Helen Audrey Dran (née Nagy) was born in Debrecen Hungry on August 8, 1911 to Helen Roman Nagy and Joseph Nagy. Helen’s mother had been orphaned as a child (along with a brother Michael) but taken in by a wealthy family where she had received some schooling as well as learning skills in needlework arts and cooking as well as working for the family as a general housekeeper until she married. Not much is known about Helen’s father other than he was a cobbler by trade and was conscripted into the army when Austria-Hungry declared war on Serbia in 1914. After the German took control of the country Joseph was thought to be a spy and tortured, after which he returned home to his wife and young daughter but was unable to recover and died. Helen’s mother returned to working as a servant to support herself and her daughter and life was difficult. In 1922 young Helen and her mother immigrated to America, sponsored by her uncle. So at age 10, Helen became on the thousands who saw the Statue of Liberty upon entering New York harbor and to land on Ellis Island and enter the United States where she and her mother hoped to begin a better life. They settled in Detroit where her uncle Michael Nagy and his family lived.
Young Helen went to school and worked hard to not only learn English but to speak without a trace of an accent. In 1925 her mother married a wonderful man whom Helen referred to as her father as he was the only one she knew. At 16 Helen began work with a job at the S. S. Kresge Company (the predecessor to Kmart) as a mail-girl to help the family finances. Even though times were often hard, Helen enjoyed life, took drawing and painting lessons, and also had some jobs as an artist model. But it was at the Kresge Company where she met Theophile (Ted) Dran, a bookkeeper. They were married in 1933 and had once child, a daughter, Nancy, who was born in 1937. Nancy would give Helen two grand-children, a son, Michael and a daughter, Cara.
Helen picked up bookkeeping principals and had a fulfilling career keeping books for various companies and doctors. She and Ted purchased a small home in a nice neighborhood of the Detroit suburb of Gross Point Woods. Helen and Ted had an active, social and sportive life, both enjoying tennis in the summer and badminton in the winter. Helen learned golf in her early 30s and initially was teased by Ted for playing that “old man’s game”, until he tried it and was hooked also. Helen prided herself on starting a woman’s golf league to they could compete with the men’s leagues for starting times at the various clubs. In her mid-fifties Helen again took up paining working with pastels, watercolors and her favorite, oils. Her room at Coronado Retirement Village is filled with her paintings, including many portraits of her daughter and grandchildren which she did over the years.
Helen’s mother died in 1982 at the age of 96. Later that year, Helen and her daughter, Nancy, took a two week trip together to Hungary. It was Helen’s first and only trip back to the country in which she was born. On the trip they went to Debrecen and found the apartment at 61 Pesti Street where Helen lived with her mother and father, before his untimely death.
In 1991, another move was in store for Helen. She and Ted left Michigan and moved to Soquel, California to be near their only child, Nancy, who had taken a job with the University of California, Santa Cruz. By that time Helen had given up golf due to arthritis but joined various bridge clubs and also made friends in the senior mobile home community where she lived. Helen lost her husband of 66 years in 1999.
At the age of 97, yet another move and new adventure was in store for Helen. She moved to Coronado Retirement Village, close to her grand-daughter, Cara, who lives in San Diego. The beautiful and idyllic town of Coronado is far away from the town of Debrecen, Hungary and her early hard years as an immigrant to a new country. Helen’s memory had begun to decline by the time she moved to Coronado, so she has not directly commented on the journey of her life and her thoughts of now living in Coronado. She always comments on its beauty on her visits to Bayview Park and how “nicely people keep up their homes” when taken for drives around the island. And while her memory has faded her good spirit and graciousness has not. She has made many friends with the residents and employees at Coronado Retirement Community as she always has a smile, a hello dear, or some nice words for anyone she engages.
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