Event sponsored by local historical society
Stories of European women who met and married servicemen during World War II are mostly relegated to history, making Kansas City area resident Dorothy Halastik one of very few such women living to share their stories.
The 95-year-old Halastik, along with Landmark reporter Debbie Coleman-Topi, who wrote a book about Halastik’s experiences, will share the highlights of her long, rich life during a presentation at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 21 at First Christian Church, 708 Third St., Platte City.
The presentation is sponsored by the Platte County Historical Society, which owns and operates the Ben Ferrel Platte County Museum in Platte City. The presentation is in keeping with the society’s 2022 theme of journey and childhood stories, said Volunteer Curator Lisa Wittmeyer.
Halastik and Topi will travel from Sugar Creek for the presentation, where they both live and where Dorothy settled with her husband, John, following the war.
Their presentation will re-visit Halastik’s early life in a small, provincial English village, where, she now realizes, her parents barely scraped by, raising seven children on her father’s meager railroad salary, supplemented by a large garden, chickens in the yard and a barn with a mean milk cow.
Funny episodes of everyday life were common and will be part of the presentation. Although there was plenty of drama as the family struggled to get by before the war, Halastik’s story climaxes with the terror sparked by air raid sirens and the townspeople’s mad dash to sheltered safety.
Despite being only a teenager, Halastik often was charged with the safety of either younger siblings and/or children she was babysitting. She dropped out of high school at age 14 to help support the family by babysitting the children of an area doctor.
Her trip to America was made by boat since air travel was new and too expensive for most people. That first voyage includes a heartwarming story as Dorothy cared for an infant on board the ship, as the infant’s mother was too seasick to care for her baby.
Dorothy struggled to acclimate to life in the small, ethnic town she would call home-so homesick that she cried herself to sleep each night for months. Her husband John had promised Dorothy’s parents she would return to visit within three years of their marriage, a promise he fulfilled by working extra shifts at the Amoco Oil Refinery in Sugar Creek. The first visit which Dorothy and two of her young children took was much like her initial trip to America-a long voyage via ship. But that trip was only the first of 49 she made back to her homeland to see her family. She has fond memories of those times returning home.
The author first met Halastik when she met John Topi in 1979. John is Dorothy’s godson.
The author and John Topi met while attending the University of Missouri-Kansas City and married a few years later. That’s when Coleman-Topi, who graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in journalism, began hearing about Halastik’s life story. But as a young married couple the Topis were busy working and raising three children. It wasn’t until a few years ago that Coleman-Topi realized the stories about Halastik’s experiences should be preserved in writing. The author conducted many hours of interviews while Halastik recalled her life story, even remembering many rich details that fill in the picture of her experiences.
Coleman-Topi and her husband traveled to Slovakia, from where John Topi’s grandparents immigrated during the early 20th century, eventually settling in Sugar Creek. His father’s family included more than 40 first cousins, including Dorothy’s husband, John Halastik. The Halastiks and the Topis were close, leading Dorothy and John Halastik to be named as John Topi’s godparents.
In 2019, Debbie and John traveled to Slovakia to visit his father’s relatives. While in Europe, they traveled to England, where Dorothy’s niece and her husband showed them Dorothy’s hometown and even the tiny home where she and her family lived. Debbie interviewed Halastik’s three living sisters to compile the stories in a short paperback book, “Memories of A War Bride: A Biography of Dorothy Frost Halastik.”
The presentation about Halastik is free and open to the public and no reservations are required to attend. Copies of the book will be available for sale at the event.
For those who wish to order a book but can’t attend the presentation contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org . For more information about the program, visit www.pchs1882.org or call the museum, 816-431-5121.