Born: 06/26/1946, Pecs
Current residence: Plainfield, Illinois
Spouse: Mr. William Bela Kovats
Number of children: 3
Education: Budafok Elementary School
started 5th grade in 1956
Active role in the revolution: NO
In United States of America
Arrival: 1957, NY
Education: Northeaster Illinois State University
Workplace: Melinda Kovats Kolozsi, Aurora, Illinois
Awards: High School Spanish Teacher
I started the 5th grade in Budafok in September 1956. When the Revolution broke out classes were canceled and my family moved down to the basement of the house where we lived. We were constantly listening to Radio Free Europe. My father went to the center of Budapest where the fighting took place and brought back news of what was happening. We were hoping for military help from the U.S. as they promised on the radio. After my father saw there was no hope for change, my parents Dr. István Lajos Kováts and Ruzsonyi Melinda packed one suitcase and left Budapest by train on November 27th. with my 9 year old brother, Attila, and me. We were hoping to go to Szentgotthard on the western border to say goodbye to my grandmother and cross the border there. In Szombathely we were notified by soldiers who got on the train that we cannot go on to Szentgotthard. My mother’s brother was a doctor in Ják and we were able to go there. With the help of my uncle’s patients who lived close to the iron curtain we were able to cross the border to Austria late at night at Szentpéterfa, since the son of one of the patients was a border guard who allowed us to escape after he was on duty. We stayed in refugee camps in Austria until April, 1957. We had no relatives in the West, who could sponsor us to leave the camp, so we waited. My father who spoke German and English helped the authorities register the refugees. My brother and I played with the other children, hardly comprehending what was happening to us.
Finally in early April of 1957 my father got an offer from the Palmer House of Chicago stating that Conrad Hilton would sponsor us. We had no idea who he was, only that we would temporarily live in a hotel and my father would work as a bookkeeper there. The hotel was the Palmer House and we lived there in two separate rooms for a few weeks with all meals included.
My father’s salary was 250 dollars per month. With the help of the Catholic Charity organization NCWC, we found an apartment in the northside of Chicago and with a loan from Conrad Hilton’s organization, we were able to buy some furniture. My brother and I started school in May at a Catholic school free of tuition. We were fortunate to have some translation help from a few American-Hungarian students whose parents moved to the U.S. after WWII. By the time we started high school at Lake View High School and Lane Tech in Chicago, my brother and I spoke English well enough to be place in all honor classes.
I found out about the Hunyadi Mátyás Hungarian Scout Troop of Chicago when I was 16 years old and became a scout leader for the younger Hungarian immigrant children. At the same time I worked part time at St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital as an EKG technician until my second year in college.
I studied German for four years in high school, but the college I attended did not offer it, so I decided to try Spanish. By this time the audio- lingual method of language teaching became popular, and I learned Spanish so quickly that I decided to major in it. I became a Spanish teacher at first in elementary school and later in high school.
I got married in 1969 and had three wonderful children. I retired from teaching in 2007 and moved to Hungary where I live now. My daughter, Ildikó lives in Naperville, Illinois with her three children, my son Zoltán lives in Basel, Switzerland with his wife and two sons, and my other daughter, Réka, lives in Kauai, Hawaii with her husband and two young children.