By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Oh, no. It’s happening again, 14-year-old Nick Mazanyi thought, as he and his mother rushed down to their neighbor’s underground shelter.
The shrill whine of the siren signaled another air raid attack to their Hungarian homeland.
It was June 1944, and Nick desperately wished the fighting would end.
“Our house was destroyed by a bomb,” said Nick, who now lives south of Delano.
Needless to say, Nick’s family didn’t have the easiest life. His father, Miklos, was an army officer who was captured during World War I, living as a prisoner of war in a Siberian camp for five years.
“When the communist regime took over in Russia, the camp guards didn’t care anymore, and the prisoners were able to cut the wires and walk out,” Nick said.
Miklos walked at night and hid during the day, so that he wouldn’t get caught.
“It took him six months to get back home,” Nick said. “That’s how he started his military career.”
When World War II started, Miklos was back in the service. He decided it wasn’t safe for his family to be living in Hungary anymore, so in May of 1945, Nick and his mother, Elizabeth, moved to the German state of Bavaria.
“We didn’t know where my father had ended up, because he was still in the service,” Nick said.
Then, one day in September, a Hungarian boy burst in and told Nick, “Your dad is here!”
“I went to the window, and sure enough, there he was, getting out of an American military truck,” Nick said.
His father had been in an American prison camp for the past five months, and when he was released, an American truck driver offered to drive him the 250 to 300 miles home.
On the move again
In Bavaria, the family was living in the town of Selb, which is well known for its fine porcelain.
“It was fine for that, but you couldn’t really grow much over there,” Nick said. They wanted to move away, but didn’t have a car, bus, or train for traveling.
The did have a bicycle, however, so Nick’s father hopped on and headed south to find a suitable home. A month later, the family got a postcard saying that Miklos had found a place in a tiny town called Hechendorf.
So, Nick and his mother found a ride with a butcher, who was heading south to pick up animals. The journey took three days in the man’s truck, which burned wood particles instead of gasoline.
“It looked like a big water heater strapped to the side of the truck,” Nick said.
When the family was finally reunited, they lived above a beer hall, earning money by doing odd jobs for the owner.
“We learned a lot about how to stretch the money,” Nick said. The government supplied the family with a few German marks each month, but the family’s budget was still very tight.
“I can live on a shoestring,” Nick said.
The American dream
Nick’s mother often wrote letters to her two sisters, who were still living in Hungary. One of them was a piano teacher who had a student with an uncle living in the US.
It was a long shot, but the family asked for the uncle’s address, to see if he could help them get to America.
“He turned out to be a Lutheran minister,” Nick said. Although the congregation was too small to provide assistance, the minister gave Nick’s family the names of three other Lutheran ministers they could contact instead.
One of them, Carl Fagerlind of Mound, responded, and six months later, the Mazanyi family was among 1,100 other refugees heading for New York.
“I had my 21st birthday in the middle of the Atlantic,” Nick said.
They arrived at the old Minneapolis railroad station at 10 p.m. Jan. 29, 1951.
“Members of the congregation were waiting for us there,” Nick said. “We didn’t speak English very well.”
They got into one of the parishioner’s cars, and took in the scenery along the way.
“As we’re driving, everything is white, and it’s dead flat,” Nick said. “We thought, ‘what on earth is this?’”
Eventually, they realized they were looking at Lake Minnetonka, covered in snow and ice.
Home and hospitality
When they arrived at Navarre, the car pulled into a driveway, and the Mazanyis saw the house where they’d be staying.
“There was a fellow standing by the garage, and he says, ‘I am your new neighbor!’” Nick recalled.
The house was an elderly couple’s summer home, and the church rented it for the Mazanyis, in order to get them started. The home was completely furnished, even down to the silverware.
“After what we went through, this was really heaven,” Nick said.
The next day, other members from the church came to visit, and one of them offered Nick’s father a job at his cabinet shop.
A few days later, Nick was also hired, and spent the next 3.5 years (7,000 hours) becoming a journeyman cabinetmaker.
“By that time, I had learned the language,” he said.
A new career
Nick enjoyed working with his hands, but decided that he was interested in going to college at the University of Minnesota. Since he hadn’t graduated from high school in Europe, Nick took an equivalency exam and started taking general college classes.
After two quarters, he transferred to the science, literature, and art college.
“Four-and-a-half years later, at the end of 1959, I graduated with a degree in architecture,” Nick said.
During college, he married a woman from Delano named Eloise. By the time Nick graduated, Eloise was seven months pregnant with their first child.
“I thought, by golly, I’d better get a job,” Nick said.
Eloise found an opening in the newspaper for an architect at Red Owl, a grocery store chain headquartered in Hopkins.
“I said, ‘I’m no architect,’” Nick recalled. “I had a degree, but I didn’t think they’d want me.”
He went to an interview anyway, and was hired the following day.
For the next 25 years, Nick worked for both Red Owl and Supervalu, and was an instrumental part of many of the grocery stores built in the western Twin Cities.
He retired at age 62, but still kept busy refinishing furniture for people in the Lake Minnetonka area.
By this time, Nick and Eloise’s three children had grown up and moved away from home.
In 1998, the couple moved to the farm south of Delano where Eloise grew up.
“We added on to the house, and I fixed things up, room by room,” Nick said.
These days, Nick isn’t looking for adventure, and is content doing “whatever comes along.”
“Now, I’m just looking out the window and enjoying the beautiful sunshine,” he said.