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National Mortgage Professional
Dec 06, 2004

A Passion For FreedomA'kos KovachInspirational, Human Interest, Oklahoma Association of Mortgage Brokers, A'kos Kovach, Francis Joseph Kovach Premise: The request was to write something about my father, who recently passed away. Reason? My father was an inspiration to many, but why? Where did he come from? What drove him to achieve his goals? So, I began to think about my father's life ... The first "war to end all wars" was raging when Francis Joseph Kovach was born into humble surroundings in Budapest, Hungary on July 19, 1918. From an early age, Francis loved wrestling and running, and excelled at his studies, mastering not only his mother tongue of Hungarian, but also German and French. Before the age of nine, Francis was tutoring other children in science, math and second languages. Like breathing, teaching became a necessary part of his existence, but the air Francis was breathing quickly became unclean and stifling. Economic turmoil swirled around the globe, as the Great Depression took its toll on the lives of all families, especially the poorer members of society. However, despite these and many other seemingly unsurmountable obstacles, an unwavering determination propelled Francis through a strict and demanding educational system. Upon completion of his undergraduate and graduate studies at Pazamany Peter University in Budapest, Francis had, through sheer willpower, positioned himself to lead a better quality of life, and to surround himself with art, music and philosophy. He met an intelligent, aristocratic flower of spring and married her in July 1941; her name was Elizabeth Thokoly, a name which spoke of prominence in Hungarian history and lore. They spoke of love and life, and planned for their bright future together. Though young, both were mature beyond their years, and they cautiously watched the brutal acts of the Nazis as they spread their venom throughout Europe. Soon, life in Hungary became hazardous. The educated became a threat to the "jackboots," and the puppet government capitulated to the brutal stormtroopers' every whim. Francis and Elizabeth soon found themselves hiding students and families in their home, while looking for ways to escape to a better life. Then came the bombs. More than a dozen times over a two-month period, air raid sirens blared at all times of day, frightening the adults and causing panic. Basements would quickly fill up with strangers and families seeking shelter. When the explosions began to shake the ground, everyone would become quiet. As shells crashed through roofs only a few homes away, the assaults shook the beams of Francis and Elizabeth's house, while the piercing scream of the falling projectiles heightened the awareness of those huddled below ground level. As the bombardment continued, time seemed to slow. Each giant piece of ammunition that ripped through the neighborhood became embedded with a fire and fury none would ever forget. The shrill sound of the bomb approaching the house in which Francis, Elizabeth and many others were hiding and praying could be heard easily, and the realization that they were imminent targets scared them beyond words. By the Grace of God, the shell merely collapsed the roof, burst through the second floor and crashed relatively peacefully onto the living room floor. In less than 10 minutes, Francis and Elizabeth collected what they could carry, and with two children in hand, ran for their lives. However, memories of war did not consume my parents' thoughts. Instead, their focus was on the future and their desire to breathe the fresh air of freedom. For weeks on end, Francis and Elizabeth walked across dirt trails and meadows, leaving their homeland and family further behind with each step. They took with them only what they could carry-children, food and clothing. Oftentimes, the journey required that they walk day and night, dodging bullets, hiding from retreating forces and circling the route of advancing armies. They walked those back roads of Czechoslovakia and Austria relentlessly, until they finally reached the Bavarian section of the Alps in southern Germany. There, perched at more than 6,000 feet above sea level, was the hamlet of Mittenwald, where Francis and Elizabeth sought refuge, in barracks recently abandoned by POWs. The makeshift camp soon became a displaced shelter of sorts. Despite these circumstances, the young couple used their gifts of intelligence and education to make life as bearable as they could for themselves and others. Among their amazing accomplishments, the couple started a school in the camp for children who were waiting with their parents for a chance to leave. Nonetheless, the passion for freedom now burned stronger than ever. During their ordeals, Francis and Elizabeth suffered the loss of their second- and third-born children-not to bullets or bloodshed, but sadly, to a lack of simple medication and antibiotics. But still, they would not let misfortune or hardship consume or sway them from their passion. Instead, they kept thinking about the future, continuously praying for answers and solutions. While at the camp, Francis and Elizabeth had many choices for emigration. They decided the best place to live would be in America, thus the preparation and paperwork began. After living in the camp for nearly seven years, and with the winter snow piling deep in the mountain village, Francis received the word that he and his family had been praying for: We have a space for you on a ship leaving for America. Francis and Elizabeth quickly packed a wooden military trunk with their scant belongings, and made the grueling and dangerous trip to the seaport. There, they joined more than 400 similar refugees heading towards the fresh robust air of freedom. The high seas of the winter Atlantic sickened many of the passengers, who were squeezed 10 and 12 at a time into areas intended for no more than two. But freedom was pitching closer with every blast of frigid air, despite the icy saltwater spraying their faces. Each hour of each day, the dream began to take shape. Finally, at the end of the second week, just above the horizon, stood the Statue of Liberty, beckoning to them and reminding them that their dreams would soon become reality. Thus, in November 1951, Francis delivered his wife and children to America. The air was pure and full of promise, and now that he had succeeded in bringing his family to freedom, Francis sought a new goal for himself-to complete his doctorate degree in philosophy. However, arriving and settling in post-war America as immigrants was no simple matter. Nothing could deter Francis, and there were many months when, instead of teaching, Francis found himself relegated to menial jobs and miserable working conditions. But he and Elizabeth knew things would get better. After early setbacks and hourly wages suited more for a single man rather than a husband and father of two, Francis worked himself up the ladder and was able to attain teaching positions at colleges in both Minnesota (Mount St. Mary's) and Kansas (St. Benedict's). The pressure that Francis had placed upon himself to attain his Ph.D. was profound. Francis would work manual labor jobs 12-14 hours per day, teach classes and then come home and study. Francis read the works of Aquinas and Aristotle until he could recite the text. After years of struggle, an offer came for Francis to fill a doctoral opening at Albertus Magnus, University of Cologne in West Germany. Francis knew he had no time to waste. After weeks of intense preparation, Francis traveled back to Germany and committed himself entirely to the task at hand-obtaining his Ph.D. This concentrated focus thrust Francis into a schedule that resulted in completing his curriculum in less than half the time allowed. Additionally, Francis gained a rare distinction and graduated Summa Cum Laude, thus securing his doctorate in philosophy. Armed with his new degree, Francis followed his dreams to Villanova University in 1962, also teaching at Bryn Mawr College during this time. Finally in 1964, Francis accepted an associate professorship at the University of Oklahoma, where he enthusiastically engaged and challenged his students for the next 24 years. Francis was a copious reader and researcher, and his vast topics of interest centered around medieval metaphysics, and the philosophies of beauty, science and ethics. Francis never quit, and when he needed to read or review a text, he preferred reading from the original manuscripts rather than translations. Thus, he became fluent in more than 10 languages. Francis authored three books and 36 articles, as well as numerous papers, written and published in German, English and Portuguese journals and philosophical proceedings. Francis became known as the world's leading authority in the theories and philosophy taught by St. Thomas Aquinas, and was listed in both Who's Who in America and 2000 Men of Achievement. So, what became of Francis' passion for freedom? It brought his two remaining children to America, where they had opportunities beyond anything available in Eastern Europe. What was the effect of his arrival in America? Just ask the thousands of students who streamed through the doors of his classrooms each day he taught. In a world changing daily with political upheavals, the civil rights movement, women's liberation and the computer age, Francis was able to captivate his students and inspire them to think beyond their own comfort zone. The product of his desire for freedom is evidenced in what Francis wrote, how he taught and the lives he transformed. His students became doctors, lawyers and priests, and, of course, he even inspired some of his students to become philosophers. This short article is not just about Dr. Francis J. Kovach, but rather, serves as a reminder of his sacrifice, study and sacred passion for freedom. At this time of year, we think about spending time with our family, traveling, buying gifts, visiting friends, the parties and perhaps, where we came from and how we got here. I was fortunate enough to be born to parents who not only had vision, but also the tenacity to continue walking until they reached it. Sure, my life has been peppered with good and bad, as have you all. However, approaching the end of this year, and knowing that I cannot give my father one of the bearhugs he loved so much, understanding that my father's booming voice will no longer echo through the halls of his home, and accepting the loss of my traveling buddy is not easy. Listening to his last breath escape as I held him in my arms that final day was unlike any pain I have ever felt. What the sage has spoken is true-savor each day with your family. Express your love with random acts of kindness. As you gather at your places of worship this holiday season, remember those who have helped bring you there. Thank God for your blessings. Recall with joy that which is important. Then, spread some love around in the garden of freedom. A'kos Kovach is Immediate Past President of the Oklahoma Association of Mortgage Brokers. He may be reached by phone at (405) 377-200 or e-mail [email protected]
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