know my grandmother. Anna said that she was forever indebted to her because my grandparents hired her as their maid during the Depression. My immigrant family was living the American dream.
Likely one of the last happy events my grandparents experienced as a family was the 10th birthday party they hosted for my father, George, Jr., in February 1936.
I never asked my grandmother (Nana) how long my grandfather was ill with tuberculosis. In any case, he passed away on 27 November 1936 at Valley View Sanatarium in Haledon, Passaic County, New Jersey.
George was buried at St. Michael’s Cemetery in South Hackensack, Bergen County, New Jersey on 30 November 1936.
On December 3, 1936, Julia’s card of thanks was published in the Passaic Herald News:
By the way, George Kucharik became George R. Sabo. What did the “R” stand for? I asked Julia. She said it stood for nothing. My grandfather didn’t have a middle name, but he thought having a middle initial was more distinguished so he added “R” to his name.
R.I.P. Grandfather George. You aren’t forgotten.