1968, Geza Desi became an American citizen. A native of Hungary,
he fled the 1956 Communist invasion of Budapest. He was only 15
years old back then, but he knew what he wanted-freedom. The idea
came to him as naturally as breathing.
"When I made up my mind
to leave, I told my father and he said, ‘Son, it’s your decision.
Go, if that’s what you want to do, and go with God’s blessing.’
The son never saw his parents
again. But he always remembered them.
Geza Desi became a refugee to
Austria, then Portugal, then Austria again. Along the way, he was
detained by soldiers, questioned and released. Finally in February
of 1958, the boy of 17 arrived on a plane in New York. He couldn’t
speak any English. He didn’t know anybody.
Geza was a determined
immigrant to a New World of promise. "They pinned a badge on
me and gave me five dollars. They put me on a bus, and it took me
to the train station. They put me on a train, and I arrived in
East St. Louis, where I had some relatives."
The Hungarian youth saw a
bright future ahead. He intuitively understood the importance of
recognizing opportunities and making the most of them. He knew the
value of work and sacrifice. He wasn’t angry and he didn’t blame
others. He taught himself to speak English after a teacher told
him, "If you’re going to be here you’re going to have to
learn English." Now, at age 59, Geza still has problems
writing, but despite an 8th-grade education and a pronounced
accent, his spoken words and thoughts are crystal clear.
As a young man, he migrated to
Wolfe County, Kentucky, right above Sky Ridge, where he worked in
a home for children. Three years later he married Wilma, and they
realized if they were going to raise a family it was time to earn
Geza moved to Jackson in
Breathitt County where he worked as a plumber and air conditioner
repairman. He inherited a tradition of sheet-metal work from his
father back in Hungary. Repairing pots and pans was an important
part of the job, a place to begin.
Next stop: Clark County, where
Geza found his home of homes in the community of Ford above the
Kentucky River. For the past 19 years, Geza Desi has been the
heating and maintenance man at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lexington.
Wilma and Geza’s four children have flourished in their native
America: a teacher who is a graduate of Berea College; a tree
trimmer; a secretary; and a pharmacy technician.
Ask Geza Desi about the 4th of
July, and what you receive is a quiet, careful lesson about the
responsibility that goes with living in a free country.
"First of all, we should
think about why we have this holiday. We ought to realize that the
4th of July was created because people fought for freedom.
"Freedom is something
that we all have to work for and appreciate. I was trying to get
free. I took a chance at it. Freedom is a commodity that is very
precious and, sometimes, we have to give everything we have for
Freedom is a hard commodity to
"The 4th of July means a
lot of people gave their lives for us to have freedom and to have
the kind of life we choose to live. Everybody ought to appreciate
it. It’s more than just a holiday."
Geza Desi is an unusually quiet-spoken and mannered individual who
doesn’t take his country or his freedom for granted. He chooses
his thoughts carefully and doesn’t rush to be judgmental. In his
own words, "We ought to be tolerant of each other."
Truly, it might be said of
Geza Desi, every day is his 4th of July.