Washington, DC – Members of the Hungarian American Coalition (Coalition) were deeply saddened to learn that Dr. Béla Bognár, Professor Emeritus of the Departments of Social Work and Medicine in Society at Wright State University and founder of the Coalition’s Bognár Family Hungarian Scholarship Fund passed away on September 24, 2019. He was 88 years old.
Professor Dr. Béla Bognár was born on September 20, 1931, in Pakod, Zala County, Hungary. Dr. Bognár attended the Piarist High School in Veszprém for two years. After the communists abolished the Catholic high schools, he transferred to and graduated from Révai High School, Győr. His dream was to become a Latin and Hungarian Literature teacher, but he was only accepted for Teachers’s College in Pécs as a mathematics and chemistry major. After a year in Pécs (1952-53), he transferred to Eötvös Lóránd University in Budapest and joined a group of Catholic students who worked with children (with their parents’ permission) to instill religious principles. Typically, members of the group spent many hours with the children on Saturdays and Sundays.
In 1954 before the fall semester began, five members of the clandestine group were kicked out of the university, one of whom was Dr. Bognár. They were also kicked out of Budapest. Dr. Bognár found a factory job (at EDASZ) in Győr where he worked until the summer of 1956 and played soccer on the factory team. He left Győr to rejoin some of his former classmates who also went back to Budapest and together joined the Petőfi Circle.
He participated in the fight against the Russians from October 23 to November 9, 1956. He was part of a small group which fought on the streets from Üllői to Soroksári Roads. On November 10 he went home to Zala to pick up his French dictionary, his prayer book and his ski boots. On November 11, 1956 he crossed the border to Austria and headed for Leuven, Belgium, to start a new life.
Dr. Bognár began by finishing the Ecole Social de Louvain in 1961 (BS with Magna Cum Laude). In Belgium, Dr. Bognár met and married Andree Vandermotte, with whom he would eventually have two sons. After immigrating to the US, he attended the University of Wisconsin where he obtained MS and PhD degrees in gerontology, health and mental health policies. He continued his post-doctorate studies in mental health and aging at the University of California at Berkeley and at the University of Southern California, receiving certificates in both institutions.
Beginning in 1974, Dr. Bognár taught a generation of professionals who worked in the fields of social work and aging. He wrote four textbooks and countless articles on health and aging policies. For 15 years he was an advisor to the Ohio Department of Aging in the area of gerontology education. In 1988, he was given the Gerontology Teacher Award by the Ohio Network of Educational Consultants in the Field of Aging (ONECA).
In 1999 Dr. Béla and his 2nd wife, April Bognár established the Bognár Family Hungarian Scholarship Fund (BFHSF; originally named the Hungarian Scholarship Fund) to provide assistance to qualified Hungarian university students living and/or studying in Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia, and the United States.
In the spring of 2014 Dr. Béla and April Bognár requested the Coalition to become the administrator of their scholarship fund as part of the Coalition’s comprehensive leadership training and educational portfolio. Since its inception, the scholarship fund has awarded more than $700,000 to 255 Hungarian students in the US and the Carpathian Basin raised from members of the Hungarian American community; churches; organizations; the Sunshine Lady Foundation (SLF), directed by Mrs. Doris Buffett; and recently, by the Ambassadors of the Future.
Dr. Béla Bognár was also honored by the Hungarian government with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit (Magyar Érdemrend Lovagkeresztje) on August 20, 2015.
In 2017, one of the major supporters of BFHSF, the Ambassadors of the Future also honored Dr. Bognár for his life-long work in supporting Hungarian students in need. In his video message thanking the organizers, Dr. Bognár recalled that it was his grandmother who inspired him to establish the scholarship fund. When departing from Hungary in 1956, she said a few farewell words, which guided his life from then on: “Remember my little Béla what I repeated to you throughout these years: what you do for others, gives meaning to your life”.
Dr. Bognár is survived by his loving wife, April, his two sons, Steven and John Bognár, their respective spouses, Julia and Jenniffer, his step-daughter Melissa, his granddaughters Lola and Lela, and his great-grandchildren Beau and Dory. In lieu of flowers, Dr. Bognár’s family requests donations be made to the Bognár Family Hungarian Scholarship Fund. Details on his memorial service to be held in the Dayton, Ohio vicinity will be released at a later date.
The Hungarian American community mourns the loss of this true Hungarian patriot, deeply committed to the Hungarian-American community and his homeland, a selfless philanthropist, and a genuinely good man.