The "Sopron Division of Forestry" in Canada - Part 4
1961–2007 -- Our Years After Graduation
Our escape to Austria, our exodus to Canada, the trials of the long journey, studying a new language, our effort to fit into a new way of life, the problems with finding summer employment, the misunderstandings with respect to our curriculum and studies, our anxiety about the relatives left so far away and many other little daily problems forged our group into our own little extended family which enabled us to help each other. Many outsiders cannot fathom the depth of this team spirit and solidarity. One of the events that proves this unity is that even after the doors of the Sopron Division were closed at UBC, we continue to hold an annual reunion in Vancouver (sometimes in Victoria), which includes a dinner party, a Ball and at the end of the evening, the singing of our traditional student songs revived from the Selmec-Sopron years. On special occasions, such as the 10th or 25th anniversary of our arrival in Canada, the programs were even more elaborate. Lately we have started the dancing segment by introducing our sons and daughters and asking them to open the Ball. Soon, this tradition should be extended to our grandchildren! In the beginning, the number of participants was above 200, including wives and guests, but lately it was slowly reduced to about 80-120.
To celebrate the day of our arrival in Canada, we organised each year a get-together (szakestély), either on the day of January 8th, or as close as possible. Since most of us were close to retirement in the late 1990s and had more time on our hands, these gatherings were changed to a luncheon meeting on the second Tuesday of every month. It is held in Vancouver and the attendant number varies between 30 and 60. After the meal, there is usually a short discussion period, when we put to debate the “official” programs and plans. The Ball in the fall and the monthly lunches have been organised by Tibor Kocsis over the last 20-25 years, and he knows everyone’s e-mail address, home address and phone number. We greatly appreciate his devotion to our community. Before him, we had to elect a committee of 3 or 4 people for the task each year. Since the fall of 1984, the Szász family (Julika and Pista), invite us to a picnic on their property at the end of August or the beginning of September. The attendance is usually very respectable.
Another means of keeping in touch with each other is our publication, the “KAPOCS”. It was started shortly after the Sopron Division closed its doors in 1961 and appears in one or two volumes each year. Until 2003 it was compiled by a committee, but since then László Rétfalvi looks after the editorial tasks. It was his idea to collect and publish a short biography of the members of the Sopron Division under the heading “Életutjaink” (our life stories). Up till now, about 40 people responded with fairly detailed descriptions. For those interested, copies of the “KAPOCS” can be obtained from many sources, including the library of the University in Sopron. In the earlier editions there is a section that mentions the birth of our children and grandchildren. Also mentioned are, those who have passed away and left our fold.
In this segment (1961-2007), which encompasses the past 46 years I will mention only the more important events, those that affected most of us. While we were at UBC, there were a number of essays compiled about our group, mostly because we had such an “unusual” background. These were written by postgraduate students at some of the other faculties at UBC, for various reasons. Since the Sopron Division closed, there were four major evaluations of the events:
In 1966, for the 10th anniversary of the Revolution, Professors Adamovich and Sziklai wrote about our history in a publication: “Foresters in Exile – The Sopron Forestry School in Canada”. It was published in 1970 and it also includes the evaluation and results of their survey of the achievements of the students.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of our arrival into Canada, the teaching staff and the students of the Sopron Division published a book: “The Sopron Chronicle”. It was published in 1986. The first part was written by Dean Kálmán Roller and the second part by a group of students and professors. It includes a survey of the achievements of the students compiled in 1982.
In 2006 I participated at a scientific meeting in Sopron which was organised to discuss the topic: “1956: A Bridge between the World and the Hungarian Sciences of Forestry and Wood Technology”. I included in my presentation the results of my survey of forest engineers, who graduated at UBC and were working on scientific research projects. The summary of this work is attached as an appendix.
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of our arrival, which was celebrated at UBC between June 14th, and 16th, 2007, Imre Ötvös compiled a survey of all the Hungarian forest engineers who graduated from UBC. The results of this survey are also appended.
From the results of the 1966 survey by Adamovich and Sziklai a few interesting data may be seen in Table 3. It encompasses the 141 graduate forest engineers and shows that in 1966, only 5-9 years after their graduation, a large proportion of them were working in positions comparable to their education. The difference in obtaining positions between the fourth year students and the second year students, from 68% to 100%, may be explained by the better knowledge of the English language of the younger group. This percentage significantly dropped again for the first year students. It may be explained by the short time period between their graduation and the time of the survey. It may also reflect the reduced number of positions available, due to the large number of applicants of the previous three years.
Unfortunately, there are no corresponding employment figures in the 1982 survey. However, the annual average income substantially increased during this time, which is given as $39,000 in 1982. Even considering an annual rate of inflation of 5-10%, this is a great achievement by the students. The range of salaries was given as $14,000 to $85,000, which shows that not only the remuneration, but the promotion of the students played a major part in these figures. There are two other interesting results in the survey. In 1982, the percentage of those, who lived in their own homes, was 93.7%. To the question: “If the current political climate would change substantially for the better, would you consider returning to Hungary?” 66.3% responded with a “NO” answer.
During the 1961-2007 time-span of 46 years, the following important events may be worth mentioning in sequential order:
- Canada “truly” adopted us in 1962, when the majority of our group became Canadian citizens. This was a great turn of events for us, because we were not “homeless” any more.
- To celebrate the 25th anniversary of our arrival to Canada, the Association of Professional Foresters of British Columbia organised an event at UBC where many government representatives spoke about the achievements of the Sopron students in the forest industry.
- 1990 November 4th was a very important date for us. The Forestry and Wood Sciences University held a special celebration in Sopron, Hungary, where the rector of the university, András Winkler, announced the decision by a committee to accept the Forest Engineering Diplomas granted by the Sopron Division at UBC as equivalent to the diplomas granted in Sopron. He also made the statement, that their University will consider the students to be members of their Alma Mater, even if they left Hungary in 1956 and graduated in a faraway land. During the celebrations, which lasted a whole day, the Canadian graduates donated to their old Alma Mater a wooden plaque which was carved by a native Indian artist from the Nootka Tribe, Joe Campbell. The carved motifs indicate the feeling of oppression, of the power of determination and the return of the new generation to their homeland. The plaque is made even more memorable by a short poem written by Domokos Varga, a retired forest engineer, a friend and classmate of our revered professor, László Adamovich:
Those, who left, but did not forget,
Even in Canada, they are Hungarians,
Those, who conquered a distant land,
And still, Sopron Students remained,
Their Homeland, their Academy, they greet,
With a heartfelt: Cheers! Hurray! VIVAT!
- Approximately twenty of us were present from Canada and the USA on this memorable event and the following traditional student evening celebration (Szakestély).
- To commemorate the 40th anniversary of our arrival in Canada, at the annual meeting of the Association of Professional Foresters, in February, 1997, we were presented with a plaque that is engraved with “For their outstanding contributions in the field of Forestry in BC”. This is now in the Forest Sciences Centre at UBC, underneath the five tableaus of our graduating classes.
- The professional connections between the University in Sopron and the Canadian graduates preceded the Sopron celebrations by about two or three years. First it was in the exchange of research material, and later it expanded with the invitation of a few of us to give lectures in Sopron as well. Many research scientists were also invited from Sopron, mainly to work in the United States. One professor from Sopron came to study and received his PhD at UBC, and three graduates from Sopron received their Masters Degrees here as well.
- In 2001, András Winkler, the Rector of the University at Sopron, came to Vancouver for a short visit and in 2002, Sándor Molnár, the dean of the Wood Sciences Faculty and his associate dean, Mihály Varga spent a few days at UBC. In 2004 an agreement was reached between the Faculty of Forestry at UBC and the Faculty of Forest Engineering of the University of Western Hungary (Sopron) to have nine young professors spend a semester each at UBC in a visiting lecturer position to allow them to improve their English language skills. The plan was to establish a forestry education program in English in Sopron in 2007. Unfortunately, according to the latest information, it may not be able to begin until 2008. Sándor Faragó, the new Rector in Sopron also visited Vancouver in 2006 and had discussions with Jack Saddler, the Dean of Forestry at UBC and also attended one of our traditional monthly lunches.
- The Forestry and Wood Sciences University of Sopron, that was renamed the University of Western Hungary, has done many things to show its appreciation of our scientific and other support from 1989 to the present day. Some of us received honorary doctorate degrees and many others were honoured in other ways. Some of us are working on plans for financial aid to the University, mostly in establishing scholarship funds or providing monies to maintain the botanical gardens.
- UBC also honoured us in 1999 by granting an Honorary Doctorate to Kálmán Roller, the Dean of the Sopron Division, for his excellent and dedicated work involved in the management of the Sopron Division from January 1957 till May 1961.
- In the fall of 2002 a film crew (S. Novobáczky, L. Nádorfy, and R. Somogyvári) came to Vancouver from Hungary to record our existence in Canada in a two- part production. It was released in Hungary in 2004 under the title: “Exodus of an Alma Mater”. The first part was titled: “The Great Trek” and the second: “Life Stories”.
- In the spring of 2006, Jack Saddler, the Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at UBC proposed that the Faculty organise a festive celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution. Although honoured by the proposal, we preferred it to be postponed to the following year because the memories of November 4, 1956 were very sad for us. We suggested January 2007 as a possible date to correspond to the 50th anniversary of our arrival in Canada. It was promptly accepted, but the actual date was postponed till June, so that there would be no interference with the school program.
Approximately 80-90 students and professors came to the reunion from the “old” Sopron Division. We were surprised and elated by the large number of representatives who came from Sopron. Sándor Faragó, the Rector of the University of Western Hungary came with his wife, as well as Sándor Molnár, the Dean of the Faculty of Wood Science, András Náhlik, the Dean of the Faculty of Forest Engineering, Mrs. V. Wesztergom, the head of administration at the Faculty of Wood Science, Mr. Sándor Sarkady, the director of the library, József Pethö, the director of the Hungarian Forestry Institute.
Canadian guests were mainly family members, employer representatives and fellow employees, who came in large numbers to join the celebration.
To make the arrangements, the Faculty of Forestry established a committee. From the Faculty’s side the representatives were: Sandra Schinnerl, Samantha Berdej and Katrina Evans. The Sopron Division was represented by László Rétfalvi and me. Since the whole event was financed by the Faculty, the two of us acted in advisory capacity only. The dates were finalised for June 14th, 15thand 16th. The program for the three days was organised as follows:
Before the official opening of the ceremonies on June 14th, Zsuzsa Papp, the president of the Rákóczi Foundation and Jack Saddler opened a special exhibit, titled the “Hungarian Exodus” in the entrance hall of the Forest Sciences Building. The ex-students and professors marched from the building under the carved wooden gate singing traditional songs from our Selmec-Sopron history. The gate (Székely Kapu) was carved by László Józsa, ex-first year student and Arpád Gál, who came to Canada from Transylvania. It was erected in 2001 in front of one of the doors to the Foresty Building to commemorate the Sopron Division. The procession also passed by a new wooden carving by László Józsa, a “kopjafa”, which was erected for this special occasion.
When the procession arrived under a special awning, the invited dignitaries were already sitting on the stage. (The names of the dignitaries and detailed program notes are appended). The guests gave speeches praising the students and the professors. Miklós Grátzer, ex-fourth year student, gave an excellent summary of the history of the Sopron Division and thanked Canada and UBC for accepting and accommodating us. After the opening ceremonies a buffet luncheon was served with traditional Hungarian dishes. There was an exhibit on the first floor of the building depicting the memories of the Sopron students from their Austrian days to their settlement in Canada. After the meal there were two lectures available in Hungarian, one held by Sándor Sarkady and the other by Sándor Faragó. The Forestry Faculty also set up a special display based on eight different topics exhibited in eight separate lecture halls.
After a series of short speeches by the dignitaries, Mike Apsey, who is one of the best known foresters of BC and was the Chief Forester of the Ministry of Forests, BC and Jack Saddler gave a short historical summary and shook hands in a procession with every Sopron student and professor present.
The following day, June 15th, there was a special conference from 9:00 AM till 5:00 PM centered on the topic: “Looking Back, Moving Forward: The Legacy and Future of Canadian and Hungarian Forestry”. It was chaired by Jack Saddler and Don Munro, a professor of the Forestry Faculty. Many of the presentations can be found in a special publication.
The closing ceremonies were held on June 16th at the Hungarian Cultural Center. After the excellent Hungarian dinner, a short program was chaired by Tibor Jandó, an ex-fourth year student. Dr. Cindy Prescott, an Associate Dean of the Faculty of Forestry greeted the celebrants and the guests. Next was Dr. Robert Kozák, one of the Associate Professors from the Faculty, himself a second generation Soproner, who gave a very entertaining speech. Next were: Dr. Sándor Faragó, Dr. Sándor Molnár, Dr. András Náhlik and Dr. József Pethö. They all praised the Sopron Division’s achievements and thanked the Faculty of Forestry at UBC for their hospitality.
There were two special announcements as well. One was from the Canadian Institute of Forestry, which granted the Sopron students with their special “Canadian Forest Management Group Award”. The award was accepted in Toronto, at its annual general meeting, on August 20th by János Balatinecz, an ex-third year student. The other announcement came from the UBC Alumni Association saying, that they voted on and granted us their “Alumni Milestone Achievement Award”. This was accepted by Miklós Grátzer and András Szalkai, ex-fourth year students, on November 15th, at their annual meeting.
September 2007 was another milestone for us. Our fifth year students, together with those, who graduated in Sopron or in other European countries, were granted their “Golden Diploma” in Sopron. They were the first group from among us to receive it and 15 of them travelled from Canada for the occasion. They also had the opportunity to participate in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Faculty of Wood Science in Sopron.