Past presidents of the HAAC: Toka Gyula Hegedűs, Mihály Vájó, Pál Kopácsi, József Köpenczey, József Vértes, Vince Badics, Sándor Fenyő, József Hensperger, István Varga, Lajos Ferenczi, József Puskás, Béla Takács, Sándor Sárközi, József Muha, Mihály Belső, Gyula Sztankovics, István Hatt, János Dr.Cseme, Imre Bojtos, János Forczman, István Lévay, Antal Kókai, István Tóth, Lajos Fazekas, Károly Kállay, János Takács, József Vargyas, Béla Hajdú-Németh, Mária Stumpf, Edward Lászlo Strasz, John Sztankovits, Dr. István Horváth, Mózes Kovács.
Immigrants from Hungary have been coming to Central New Jersey since the 1880’s. The majority of them arrived during three time periods: around the turn of the 20th century, after World War Two, and following the Revolution of 1956.
The first Hungarian association in New Brunswick was the Szent Imre Herceg Egylet. This burial and sick benefit society was founded in 1899. Other mutual aid societies followed, such as The Magyar Building and Loan Association, the Magyar Hirnök newspaper. Between 1904 and 1914 six churches, a synagogue, and the St. Ladislaus School were built. They served 4,500 first and second generation Hungarian-Americans. Sports were a popular form of recreation. By 1911, a thirteen member baseball team, the New Brunswick Young Hungarians, was playing in a Central New Jersey weekend league.
The Young Hungarians won their first major victory on July 4, 1913, outscoring Middlesex County’s best team by a score of 16:2 in front of a large crowd of fans. Following the game, the enthusiastic young men decided to organize a club so that a variety of sports could be played throughout the year. On October 23, 1913 they called a meeting and formed the Hungarian American Athletic Club of New Brunswick. The founding members were: Gyula Toka, Mihály Gödry, József Köpencey, Kálmán Kovács, Pál Vajkó, István Hensperger, Lajos Tóth, György Szegeczky, János Hudás, Lajos Tóth jr, István Hudás, András Lanczki, and János Panykó. For a year, bi-weekly meetings were held in the home of founding member Mihály Gödry on 20 High Street. After St. Ladislaus School was completed, the Club rented several rooms in the school basement for training, recreation, and social activities. The new facility and increased activity attracted other young men and membership grew rapidly. New teams in wrestling, track, bowling, and a second baseball team were organized.
In 1921, the HAAC purchased a house on 198 Somerset Street which allowed for new expansion.
A women’s group, the Magyar Lányok Társas Köre, was formed
Soccer Team formed
Basketball Team formed
The HAAC Women’s Auxiliary was organized with its own elected officers and by-laws. Auxiliary memberships were replaced by Hill memberships in 1989.
The Fencing Group was founded in 1952 by Frank Farkas who as a track and field athlete in Hungary, established a record which still remains unequalled. Mr. Farkas has coached the group continuously since its founding until his death in 1992. The fencing began with sabre, the weapon for which Hungarians are most famous. Instruction expanded to include foil when Gyula Bors joined the group. In recent years Dr. Sam D’Ambola has worked with the group and gave inestimable help to the fencers. Joseph J. Orvos coached at the HAAC for nearly 10 years, he worked with each of the accomplished fencer. Ray Gonzales was also a great influence and assistant coach to all including Scott Jacobs, David Levitan, Ildiko Szedo, Arpad Marsh and Alex Marsh.
Many Hungarians arrive to Camp Kilmer. 1956 ushered in a new era for the HAAC. After the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, thousands of immigrants settled in New Brunswick and the surrounding areas. Soccer gained popularity among the membership, and three separate teams were playing at this time Citizenship classes were also held in the Club, and more than 600 people participated and became US citizens. The boom in membership during this period resulted in not only more sport activities, but also cultural activities and social programs. In 1956, an empty lot adjacent to the Somerset Street property was purchased, and plans were drawn up for a new center. The First Building Committee was formed for this project. The $80,000 cost for the new center was financed by the Club’s savings ($20,000). A contribution by the Women’s Auxiliary ($5,000), donations by area Hungarians ($8,000), and $1,000 loans from members and friends of the Club ($47,000).
In 1914, a joint HAAC-St. Ladislaus choir was formed. This was the forerunner to several popular choirs serving the New Brunswick community today. A particularly popular choir was organized in 1951 this group performed throughout the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, and many of its performances were broadcast on local radio stations. Theater was also important to the Club’s cultural mission. A Performer’s Committee was organized in to produce plays and musicals many of the performers were local amateur volunteers, but some of the programs were staged by traveling theater troupes that visited Hungarian communities throughout the United States and Canada.
Rod and Gun Club formed. By October of 1959, a modern and spacious two-story structure was standing on the two lots. Beyond sports and social activities, the Club has promoted a dynamic heritage in Hungarian culture.
The HAAC Cultural Committee was revitalized. During the decades that followed, an abundance of plays, operettas, cabarets, folk dance competitions, poetry readings, lectures, and exhibits have been staged in the HAAC auditorium. Participants have come from the United States, Canada, and Hungary and its neighboring countries in the Carpathian Basin. Decorative folk art is a popular expression of traditional Hungarian culture. The works of local artists and pieces imported from Hungary are regularly exhibited usually to enhance and ornament other exhibits.
Hungarian Festival Since 1978, the HAAC has been a primary organizer of the New Brunswick Hungarian Festival. This popular annual event, held on the first Saturday in June, welcomes visitors from all over the World.
The 1980’s were again a time of new leadership, new ideas, and new activities. The Second Building Committee was formed in 1982 to build the field house on the Club’s property on Weston Road in Somerset, NJ. Outdoor activities such as trap shooting, scout camps, and picnics were held and continue to be held of this facility. In 1983, the Club went through a much needed renovation and redecoration project. Since 1988, the Club’s History and Genealogy Committees have prepared exhibits on Hungarian history to coincide with annual commemorations and the Hungarian Festival.
Karate Team formed
Bylaw Committee was formed, the bylaws were rewritten to allow women to become full members and elected officers of the Club.
In 1990, a Scholarship Committee and Fund was formed to provide support for deserving college students of Hungarian descent. Since 1991, the Debutante Gala Ball has been raising funds for these scholarships. To date the Club has supported 34 Hungarian-American college students with this noble endeavor.
The Hungarian Folk Dance Ensemble of New Brunswick was formed in 1992.
During the 1992 annual Sports Ball, we remembered fencing master Frank Farkas In recognition of his 40 years of selfless and dedicated service, the Club named the lower activity room the “Frank Farkas Sports Room.”
The expansion of the neighboring Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center necessitated the creation of the Third Building Committee in 1992. This committee is responsible for working together with the Medical Center to develop and implement a plan for relocating the Club.
Since 1993, the Club has been home to the Széchenyi Kör. This cultural group is dedicated to preserving the oral histories of Hungarian-Americans in the greater New Brunswick area. Since the founding of the HAAC, dedicated volunteer leadership has been an important factor in its longevity. The longest serving president of the Club was Anton Lévay who tirelessly served for more than a decade. The very active years of the late I980’s and early 1990’s were the result of forward-thinking and growth-oriented leadership.
As part of the Sister Cities Program, the HAAC Folk Dance Group’s grown-up members joined the Scouts’ grown-up dance group and formed the “Csűrdöngölő” folk dance group. The group represented the Hungarian Diaspora and the City of New Brunswick at the International Flower Carnival in Debrecen, Hungary in 1998. They prepared for one year by learning Hungarian folk dances from instructors from Hungary and raising funds for costumes and travel. Following a successful performance in Debrecen, the dancers stayed with the group, today being an independent, non-profit organization, and known as one of the most prestigious Hungarian folk dance ensembles in the United States.
Now in the 21st century, we are proudly forging ahead under the leadership of the Club’s first female president, Maria Stumpf. Under the younger and more energetic leadership the club life flourished, and new people joined. The new Disco concerts and Friday night family dinners became very popular.
Edward Lászlo Strasz was elected president. The Haac web site was launched by Dr. Zoltán Hajós in Hungarian and in English languages. In 2005 Magdolna Szekeres continued this work and further developed the site. All the club activities and events are posted here. During the next four years were very significant in the club’s life. The new president, officers, the Building committee, and its lead Joseph Vargyas worked tirelessly for the club’s future progress.
After many years of negotiations between the club and the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital a final agreement about the club’s future site was signed in September 21st, 2005. An enormous effort followed, and December 30th, 2005 marked a new beginning in the HAAC’s history. The Ground Breaking Ceremony for the new building took place.
On June 21st, 2006 the demolition of the 93 years old building began. On September 15th, 2006 the new club house was completed and on October 7th, 2006 the new building opened it’s doors to host the Opening Gala Celebration. During those busy years of building a new home for the Club, programs were uninterrupted: dinner dances, cultural events, Friday night family dinners. More people were attracted and joined the club.
On February 3rd, 2007 at the Officers’ Installation Dinner, 7 club members received awards: József Vargyas – Life-time achievement, Lajos Tóth, Jenő Müeller, Imre Turuczkai, Károly Somogyi, Antal Hilbert and Mária Sárközi – Outstanding Service awards. We are very grateful to the president Edward Laszlo Strasz, his wife Julia Strasz, the Chairman of the Building Committee Joseph Vargyas, the architect Gábor Czako, our attorney Stephen M. Vajtay, Jr. , the lead of the Decorative Committee Maria Stumpf, the lead of the Gala Committee John Sztankovits and Edith Sztankovits and for all those officers and club members who contributed their tireless and enthusiastic work for establishing our beautiful new club house. Special thanks to the team at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and James Cahill, Mayor of New Brunswick who helped us to build a new home in the center of the New Brunswick Hungarian community.