Traian Lascu: Memories
New World Here I Come
After wandering through Czechoslovakia, Germany and France for three years as a refugee, during which I did day labor, coal mining, iron work and dish washing in Paris, and tired of the catch 22 conundrum where you could not get a job in Paris unless you had residency in Paris, and you could not get residency in Paris unless you had a job in Paris, I decided to accept my cousin George Ulita’s offer to emigrate to Canada. George emigrated ahead of me to Canada and was now willing to sponsor me.
But the Canadians were taking then-sweet little time with the visa. Tired of waiting six months for it, I decided to apply for immigration to Brazil, where I was accepted immediately and scheduled to embark for Brazil two weeks later. Fortunately for me, a week before embarking for Brazil I received word from the Canadian Legation in Paris that my visa had arrived.
I chose Canada over Brazil and three weeks later I embarked in Le Havre on December 14, 1951 upon HMS Scythia, a small Cunard transatlantic ship of only 17,000 tons. Things went well for the first two days until the ship met a violent Atlantic storm that practically stopped the ship in its tracks. The storm was so bad that the HMS Mary, the 80,000 ton transatlantic ship, was held back in port for two days before starting on its crossing. There were days when our little ship made no headway at all, with the propellers frequently out of the water. It took our little ship 10 days to make the crossing she usually made in five days.
Many people became sick of the violent storm, but myself, who had never been on a ship before, had no problems with sea sickness, and was one of the few passengers still showing up at meal times. There was so much food that I put on a pound a day, 10 pounds for the 10 day crossing. Finally, we arrived at Halifax on the morning of December 24, 1951.
In the evening I embarked upon the train that would take me to Montreal and beyond. It was Christmas Eve and I was at the window marveling at the decorated homes we passed in the night. Besides marvelling at the lights, I noticed that there were no fences between the homes. How did they know their borders? I wondered. There were just too many new impressions upon me to get a moment’s shuteye.
In Montreal I switched to a Canadian National Railroad that was to take me to a station where I would transfer for a spur taking me to Sudbury, Ontario, my final destination. As luck would have it. I had met a young Italian on the ship who traveled with me, and whose father was waiting for him at the station. He was going to Sudbury and offered to give me a ride, which I gladly accepted. And so I arrived in Sudbury to the surprise of my cousin George who expected me hours later.
I’m Being Introduced to Canadian Life
That afternoon George took me to a drug store. He went to a cooler, got a coke out, opened it and offered it to me. I was flabbergasted. „George,“ I said „how can you do this; you haven’t paid for it.“ Not to worry he said we’ll pay at the exit, which we did.
The next day he took me to a Loblaw, a supermarket, which gave me another education. George just started to take things off the shelves and put them in his cart. „George“ I said again, „how can you do this?“ In Europe you asked an employee of the store to give you what you wanted; there was no self-service like here. „Don’t worry“ he told me again, „we’ll pay at the exit,“ which we did. It was a new world all right.
Learning the English language was a high priority with me so I enrolled in the English classes for immigrants. Having time on my hands to learn, I devoured the beginners book and was soon promoted to an intermediary class. The nickel mines in Sudbury were on strike at that time so there were no jobs in Sudbury for a newcomer. After a few weeks of doing nothing and eager to learn English, I decided to strike out on my own and signed up for bush work. I was accepted immediately and slipped out to Lakeland, Ontario, where there was a forest camp I was to work in.
As bad luck would have it, I arrived during a January thaw and the camp was closed for work. The tractors that brought out the wood would get mired in the soft ground and so they closed the camp temporarily until a hard freeze would set in. I got stuck there in a hotel waiting for the freeze. One day at the hotel I met a Romanian guy who was working in a gold mine in Lakeland, who told me that he heard that the gold mines in Timmins were hiring. I had no money to get to Timmins some 30 miles further north, but he said that would be no problem; he would lend me the money to get to Timmins which he did. He handed me a $20.00 bill which I promised to return as soon as I got a job.
I arrived by train in Timmins and went to a hotel across from the railroad station to inquire about the gold mines I was told were hiring. My broken English made the owner ask me where I was from and I told him I was Romanian. „Eşti Român“, the owner said to me. It turned out that that was one of three hotels owned by Romanians in Timmins, which had a nice little Romanian community with a church and society. Mr. Irimie told me to wait there till the gold miners would arrive in the afternoon.
Several gold miners stopped by for their beer at the hotel, amongst them the employment manager of Aunor Gold Mine, and Mr. Irimie introduced me to him. He was a Romanian so I had no problem communicating with him. He told me to come the next morning to the mine. Mr. Inmie told another miner, a Mr. Fâciu, to stop by the next morning and take me with him to the mine, which he did. And so I was hired at Aunor Gold Mine as miner No. 1313. I considered it a lucky number.
The employment office felt it was best for roe to be paired with a Romanian miner and Mr. Fâciu was it. He was a track man and I became his helper. Mr. Fâciu was not much of a teacher for my English. His whole vocabulary I figured encompassed about 300 words. Everything was effen this and effen that. So I soon gave up on asking him questions. In exchange I made myself a small circle of German friends through my compatriot Jerry Mosberger. Jerry was actually a mining engineer but rather tan going through the trouble of qualifying his degree in Canada he preferred working as a surveyor in the mine. Jerry had brought over his wife and two children and I spent many a Sunday in his home.
Another memorable event for me was when Mr. Fâciu took me to a clothing store to get some needed clothing – $280.00 worth of it – all on credit. I was amazed that a store would have that much confidence in me. Needless to say that after each pay. my first trip was to that clothing store to pay the installment of my debt.
I soon asked to be transferred from track laying into actually mining operation and I was paired with a French Canadian miner. Now I was making more money, depending on how much gold our efforts produced. It was hard work but profitable.
My life was settling into a routine when three years later the mine went on strike. Finding out that the last strike lasted six months, I decided not to wait around and went down to Windsor where my cousin George was now working for General Motors making cars.
My move to Windsor came at an unfortunate time when the Windsor economy was down and no factory was hiring. I could only secure an occasional day labor with a Romanian contractor.
With me now in Windsor, the time had come to pay a visit to Badea Gligor, the farmer in nearby Essex. Badea Gligor was my actual sponsor to Canada. He had sponsored my cousin George and then Eugen Siara, and then me. All pro forma since neither one of us spent a day of work on his farm. Badea Gligor was a good-hearted man.
Windsor offered a rich, social life. Besides a sizeable Romanian community with two churches and a society, there was a very active refugee Cultural Association. On the occasion ofthe United Principalities, January 24, the Association organized a festivity with dance and a cultural program.
That affair changed my life since a young lady from Detroit by the name of Florence Gaspar took a shine to me and a common friend introduced me to her and her family. Things evolved rapidly thereafter and three month later we were married by a judge. It took another three months before I got a visa to come to Detroit for the religious ceremony at the St. George Cathedral in Detroit.
I Meet Bishop Valerian
The next day after the wedding, my bride drove me and my friend Eugen Siara to the Vatra to meet Bishop Valerian. I knew about him as a student leader in Romania but I knew nothing about him as a Church leader.
The Bishop graciously received us in the kitchen of the big house and treated us to coffee and cake. The conversation that evolved was strictly two-way between Eugen, God rest his soul since he has since passed to his Creator, and the Bishop. Those who knew Eugen will remember that he was never short of words, and besides, he seemed to know a lot about the politics ofthe Episcopate. I doubt if I uttered two words during the entire meeting with the Bishop.
The next day it was back to Windsor for me until three months later when in September of 1954 I received my visa from the United States. It could not have come at a sooner time. At that time the Solia was being printed in Cleveland at the American printshop, and the Bishop made the weekly trip to Cleveland to put out the paper. It would have been much easier for him if the Solia could be printed in Detroit. Jack Gaspar, my father-in-law. had a printshop in Detroit and the Bishop w as considering bringing the Soiia to his shop. Jack needed help. I had no job, nor a trade or profession, and I was a logical printing apprentice in the family business. Thus I became a printer and the Solia was brought to Detroit to Jack Gaspar’s printshop. Until I became more productive at the linotype, Jo Drugociu, also a printer, would help us out. Afterwards, it was just Jack and me putting out the Solia.
Even though the trip to Detroit was much shorter than to Cleveland, the Bishop made two basic changes to Solia. From a 4-page weekly, it became an 8-page tabloid bi-weekly newspaper. So he cut the time-consuming trips in half. I now had biweekly contacts with the Bishop when the Solia was being published. Besides single-handedly writing most of the paper, he also did its administration. Shortly thereafter he asked me to take over the Solia administration, which was a logical request since the Solia office was now located in an office at the printshop. So after my 8 hours at the linotype or the presses, I went into the office to keep up the correspondence, the subscriptions, and the mailing list. It meant every day an additional hour or two at the Solia office.
My First Writing Experience
In 1954 my wife was appointed AROY editor. She did a few articles after which she slacked. I thought the job too important to fluff it off and wrote a few articles under her name. The next year I was appointed AROY Editor and never missed an issue without an article.
My writing experience continued in 1957 when I was elected National AROY President and now wrote the President’s Corner. During this time I also wrote some articles in English of general interest about events at the Vatra and AROY Conventions. During the Congress at the Vatra I manned the Solia stand which gave me an opportunity to meet face to face with our subscribers.
That heavy involvement with the Solia and the Episcopate and AROY started to take a toll on my marriage. Florence felt neglected, and rightfully so, and I thought that the Solia, being the major client of the printshop, deserved my involvement with it. She lacked my dedication to the Episcopate and AROY and that put a strain on our marriage. I felt that my involvement was good for the family business, which she didn’t see. The stress soon became too much for our marriage and after seven years – the proverbial 7-year itch proved fatal to our marriage; she wanted out. Another factor that contributed to our breakup was the fact that in the meantime I went back to school and was enrolled at Wayne State University. Besides my job and Solia and AROY, I now had studies to do which made things worse.
My break-up had dire consequences to my extracurricular activities. At the printshop I was underpaid, but I never made an issue out of it, feeling that I was working for the whole family. Now that my marriage had gone to smithereens, I no longer felt the loyalty to the family and took another job. I ended up working for the daily Detroit Free Press which did not allow me any more time to work for the Solia.
Enter Ann Mercea
To replace my administrative work at the Solia I chose a lady I knew as capable from my association with St. George Cathedral and especially with the United Romanian Society where she was very active. Ann Mercea was an intelligent lady with excellent secretarial skills. Ann did not assume my role as administrator of Solia, only as Secretary of Solia. In practice she did everything I did except write and correspond with subscribers. Needless to say that I missed my work at the Solia.
In 1967 I graduated from Wayne State University and quit the Free Press. I took a job with the State of Michigan, Department of Education, Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
In the meantime, Jack Gaspar, the owner of Gaspar Printing Co. where the Solia was being printed, passed away and the Solia purchased his shop and moved it to a new location on Woodward Ave. Occasionally I moonlighted there to help out, especially on publication day. And when the printer could no longer service the Solia, His Grace closed shop and moved the Solia to a printshop in New Boston on the outskirts of Wayne County. I became anew associated with Solia inasmuch as my job allowed me to take off one day a month on publication day and put out the Solia. I was now the English Editor and His Grace the Romanian Editor. Ann Mercea handled the computer for the Romanian articles. After all the years associated with Solia, I knew exactly how the Bishop wanted the paper to look and when he couldn’t make it from his far-flung territory visiting parishes, I put out the Solia alone and no one knew the difference.
Let’s Back Up
On September 24, 1961 – I remember the date because it is my birthday – I was emceeing a retirement party for Mrs. Maria Pavel from the International Institute of Detroit, when I met Olga Rodenczuk, who a year later was to become my second wife. I considered that chance encounter as the nicest birthday gift I could have received. Around that time I was going to school and was still involved with the Solia and with St. George Cathedral. Contrary to my previous wife, Olga had no objections to my extracurricular activities. However, around that time I quit Gaspar Printing and the Solia and took a job as a linotype operator with the daily Detroit Free Press.
Grand Tour of Europe
In 1965 I took three months off from work and we made an 11 country Grand European tour of 10,000 miles by car, which included 30 days in Romania. Me being a refugee, that was a somewhat risky proposition, but I took the chance inasmuch as President Nixon had just visited Romania and Romania needed the good services of the United States, so I felt that as an American citizen I would not be harmed, which I wasn’t. It was a beautiful trip all around, including Romania. The crossing was by boat with the SS France which was an experience by itself. On the return trip we put the car on the boat and brought it back with us to the United States.
While I was no longer involved with the Solia at that time, I was not totally devoid of contacts with the Episcopate. I was concerned about what was happening to the older AROY members once they reached the age of 45, the supposedly upper limit of belonging to the organization. I had in mind organizing a sort of Graduates of AROY as a third Episcopate auxiliary. The Bishop was not enthused with the idea, fearing that such an organization would drain AROY of its most productive members. The reality was that such members were leaving AROY in droves with no place to go. The Bishop wanted such members to become active in local parishes, on parish councils, ladies auxiliaries or men’s clubs, choirs, etc. While this was happening, I felt that that did not preclude the formation of a third Episcopate auxiliary and I insisted on such an auxiliary. When at a meeting of AROY presidents a motion was made to organize an organization of Graduates of AROY, the Bishop relented but had his own observations. The name, he suggested, would imply that only former AROY members of AROY need apply which was not our intention.
The Birth of the Orthodox Brotherhood
The Bishop asked me if I was familiar with the „Frăţia Ortodoxă“ of Romania, of which I was. Could we model the new organization after the „Frăţia Ortodoxă?“ I answered that I had my doubts. The „Frăţia Ortodoxă“ was a religious lay organization created to combat the proselytizing efforts of Evangelical missionaries, whereas the proposed new organization would be composed of members imbued with the „can do“ spirit of AROY. We accepted the name of Orthodox Brotherhood which was a direct translation of „Frăţia Ortodoxă.“ The Bishop appointed a committee of four former AROY presidents from the Detroit area to present to him specific proposals and a statement of purposes, which we did. and he submitted our proposals to the 1967 Church Congress which approved the formation of a third Episcopate auxiliary. At the ensuing .AROY Convention all AROY presidents signed a petition to form such an auxiliary and we wasted no time calling for an organizational meeting in October m Cleveland. Ohio. That meeting approved the formation of the Orthodox Brotherhood and appointed a 16-member steering committee charged with presenting definitive By-Laws at the next Conference which was scheduled for Detroit. I was elected Chairman of that steering committee, and at the ensuing Conference in Detroit I was elected the Orthodox Brotherhood’s first Chairman. The organization was off and running and I would become involved in it for years to come. Around that time my new job with the State of Michigan allowed me more leeway and I became anew involved with the Solia.
The Heritage Center Comes Into Being
In 1974 the Church Congress Approved the Archbishop’s dream of creating a Heritage Center accessible to all Romanian-Americans and Romanian-Canadians and their organizations of whatever political or religious denomination. Two years later I was drafted President of the Heritage Center, with His Eminence acting as Chairman of the Board. Thus started another long-running collaboration with His Eminence besides the Solia.
While membership into the Center was open to all of Romanian descent, the support came primarily from the Episcopate and its organizations and auxiliaries, a few societies of the Union and League and a handful of generous donors. At the beginning it was a constant struggle to keep the Center afloat. In spite of the promise of a generous Romanian-American lady, Mrs. Marie McWilliams to leave all her belongings to the Center, the Good Lord endowed her with a long life into the 90s.
The support of the Center became critical when His Eminence left for his self-imposed exile in Portugal in 1984. With His Eminence no longer on the scene, the support dropped vertiginously. Promised activities of support on behalf of the Center fell by the wayside and its income fell by one third. Time and again we appealed to our most generous supporters, Mrs. Sylvia Baia and Mrs. Rucsandra Bota, and they did not let us down.
In its most darkest moment, the Center’s fortunes turned around. Mrs. Marie McWilliams passed away in 1985 at the ripe old age of 98, leaving as promised all her belongings to the Center, of which a major portion were stocks in oil companies.
A Visit to Europe
In 1986, my wife and I and Walt and Mary Lazar made a trip to Spain and Portugal, which included a three-day visit with His Eminence. It was a most enjoyable visit and we parted with the promise to visit with him again the next year. Alas, this was not to be. In January of 1987 His Eminence passed away at the young age of 72 following a heart attack. He was brought back to the States, laid in state at the Cathedral in Detroit and was buried at the Vatra. His tomb has since become a site of pilgrimage for our faithful at the Vatra.
After bequeathing his family, His Eminence left a Trust of some $300,000.00 for the sole benefit of the Heritage Center. In his will he named six trustees to manage the Trust, i.e.: Traian Lascu, John J. Sibison, V. Rev. Fr. Laurence Lazar, Gus Vincent, George Dobrea, and Atty. Daniel Miclau in that order, with only three to manage the Trust at a time. Only the income from the Trust was to be forwarded to the Center. Nevertheless, with the inheritance from Mrs. Marie McWilliams and His Eminence’s Trust, the Center’s finances were on more solid grounds.
The Center Changes Its Name
Immediately after the passing of His Eminence, I suggested to the Board of Trustees to change the name of the Center to Valerian D. Trifa Romanian-American Heritage Center, a suggestion which was approved.
Another milestone in the Center’s life was the changing of the Bulletin in 1988 from a quarterly to a bimonthly. That was a big step which required more money and more editorial work, but I felt that the Center deserved that upgrade. 1988 was an eventful year as we celebrated ten years since the Center’s inauguration.
On Monday, July 4th, 1988, the Heritage Center was rededicated as the Valerian D. Trifa Romanian-American Heritage Center by His Grace, Bishop Nathaniel. The short, impressive ceremony of the rededi-cation was the culmination of the unanimous desire of the voting members, of the Trustees, and of the Executive Board of the Center, to dedicate the institution in honor of the man who conceived it, guided its first, uncertain steps, and saw to it that it continues in the future through a generous endowment. A bronze plaque, placed at the right side of the main entrance to the Center, memorializes the event of the rededication. Guest of honor at the rededication and the luncheon that followed was Mother Alexandra, the former Royal Highness Princess Ileana of Romania, who eulogized His Eminence. Still part of this rededication, the Conference Room was dedicated as the Marie McWilliams – Sylvia Baia Conference Room. Also part of this eventful 1988, the Archbishop’s Marginal Notes on a Court Case were being printed in a hard-cover book to be distributed to the Information Bulletin readers as a fund raising project.
My involvement with the Heritage Center took a new dimension in 1984 when I retired from my job with the State. I had now more time to devote to the Center. While in Detroit and weather permitting, I was making weekly trips to the Center at the Vatra. That same year, however, we sold our house in Detroit and moved to our summer house in the village of Lake in the middle of the state. The visits to the Center now became biweekly jaunts of 360 miles roundtrip. In the winter, the business was conducted mostly by phone and mail with the Secretary-Archivist Alexandra Nemoianu with whom I had an excellent relationship.
The Information Bulletin is another chapter in itself. As its editor, all material to be printed passed through my he nds. After approving the material, h was sent to the typesetter who set tha type and returned the typeset copie, to me for proofreading. The proofreading material was then sent to Kay Fultuz for keylining. The paged Bullein was then sent from Kay to the printshop in Jackson. Michigan, which returned the printed Bulletin to Alexandra for mailing. The tortuous w ay of the Bulletin was necessitated by the fact that the editor, the typesetter, the key liner and the printshop were all in different places. In 1986, we became „snowbirds“, spenc.ing our winters in Florida, and the material now traveled longer distances. In spite of it all, the Bulletin came out on time, and it was increased from 16 pages to 24 pages.
For some time, our supporter Stelian Stanicei had urged us to enlarge the Center and build a Memorial Room to His Eminence, Archbishop Valerian. That dream of his was advanced one step by the blessing of the ground of the proposed addition on Sunday, July 7,1991 with His Beatitude Theodosius and Bishop Nathaniel officiating. The architect’s drawings include besides a Memorial Room on the southside of the Center, another archival room in the basement, an office and an additional bedroom to the apartment. The building phase dragged out for another four years due to lack of funds and other reasons and was finally completed in 1995 with the additional building of a freestanding, two-car garage.
Also completed that year was an anthology of Archbishop Valerian’s writings to which Mrs. Rozeta Metes contributed in translating part of the articles from Romanian into English.
For some time, clouds gathered on the home front with the insidious disease of Alzheimers making itself felt in my wife’s life. She began resenting my involvement with the Heritage Center to the point where I had to make a decision between taking care of her or of the Heritage Center. The Center was now on good financial grounds and most of the projects had been completed with the exception of the microfilming project which I left to the next administration. Reluctantly. I stepped down as Chairman of the Heritage Center and editor of the Information Bulletin to take care of my wife. The disease aggravated itself and dragged on for several more years until August of 2001 when a devastating stroke put an end to our 39 years of marriage, which was exactly half of my life. My retirement from public life was complete.
A year later I married my present wife Maria from Romania with whom I carry a peaceful and uneventful life, with the exception of yearly trips to Romania to take care of her interests.