In Memoriam Rev. Imre Bertalan Jr. 1949-2017

Washington, DC – Members of the Hungarian American Coalition (Coalition) are deeply saddened to learn that Coalition Board Member Rev. Imre Bertalan Jr., Executive Director of Bethlen Communities, passed away on Monday, August 29, 2017 surrounded by his family. He was 67 years old.  His absence represents a major loss for the Hungarian-American community at large, where his measured voice carried far beyond his immediate surroundings in Pennsylvania.

Rev. Imre Bertalan Jr. in Ligonier, PA. Photo by Todd Berkey/the Tribune-Democrat,Johnstown, PA.

Rev. Imre Bertalan Jr. was born on October 4, 1949 in New Brunswick, NJ, as son of the late Imre and Margaret Kosa Bertalan.  He graduated from Rutgers University in New Brunswick and from the Princeton Seminary, NJ. He was an ordained clergyman for both the Hungarian Reformed Church of America and the Calvin Synod of the United Church of Christ.

Rev. Bertalan did not set out to be a minister when he graduated from seminary in 1977. Instead, he initially became a community organizer in Toledo, OH working for a neighborhood group in the late 1970s. His daughter, Julia Bertalan of Toledo, OH said, “He was very involved in the Hungarian community in Toledo, New York and New Jersey”. He was called to be a minister in a Toledo church and later served a church in Allen Park, MI.

Rev. Bertalan came to the Ligonier area in 1999 to serve as the executive director of Bethlen Communities, which was founded by the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America.

“He saw his work at the Bethlen Communities as going way beyond the Bethlen Home. He envisioned it as a cultural center and wanted it to be a meaningful gathering place for Hungarian-Americans … that continues and passes on Hungarian traditions,” Julia Bertalan said.

Rev. Bertalan was active in the Ligonier Valley, formerly serving as president of the Rotary Club of Ligonier. He was a member of the Ligonier Valley Association of Churches and the Ligonier Valley Ministerial Association.

He was an advocate for Ligonier High School sports teams, where his son, Imre Bertalan, was a starting center on the 2006 Ligonier Valley football team. He and his wife, Magdalene Ujvagi, had dinners for the team. She immigrated to the United States in December 1956, a month after the end of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

Rev. Bertalan was planning to retire in three years and return to Toledo, where he intended to be a community organizer, Julia Bertalan said. “His work was his passion, and he loved his Busch beer and watching sports,” she said.

“His Hungarian heritage was really important to him, and passing it on was important,” said Julia Bertalan. “It’s definitely instilled in all of us. A little bit of him will live in all of us.”

In addition to his wife of 37 years and his daughter, Julia, he is survived by daughters Sara Davis of Toledo, OH, Magda Bertalan of Madison, WI, and Margit Bertalan of Fayetteville, NC; son, Imre E. Bertalan of Toledo, OH; and five grandchildren.

A celebration of life service will be held in Ligonier at a later date. The J. Paul McCracken Funeral Chapel Inc., Ligonier, is assisting the family.  In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials in Rev. Bertalan’s memory be made to the Bethlen Communities, 125 Kalassay Drive, Ligonier, PA 15658. Sympathy notes can be sent to Mrs. Magdalena Bertalan to this address as well.

The Hungarian-American community mourns the loss of this true Hungarian patriot, deeply committed to the Hungarian-American community, a long-time leader of the Bethlen Communities in Ligonier, PA, and a genuinely good man.

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