Interview with Irene Kusnyer (born Szalay) about farming in the Cuyahoga Valley. The interviewee tells the story of how her family came to settle first in the US and later on in the Cuyahoga Valley. She then talks about how the family got into farming, what farming and life in the Valley was like in the 1930s, and how they eventually came to focus on farming sweet corn. The interview contains rich descriptions of the types of crops and livestock that were used, farming procedures, descriptions of the farm house and barn, as well as where and how they sold their farm products, and who purchased them. The interview also contains stories about life growing up in the Cuyahoga Valley, including going to school, working, and leisure time activities. There are also some reflections on changes over time, discussing the development of the farm and comparing earlier times with the farm today. Finally, the interviewee talk briefly about the Everett Ladies, specifically who they are and what they do.


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Kusnyer, Irene (interviewee)


Bjoershol, Haakon (interviewer); Conklin, Carolyn (facilitator)


Transcription sponsored by Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Carolyn Conklin [00:00:00] Alright, are we ready?

Haakon Bjoershol [00:00:01] Yes.

Carolyn Conklin [00:00:01] OK, go ahead.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:00:03] Oh, this is Haakon Bjoershol interviewing Irene Kusnyer for the Cleveland State University and the National Park Service. Today is Wednesday, March 30th, 2011. It's just about 11:00 a.m., and Irene, just so we have it on the tape, could you state your name and where you were born and when?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:00:28] Irene Kusnyer. Where I was born?

Haakon Bjoershol [00:00:34] Yes.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:00:35] Oh, 12... Oh, where I was born?

Haakon Bjoershol [00:00:38] Where and when?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:00:39] Where I was born in what is Cuyahoga Falls, right now, Ohio, and [...] [19]21.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:00:55] You said it was called Cuyahoga Falls now. Did it have a different name at the time?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:00:59] Well, that was the name that they gave that time. Now it's probably Akron, Ohio. They might have changed it.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:01:12] While were talking on the phone the other day, you mentioned that your family had come here from Hungary? Could you tell us some more about that?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:01:22] Well, they both came over from Hungary. They did not know each other. They came separately, but they came on the... They arrived the same day in New York and... But they did not know each other. They were on different ships. My father went to New York to an aunt, and my mother went to her sister in Omaha, Nebraska. So... And that was the beginning.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:02:04] So how in the world did they end up together if...

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:02:10] I don't know, they just both took different ships. I think there was my... I think my father went to... Let me think... To France to get his boat, and she went to probably Yugoslavia or somewhere like that, so they each had different states that they went in to come to this country. We never did find that exactly.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:02:42] Do you know how they met and how they ended up living in Cuyahoga Valley?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:02:47] My father went to New York, but there was nothing. They came to this country because it was... They had heard that it was a, well, economic place to come. And so he went there but evidently that didn't turn out. So he started out towards going west. He worked all his way through all the... He was in Pennsylvania at the... What do they call that? Underground mining? And he didn't like that. So he went on and on till they told him that Omaha, Nebraska, was the state where they had... Was the cattle coun[try]... Cattle for... And they had that different... That's where the cattle went to be butchered and serviced. And so that's where he went because that's... He knew how to do that, so they had him go. So then my mother, she had... Her sister had married in Hungary, and her husband went on ahead to Omaha, also to the Swift meatpacking, because of that. They accepted him there. And when she had enough money, she went over with her... She went... She had one son. And after she was there for a while, she had... My mother picked up her sister, what, it was her sister, to come to this country. Omaha. Because she was not treated well. She was a stepchild. So her sister said, you come on home over here. [laughs] Oh, dear. So that's how they both started. They both worked at the Swift Packing Company. And they... Usually when you have people from different nationalities come over, they look for their own people. And so that's where my father went to live among the Hungarians. And my mother, she was Hungarian and so was her sister. So that's where they both settled in the same time. So that's where it all began, and they married shortly thereafter. My father... My mother was 16 or 17, and my father was about 20. And they had a little boy and they decided to come to Ohio because my father's brother, who... Paul Szalay. He had... That's where he settled when he came over. And so they were following each other through the country. And that's how we ended up in Ohio among the Valley where we live now, but in the interim we did... My parents... My father tried to get what she did. He worked at the automobile and, no the rubber companies were, you know, Akron is noted for the rubber. So that was the reason they came to this country, I mean to Akron. And he worked there, didn't like it, or I don't know why. And so they moved to the country which is on Riverview Road, Akron, and it was... They were building the sanitation department in Bath, Ohio, and so they built a tunnel and they were building the tunnel for all this to go from Akron out to the disposal plant. And... And while there, my mother did all the cooking for the men that worked on the tunnel and my dad sort of overseered. But we didn't do much farming. There was just enough farming for us and very little, you know, just to keep us going. And my dad, he didn't do much farming at that time. We hadn't gotten to that point. Let me think now. While there... To get there, you had to come down Smith Road. And when they got down to the bottom, they built a tunnel in this here to get back to where we were. And so that's where we lived for a few years, not long, because I was born there.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:08:18] And then you guys went to Michigan?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:08:22] We went to Michigan, yes. My father's brother, again Paul Szalay, that's where his mother and and sister had come over when they came in after us, after them. And that's where they went. I don't know why other than maybe they had the Ford Motor Company or something like that. They stayed... Let's see, so they they went... So the brother Paul went up there to live too, and he worked in a grocery store and got his own business of cutting meat. And that was his and he finally bought the store. So he had them come up, and my Aunt Mary, my father's sister, she had a store and she didn't want it anymore so she let them take it. Buy it. It was fun. And so they then came the big boom, you know, the '29 or what is that, the big Depression. And of course nobody had money and everybody has to eat. And as a result, they thought, let's get out while the getting is good. So they sold the store and that's when they came to the Valley. That's the beginning of the Valley.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:09:57] So this would be early '30s?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:09:59] '31.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:10:02] And to return to the Valley, that's where you started farming?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:10:06] Yes. Mm hmm.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:10:08] And. Is that your family, your father, that started the farm?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:10:15] Yes, my father started it with the help of his, well, no, his brother had nothing to do with that, no. But by then I had my brother and, two brothers and I, and my mother. My mother did all the work. I felt very sorry for her. She had to start... Every time she moved, she had to start all over because, you know, they didn't have electricity. And then she'd move to a place where there was electricity, water. And then she goes down the Valley there and there's nothing, absolutely nothing. They moved into this house. They bought this farm from... It was laying idle there and this is where they were going to start because it sounded good and... But the house did not lay on the foundation. It was just sitting on top of a hole, you might say, so then they decided they they had to take the house up and build a foundation and all that. Anyhow, it was rough going because there was no water, no electricity or nothing. So my mom had to start all over again. So that's when the farming... They decided there was 60-plus acres there to be farmed and that the person before had farmed it. So they decided, well, let's farm. I don't know... I don't know how. [laughs]

Haakon Bjoershol [00:11:56] And what did they decide to farm there?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:12:00] Well, truck, what they called truck farming, because it was everything that... Whatever... Their corn, tomatoes, beans, every kind of vegetable possible is what truck farming... And that's what usually farmers do is take all those vegetables, cucumbers and things, and farm. That's farming. So that was the start. And so my mom did all the planting of the plants that were to be used, and they started out planting everything from corn, beans, strawberries, all of, you know, just tomatoes, potatoes, everything they started. And when you do that... And we bought two mules. We had Spider and Spike, I think their name was, and my brother had a fit, the younger one. He did not like those two animals, but he said, Okay, we got a farm, and so that was the start of the... And mom made all planted all the plants that was to be used like pepper plants and stuff, and that... And slowly we... Everything came. They were good. Good farmers. And...

Haakon Bjoershol [00:13:37] So with the mules, what were they used for?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:13:41] They were to plow the fields and to to get the fields ready for the plants and they were nice, they were nice little—not little, they were big and—but they were different than horses. And they were sometimes not very happy to do what they're supposed to, but they did. And then they did very well. So, and my younger brother survived. And so they planted all these different things in. And when the summer came, why we picked all the, picked all the stuff, the garden, from the gardens, and we took them into Akron. They had a farmer's market, and we took all this and sold it to whoever came. There were a lot of grocery men that came and got a lot of groceries for their grocery, vegetables and things. And then in the morning, they came about four o'clock in the morning. And then after that, the people in Akron would come who wanted to can things. So they got... That's where they got their vegetables. And then slowly out in the country, they they sold... They just sold those everything. We had a little stand out and anybody went by—we, you know, wanted corn or something—and my mother, she took... We did have cows and she did all the... Oh, cheese and milk and eggs, of course, and we had all the, you know, the creamer stuff, so that's how they got along till... Well, she passed away in '42, so that didn't last, but she was the one that got the farm going, and with the, with all her dairy products. And... And then slowly, word of mouth and taste, I guess, we had a lot of people, just, those people that come to this and buy outright vegetables from the farm. And let's see, what else?

Haakon Bjoershol [00:16:20] I understood your older brother wasn't very fond of the mules?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:16:23] No.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:16:23] Was that because he had to work with them out on the farm?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:16:27] Well, it was just... I think it was just an idea that what are these things? They look like something from outer space or something. No, he just thought they looked kind of different, you know, not a horse. Not a tractor. [laughs].

Haakon Bjoershol [00:16:48] Were the other farmers using horses or tractors?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:16:51] Yes, yes, they had... They had horses. Most everybody used horses in those days. The tractors, you were doing really good if you did have a tractor. So, you know, and that came later that they got the tractors.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:17:09] So, you said your mom did a lot of the work. What about all the kids and your father? How did guys help [inaudible]?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:17:23] Well, dad, I'm sorry to say, he had a stroke when he was 29, I think, which left him partially paralyzed. So he was the... He told what had to be done. And then my older brother, he read a lot, kept track of everything, you know. And so it was left up to my mother to do all this stuff. Like she kept the things going by selling all this, the dairy products, until we got on our feet. And then they slowly went into the sweet corn farm because... Well, it's a lot more work if you have to do all the other stuff. My job was to get out there, and the beets and the carrots and things like that and just little bitty th[ings], you know. The plants are so small that you have to use magnifying glass to see it. And that was my job because I have to go from one end of that big, long row and pick out the bad... pick out the weeds and leave so that the beets and the other plants would grow and to the way they should. So I'd be going back and forth and back and forth. But the other boys, they were plowing and planting and... And my mom, she went out and she hoed with them. There was a time I had to laugh because she would put on her, what are those called, the slacks, and go out with her slacks and hoe, because we had gotten quite a few men from Cleveland that, well, elderly gentleman that had met bad times and needed a place to work. So we would have them come in, and they stayed either in the house upstairs—we had bunks—or, and I'm really switching around aren't I? [laughs]—or else they'd sleep in the barn. But they'd come on Sunday and they would stay until the following Sunday and then they'd go home and come back Sunday, same thing back and forth [laughs] and... But she'd go out and hoe with them. And she wore these slacks, and I think that's when the, what do you call its, those slacks came in. It would be, you know, you can wear... Women more slacks. She was responsible. I just tease about that.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:20:23] Trendsetter?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:20:23] [Laughs] Yeah, a trendsetter. Well, that's... So what else is coming in about that time for poor mom? And cooking for that many men. Of course she was used to when she worked on the other plant. We always had about fourteen men working because there was a lot of hoeing and stuff to do and just us. And so finally, this went until one day there was a big truck came in the yard and he says, I need corn for New York. And I said, What? And he says, Can you load me up? And so they said, Oh sure, we've have an over, you know, we can get a load you up. And so they took that big truck and the guys went out and picked all the corn. So I brought it in and sorted it and packed it and put it on and iced it. And he went to New York. That was... So he came [laughs] quite a few times taking corn to New York. So then... And also the grocery stores began to come and say, we need corn for the stores. So then they kept... That sort of built up the farm were all those people wanting corn. The area is known for good sweet corn. We got good reputation. So then we slowly left the other things, the melons. We raised good melons and watermelons and every[thing], but we stopped doing all that stuff because there just wasn't time enough to do everything. So we just became sweetcorn farmers.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:22:15] Did you keep... Did you keep planting any for yourself?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:22:20] Oh, yes.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:22:21] Any vegetables or melons?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:22:22] Oh yes. Oh yes. My my younger brother and his wife and I and my husband, we took a piece of that land towards Akron, towards... On Akron-Pen... On Riverview. And we did all that. We did it for ourself. We planted everything in there, just cucumbers and peppers and melons and watermelons. Just one section, for our own use mostly. But if we had anything over, we'd take it down to the farm and they would sell, which they did. A lot of the farmers and close farmers around the area brought their produce over there. So they are... It would be homegrown, all the produce. So we did get our share. And my brother and I, well, we worked down there too. So.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:23:19] You said all the other farmers would bring it to your family farm?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:23:22] Mm hmm.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:23:22] Oh, so you became like...

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:23:25] Yeah, they sold it, we sold it for them. It was good. Everybody got a little something out of it. [laughs]

Haakon Bjoershol [00:23:37] Was there any... What there much interaction between your family farm and other farmers in the area then, outside of bringing their crops there?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:23:47] No, because there weren't any. I mean, the ones that had, they just sort of got out of farming. So we were the only ones in that area, close I would say. There were other farmers, but they were outside of the... What do you call it? The Valley. They were out in Stark County or somewhere because... And see they even stopped with the pumpkins, pumpkins during the pumpkin season. They would go down to other parts of Ohio where they just strictly had pumpkins and they'd bring them up. You know, probably... We had... So we... They've had... When you come at Halloween, there's pumpkins coming out of your ears. It's there's so many of them, so many. They just bring truckloads in and it makes a big place for everybody in Akron. They all come togetherdown to get their pumpkins. So that a big thing, but sweet corn was their big one. That's where... Giant Eagle and Acme and all these other stores, they would call and say we would need 100 baskets, and there were three dozen in the basket, and... Okay. They'd come down. We'd have it all packed and ready. So that's what we did, a lot of packing back then. I used to pack and I used to... My job was, before we got tractors and other wagons to bring in this stuff, my one job was to stand at the end of the truck and my dad on one side and my big brother on the other side and I'm in the middle. And I took the bag and put it on a hook and I counted five, one took five, the other one put five. So it'd be 10, 15, 20, 25, all the way to 60. And I'd say three. And that was an extra three. So that was my big job. And all day long stand there. But that... I didn't appreciate it... But I... But somebody had to do it, so I was the chosen one. So that was oh, I don't know what else to tell you. Let me think.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:26:25] What else would you like? Were the days long then, the work days?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:26:29] Work days? Well, they were as long as... that they needed them. I mean, they had to, because they had to pack the corn, load the corn, and then they took it into Cleveland to the market there where the other truck, truckers... So and then they had to be up at two in the morning to take all the stuff to the markets. Then by the time they'd come back, it, well, it'd be about eight o'clock, seven, eight o'clock, before they sold it all. And everybody'd come home. So it was time to eat breakfast maybe, if they had time, and they were back out in the field doing the, you know, getting the corn ready. But then we weren't... We didn't have the other stuff to do. You probably talked to Helyn Toth, didn't you, or did you talk to Helyn Toth? Yeah, well, we were good friends and we, we, and my mother, she and I and my mother, we got the beets and the carrots. She probably told all about that and went down the creek and washed them at night—dark night, no lights but we washed them—and packed them in and to take to the market. The water was clean then. It wasn't like it is today. I wouldn't touch it today. And then we'd go swimming and we'd get... That was fun. We had a lot of fun, Helyn and I did. And what other... Oh, and we did have cows. But that has nothing to do with the farming. Well, we did have farming. We had to bring the cows in to milk, you know, all the time. We did milk. I did milk, too, and... But it was fun bringing them in from the pasture because they were willing to come in, you know, and have their milking, but if we had a bull in there, look out! He did... We'd try to separate them and then, my sister in law and I, and then we'd come down the hill quietly, shhh, you know, with the cows. And before long we wouldn't be there. And all of a sudden you'd hear clippity clappity and this darn ol' bull come in and, boy, we head for the fence 'cause he was a mean dude. So we ran. So we both slid under the fence with him coming after us and scratching the ground and huffing and puffing. But we did get the cows in so we could milk 'em. But then the Riverview Road was not what it is today. You know, we didn't have much traffic, thank God, or we'd have been run over by cars, you know, bringing the cows in. But that was a fun time. We needed to get those cows in before that old bull got us. We'd climb trees even.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:29:38] That sounds quite exciting.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:29:39] Yeah! [laughs] So that's... But farming was our main, main goal, to bring your good stuff. My family would... My father and brothers would sit around the table with all these books and figure out which farm, which corn would be the best, which one would come in at a certain time, a certain date and... and pray that that was the right choice, and then they would order it and it would be, and the fertilizer if you could use fertilizer or whatever. And so they had their job done and it was never done. All year long there was something that had to be done. The machinery, of course, now the machinery they have, which took all, you know, a month to do get the... Get just the ground ready is done in a half a day. They have the equipment, that really big equipment to do that. So that helps a lot. But the main problem was getting the right corn at the right time so we don't have one over the other so there's always corn the whole season. So they had a big job there, too, and people.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:31:06] So what happened during the wintertime when there was a lot of snow?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:31:12] Well...

Haakon Bjoershol [00:31:12] How would you spend your time then?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:31:14] Well, me, I went to school and... Well, we all did go to school at first and then... What did we do? Well, they worked on the books. Oh, well, I know. My older brother, he went... Of course, you know, money was scarce starting up. He worked in town at other grocery stores in their vegetable department. And then my brother, he worked on the railroad to make his, you know, to last till the next year. And me, I didn't do anything, I don't think. I was too young to do much of anything. So I was going to school all the time. And then when I did graduate, I went to college. But I mean... That... What... It was, it was... They always got jobs at first when we started farming because they they couldn't make it otherwise, you know, moneywise to come. And the economy wasn't that good. But but once they didn't get all the corn in and all the other stuff, they... They... That was enough. And they took the winter off.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:32:38] Around this time, so I was thinking about the layout of the farm. You said there was a main building that you raised up?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:32:52] Yes.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:32:52] And create the foundation?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:32:53] That that was our house.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:32:56] That was the house?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:32:56] That was the house. There was just... And when we moved there, there was nothing inside, no, you know, anything, water or electric or anything. And all they had was a big stove in the middle room, and that was it. In the wintertime, it got pretty cold. So we would... My mom would warm up the sheets and blankets and the comforters, and we'd get them all warm and then dash for the bed! And that was the only way. Otherwise, today I'm [makes a shivvering sound]. And but that's how we kept warm. And of course to eat you had a kerosene stove, no refrigerator. The iceman came once a week or twice a week or something. So we'd have a refrigerator. And what other... And the other thing is just you just had to, I don't know, just try [to] cook, cook, cook. And then you have to eat it all before it spoiled, I guess. [laughs] I don't know. But it was a big job. I had to do... I've done many... I've been... I've done a many dishes, you know, washing dishes. But, you know, that part about that is you didn't... You didn't use soap, you know, for dishes, to wash the dishes. And that was one of my jobs. When I got home from school, my mom would be out hoeing with the guys and that there might be some dishes there. That was... I cleaned the table off and got ready for dinner. And so my job was to wash those dishes up and have them ready for the next food. And what you did is I took hot water, which I boiled, and I rinsed all the dishes off, which I wished... And we used that for the, to use... But the reason we did that was because we needed the... We had pigs at that time, and we needed that to mix with the mush or whatever they were eating, the grain? And so then I'd pour that on the grain for the pigs and then I'd get another hot water and then finish washing so the dishes were really sanitized, you know. And then, and use that water too to give to the... So that's why I never used soap when I washed the dishes. [laughs] It were hot water.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:35:45] Yeah, that's neat.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:35:48] But the... But then when the winter come, we had the... We had, you know, we butchered the piggies and they were great. Because they had, you know, all the goodies of the leftover scraps.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:36:01] Did you have ham for Christmas?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:36:03] Yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. We had everything, sausage, everything. And if we butchered a cow, well then it was... We had... My mom made great stew. She canned great stew. People'd come there, well we want your stew, you know, and... So that's how you lived on the farm, you know, you had to be... Do that. I never knew you could freeze, not freeze, but save eggs. My mother put them in some kind of a fluid. And when there were too many eggs and you couldn't use them all at once, they didn't buy them as much. You put them in this liquid and they stayed. I don't know what it was, but we had eggs all the time. Never ran out of eggs.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:36:54] A special liquid.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:36:57] [Laughs] Better find out what that it was. Oh, this is going to be a great... This is going to be great! It's a... Holy Toledo! [laughs] But we had many good times. We would sort of ring a bell or something. I don't know if Helyn told you, but all the kids in Everett would show up on a hot day and we'd all go swimming and down under the two bridges. And so we didn't have it too hard. You know, we did have fun too. Enjoyed it. So now they're still doing the farming, but everybody... Now John is, and he's my young, my older brother and his wife are doing the farming now. And my two nephews... my nephew and niece, the other John and Georgia, they're all doing it. Yeah, well, there's another story there. I'm not going to tell you that one. But so that's how it's going with the new, this generation.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:38:07] So, it has changed a little bit, and I imagine, from how it was done back in the day until how it is done today?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:38:16] Yes, it's a lot different, and they still have a lot of people coming and going all the time. I don't know, it... They are... They bring in more things, you know, canned-good stuff that some place, from some out-of-town place, and it's strictly not all farming, but their vegetables are brought in. The only thing that they do is corn. They get that and that keeps 'em busy all there because they've got it staggered. I had noticed when I came by today they've done something to the ground already. They've run it all down and getting it ready and... But they don't have what they had before because they've got all this machinery, what used to take days and days to get things planted, well, you know, done and planted. Now they go out and in a half a day they got a field done. You know, everything is mechanized or whatever.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:39:33] So you don't have to sit on the back of the truck and count to sixty anymore?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:39:36] No, no more. No more. They didn't. They fired me.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:39:40] [Laughs].

Haakon Bjoershol [00:39:40] I wasn't used anymore. So when you get, they don't need you anymore. They just can me. [laughs] Don't write that in! Oh, I don't care. [laughs] But it's fun. I enjoyed it. I really did. And I kind of miss not being out there anymore. I'm getting, oh, I'm eighty, and I'll be eighty... What am I? Eighty-nine. Oh that's right. I did miss a couple years. I'll be 90 on my next birthday. And I love to see the people that have been coming for the past... Well, let's see, thirty, sixty years or so that I've known them. We have a lot of people that have come all the time since then, and it's nice to see them, you know. And then slowly you don't see them and you wonder about 'em, but have gone on. So it's been a fun... It's been a fun rolly coaster, you know, with all of that stuff. Of planting and weeding. Oh, I laughed when some of the kids would come and pick beans, you know, and they'd put rocks on the bottom because, of the basket, because they were they were paid by the pound. [laughs] We sure... But then we kind of informed them that that wasn't... We didn't need the rocks anymore.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:41:16] [Laughs].

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:41:16] And so then they just did it like normal. So actually, it was good. It was a good, it was a good run, and it's just sad my parents weren't able to, you know, be there now when they... There was a little bit of fun, you know, instead of work, work, work. So that's my story. I don't you if you need anything.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:41:43] Couple of more questions.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:41:43] Sure you can have those! Okay? [laughs]

Haakon Bjoershol [00:41:49] And one was running water and electricity.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:41:53] Uh huh.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:41:53] Do you recall around one time that came to the farm?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:41:58] Yes. That came, let me see... My mom passed away in '42, so that... She just got that in about '39, maybe '40, that they... that electricity would come in that area. And we immediately got an electric stove, an electric refrigerator, and what other thing did... And running water. We could take showers. And the basement was our, where we had showers set up. So that life was beginning easier. And we would go on. We went to the state fair. We began to go and enjoy our freedom. And then my mom got that leukemia. I don't know why you'd get leukemia, but and so she didn't.... She was there.... She enjoyed about two years of good times, then not working, you know. That was in '42. Well she passed away in '42, I think, '44, '42. I knew she was either 44 years old or 42. Yes, '42. She was 44 when she passed away. But anyhow, that was too young for her to have left. But she worked all those years, so that was kind of rough.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:43:33] And your father?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:43:34] He lived to be 58 and had a couple strokes after, and he died of cancer, though, which was, you know, he had all the other heart problems, but it took cancer at 58. But he enjoyed it, he'd go, you know to meet his friends and his last few years he enjoyed, you know, go playing cards with the boys and stuff, so. Well, he knew everything would go with the boys, that they knew what to do and how to do it. It was fun. So everybody's okay now, I guess. I don't know, the ones that are left. I'm the only one left. I just got back from a vacation. My nieces, my son's girls, my brother's girls wanted to get together so we could see about the genealogy of our parents. And so we went to South Carolina. They all got together, a couple from Colorado and flew in and then and to take me back, to take me over to, and talk about the [inaudible]... You know, we had the greatest time in South Carolina. I just got back Sunday, and it was fun. We just went out on the boat and played with the dolphins. They'd swim by you. One girl, she leaned over too far and they squirted her right in the face and, well, we just, we laughed the whole time I was there. We'd go to bed at 12, looking at old movies of the family. You never saw six—it was seven of us—and having such a good time. And the weather was fairly good, you know. But well she has a home that's... Well, it's from here to Texas, I guess. [laughs] And so we all each had our own rooms and it was great. And they all worked on the farm. The girls were... They were in high school, but they'd come home from school and they would be sorting corn. They even drove the tractor just like, better than the men did. And she... And so they all had a part in that, you know, but they worked hard sorting corn, packing those baskets and stuff. But we just had a good time. Anyhow, we laughed a lot. I'm still laughing. Okay, I'm not letting you ask the questions. What...

Haakon Bjoershol [00:46:33] Oh, there's one more thing I'm curious about.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:46:37] Oh, oh!

Haakon Bjoershol [00:46:39] And you talked about some of your friends growing up.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:46:42] Uh huh.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:46:42] And I understand that there is still a group of you that get together every so often.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:46:46] Yes, we do, and that's another laughing bunch.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:46:49] Yeah? Could you tell us a little bit about that perhaps? Who you are, what do you?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:46:54] Oh, well, you know Helyn, I don't know if you've met Helyn. She's, you've met Helyn. Okay, she's a swell... She's my best friend. We just... Well, she tells me all about what she about what's going... But you know all those people that I do go with that we do have, they're related. So when I come, I'm not related because I came from Hungary, you know, or my parents did. But all their parents, when we were... They have genealogy. We'd talk a lot about that. Is that the word I should use, genealogy is it? And all of these things all leads back to the 1700s and it's their grandfather. I mean, a great-great-great-great grandfather. They're all related to this man. [laughs] I says ino wonder I was kind of looked at when we moved there, not... I'm coming from way out in space, me, but they were always good to me. And we had a lot of fun and... But they're all related, got the relation. But we'd just sit there and talk about just anything, everything, about going... We all went to the same school and we graduated around the same time. And some of the girls, there's one girl, Jan Lamson, she has a book about that thick about all her lineage of way back to 1700 that she's worked her way through. And we just sit there... Well we go there for noon and we're there there till three o'clock in the afternoon. We just gab and gab and gab. And finally, somebody says, you know, it's getting late, you know, I've got to get out of here. But we talk about everything. And then there's the, well, there's three of us. Helyn, she's 90. I'm, and I'm 89. And Margie. Did you have Margie? Morgan. She's a card, too. We have a bunch of cards in our group. And she's just I think, she's 89. She'll be 89, I think in July. And the other two are just Winnie, do you know Winnie? You do you Winnie? She worked with the... It's... The national park. She did a... She I think she had one, I think Toth, which Helyn Toth, her house. She watched that one. And then there was another one. Oh, let's see the Lamson. She's younger. But she went through all the time and she's lived all her life in there in everett. And who else did it? There was Winnie, she came, and then there's a couple... Oh yes. There's another girl that... She lived in... what was her... Boughton? I don't know if you, or if she got called on. A Broughton, Broughton?

Carolyn Conklin [00:50:20] Was it Hazel?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:50:20] Hazel, yes, she's a character. She's one of our girls, too. And so we have a seven girls. So I guess we kind of...

Haakon Bjoershol [00:50:33] Sounds like a really fun time.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:50:36] Chatter, chatter, chatter. Lots of chatter. And eat, eat, eat, eat, you know. It's great. So you know I've had a happy life when I think about it. I've been... I was married... My... That was one thing. My husband did not like farming. He was in the service. He was a Marine. He was in the four or five years in the Pacific. And so then he came home and we got married. But he did not like farming. He just... So we just moved into town. So I live in Akron, you know. He spent all that time over there with the Japanese and stuff. So, so but he passed away ten years ago. So it's been little, you know, rough. But still, this is life. You know, we go through life. So we have a... So, and then, so I'm the only one. If somebody says I'm talking too much. So that's my life with the farm. [laughs].

Haakon Bjoershol [00:51:48] That's wonderful. No, um...

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:51:54] Did I give you enough room about the farm, I sort of deviated a lot, which you could strike out. [laughs]

Haakon Bjoershol [00:52:03] No. I was wondering if Carolyn had anything she wants to add.

Carolyn Conklin [00:52:06] Yeah, I have just a couple of questions to clarify first. Do you know about when your farm switched to primarily sweet corn?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:52:18] Mmm. No, I don't. Not really. Let me think, think, it's kind of thinking... Well, we started the well, see, we never did switch because we did we built the farm. I mean, we built that barn for sales and we bought all that other groceries in. And that's when we... So that's been, oh gosh, twenty years. So actually, I can't picture this.

Carolyn Conklin [00:53:00] That's okay. [laughs]

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:53:00] Is it? What do you mean I can't picture something? Okay.

Carolyn Conklin [00:53:06] And did you sell the corn from the farm as well, or was it just taken to markets?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:53:12] Oh, we had... We... If you've ever been here on weekends, when the corn comes in, you cannot find a parking space and it just... People are parked all over the place and every space available is parking. And they just come in and they just... Some just buy the corn. Others they really pack up because all the fresh vegetables they have there are are really nice and fresh. But Saturdays and Sundays, if you can't wait in line, they have lines all around. It's very, I mean, I just shake my head. People. Where'd they come from, you know? But they do come a lot of... People say, I'm not coming out on Saturday or Sunday, never get waited on. You gotta stand in line for an hour.

Carolyn Conklin [00:54:10] And when you were younger, were you involved with the customers, or do you have any memories of that?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:54:16] Oh, well, I was, because a lot of times I know when we first lived, my husband came home from service and we lived at the house farmhouse where I grew up. Well, people would come in and they want sweet corn, and that was when we had moved over to my younger brother's house, which is listed on Everett Road. It's that one house by the railroad tracks, that big white house? For a while there, they moved the farming sales over there and the packing of corn and everything. But this was, let's see, what was I talking, I forgot. What was I saying?

Carolyn Conklin [00:55:04] Your interactions with any customers?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:55:06] Oh well. Oh yeah. Then, I thank you. See, when you get old, you're gonna just... Then I would... They'd come in and I want a dozen. And I'd say there's nothing up here. But if you go... We haven't got time. [Raps hand on table for emphasis] We need it. Okay, don't, don't give it to me. I run across the street. That field come in, you know? I'd go get them their corn. And I'd wait on customers or they had the tomatoes in the barn, in the garage barn. And so I'd sell, I did sell stuff when they didn't want to go over there, but they were there for a couple of years or three. I don't know, they were there for a while. My poor sister-in-law, she... she had to wait on those people. People would come at nine o'clock at night and she'd be out doing corn or something. And she really had a rough road to go because every, you know, when you have people coming to your house. Or my older brother, he lived just down there at Johnnycake, and nobody'd go there because he didn't have anything. So when he went home at five o'clock or something, he was set for the evening. And here she was, they were... They had... Oh, the girls, she had, they had three girls and a boy and my younger brother and they were at nine o'clock, people were wanting corn and they'd, you know, go out and get it for them. And so they didn't have it so hot. So they built this barn up here that, on Riverview, and I thank God they did that. That way, everybody worked.

Carolyn Conklin [00:57:00] You know, did you have a favorite place when you were younger, growing up on the farm? Did you have a favorite place on the property you liked to go to?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:57:09] Well, I loved to go in the creek and swim. That was fun. And we... And on the Canal, you go ice skating and... No, I just, well, I went to school and... Most of the time and then I didn't think I had a favorite spot. I had a little bedroom. It was about as big as this little corner. I did. It's now a bathroom in that house. But no, there wasn't anything special. No, it was just, just sort of do things. It's work, work, do it. And I was a girl, so I didn't have to watch. [laughs] Enough. You know! They tolerated me. Yeah, that's another story. Yeah.

Carolyn Conklin [00:58:03] Well, my last question is, do you have a kind of a favorite or special memory or story with Helyn or one of your other friends that you'd like to like to share with us?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:58:14] Well, with Helyn, I did... We did a lot of swimming and stuff. We always found a new swimming pool. But Sundays, what do you gotta do Sundays, you know, out there in the boondocks? So we'd get together and we'd go for a walk around the around the... how did we put it? ... We were going to walk around the block. That's what we called it. Well, let's walk around the block. So we would start and we'd walk all the way to Peninsula and down Peninsula and Akron-Peninsula Road and back. That was our big day for today, for that day, Sundays we did that most of the time, doing stuff like that. And then going swimming. We did a lot of that. And she always helped on the farm, washing the beets and, you know, some of the produce. She liked to get involved. So, and it was fun because we played with and talked. It was nice.

Haakon Bjoershol [00:59:19] Was she from a farm as well?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:59:21] Well, they did farming. I mean, not to the extent we did. They did just, just, they did just enough to keep their livelihood and they... To sell a few things. But they never did get to the bigger section. They did... They did... But they had a lot, good produce and stuff. They were very good. Nice. Nice people.

Carolyn Conklin [00:59:52] Do you have anymore questions?

Haakon Bjoershol [00:59:55] Um, no.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [00:59:58] We've been... I've been talking this long. I've... [laughs]

Haakon Bjoershol [01:00:01] It's been great!

Carolyn Conklin [01:00:02] And do you have anything you wish we had asked you or just anything else that you'd like to share?

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [01:00:06] I don't remember. I mean, I think I covered most everything of what we did. Going to... Like going to, when we lived the early first year of our life, we had a horse and a sled, and that's how we went to school. We had a school, grade school, one house. My brothers and I went up there. I didn't go with that much because I was little. But we would get this horse and my dad would settle it up on to a sled, and we would sled up that big hill, would take us to school all the time. And then then when we were on our way home... One time I saw a big bull in the yard or this people's yard, and I was eating a red apple and I'd always heard red, it was bad for bulls. So I was only, what, about six years old or maybe not seven, five, six. So I'm eating this apple and this bull seemed to... I don't know, I imagined I think, he got [makes sound of bull getting riled up], you know, and I threw the apple away and ran all the way.... I thought he chased, but that was my going to school fun. You know, try to get away from that bull. See, and I met one in a pasture too. He gave me a rough time. That's it, though. I had many other things that my sister-in-law, we did. One was terrible. [laughs] That's it, I think. I can't... I can't remember any. There's probably things that I should have included about the farming. I got trailed off to other things. But...

Haakon Bjoershol [01:02:00] I feel like we covered a lot.

Irene Szalay Kusnyer [01:02:02] I did? [laughs] [inaudible] Yeah! [recording stops]


Cuyahoga Valley Project



Document Type

Oral History


62 minutes

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.