On September 6, 2008, a memorial service will be held in memory of Rev. Dr. Imre Bertalan, one the most important personalities of the Hungarian American community during the past five decades. The service will be held on Saturday, September 6th, at 11 AM at the Wesley Theological Seminary Chapel, 4500 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC.
Rev. Dr. Imre Bertalan was born in Nyírtass, Hungary, the youngest of four sons born to Rev. Imre and Mrs. (Piroska Zsolcai) Bertalan. Rev. Bertalan’s elementary education took place in Hajdúböszörmény, and his secondary and theological education at the Kollegium in Sárospatak. Rev. Bertalan completed postgraduate studies in Halle, Germany and in Basel, Zurich and Geneva, Switzerland. In late 1946 he arrived in the United States and continued his education at Princeton Theological Seminary.
In 1948, Rev. Bertalan married Ms. Margaret Kosa, daughter of Rev. and Mrs. Andrew Kosa, pastor of the Magyar Reformed Church, New Brunswick. During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Rev. and Mrs. Bertalan served the Hungarian Reformed congregations in Manville, NJ and Staten Island, NY. In 1954, Rev. and Mrs. Bertalan, along with their three children, Imre, Lillian and Margaret Sarah, arrived in Passaic, NJ, where Rev. Bertalan served the Hungarian Reformed Church for nine years. In 1963, Rev. Bertalan succeeded his father-in-law as pastor of the Magyar Reformed Church of New Brunswick.
Rev. Bertalan received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Debrecen and Hope College, Holland, MI.
In 1980, Rev. Bertalan was elected President of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America (HRFA) where he served until 1992. He and Mrs. Bertalan moved to Washington, DC that year, which is where he continued to live until his death on July 10h. At the same time, he served, until recently, as Sr. Pastor of the Hungarian Reformed Church congregation, which worships monthly in the Wesley Theological Seminary Chapel in Washington, DC.
In addition to serving at HRFA, Rev. Bertalan was active in many other Hungarian American organizations. In 1980, recognizing his important role in the Hungarian American community, President Jimmy Carter asked Rev. Bertalan to be a member of the US delegation at the Helsinki Accords Review Conference in Madrid, at which the US delegation called attention to human rights abuses against the Hungarian minorities in Romania and Czechoslovakia.
In 1989, when communism fell in Hungary, Rev. Bertalan took the initiative to call on leaders of all Hungarian American organizations to establish an umbrella organization to promote the interests of Hungarian Americans. When Hungarian Prime Minister Antall visited Washington in October of 1990, Rev. Bertalan announced to a large gathering at HRFA’s headquarters, the Kossuth House, that a new Hungarian American organization, structured as a coalition, would soon be established.
The Hungarian American Coalition was registered as a not-for-profit organization on August 20, 1991, electing Rev. Bertalan as its first Chairman of the Board. He was committed to reaching out to the entire Hungarian American community, with special emphasis on churches and religious organizations. Rev. Bertalan served as Chairman of the Board until 1998 and upon his retirement in 1999, the Board of Directors named him Honorary President of the Hungarian American Coalition. During his tenure the Coalition established itself as an umbrella ethnic organization dedicated to promoting educational and cultural interaction between the United States and Hungary and protecting the human rights of Hungarian minorities and the cultural heritage of Hungarians throughout the world.
Max Teleki, President of the Hungarian American Coalition, who in 1995 was a White House intern, said that “Rev. Imre Bertalan has had always a concern for incorporating newer generations into Hungarian American organizations to foster continuity. During his chairmanship the Coalition created several projects aimed to reach out and promote linkages with the younger generations of Hungarian ancestry. Rev. Bertalan’s contribution to our community will endure and his memory be held in high regard by all of us.”
During his retirement years Rev. Bertalan continued working on behalf of the interests of the Hungarian American community, serving in leadership positions at the American Hungarian Federation, the Hungarian Scout Association, the World Federation of Hungarians, and the Friends of Sárospatak.
Dr. Bertalan is survived by his son, the Rev. Imre A. Bertalan (Magdalene J. Ujvagi) and daughters, Lillian Bertalan (Dr. Michael DePetrillo) and M. Sarah Bertalan. Survivors include nine grandchildren, along with many relatives in Hungary. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, friends consider a gift to the Endowment Fund, Bethlen Communities, 125 Kalassay Dr., Ligonier, PA 15658.