Submitted by Jeanette Buchan with
Linda M. Steinke
Mary Gruninger celebrated her 100th year on July 8, 2012, at the Leduc Telford House. It was a beautiful day with 150 guests to celebrate with her. Daughter Jeanette Buchan began the afternoon with a tribute to her mother and siblings. Mary counts herself lucky that her five siblings–Katie Kaiser, Theresa Bowers, Frank, Tony and Mike Czirfusz–still live near her and all attended. Guests from near and far were welcomed with great company and delicious foods. Mary’s friends and family made her favorite desserts–strudel, poppy seed apple and cottage cheese strudel, kolachen (sweet dough in a loaf), kifli (jam or poppy seed or walnut cookies), raised doughnuts, date squares. A special birthday cake was made and decorated by son Allan’s wife, Nancy.
Leduc County Councillor, Audrey Kelto, brought well wishes from the Governor General, Prime Minister Harper, Premier Redford, the Honourable Diana McQueen, MLA; and Leduc County Mayor Whaley.
Mary credits long life to many things. She says the rosary devoutly every day, she never drank or smoked, she enjoyed her own home cooking, and has lived a good life.
Her chicken noodle soup and raised doughnuts are family favourites and we all make them to this day, says Jeanette. “Throughout her life, Mary has always walked…well, never walked–she always ran!” laughs Jeanette. “Whatever Mom did, she did it quickly with a mind to getting it done. She’s a strong lady who didn’t need ‘actual exercise’ because she was always so active.”
Mary was born to Mike and Teresa Czirfusz on December 4, 1912, in a small village in Dobronta, Hungary. Life was difficult with little time for play. At the age of six, Mary was expected to herd sheep and cows in a community pasture. When she was eight, Mary recalls a more enjoyable chore–herding geese–because she would slide and swing at the swimming hole. She never learned to ride a bike. There was no radio, but they enjoyed listening to an orchestra practicing music across the street. Mary recalls having a doll when she was younger; but it broke and that was the end of the doll.
Getting to school was a bit different than today. There was no bus. School children marched in pairs to the L-shaped school and were expected to formally greet adults along the way. Each school day began with the Lord’s Prayer.
Her home was made of stone, with a wooden ceiling and a thatched roof. She remembers that every Saturday, everyone came out to sweep the dirt road.
Her dad wanted a new life and work; so the family decided to come to Canada. When Mary was thirteen, the family left their home by Democrat wagon to catch a train in Budapest. They then traveled to Antwerp, Belgium where they boarded the S/S Marloch of the Canadian Pacific Line which was, at the time of its maiden voyage twenty-one years earlier (as the Victorian), the first turbine steamer to launch on the North Atlantic. 1,632 passengers called the 520 ft x 60.4 ft. vessel home for ten days. Families stayed in small cabins with bunks. Mary remembers her mother being very sick. Being the eldest, taking care of her two sisters while travelling was a task that fell to Mary. It was not an enjoyable trip. To this day, Mary does not like the water or boating.
The Stenger and Meinczinger family members also left their homeland at that time and they soon became good friends with the Czirfusz family. They landed in St. John, New Brunswick and from there, they took a train to Winnipeg.
Because one of the family members in their entourage had developed pneumonia, they were detained two weeks in Winnipeg and lived above a restaurant. By the first week of May, the illness had passed and they continued their train ride to their new home in Magrath, Alberta.
Mary had been very frightened coming over; but once she arrived, she discovered she loved Magrath. The Meinczingers and Stengers later moved to the Warburg area.
Mary continued to work hard in her youth by working in the sugar beet fields alongside her parents and turning over her earnings to her father to help the family. The bonnet that Mary wore in the sugar beet fields went into the “Tickle Trunk” where, years later, her grandchildren would find it and wear it for Pioneer Days at school.
A few years passed. At a Sadie Hawkins dance, a young man named Mike Gruninger became mesmerized by a girl with big brown eyes. He picked ticket #13, which, surprise, surprise, as these things often go, “just happened” to be Mary and her friend’s cake.
Time passed and their love grew; they would often ride a bike together with Mary happily perched on the handle bars. They were married in January, 1933. The hard work continued—when Mike threshed for the farmers, Mary cooked for the crews.
Eventually, the couple was able to buy their own farm near Warburg. These were the busy years of clearing the land, farming, and raising their family. Mary and Mike were blessed with five children: Kay, Emery, Allan, Roy and Jeanette.
Mike and Mary were very active in the community, the Roman Catholic Church and the Catholic Women’s League. There are fond memories of a New Year’s Eve party at the Warburg Hall, sometime in the 1940s, of dancing to the music of Gabbyh Haus. He was a great polka player.
Mike loved Mary dearly. Their children have fond memories of their father being a big tease. Mary would be working at the sink, wearing her babushka and apron, he would often pull her apron strings…or tickle her. He always made her laugh, “Oh, Mike!”
Then, in 1991, Mary’s beloved husband Mike suddenly passed away.
Mary lived on her own for seven years before moving to the Warburg Cloverleaf Manor–her home for thirteen years. In 2011, she moved to the Leduc Salem Manor where she is still very active and is the light and happiness of many of the workers’ day. Mary still enjoys visiting, knitting, movies and reading, and having people around her.
Her philosophy in life is to believe in God because God is love and love is everything. Her dream was to have her children lead a good life and this has come true. Mary is still very determined and wants to do well at whatever she does. This woman who always “did for others rather than herself” will leave a legacy of memories and love for her 16 grandchildren, 37 great grandchildren, 9 great, great grandchildren.