The Rev. Imre A. Bertalan, a former pastor of Calvin United Church of Christ who remained an advocate for the East Toledo neighborhood of Birmingham long after he left his church post, died Aug. 29 in Latrobe Hospital, Latrobe, Pa. He was 67.
He had cancer, said his wife, Magdalene “Baba” Ujvagi. The couple still had a home in the historically Hungarian-American neighborhood, to which they planned to retire in several years. He was active year after year in planning for the Birmingham Ethnic Festival.
Mr. Bertalan also served on boards of national Hungarian-American organizations, said Peter Ujvagi, a member of Toledo City Council.
“He understood the importance of your immigrant heritage and remembering where you came from,” said Mr. Ujvagi, who was his brother-in-law. “He battled for paying attention to neighborhoods and paying attention to the churches.”
In January, 2000, Mr. Bertalan became executive director of Bethlen Communities in Ligonier, Pa., a retirement and nursing community founded by the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America.
“What people say is, and it’s true in our relationship too, he was always very calm,” his wife said. “When solving problems he would hear everyone out, and he would reach out to people and reach out to the community.”
He was born Oct. 4, 1949, in New Brunswick, N.J., to Margaret and the Rev. Imre G. Bertalan. A graduate of New Brunswick High School, he had a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. His maternal grandfather also was a minister.
“Being a pastor was the farthest thing from my mind,” the younger Mr. Imre told The Blade in 1999. He set out to be a community organizer and was recruited to that role in East Toledo by Mr. Ujvagi, who knew his father. Mr. Bertalan helped form the East Toledo Community Organization.
“He was good at getting people to advocate for themselves,” Mr. Ujvagi said.
He became a member of Calvin United Church of Christ, which was founded as the Hungarian Evangelical Reformed Church. He was elected pastor in 1979 after the Rev. Andrew Harto retired.
Besides his duties at Calvin, Mr. Bertalan also reached out to congregations of all religions in the area — “to bring the neighborhood into the church, too, so it wasn’t just a Hungarian church, but we were open to the neighborhood. He felt that’s what he was there for,” his wife said.
At his departure from Calvin, he was the last remaining Hungarian-speaking clergyman of Hungarian descent in the neighborhood, then-Blade religion editor Judy Tarjanyi reported.
Surviving are his wife, Magdalene “Baba” J. Ujvagi, whom he married Nov. 29, 1980; daughters, Sára Davis, Magda Bertalan, Juli Bertalan, and Margit Bertalan; son, Imre; sisters, Lillian Bertalan and M. Sarah Bertalan, and five grandchildren.
Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Sept. 23 in Calvin United Church of Christ, where the family will greet friends after 9 a.m. Arrangements are by Eggleston Meinert & Pavley Funeral Home, Oregon. The family suggests tributes to Bethlen Communities, Ligonier, Pa; Calvin United Church of Christ, Toledo, or the Hungarian Club of Toledo.
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