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Edwardsburg centenarian has had quite a journey

Published 9:32am Thursday, June 24, 2010

By JESSICA SIEFF
Edwardsburg Argus

kakuk 1
Katalin Kakuk, 100, of Edwardsburg left Hungary in 1956.

It was the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 that led Elizabeth Pinnyei to leave her homeland behind her, crossing an ocean and ending up in South Bend, Ind.

“We left Hungary in 1956, my brother and I and my family,” said Pinnyei, in her native accent. “We came to South Bend, well because my husband’s parents lived in South Bend.

“That was a hard time for Hungarians,” she added. “And we came here.”

Left behind, was Pinnyei’s mother, Katalin Kakuk.

“We did not see her for eight years,” Pinnyei said.

Kakuk would remain in Hungary until 1966 when she and her husband would follow in their daughter’s footsteps and make the trip to America.

“She came and she is a very determined lady,” her daughter said. “She put something in her mind… We had no choice (but to leave). That was bad times.”

One could say Kakuk had already lived quite a life. Yet at 54, she was starting out in a new country.

“She started working,” Pinnyei said, “she had a job in a small nursing home, she worked in a nursing home as a housekeeper.”

After her father passed away, Pinnyei said her mother moved in with her, the family eventually ending up in Edwardsburg.

Friday, Kakuk, the 4 foot, 10 inches, petite woman all of 82 pounds, who takes her garden very seriously and is beloved by her Edwardsburg neighbors, will turn 100 years old.

“She’s helped me raise my kids and my grandkids,” Pinnyei said.

Kakuk still doesn’t speak English, something that her daughter said doesn’t pose much of a barrier, as the family speaks Hungarian in the house and “she understands them and they understand her,” Pinnyei said of the younger generations of family members.

“She’s a five generation grandmother,” her daughter added.

Kakuk lost her eyesight a couple of years ago, Pinnyei said but has not set aside the importance of upkeep to her garden.

With more than 100 family members coming in to celebrate her birthday, Pinnyei said Kakuk is making sure others are tending to her flowers and any intruding weeds so as to make sure the grounds are in tip top shape.

Pinnyei said her mother is always being checked on by friends and neighbors, who worry if they don’t see her out and about at her home just near the Garver Lake Golf Course.

Describing Kakuk as strong and determined, her characteristics remain, Pinnyei said.

“Every one of my kids are workaholics,” she said. “I am one, my brother is one. We got the gene from her.”

Aside from her work in a nursing home, Pinnyei said her mother was always busy as a housewife and a mother, baking and cooking often.

The cooking, did not quite pass on from mother to daughter.

“I did not learn much of her cooking skills,” she said. “She did all the cooking, I did not have to. But the thing is she never did use a cook book.”

Pinnyei said one tradition that did stick was a family dinner every Sunday, something her family has been doing each week for the last 40 years.

“That’s how she felt,” she said of her mother. “Like she had to feed the whole world.”

Her mother still enjoys every day, has her own sense of humor and is “the most innocent person in the world,” Pinnyei said.

This weekend, Kakuk won’t have to cook anything and neither will her daughter. A special birthday party to commemorate her 100th will be held at the Eagle Lake Yacht Club will be catered, luckily.

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