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Bethlen Communities Museum and archives

Museum and Archives

Written by:  Rt. Rev. Koloman Karl Ludwig, Overseer 

The determination was made in 2008 by the Quadrennial Meeting of the Board of Directors of Bethlen Communities not to tear down the "old" nursing home facility built in 1975. Since that time Bethlen Communities has made great strides in the establishment of the Bethlen Communities Heritage Center Museum and Archives to protect, preserve, memorialize and exhibit many items of historical importance in the history of Bethlen Home and those organizations which, 95 years ago, took a stand faithfully investing their time and resources for the good of the greater community, and to preserve the memory of those who dedicated themselves to this greater good. Over the past several years, with this facility available for this purpose, much work has been done in this endeavor.

In December of 2014, Ms. Nóra Deák, Librarian at the School of English & American Studies at the Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest, Hungary, a Fulbright Scholar assigned to the American Hungarian Foundation in New Brunswick, New Jersey, visited the Archives.  Ms. Deak presented a number of ideas for properly organizing our Heritage Center Museum and Archives, and made some suggestions concerning items and programs we should have in place to establish our facility: Ms. Deak made mention of the Mikes Kelemen Program, which in 2014 offered free transportation of unneeded documents and items of Hungarian language or interest to be transported to Hungary, where the National Széchényi Library would evaluate these items and make them available to libraries in Hungary that would be able to utilize them. We subsequently made use of this program the following two years. Ms. Deak mentioned that we could most likely get an archivist through the Kőrösi Csoma Sándor Program. We have been fortunate to have a number of Körösi Csoma Sándor interns assigned to us from Hungary to assist us in this work.

From the Fall of 2014 to the Spring of 2015 Ms. Timea Kerekes spent part of her internship in the Archives and began the task of separating and organizing the materials which had been entrusted to Bethlen Communities over the past decades.

From September 2015 to June 2016 we were fortunate to have Mr. Milan Cvetanovic here for 9 months, working exclusively in the Archives. With his excellent English and Hungarian language skills and a strong educational background, he was supremely qualified for the task of sorting and evaluating the materials and their importance to Bethlen Communities based on the guidelines which we had developed.

From September 2016 to June 2017 we had Ms. Karola Torok, who had a background in Library Science, and she did a fantastic job picking up where Mr. Cvetanovic left off, moving forward in organizing our Archives. Like Mr. Cvetanovic, she also seemed to have endless energy and determination and was dedicated to our facility and collection.

During renovations, the Archives area of the building was specifically targeted for the weight of books which would be expected to be housed here. One of the problems we faced was securing the proper bookcases for our facility, as they are quite expensive, and we have been very cognizant of the potential cost involved.

Ms. Melissa Pepin, the new Director of the American Hungarian Foundation and Member of Bethlen Communities Board of Directors, expressed that the Foundation is ready to return the Bethlen Collection to Ligonier, but with the lack of adequate appropriate shelving felt this was not the time. Fortunately, subsequently we were able to secure a discontinued a type of shelving seemingly designed for our Archives at less than half the cost available elsewhere, and we were able to secure 30 of these units. Ms. Pepin has indicated that when the “Bethlen Collection” now located at the American Hungarian Foundation has been scanned and put on electronic media, the Collection will be returned to the Heritage Center Archives.

In the Spring of 2016 Mr. Cvetanovic and I went to the American Hungarian Foundation and "scanned" most of those items directly related to Bethlen Home. He later returned and finished the scanning process. I have been working on organizing the over 2,600 scans of documents concerning the early beginnings of the Orphanage and Old People's Home and information on the residents of the past years.

The Heritage Center Archives is the designated repository for the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America important documents, also for the Hungarian Reformed Church in America and the Calvin Synod Conference of the United Church of Christ. Included in the archives are not only the official records of congregations and their historical documents, we also have some very unique, and thus valuable, collections of writings by ministers documenting the life of the Hungarian Reformed congregations in America.

As we continue to fully organize the facility, they will become available for research purposes. We are discussing the methods available to affiliate with other archives to make our materials available for research in their facilities.The Museum aspect of our Archives has many beautiful and important items displayed. Most relate to the congregations that have donated items no longer in use, such as chalices and other items no longer used in worship services. Mr. James Ballas, Member of the Board of Directors, has spent considerable time here with me to help organize some of those items you can see on display in the Heritage Center Meeting Room.

This past summer I brought the Pulpit, the Communion Table and the Parson's Bench (Mózes Szék) which were originally in the Chicago South Side Church, the first Hungarian Reformed Church in Chicago.  Built in 1898, the church was demolished in 1936/1937 due to disrepair. Together with a significant part of the congregation, the Communion Table and the Parson's Bench went to the Hungarian Reformed Church of Whiting, Indiana, (established in 1919) where they were in use until 2006, when the city decided they needed the property for a retail business. They are now part of our historical exhibit.

Not everything in the Museum is from churches. We have many items from individuals representing traditional Hungarian items and clothing. We have many other items, too numerous to enumerate. We have a "treasure trove" which we are constantly evaluating and exploring.

One item I will mention is a relief wood carving of a man sowing seed, it is not just beautiful, it has an interesting past. Mr. George Dozsa, former President of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America and former President of Bethlen Communities Board of Directors, related that the relief wood carving was part of the Hungarian Exhibition of the 1939 World's Fair held in New York City, and with the onset of World War Two, it was put in storage. The Hungarian Reformed Federation of America took ownership of the wood carving and a carved table in the late 1940's when it paid the accumulated storage fees. This carving was in the dining room of the Children's Home until 1978, when it was moved to the Meeting Room on the ground floor of the Bethlen Communities Administration Building. The carved wooden display is approximately 4 feet wide and 9 feet high, too tall to be displayed in the Museum and Archives area, and is now in the lobby of Bethlen Nursing Home.

For more information, call 724-238-2235.