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History of Scouting in NY


The Beginning

In October 1951, Zoltán Vasvári, better known as “Zolibá,” an immigrant and former Hungarian Army captain, invited the sons of a few family friends to his home in New York. This meeting marked the start of Hungarian Scouting in the city. Later that summer, Zolibá visited a local Hungarian church to recruit more members. Much to his surprise, the local pastor did not believe in the need for Hungarian Scouting and assumed that the new generation was bound to assimilate into American culture anyway; they should be American Scouts!


The Development of the Troop

The first patrol, “Turul Patrol” (named after the mythical bird of Hungarian folklore) was formed on October 6, 1951, when they proudly stood at a memorial service honoring the victims of the 1848 revolution, which was held in a non-Hungarian church in the Bronx, commemorated by a non-Hungarian minister. Because of the difficulties immigrants faced at the time, the patrol continued to meet at Zolibá’s home, then in an attic of the warehouse where he lived, in Midtown West.


1952 - The patrol headed to a summer resort in New Jersey named Bugaci Puszta for their first excursion. In December of that year, the patrol held a Christmas play and its first Scout Investiture for family and community members. The performance became tradition for the future and continued later as a troop function, and thereafter also in the Girl Scout Troop, which was formed in September 1960. 

1953 - Parents formed a volunteer Scout Committee responsible for the well-being of the troop. That same year, the troop sent three of its Scouts to the annual Hungarian Scout Leadership Training camp. All three returned home with honors, one as Assistant Scoutmaster, and the others as Patrol Leaders. 


The “Turul” Patrol split to form a platoon (a unit between Patrol and Troop). Péter Mauksch, who was a Scout in Hungary before the movement was banned in 1948, joined as well. He was formerly a member of the Budapest Verbőczy High School (today called Petőfi High School) Troop 7 Erős Gusztáv [1] and he asked that the same name and number be given to the New York troop. The request was granted by the Hungarian Scout Association’s (HSA) [2] Executive Committee and the New York troop became Troop 7 “Erős Gusztáv” as well. The first official troop meeting took place on January 24, 1954.


Continued Growth and Success for the Troop

One of the most important Scouting events is the Summer Camp. The troop camped almost every year throughout the 1980s, sometimes running its own, other times with other Hungarian Scout troops, and occasionally with other troops of the New York District, and also participating in Jubilee Camps. Their first independently organized camp took place in 1954, when the troop discovered their passion for playing the „furulya” (recorder). They later formed a folk music and folk dancing group. That year also marked the beginning of the troop’s annual hiking trip to the Catskill and Adirondack mountains. Together with the sister troop and part-time members, the Scouts climbed the highest mountain in New York State, Mt. Marcy. Biking, skiing, kayaking and hiking are activities still enjoyed by the troops. Some of the Scouts were chosen to represent Hungarian Scouting abroad at the World Jamborees held in Canada in 1955 and England in 1957.


For several years, the Scouts held their meetings wherever they found available space. In 1955, Scoutmaster Zoltán Vasvári and others founded the Saint Imre Young American-Hungarian Club to secure a meeting space at 350 East 81st Street. In 1967, the troop found a more permanent home at the New York Hungarian House, where their meetings continue to this day, the House’s one-third ownership since 1993 belonging to the HSAE.


In 1960, the troop published its first newsletter, Kopjafa, highlighting their success at the celebratory jubilee camp which was held in honor of the 50th anniversary of Hungarian Scouting. New York’s troop claimed a majority of camp honors for their hard work. Supporters enjoyed reading the newsletter for six years, then again in the 80s for a brief period. Similarly, the girl’s troop published a newsletter titled Cserkészőr from 1980-1985 and Légy Résen! for a short period in 1997.


The troop actively participated in most of the New York District’s and the USA Region’s events, such as the annual athletic competition established in 1953 by a local Hungarian Scout. The Scouts also took part in poetry reciting competitions, Cub Scout day camps, and the Annual Patrol Obstacle competition and other functions. Members of the troop also attended the annual leadership training camps both as instructors and trainees.


Cub Scouting

Younger children between the ages of 6-10 also found their place in the troop. The first Cub Scout pack was formed in 1955 by Katalin Kristó Nagy, a Venezuelan Hungarian Scout leader.


The Girl’s Troop

Starting in 1954, a Girl Patrol, later expanding to platoon status, was a part of Troop 7. From this group, the Girl Scout troop was formed in 1960, receiving its own name and number; they became Troop 46 “Kanizsay Dorottya.” Its first Scoutmaster was Mrs. Elizabeth Egyed (“Pötyi néni”), followed by Mrs. Ágnes Nagy Kalapos. The troop officially operated until 1963, then formed again in 1966 under the name of “Bánffy Kata,” under the leadership of Brazilian Hungarian Scout leader Katinka Jánszky. The troop was later lead by Éva Dömötör, another Brazilian Hungarian Scout. The troop saw tremendous growth in 1969 under the leadership of Judit Kesserű, an Argentinian Hungarian Scout. In her footsteps followed Ilona Koréh, Rita Merényi, Éva Harkay, Ágnes Harkay, Dorottya Kurtz, Diana Aknay, Zsuzsa Dara and Tünde Kőmüves, all growing up in the troop.


In the late 90s, because of low attendance, the two troops merged in practice, though retaining their troop name and number. In 1999, Károly Baráth, Jr. held the position of Scoutmaster of both troops, followed by his mother, Mrs. Judith Erdőssy Baráth, who took over Troop 46, followed by Ferenc Weisz and Árpád Pándi, who were also Scoutmasters of both troops. Currently Krisztina Jankura fills the same position.


Teaching Hungarian Culture

In addition to the typical Scout advancement skills, such as tying knots, first aid and camping, Hungarian Scouting emphasizes the Hungarian language and culture. Aforementioned Péter Mauksch as well as Károly Andreánszky both played a significant role in establishing the troop’s Hungarian folklore and customs, and especially its folk song culture. In 1958, a Hungarian folk dance group was established. Its dance director was Mária Loskai Molnár, an experienced dancer and erstwhile student of Miklós Rábai, former Scout leader, founder of the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble in Budapest. While not directly associated with the Scout troop, many Scouts and leaders joined the folk dance group. Folk dancing has since been a part of the Scouting program throughout the New York district.


The troop organized New York’s first poetry reciting contest in 1963. In September of the same year, some the troop’s leaders founded the New York Hungarian Weekend School, which eventually took over the responsibility for organizing this event. The school met on Saturdays at Saint Stephen of Hungary School in Manhattan. For the first 15 years, most of the teachers were Scout leaders. For the past approximately 20 years, most the school’s teachers are trained educators from Hungary. Two teachers of the school, Éva Dömötör and Márta Lipták, even published a textbook at the time. The school currently operates as the New York Arany János Hungarian School.


From 1963 through 1998, the troops partnered with the district’s and the Association’s leadership to run courses and administer a corresponding SAT-equivalent exam that tested on Hungarian history, geography and ethnography, and Hungarian literature. This exam was given to older Scouts interested in attending leadership training camps at the Assistant Scoutmaster and Scoutmaster levels, in preparation for troop leadership. That same year, Zolibá selected a new boy troop Scoutmaster, Viktor Fischer. Following his leadership, Péter Mauksch, Sándor Fernbach, Imre Beke, Szabolcs Szekeres, Attila Farkas, Imre Mersich, Sr., Péter Harkay, Rev. István Skinta, Péter Harkay for a second time, then Béla Sándor, Zoltán Klúg, again Béla Sándor, Károly Baráth, Jr., Ferenc Weisz, Árpád Pándi, and Krisztina Jankura took the helm. It is significant to note that only the Executive Committee of the Hungarian Scout Assoctiation in Exteris can grant troop leadership responsibility.


Another memorable event for the New York troop was the production of József Nyírő’s ballad Julia Szép Leány (Julia, Beautiful Girl). Their performance in 1958 was the first of many, including their 1993 production of the ballad Szép Sallai Kata.


Commitment to the Hungarian Community

The troop thrived on keeping Hungarian culture alive, their commitment also extended to helping those who fled from the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight. The Scouts helped immigrant Hungarians to navigate the local culture. For example, following the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, many of the Hungarian athletes did not return home. The troop’s leaders served as interpreters for those who found relief in New York. On other occasions, both troops held charity performances, folk customs and folk dance performances in various venues; one that stands out in particular was in 1972 for flood victims in Transylvania. In the early years the troop also sent care packages to fellow Hungarians in European refugee camps.


Each year the troops participate in the March 15th and October 23rd commemorations, giving tribute to the Revolution of 1848 and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, respectively.


As the troop’s Scouts grow older and leave active participation in the troops, over the years many become active members in the local Hungarian community, joining various Hungarian civic and religious organizations, and in many instances assume leadership roles in those groups. As an example, for the past several years the Hungarian House Executive Committee also includes Scouts and leaders of the highest rank.


Waves of Immigrants – Membership of the Troops

Throughout the years, New York welcomed several waves of Hungarian immigrants. The first wave was mostly made up of those fleeing after World War II. During and after the Revolution of 1956, freedom fighters and other families join the Scouts. Beginning in 1968 through the fall of communism, many fled from the towns and cities of Transylvania (Erdély), and their children were welcomed. Over the past 20- 25 years, many families came from Hungary proper and the Hungarian regions of the surrounding countries, the latter not only as a result of political oppression, but also for economic reasons. There are also numerous children from bi-lingual households. However, speaking Hungarian during troop meetings was and is still required. Hungarian is normally taught in the home but reinforced during Scout meetings and the weekend Hungarian School. 


The Significance of Scouting: Building a Strong Network

Scouting always aspired to do qualitative work, to educate young people to become citizens of strong and moral character and useful members of society. All this, while having fun at the same time. Participating in the program, Scouts learn volunteer service, cooperation and duty, patriotism, respect for and understanding of others, deep respect for family, and reverence. Through Hungarian Scouting, children learn respect for their Hungarian roots as well as preserving Hungarian customs and traditions. The New York Hungarian Scout troops today (2015) are only two of the nearly 70 registered and those under formation within the Hungarian Scout Association in Exteris, with more than 2,500 Scouts across the United States, Western Europe, South America, Canada and Australia. This network grows significantly when counting the Scouts in Hungary and the neighboring countries.


Typically, many college students from other troops continue their Scouting activities as leaders in other Scout troops during their time at school, currently this being especially true in the case of the New York troops.


Scouting with Purpose

Scouting not only teaches practical applications but introduces a strong value system as well. In today’s society, it is important to build lasting friendships, because we can lose ourselves in everyday worries, modern day concerns, such as being under the influence of peer pressure, drug abuse and its negative consequences, the lack of respect for others and property, and with all of this, selfishness. The Scout Oath obliges us to strive against human frailties. As Pál Teleki, Chief Scout of Hungary and former Prime Minister once said: “It is necessary for all of us to help and guide society toward peaceful coexistence, and seek that which binds us together, not what tears us apart.”


Viktor Fischer December 2014

Translated by Chantal Gagnon

[1] Gusztáv Erős was one of the founders of Hungarian Scouting in Hungary. He lost his life fighting on the Russian front in 1917.

[2] After the fall of communism in Hungary, the name was changed to Hungarian Scout Association in Exteris to distinguish it from the organization operating in Hungary.

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