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In Memoriam: the Reverend Imre Bertalan, Sr.

AHF Mourns the Loss of the Rev. Dr. Imre Bertalan, minister to our community, voice of unity, President Emeritus of the American Hungarian Federation and former board member of the HRFA, the Hungarian American Coalition, and the American Section of the World Alliance of Hungarians.7/10/2008 - AHF Mourns the Loss of the Rev. Dr. Imre Bertalan, minister to our community, voice of unity, former President and Chairman of the American Hungarian Federation, President of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America (HRFA), a founding board member of the Hungarian American Coalition, representative to the American Section of the World Alliance of Hungarians, and Chairman of the Board of the American Hungarian Federation of Metropolitan Washington, DC. Rev. Bertalan passed away on July 10, 2008 at his daughter's home in Schenectedy, New York. He was 90 years old.

After these rememberances, AHF President Emeritus, Rev. Dr. Imre Bertalan, provided the invocation in Memory of the Fallen at AHF's 2006 Gala in honor of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution at Washington's Cosmos Club.Rev. Dr. Imre Bertalan was born in Nyirtass in Szabolcs County, Hungary in 1918. He attended the Sárospatak Seminary, and did post-graduate work in Halle, Germany, Basel, Zurich, and Geneva, Switzerland. Completing his studies in Switzerland in 1946, he was unable to return to Hungary due to first German and then Soviet occupation. Within a year, however, he recieved a scholarship to Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. He acceptedhis first post as a part-time pastor to the Hungarian Reformed Church on Staten Island. He would eventually become the minister of the Hungarian Reformed Church of Washington, D.C., in 1981. In 1980, he was elected President of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America and led the organization until his retirement in 1992. He holds an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Hope College in Holland, MI (1988), and from the Theological Faculty of the Debrecen University (1989).

The Reverend Dr. Imre Bertalan opened the commemoration of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution with a retrospective look at the 100-year history of the American Hungarian Federation and the need for unityOn Februrary 1, 2000, Rev. Bertalan was awarded the "A Magyar Köztársaság Tisztikeresztje" by Hungarian President Árpád Göncz. On September 25, 2007, he was honored by his congregation from the Hungarian Reformed Church of Washington, D.C.as he celebrated 25 years of Pastoral service (see the article in the right column). The elders of the Hungarian Reformed Church of Washington, D.C. are planning to meet in the near future to discuss the future operations of the church.  "This is a great loss, because he served as our head pastor for over a quarter century," said one of the elders, "and he was a truly inspired leader."  The elders will consider the necessary steps the congregation must take in the coming months.  "We will miss him, of course, but we will remain as a strong congregation.  Rev. Bertalan's true legacy will be the continued successful life of this church community, for many years ahead," the elder concluded.

Rev. Bertalan was strongly committed to the American Hungarian Federation.  The organization experienced internal disputes in the 1980's, which resulted in a faction breaking away from the Federation.  Rev. Bertalan, the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Federation and the William Penn Association played a key role devising several parallel initiatives to attempt to bring the disputing factions together.  When Rev. Bertalan saw that it was not time for reconciliation, he, Sandor Taraszovics, Dr. Tibor Ham and Frank Koszorus, Jr. started a process that led to the formation of the Hungarian American Coalition.  But Rev. Bertalan never forgot the Federation.  On the contrary, when he sensed the time was right several years ago, he again tirelessly and enthusiastically worked to help revitalize the time-honored organization he led two decades ago.  He not only participated in the reorganization meetings to share his extensive experience, Rev. Bertalan encouraged many of the active members of the Federation to become involved and help restore the entity as the unifying and umbrella organization of Hungarian Americans.  The Federation and Hungarians on both sides of the Atlantic will terribly miss Rev. Bertalan and his leadership, vision and service to his community and church.

A stalwart advocate of minority rights for Hungarian communities in post-Trianon borders, he lent his knowledge and good name to many AHF and other statements, such as, "Egy Provokativ Kisebbsegellenes Kijelentes Veszelyezteti A Demokraciat Romaniaban" [also in English and Rumanian] written to coincide with Rumanian President Iliescu's visit to Washington in 2005. As Chairman of the Board of AHF in 1996, he worked to ensure Hungary accession to NATO. The combined efforts of our community helped lead to the NATO Enlargement Facilitation Act of 1996 was signed into law by President Clinton on September 30, 1996.

Also an author, his books and writings include:

  • Three Centuries of Hungarian Reformed Peregrination to Holland with Special Significance of Sarospatak College (1986)
  • Ujrakezdes az Orszagalapitok Lelkuleteben (1996)
  • "Ott ulek...O kozottuk" (2005)

He will be sorely missed. Our condolences to his family and his son, Rev. Imre Bertalan, Jr., who continues God's work and builds on his father's great legacy.

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HUNGARIAN REFORMED CHURCH OF WASHINGTON, D.C. CELEBRATES REVEREND IMRE BERTALAN’S 25TH PASTORAL ANNIVERSARYOn September 25th, members of the Hungarian Reformed Church of Washington, D.C., celebrated the Reverend Dr. Imre Bertalan’s 25th anniversary of pastoral service with the congregation. For 12 years, Rev. Bertalan served as the president of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America, in Washington, D.C. During his service as president of the Federation, he joined the Hungarian Reformed Church of Washington,D.C., and led the congregation with other ministers. After he retired as president of the Federation, he devoted his entire time to the leadership of the church. During the celebration, the congregation’s chief elder, Zoltan Bagdy, greeted Rev. Bertalan, and on behalf of the church, and thanked him for his long service as a pastor.

“We celebrate with a great deal of joy and thanks,” said Bagdy, “because the life of our church has been exceptionally successful during the past several decades, and these successes are permanent, and for all this we must thank Rev. Bertalan.” In his reminiscences, he mentioned that Rev. Bertalan for years held very popular Bible classes at his home for adults, on Wednesday nights; he prepared several generations of children for their confirmation, and held Bible studies for them, in Hungarian. Rev. Bertalan has been a patron and leader of the Hungarian Scouts in the Washington area; he maintains close contacts with Reformed Church members in Hungary, Transylvania,Slovakia; he helped Hungarian students for years; and he has been a supporter of the Bethlen Home for decades. “It is extremely important, that there is, in the capital city of America, a successful, well organized Hungarian Reformed Church, and that everyone in the capital be aware of that – the American Presbyterians, the politicians, “Embassy Row,” the press, the local Hungarians. For the fact that this indeed exists, we owe a great deal of thanks to Rev. Bertalan,” said Zoltan Bagdy.

The church elder mentioned as well that Rev. Bertalan, with the financial contribution of the Chikesz family, established a unique program several years ago, which provides scholarships for Hungarian students to study at Wesley Seminary, and to serve as assistant ministers at the church during their studies. It is well known, that Rev. Bertalan, in addition to his pastoral work, is a selfless civic and community leader; he established several well known Hungarian American organizations and continues to serve as a leader of some of them, including President of the American Hungarian Federation (then President Emeritus), the American Hungarian Federation of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. and the Hungarian American Coalition as honorary president. After Zoltan Bagdy’s remarks, the representatives of the Joseph Batori Scout Troop greeted the Rev. Bertalan; they sang in his honor and recited poetry. Zoltan Bagdy presented Rev. Bertalan with the congregation’s anniversary gift, and the scouts also presented him with a gift, a plant in a hand painted flower pot. Members of the congregation also spoke, expressing their personal thanks to the minister, among them Frank Koszorus, Jr., a well known Hungarian civic leader and an elder of the Hungarian Reformed Church of Washington. The celebration continued after the religious service, during “szeretetvendegseg.” Here too, members of the church congratulated the Rev. Bertalan in person.

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