ALBANY, La. (The Livingston Parish News) — With hundreds of people gathered inside The REACH at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Alex Kropog kept his message short and sweet.
He first thanked Dr. Laszlo Szabo, the Hungarian ambassador to the United States who presented Alex and his wife with this award that brought them from their home in Louisiana more than 1,100 miles away to the nation’s capital.
He next thanked Peter Gyombolai, the diaspora liaison and consul from the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, D.C., who encouraged the Kropogs to apply for this award in 2018.
Kropog mentioned a few others by name in his two-minute speech, but he saved the most important “thank you” for the end, when he looked at the crowd and thanked all those who weren’t there — the people back home in Albany who make up the largest rural Hungarian settlement in the country.
Though they couldn’t be there to accept the award with him and his wife, Kropog wanted them to know the award was for all of them, a symbol of everything they had accomplished together.
“We work together as one family,” he said to conclude his speech.
All that work led to Alex and Royanne Kropog being named recipients of the Hungarian government’s Gold Cross of Merit award during the Embassy of Hungary’s National Day Reception in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Oct. 21.
The event was held to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the restoration of democracy in Hungary. Decorations of red, white and green — the Hungarian national colors — filled the room as people from across the globe came together to celebrate Hungarian culture and history.
Among the 200 guests were distinguished members of the administration, 10 ambassadors, and other members of the diplomatic corps and the Hungarian-American community. Apart from hearing music and moving speeches about Hungary’s past, present, and future, those in attendance came to recognize Alex and Royanne Kropog for the part they’ve played in keeping Hungarian culture alive in the United States.
Szabo presented the Kropogs with the Gold Cross of Merit, the second-highest civilian award given by the Hungarian government. The Kropogs received the award for the work they have done to promote Hungarian history and culture in their local Hungarian Settlement, which was established 123 years ago in Albany.
And they’ve done quite a bit.
“You don’t realize how much has been done until you have to write it all down,” Royanne said one morning inside the Hungarian Settlement Museum, which the Kropogs helped open in 2017. “There are things you don’t even think about doing. You just do it.”
The Kropogs are both active members of the Hungarian Settlement Historical Society, which set out to restore the old Hungarian School into a museum when it was formed in 2000.
That same year, the society and the Livingston Parish School Board agreed to a 50-year lease renewable for successive half-century terms upon mutual consent of both parties. The lease allowed the society to establish a site for preservation of artifacts, documents, photographs, immigration papers, newspapers, and oral histories of Hungarian settlers.
It also provided a site for research, cultural events, Hungarian language classes, exhibit and educational programs for children and adults.
But before any of that could happen, the building needed work — a lot of it.
And to do that, the society needed money — a lot of it.
Alex and Royanne both remember the sight of building when they first got involved — the stacks of old lumber, the sheets of rusted tin, the unkempt grounds outside — and the challenge it presented.
“When we got into this place, it looked pretty bad,” Alex recalled.
“We had been doing pulled pork dinners to raise money, but you can’t get enough money doing that,” Royanne added. “So we had to start writing grants.”
They wrote away, applying for grant after grant.
With Alex and Royanne leading the effort, the society was able to secure a variety of state grants, donations, and fundraisers to begin renovation of the old school, originally built in 1906. As president of the Hungarian Settlement Historical Society, Alex has helped secure nearly $400,000 in grants and donations for the project.
The work of the Kropogs and all involved culminated in September 2017, when the Hungarian Settlement Museum was officially unveiled during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Alex and Royanne, who have both acquired dual-citizenship, are now the official-unofficial caretakers of the museum, which houses artifacts from 121 Hungarian families locally and across the globe.
The museum, located at 27455 La. Hwy. 43, is open two days a week and allows visitors to explore Hungarian culture and history as well as the strawberry and lumber industries that first lured Hungarians to the area.