The Passing of a Generation
„You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘TilIt’s Gone“ keeps running through our heads. Recent years saw the loss of three very special people in the Sandru – Musat – Metes extended family. Like many others of their generation, they contributed their time and energy in a determined and selfless way to the growth and prosperity of the Romanian Orthodox Church in America and to the preservation of Romanian tradition in language, art, and music. They helped, along with others, to develop a foundation of pride in our culture and a sense of community for themselves and the next generation.
NICK SANDRU, JR.
It had its beginning when Nick Sandru (Sr.) and Maria Dregiciu came to Canton, Ohio, in the first decade of the twentieth century to see what America had to offer. Having both come from Sadu, Judeţul Sibiu, unmarried, young people with a sense of anticipation, they, like others of the time, would seek their $1000 and return to Sadu to live well. It wouldn’t happen that way, as we know, because they fell in love, married on April 24, 1915, and had a son Nick (Jr.) on February 1, 1916.
To provide an income for his family, Nick Sr. worked in steelmaking at a local mill while Maria (Mary) did domestic work for local people and the family. Nick took the advice of a friend one day and ventured into a business, totally foreign to his experience coming from Sadu. It was to be the „turning point“ for Nick Jr. and the family, and the generations that followed.
With a few dollars saved and the will to succeed, Nick Sr. and Mary bought a small confectionery in Southwest Canton, added a 2-lane bowling alley and they were in business. Faithfully paying the monthly mortgage, Nick Sr. came up a few dollars short on one of his payments. Fearful of losing his stake, Nick went to his lender, explaining his plight and expecting to hear bad news. The response he received was to „pay when you can; you are a good faithful man.“ This would become pivotal to what would come.
Nick Jr. attended grade school and high school in Canton, learning to play the violin, playing baseball, soccer, basketball and many other sports with the kids in the neighborhood … Martinez, Frigley, Pascu, Serban and others. He would become a part of the greater Romanian-American community of Canton both in the Southwest end and Northeast end of town, where the Romanian Orthodox Church was located. Names like Stanciu, Alecusan, Russ, Cristea, Filimon, Popa and others would be his dear friends for decades.
Going off to the University of Cincinnati as a freshman would also change his life. His course of study would be very challenging. Only a few would endure the rigors of engineering. He was blessed to have as his roommate, George Musat, from Canton, with whom his ties would become bonded forever. You see, George had an older sister, Virginia, who caught Nick’s eye, who would iron his shirts on visits home from school with George and who would later become his dear wife.
The infamous December 7, 1941, would change Nick’s life once again. At the age of twenty-six, he was drafted into World War II and served his country for four years, working his promotions co the rank of Technical Sergeant in small arms. The records will show that Nick (nmi) Sandru, Jr. trained the trainers who trained the soldiers to know everything about their handguns, and yet he never wanted or needed a gun before or after his term of duty.
His discharge in 1944 was long-awaited, having seen the U.S. Army from vantage points in North Carolina, Kentucky and California. Perhaps this experience led Nick to become the dedicated, meticulous, detail-oriented person he was. For a soldier had to be perfect at the knowledge and proficiency of his weapon to survive. And, too, Nick would survive the rigors of his later jobs and positions at Union Metal Manufacturing Company because of details. Designing masts for ships, lighting poles for Kennedy Space Center and other projects that required accuracy and detail. Those traits of focus and detail carried forward … as he and Virginia started to take their places serving the Saint George Romanian Orthodox Church parish in Canton. Parish Council membership led to President of Council for Nick during the time when Rev. Father Traian Demian was ill and finding a substitute priest for Sunday liturgies was quite difficult. But he single-handedly found a priest for each Sunday, sometimes picking up and delivering the substitute priest.
As Saint George’s was planning the move from 7th Street NE to a new location, Nick and a few others made the trip to Youngstown to meet with Bishop Walsh of the Youngstown Catholic Diocese. Yes, he was impressed with the request by the Romanian Orthodox community of Canton to build a church on diocese property at 30th and Market, North. Yes, he granted the sale and the building program would go forward.
Continuing to serve as President of Council throughout the building program, Nick would never miss driving from his job to the building site every noon and after work to meet with the contractors and take hundreds of pictures with the Kodak camera. You see, it was all in the details … where every utility line went, where every brick was laid and where the other thousands of details would be chronicled.
Nick was then elected to the office of Church Treasurer. If ever his penchant for details was apparent, it was as guardian of the Church’s funds. No parishioner offering to make a donation was denied the chance, anytime, anywhere and in any amount. Accurate receipts were prepared by Nick and exacting detail was displayed in his monthly reports to Council. Virginia and the boys (Nick G. and George M.) would rarely see Dad after church until 3:00 or 3:30 in the afternoon on Sundays. He would be going over the monies collected, writing receipts and making sure everything „checked out.“ If for some reason there was a discrepancy between monies receipted and collected, Nick would dig into his pocket and make up the difference. You see, shortages to the Church was never acceptable to Nick. Add fish fries, craft shows and special programs to the list. Nick and Virginia would be there to work.
His love of music went back to his grade school days with the violin. Growing up, it look on even more importance to Nick as he played in school orchestras. It was his love of rhythm and good music which captured him. Any box, case or even his leg served as a drum for him. A piece of paper rolled into a tube or a stick was all he needed. He would improvise on the piano when he got the chance. No, he wasn’t trained. One could tell this if they watched him play … you see, the rhythm and melody he played with opposite hands … but it sounded great. His „Padrinsky Shuffle“ was composed strictly for his own amazement and enjoyment. And as far as singing, he was the best (sometimes the only) tenor in the Saint George Choir. Later on in Canton, jam sessions with Gene Salcian on the violin and Nick on the piano or drums would be the highlight of family get-togethers. Whether it was Romanian dance music by John Boldi or John Moga, big band music by Dorsey, Goodman, Beneke or Krupa, Nick knew the music by heart… every note and rhythm. His 78-rpm record collection was „heavy“ by weight and its completeness. Hunting a collectible record at Sam Goodies in New York was a passion.
Nick was no wallflower, either. As the original Romanian Folk Dance group in Canton was formed by sister-in-law, Valeria Musat, there was Nick, all 200+ pounds of him, dancing the „hodoraga,“ „banumanacini“ and „sirba.“ What a sight in full Romanian costume (his Dad’s, from Sadu). Later Nick G. would wear the outfit dancing in the tradition of Dad.
Details, details … it would go on.
Having an accurate family tree was another passion for Nick. And having Virginia with her keen memory and writing skills, Nick created a very complete family tree document, going back several generations of the Sandra, the Musat, the Dregiciu and the Suteu’s. This is a document that will live with our families forever.
As aging and illness in Nick’s later years took its toll, his smile could still warm you up. His gentleness was a blessing. His convictions for what was „right“, his love of his family, his beloved wife and his church would be his trademark. Even after Virginia died in 1990, Nick continued to contribute any way he could even though he was lonely.
We all miss him. But he had suffered enough by February, 2001. It was time to rejoin Virginia. Perhaps they would be working fish fries in heaven with their family and friends who preceded them. He is truly missed. Your loving sons, Nick G. and George M. and family members
VALERIA L. MUSAT
Valeria Lup Musat was the older daughter of two sisters born to Maria and Moise Lup. Moise came from Feleag, Romania through Ellis Island at the age of sixteen to meet up with his father and brother who had already established themselves in the steel mills of Fort Wayne, Indiana. One of the first things this young teenager did was go to night school to learn to read and write English. Maria Lup, a young widow from Sighişoara with two daughters in Romania came to America to be with her sister in Fort Wayne and establish herself in order to have her daughters join her. Moise and Maria met, married, and had a daughter … Valeria. In the course of arranging for the half-sisters to come to America. Maria’s mother took ill and the sisters wanted to stay in Romania. So Maria packed up young Valeria (at age three) and went back to Sighişoara for a short visit and to arrange for the entire family to return to Indiana. Each time the trip was planned, Maria’s mother would say „I’m going to die soon, please don’t leave.“ The short trip lasted seven years. While there, Maria and another sister started a restaurant and summer house. The women in this family would continue to set goals, take charge and succeed. During one of Moise’s visits to Romania to be with his wife, that visit would produce Val’s younger sister, Eleanor.
Finally, Maria, Valeria (age nine) and Eleanor (age three) would return to Fort Wayne. The two half-sisters, by now older teenagers decided to stay in Romania. Val would enter elementary school where she would learn English and then come h ome to teach and practice this new language. She also became part of a children’s Romanian dance group.
Val was always very active and focused on a goal. She continued to do well in school, finishing high school in three years, playing field hockey and basketball, volunteering at the local hospital. She went on to what was then Business School or Secretarial
School with a major in banking, coa-tinuing to become proficient at teems and horseback riding. She was offered a position at the Riley Bank in East Chicago. This grew into many higher positions that were traditionally filled by men, as World War II started and had those men become part of the fighting military forces.
During World War II she was active in selling Government War Bonds, and served as a „Grey Lady“ volunteering to send „care packages“ to the US troops. As her banking career grew into managing loans and mortgages, she was also asked by the owner of the bank, Col. William Riley, to plan Christmas parties and shop for gifts for all of the children in an orphanage that Riley established.
It was post World War II that she became active in the Union & League, Junior Union. It was here that she met George Musat through his brother John Musat and wife Eleanor. They married eight months later in October of 1946 and lived in Chicago and New York City. It was here that Valeria and George would become very active in the Saint Dumitru Romanian Orthodox Parish. Val taught one of her first Romaman Dance groups. Val and George sang in the Parish Choir that eventually had a concert at Carnegie Hall. George was actually involved earlier in renovating the church from a townhouse to a church.
Both daughters, Mary Eleanor and Valerie, were born in New York. Val was a „city gal“ having spent her earlier years in Chicago, so taking a three-year-old and an infant by subway into Manhattan was a frequent occurrence, and often with „Tante“ Rozeta Metes. Val’s expertise in sewing that began at age thirteen, really took off on the trips to Manhattan. This allowed her to see all the very expensive little girls dresses, and then go to every fabric store in the city to recreate them. In later years this experience continued into her own tailoring of clothes for her family, making dozens of hats, priests’ vestments, and dance group costumes.
The Romanian Dance groups were her pride and joy; her contribution to carrying on Romanian tradition. Her first was a group in New York in the early 1950’s. After moving to Canton, Ohio she started a group that practiced on the driveway of her home: Olivia Moxie, Carol Sissea, Mary Comanitz, Mary Alice and Martha Cojocar (now Taflan and Capeta). The next dance group included her daughters, nephews Nick and George Sandru, Carol, Laura & Barbara Bârsan, Lenore and Michael Moxie, Carole Negulici, and the parents of all of these „kids“ made their debut at the AROY convention in Youngstown, Ohio in the early 1960’s. This same group traveled to the AROY convention in Los Angeles in 1962, and performed at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964. Subsequent groups that Val led included very young children from the Saint George parish with the added responsibility for creating patterns for Romanian costumes, finding just the right materials and gathering up a group of mothers to make them! There was yet another group that performed at the Smithsonian Institute for the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976.
Never one to let a moment be wasted, she volunteered with many community groups, she spent seven summers as „Dorm Mom“ at the Vatra Romanească, and headed up and contributed her time to projects at Saint George’s that brought in money for the parish’s well-being. Every time Father Constantin Tofan called her (he knew she would never say no), she was off and running on yet another project.
Valeria was a perfectionist in everything she did. She had very high standards and values, and took the role of leadership in everything from school, career, community, and church. She loved passing on the traditions of Romanian dance, costumes and music to her family and friends, and was so proud of her heritage. Most of the years her daughters were growing up she amazingly fit everything that needed to be done on four to five hours of sleep a night. She just didn’t want to waste time on sleep! As she became older and was slowing down a bit, we used to say that she just wore herself out from age one to seventy something. We loved hearing her talk about how she met George, and it was love at first sight. This love never diminished. but grew stronger all the time. She passed away in February 2001. We still can’t believe she’s gone, as her presence was always so strong. But actually, it is still strong within us, in her wonderful spirit. We miss her terribly, but feel good knowing she is with so many of her friends and famil}7 and probably on her second dance group by now!
George, Mary El, and Leri
JOHN M. METES
John, later known as „Jack“, was the younger of the two children both to Moise and Marina Metes. Both children were born in Sibiel, Romania; Mary in 1902 and John in 1904. Raising a family in a village did not appeal to Moise, so at the first opportunity for finding work that would suit him, Moise went to the steel mills of Homestead, Pennsylvania… America! There he settled long enough to insist that his family join him in 1914. Their stay in Homestead was followed by settlings in Sebring and Alliance, Ohio, then in Detroit, which became „home“.
In Detroit, both Mary and John adjusted well in school and were handling both the English and the Romanian languages well. In time, John, now known as „Jack,“ graduated from Cass Technical High School and decided to go on with his studies. He was among the early ones of his generation of Romanian-Americans to complete his college studies, despite the fact that he had to work his way through the process. He attended the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering at Ann Arbor, graduating with the Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering in 1928.
His first trip after graduation was to visit his mother in Sibiel. She had returned to the village in 1921. Upon his return to Detroit, he applied for work at the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York, and was accepted in their engineering section. There, students who had graduated and students from other countries were given special courses to familiarize them with G.E. Products and procedures.
Fortunately for Jack, G.E. was looking for someone who might know French and Romanian, which would be needed for a project in Romania. Jack was eligible and upon completion of the special course, was sent to France for nine months, then to Bucharest for the three-year project beginning in 1932.
By chance, during the summer of 1932, Rozeta Musat and her sister Virginia (Romanian-Americans Jack knew from Canton, Ohio) were taking a Mediterranean Cruise, which somehow included Romania in its appeal. Jack became available as guide in Bucharest and in the Sibiu area. The next summer, Rozeta repeated the Romania part of the trip and a wedding took place in an old, Eighteenth Century church in Cluj, the two Americans becoming Mr. and Mrs. Metes (September 3, 1922, residence: Bucharest, Romania).
Jack’s project in Romania was to manage the modernizing of the railway system. The Depression was intensifying to the point that the Romanian Government had to replace any foreign workers with Romanian citizens. Since ITT was installing up-to-date telephone systems in Romania that absolutely needed English-speaking personnel, Jack’s presence was still in demand through 1934 after which he returned to G.E. in Schenectady for the next two years. Then came the move to Nev/ York City to work with William R. Grace and Company, G.E.’s affiliate for South American business.
Jack was delighted to be in the New York center of business and even more delighted to be caught up in the Romanian American life in the big city. His devotion to his Romanian heritage and religion was shown in many ways. He was a leader in establishing the original Saint Dumitru parish in New York. He was a founding member of the Iuliu Maniu Foundation. He served as interpreter for many immigrants coming to New York. In his very unassuming way, he did a tremendous amount of volunteering his time and energy to his beloved Romanian heritage, along with an equally involved partner in Rozeta. Again, their values and focus on the right things were of a very high standard.
The family had increased to three sons, John, George, and Nick. By now, Val and George Musat had become New Yorkers as well. Now, whenever Jack took a trip that he could take Rozeta along, George and Val would stay with the boys. The family has some wonderful stories about those adventures. When Jack transferred to the Clyde Iron Works as Export Manager, the business trips became even more interesting, and the stories more existing.
Jack had mannerisms, jokes, songs, and interesting mixes of languages that we adored for as long as we have known him. The stories of his adventures like being caught in Columbia, South America in the middle of a coup d’etat, or stranded at night in a boat with three other men out on Lake Maracaibo, when the boat engine conked out … those became our adventures.
The retirement years, beginning in 1982, leaving New York and moving to Canton, Ohio, brought involvement with the Saint George Parish … a sort of coming home now that the young ones were on their own. The Cantonians were very welcoming. Uncle Jack sat in the last row of seats in the Church, and young and old often handed him a piece of bread on their way back after having taken Communion. He loved this attention.
Jack passed away in July of 2001, at the wonderful age of ninety-seven. One of the shining lights of the family has gone, but our memories of him are always with us and provide us with a great amount of joy.
We love you Jack,
Your loving Rozeta,
your loving sons, and Your
Nephews, Nieces and Families
Nick. Val, and Jack have made us proud of our Romanian heritage, provided us with a richness and history, language and culture, and instilled values for work ethic and the importance of family, friends and community. We only wish we could really fill their shoes.
It is interesting to note that the closeness of this clan was partially created by all the meaningful connections that were made through the early years: John Musat introducing his brother, George, to Valeria; George introducing his sister, Virginia, to Nick Sandru, Jack and Rozeta Metes housing George while he finished his college degree at NYU and getting him involved in the Saint Dumitru parish, not knowing that he would end up there after the war with his new bride.
We miss them terribly and would like to think that they are in heaven together with Archbishop Valerian, Father John Toconita, Mr. & Mrs. Constantin Stanitz, FU Bârsan, Preoteasa Cornelia Hategan, and so many others of their generation … perhaps creating another Vatra Românească.