Article Last Updated: Monday, September 19, 2005 - 9:53:17 AM EST |
Area Immigrant Recounts Struggle
By ALISHA LEAVELLE
For the Daily News
On a recent summer's afternoon, 90-year-old Galina Predtechenskis stoodin front of a piano in the dining room of her small Lebanon home, proudlypointing to the four framed photographs resting on top of it. "Those aremy children. All three graduated from college; my sons are in the Navyuniform," she says.
The fourth picture is older, featuring a young woman with dark hairand an innocent expression. It is a portrait of Predtechenskis when shegraduated from high school, and other than the dated hairstyle, it is almostidentical to the picture next to it. "That's my daughter. She graduatedfrom Millersville (University)," she adds.
The happy smile on the well-worn face is like the one of any proudmother. Considering her own extraordinary life, however, Predtechenskishas a deeply rooted reason to be proud of her children's accomplishments.
She was born in Volchansk, Ukraine, in 1915 and at the age of 6 movedwith her parents to Daugavpils, Latvia.
Married at age 22, Predtechenskis, along with her husband and theirtwo sons, moved to a small city near Daugavpils to escape the constantbombing by the Russians. There they became friendly with several Germanofficers, and when the Germans were forced out of Latvia by the Russians,the Predtechenskis family asked to be taken with them to Germany. Theywere sent with other homeless refugees from all over Europe to a DP (displacedpersons) camp in Fuchtenbill, Germany, where they lived for six years.
After extensive travels in search of a safe home for her family, Predtechenskiseventually settled down in the Lebanon area, where she has lived for 55years. A member of Jonestown Bible Church for about 30 years, Predtechenskisshares her home with three cats, leaves food outside for strays and maintainsa lush garden of fruit trees, vegetables and flowering plants, althoughthe latter has been increasingly difficult lately due to her advanced years.
While the nest has been empty for 40 years now, her older yet comfortablehome holds evidence of her family's closeness. Predtechenskis beams asshe displays a handmade card that's inscribed, "Even though we kids havemoved to different parts of the country as the Lord led us in our own journeys,we knew that we always had you there."
Nodding in agreement as she reads the note from her eldest child, Predtechenskis,a widow of 53 years, says, "God promised that he will be father to orphansand husband to widows. And he helped me. God raised my children."
When the family arrived in the United States in 1950, her husband,Sergei Predtechenskis, worked for the Central Iron and Steel Co. in Harrisburgfor two years until he fell from the cupola of a crane while trying tohelp another worker.
After her husband's death from his injuries in July 1952, Predtechenskisraised her children on her own. She admits that it was often hard but saysshe relied on her religion to guide her. During these years, she instilledin her children the same focus on education that she received herself asa child in Latvia, once considered the literary capital of Europe.
"By the time we were in first grade we all knew we were going to goto college," explains her daughter Margaret Sawchuk of West Linn, Ore.,who, like her brothers, earned a scholarship to college. "It didn't matterwhat it took as far as money; my mother was determined. She was going tosave up as much as she could for us, to make sure her children went tocollege. It was the most important thing."
"My son, when he was 10, he came home from school and said, 'Mom, you'reold-fashioned. You're a European. ... You never told us to have fun. Americanmothers, they tell them to have fun,' " Galina Predtechenskis said, hereyes smiling as she remembers the conversation.
"I (said), 'You're right. I am European. I am old-fashioned. And Iraised you the way I was raised.' Then he went to college (and) he calledme. He (said), 'Mom, you are the best mother. The way you raised me, Iknow what to do. There are so many guys (who) don't know what to do. Theycome to me, ask me what to do.' "
That grateful young man grew up to be Len Predtechenskis, a Penn StateUniversity graduate, Navy officer, Vietnam veteran and retired governmentemployee, now living in New York state. His older brother, Victor, whoalso graduated from Penn State and entered the Navy as an officer, attendedDallas Theological Seminary and was a financial planner before his retirementin Dallas. Predtechenskis also has two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
All three of Predtechenskis' children have come a long way since theirdays in the DP camp, which was originally run by Germans and later Americans.Her sons were born in Latvia, and her daughter was born in 1946 while thefamily was living in the refugee camp. Although she has limited memoriesof those early years, Sawchuk has learned from family stories that lifethere was hard. Her mother says she is only thankful that the family wasallowed to stay together for the six years they were there.
Throughout their time in the refugee camp, the family heard tales aboutAmerica. One day a Russian woman visited the camp, telling them that "peopleare going to America and will have a good time there," Predtechenskis recalled.The woman said a truck would be by the next day to pick up anyone who wasinterested in making the trek.
With her husband's encouragement, Predtechenskis applied for the trip.They completed some paperwork and an interview with two Americans. Aftera 10-day boat journey to the United States, the family was sponsored byHershey residents Rufus and Hannah Eby, who co-signed for the Predtechenskishouse in Lebanon and found jobs for the two adults. The dislocated familywas happy with their new surroundings because they found comfort in thereligious German background of Lebanon at the time and the area's rollinghills and rich farmland were similar to their homeland.
became a U.S. citizen in 1955, never missed a payment on her housedespite her low wages and long hours. Like so many other immigrants, Predtechenskis who had worked as a secretary in the business department at the DaugavpilsCity Hall for 10 years, during both Russian and German occupation of Latvia could find only a low-paying job in America.
She worked as a maid at the Hotel Hershey and increased her hours tosupport her children after her husband's death. "(I) earned seven centsan hour," she said. "But a loaf of bread then cost only 10 cents." Predtechenskisalso spent a year working overtime at a sewing factory on Mifflin Streetin Lebanon until health problems forced her to quit.
She persevered, however, and her children developed a strong work ethicby watching their mother. "We all learned a lot of responsibility at anearly age," says Sawchuk. "We were always pulling together to help thefamily to do whatever we could."
Alisha Leavelle, a senior at Lebanon Valley College, is completingan internship at the Lebanon Daily News.