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Interview with Peter Hatala

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Hatala, Peter ; DeHaan, Heather ; de Rouen, Aynur


Dr. Peter Hatala was born in Johnson City, NY and he is a first-generation Ukrainian American. His father was an immigrant from Ulychne, Ukraine. Dr. Hatala is a retired orthodontist. He is married and resides in Vestal. He has six children and two grandchildren.




In Copyright

Date Modified


Is Part Of

Ukrainian Oral History Project




Ukrainian Oral History Project
Interview with: Dr. Peter Hatala
Interviewed by: Heather DeHaan and Aynur de Rouen
Transcriber: Marwan Tawfiq
Date of interview: 23 June 2016
Interview Setting: St. John’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Johnson City, NY
(Start of Interview)

Heather DeHaan: So, first I want to thank you Dr. Hatala for agreeing to be interviewed. We are on Thursday of the 23rd of June 2016, and we are in the basement of St. John’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Johnson City–

Peter Hatala: In the boardroom–

HD: In the boardroom.

PH: Right.

HD: In the boardroom where we also have at our disposal a number of collections of family histories for members of the congregation um that were gathered at the initiative of doctor Hatala. So, could you begin by giving us your full name?

PH: Uh, my name is Dr. Peter Hatala. I was uh born in Johnson City in New York on the North side, August 16th 1932, and uh I am a uh Johnson City Graduate, but uh before that um of course my roots have been my father Nicolas Hatala was from Ulychne in Austria-Hungary and uh he was born in 1882 and passed away I think in (19)73.

HD: So, 1882 to 1973.

PH: Right.

HD: Okay, so um, first of all when did your father come to North America?

PH: He came in uh 1910. I have his Ellis Island uh certificate, I do not have it with me, and my mother, I do not know when she came in, I was thinking around 1912 with her uncle or with her brother actually. There is only three in the family. So, she came with one of the brothers and actually here is the family trees signed by … that on the website and of my mother, right there.

HD: Ok, so your mother was her name–

PH: Kankavich?

HD: So, we have it, Maria.

PH: Yes.

HD: Okay. So, Maria came with her older brother, her younger brother and a parent?

PH: Josephine, yeah, her mother was Josephine.

HD: Okay.

PH: Came with an older brother and, they came through Ellis Island also but I could not get her Ellis Island certificate and a lot of it was the wording of the name or how it was spelled. I had a hard time getting my dad’s until I saw his name spelled in Polish with a J on the end, and his name was Nicolas. So, I never put a J on the end. But it was that is how I got his. So, I am going to try to get my mum’s too. I belonged to Ellis Island before, long time back and I am going to join again because I want to go there. My daughter lives in Long Island. And uh so I can hope over to Ellis Island very quickly when we go to visit them you know. I was going to do it this time over the July 4th weekend but it was not such a good time because it was going to be so busy and probably the safety part of it she said is not that good either you know, so–

HD: Yeah, I want to go back to thinking about when your parents came through Ellis Island, do you know why they came, and did they come directly to Johnson City?

PH: No, actually the reason why they came was just to have a better life from what they had and the fact at that time, this was in the early 1900s, you know, the lifestyle there was a lot different than it is today. So, I am sure they had hard times and they wanted to better their lives and everything that is why they came over here. My dad first came through Ellis Island and was in the Scranton, Olyphant area in Pennsylvania, and I did have an uncle in Olyphant but since then he has passed away so I have not really followed that that lineage there. But he worked in the coal mine for a while, did not like that so he heard about uh “which way EJ [Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company]” and decided to come to Johnson city and actually that was part of it but he had a farm outside of Windsor for a while and then left that and was in an apartment in Binghamton and then that is when he started working for EJ’s.

HD: Okay, so he sold the farm then, in order to work at the factory?

PH: I would think that he did but you know it was like 258 acres that they had but the funny part about it is, you know, all the EJ workers were building their own homes in Georgia for foot to mortgage and everything else you know. He was a phenomenal person and he built this area up you know really Johnson city but my dad bought a house on Harry L drive and it was just like a two-family house. He put an addition on, how he did it I have no idea, and but it ended up where he paid for that house too. So, I do not know where there a mortgage to EJ’s or not I do not really know.

HD: Is the house still here?

PH: Yes. In the corner of Harry L drive in Pearl Avenue. That is where I was born and raised. There is a little story about that house I will have to tell you afterwards, or I can tell you now.

HD: Actually, tell us now I am very curious.

PH: When I was probably about 12 years old or so. There is an empty lot next to our house and the Oasis restaurant. It was bout and the whole side of the building came a part like this and you know all the glass and everything and the glass in our house was gone and everything, and I remember that, you know.

HD: I bet, I think anyone would… that must have frightened you.

PH: But the reason why was he was still selling bears for five cents a glass and had to be the mafia or something and after that he you know followed the rules I guess.

HD: Raised the price.

PH: Yeah.

HD: Wow. Was the Oasis Restaurant owned by a Ukrainian?

PH: Yes, Mr. Golitruck.

HD: Okay, I heard… We interviewed Mike, one of my students did so–

PH: But we grew up with that family actually, you know, so he was very instrumental and keeping the Ukrainian traditions going because he loved the dancing and the plays that they used to have and he brought in student teachers then was Avramenko who was well-known and everything and he gave a class here that my brother and my sister were in that first class. So, this I think was before our church was even built.

HD: This is a class in Ukrainian dance?

PH: Ukrainian dance right, and plays and–

HD: So, what was the name of the instructor again?

PH: Vasyl Avramenko.

HD: Avramenko, okay.

PH: Yeah.

HD: Okay. Very interesting. Um–

PH: I never met him [laughs].

HD: [laughs]

PH: I had the pamphlet that they had though, you know, so.

HD: So, your mother’s family; are they also from former Austria-Hungary?

PH: Yes.

HD: From the same region?

PH: Actually, if you are looking at Poland now; here is Poland here is Ulychne right here and down about, you know, I do not know maybe fifty miles or less maybe ten miles, I do not know, is Tara Vavruska. That is where my mum was from.

HD: Okay.

PH: So, it is the same area; Austria-Hungary.

HD: Okay. Further south.

PH: I do not know when they met, where they met, anything of that nature, you know. And during the war, before the second World War and a little bit afterwards my mum always kept correspondence with her family, you know, and in the late forties is when all correspondence stopped. So, she could not get a hold on them anymore and this was because the Polish and the Russian government split up the families and their whole family was split up. So, actually I ended up meeting my uncle Leon Gancevich when I was over there with my daughter Pan. And he lived right next to the German border, so that is where he was transported from one side of Poland and they split up the whole families. You could not go two people from one family going to the same place. Split them all up.

HD: So, this was deliberate then?

PH: Yes, yes yeah!
HD: Wow! Um go–

PH: But actually, a lot of it was the Russian influence too not only the Polish influence you know, but um, yeah.

HD: But now you are… are you in touch with anyone else on your mother’s side apart from–

PH: I was with Leon in fact, my two granddaughters when they came and met us he brought us his brother and, no must be his son. And then two granddaughters and they had just taken two years of English. So, they were the interpreters because I could not speak Polish, I could understand a little bit of Ukrainian but, and that is a different story too.

HD: That means they grew up speaking Polish not Ukrainian?

PH: Yes.

HD: Okay. That makes sense.

PH: Well actually, you know, like my mum or my dad was Ukrainian but he could speak Polish. My mum was Polish but she could speak Ukrainian, so they talked both languages there.

HD: Okay.

PH: Possibly even, you know others too, I do not know. But they wanted to learn English especially my mom because my dad working in EJ’s, you know, got a lot of that so he was a citizen already and my mom was not. So, I used to teach her, you know, all the questions and everything that had to be done and that was great.

HD: Did your mom learn Ukrainian?

PH: Was she what?

HD: Did she learn Ukrainian because she grew up she was Polish?

PH: She knew Ukrainian, yeah. No, she… You know I would think that she was Ukrainian. I never thought that she was from that side of the, you know, from Polish. But the name of course is a Polish name, you know. So–

HD: Very interesting–

PH: But I always thought she was Ukrainian.

AD: What was the language in the house when you were growing up?

PH: It is very interesting because both my parents wanted to learn English and of course, you know, my growing up I could not really do too much with them but my brothers and sisters did too while they were still living there. So, I kind of grew up by myself because by the time I was 12 or so or younger my brothers and sister had already been married and moved out of the house. So, they were stuck with me [laughs].

HD: How many of them? How many children were there in your family?

PH: Five; two brothers and two sisters. Yeah, in fact this year, my two older sisters passed away; one at 92 and one at 96, and one in February and one in April. Yeah, so we came back from Florida a little bit quicker, than what we wanted too, you know, and my first sister Annie passed away in February, so I came back and you know went through all of that and they were sharp as tacks, really, you know, unbelievable. And my sister Mary especially, you know. But I spent some time with them before and I came home about a week before my sister Mary passed away so I came home on a Sunday. I spent a whole day, Monday with her, she lives in Port Crane and we talked for about two hours, you know. And she says I am getting better every day. So, you know, and I talked to her every day, went up there a couple of times and talked to her on Saturday before she passed away. So, it was nice.

HD: Did everyone stay in this region, so your brothers and both of your sisters?

PH: Yes, both of my brothers did, both of my sisters did.

HD: And are they all members of this church?

PH: Yes, well no my two brothers married couple of Polish girls from St. Stanislaus so, that was the church that they went to, you know. They stayed with their wives.

HD: Okay.

PH: But we are a family we are still very close.

HD: Yeah, and I guess my other questions do you all in your homes maintain Ukrainian or Polish right, some sort of homeland tradition and practices?

PH: Mostly Ukrainian.

HD: Okay. So, this is intriguing to me. Why the Ukrainian when you also have Polish in your heritage? Do you have any idea?

PH: I think a lot depends on the traditions, you know, as far as our immediate family it was always Ukrainian, and actually my wife was Catholic, Roman Catholic, we got married in a Roman Catholic Church but I stayed with St. John’s and she stayed with Saint James and at that time the Catholic religion was changing a little bit you know, it went from Latin to English, and then they had music in the churches and everything else too, you know, so she was kind of disenchanted with that, so I think about three years into our marriage she, we sat with father and Pani and uh she decided to change. So, she did. She is a great Ukrainian, Polish–

HD: [laughs]

PH: And Slovak. [laughs]. She was Polish and Slovak, yeah.

HD: Okay, that makes sense, um now with your wife’s family, was she also born in Johnson City, did she grow up in Johnson City?

PH: I did not, she did.

HD: And her parents worked at EJ?

PH: Actually, her dad worked at EJ’s first, her parent her mom they had eight kids so she was a stay-at-home mom. Then he left EJ’s and worked for IBM. He worked evenings because he was an avid golfer so he would golf during the daytime and worked at night.

HD: Wow! [laughs]. So, before I wanted before I talk about your own family, you know, raising kids, I am really curious about um life on the street, near where you grew up because you know there was Ukrainian quarter store, the Oasis is Ukrainian restaurant, there are two, now there are two Ukrainian churches on this hill, there must have been a lot of Ukrainian people living on the same street, what was it like when you–

PH: Yes and no. They were kind of spread out all over the place. I mean there is a couple of families on Myrtle avenue, there is, there quite a few on Pearl avenue, some on Harry L drive, you know right in that whole section on the North side primarily. And it was because there was a church there and the church originally was in a grocery store. It was Kiriam’s grocery store on Harry L Drive that was where they had services to begin with. And then they went from there when the church was built they went from there and right up to the church on Virginia Avenue. And that was in, the church was built in 1929 but the church itself was started like in 1926 that was when they had a Ukrainian community there, you know. And my parents were one of the founding families also. So, there were you know quite a few families and it was interesting how they started though, you know, so–

HD: So, when you had time to play as a kid, did you mostly play with your siblings, did you go on the street and play with other kids on the street, did you go to the church?

PH: Not my siblings were–

HD: They were older–

PH: Yeah, they were older so, and actually none of them graduated from high school. I was the first son to graduate from high school.

HD: Interesting–

PH: So, in those days, you worked, you know as soon as you could you support the family and help the family and both my brothers worked for Endicott Johnson. They both had Endicott Johnson homes, you know. So, that was one of the things too, you know. Maybe my brother Nicks was not in an EJ home, I do not know but my brother Joe’s was. He was the oldest one anyway. But my growing up we had about 20 or 30 guys in that whole neighborhood but like over two or three streets and everything, and very active but especially sports, you know. But we did not, you know, twelve years old when father and Pani came here. That’s a different story I will get into that after, but actually our neighborhood was just strictly, you know with the boys we played Kick the Can in the street and other things you know. Hide and go seek, kids I do not think do that anymore [laughs], except maybe in the house.

HD: [laughs], yeah-yeah.

PH: But it was a great growing up, you know. And my parents were fantastic, I mean we had no car, did not have a car we walked every place, you know. And they were great parents.

HD: So, your father walked to work? He worked to EJ?

PH: Yeah. Walked to EJ’s. I walked to high school. I walked to Harry L Drive; I walked to Johnson City High school to see Fred. You know, so I did walk.

HD: Wow!

PH: Getting little tears in my eyes.

HD: [laughs]… What about, how much was the church a center of social life beyond just Sunday?

PH: For me it was and anybody in that age range really was more when father and Pani came when I was 12 years old, but there was a lot before that because I was an altar boy at seven that was usually when you can become an altar boy and we had, we did not have Ukrainian dancing then. I mean there, I think there was an older group but we also were very instrumental and singing our Christmas Carols on the seventh of January, and we used to go from house to house when I was a kid you know we started Ukrainian school at the age seven and it was five days a week from four to five o’clock in the afternoon. I hated every minute of it, because that was when we played in the neighborhood, you know after school. So, as a consequence our teachers were not that good and probably was a priest or somebody else I remember, you know, and as a consequence I did not learn very much Ukrainian and my parents did not teach me Ukrainian. They wanted know English. So, you know I spoke to them in English and they spoke to me in an Americanized Ukrainian, you know, so that is how we got along. But, you know, like I said at that time like when I was seven, I think my sister Annie maybe still home but my two brothers and older sister were not, you know, so, but I feel badly about that now because I started in a choir when father and Pani came I was under a couple of other priests as an altar boy but when I came when I was 12 when they came in he wanted to start the choir so he put me in the choir and took me of the altar because he had a lot of altar boys. So, I started singing tenor in a choir now I am a bass [all laugh] but since I was 12 so I am still, you know, I have been singing almost 72 years.

HD: You are still there. Wow!

PH: In a choir so.

HD: And I have heard your choir, it is beautiful.

PH: It used to be a larger choir than what it is now, but you know and it was great, all my kids sang in a choir too in order once; my son Mark, my daughter Pam and the other ones did not sing too much there but they know all the Christmas and carol’s and things. So, when I was seven they had a children’s choir that we went. We used to walk in Johnson city just couple of streets in a winter time in a snow and that is how we did it, you know, they had another regular choir from our church choir that went around and you know to all the houses and things and they had an adult choir. They used to go to all the Oasis’ and night clubs, not the night clubs but the other beer joints or whatever restaurants… so we had three choirs back in those days.

HD: So, I am curious because you know this hill that the churches on, there are a lot of EJ houses and the streets go straight up the hill. Did you walk up those hills?

PH: Oh, yes.

HD: How did you have enough breath to sing [laughs]? Wow!

PH: You know it is funny because growing up we had the CFJ pool, you could swim there for nothing. We did not do that. We used to build dams in a creek you know, and we had that were six and eight feet deep. That was how they were. So that is what we did. That was kids growing up but we still went to the CFJ pool too. But that is where we played in the creek you know. We used to play under water tag and you know water was clear so we would get side throw it in, dirty the water up so you could not see anything. That is how we played. [all laugh].

HD: Most people want clean water, right?

PH: Well, you know, we did not so we could not see each other you know.

HD: Yeah, that is great.

PH: That is great and then, as far as walking up to hills, we used play in the hills all the time, and we would also go up Stella Island Road to, it used to be a dairy farm up there that had a little pond. So, we used to, we even built a damn that far up in a creek you know, so that was up until I was like 12 years old or so, you know. So that is what we did.

HD: So, the rule was you could play until supper time?

PH: Uh Actually, when I was going to the Ukrainian school from like about 7 until 10 I think, I think after that I do not know what happened, maybe it was more than that, you know, tough to remember back [all laugh] that time, you just remember the good things in, but else happened you know. So, the neighborhood itself really very-very, you know, it was just really a good bringing up, you know, kids do not do that anymore. And right on the corner across the street from us was Collis’ grocery store and a gas station there. So that was always the headquarters. We would always be sitting there. So, my mother came out about 9 o’clock at night and say, she would say, Peedie come home [laughs] and I would get embarrassed all the time. So, I was probably one of the youngest ones in that group, you know, of the 20 or 30 that we had. So, I was the all-time center in a football team. I get killed all the time, and we used to get on a bus in Johnson City on Main Street travel to Endicott with our football gear on, play an Endicott team and come back on a bus. The parents never took us anywhere, of course my parents did not have a car but the other parents did not take us anyplace either, you know. So, this is how we grew up.

HD: Did your wife grow up in the same neighborhood?

PH: She grew up on Reynolds Road which was kind of the Oakdale such in a Johnson City. That is where she went to school; Oakdale. All of our group went to Harry L Drive. So that is what it is now. It is an apartment house or a nursing home now.

HD: So how did you meet your wife?

PH: That is a good story [laughs]. It had to be I think about 1956 because I got home from the service then and I was tending bar at Saint Jon’s social club and some of the girls from our church were good friends with her. And they came down and I think it had to be when she was 18 because I think I made her, her first screwdriver, so you know, I remember that and she remembers that. So, that is when we met, you know, we just met to say hello that was it, you know. And a couple of the girls from my church were in her same little group in school. So that is how I met. So, I became interested and uh actually I was about uh 26 when I got married and she always she was thirteen. [all laugh]. But she was not. So, a couple years after that we got married. I think the following year it had to be, no it had to be let us see more than maybe (19)57 is when I went to Georgetown and second year is when we got married, my second year after Georgetown.

HD: So, why did you go to Georgetown?

PH: Dental school.

HD: Okay.

PH: At first, I, actually I got out of the high school in 1950. I worked for a year I did not go to college, and I worked as a bookkeeper and truck loader at Douglas Collins Supply Company for a year. And then I went to Broome which was not Broome then it was New York State Institute of Applied arts and Sciences. So, I went there for two years in Chemistry. I thought I was going to be a chemical engineer. And I got interested in Dentistry after I have got out of service. But before that there is no reason why I would become a dentist as a youngster and we did not have regular dental care or anything, you know, so I went to the EJ dental clinic and I had three first molars extracted–

HD: Not a great experience!

PH: So, how would I want to be a dentist you know–

HD: Oh, no. [laughs].

PH: So, those teeth actually came in, my third, my second and my wisdom teeth came in, three of them and I just had one wisdom tooth that I have had taken out eventually. But that was it.

HD: So, when were you on service?

PH: 1954 to 1956.

HD: Okay.

PH: I was in a Signal Corps, and I went to a foreign country, Puerto Rico.

HD: Oh. [laughs]

PH: For two years.

HD: Was it a good experience?

PH: Yes, very much so.

HD: So, anybody else, I do not know how it works in military, is there anyone else from this region that went with you, signed up at the same time, ended up in the same area?

PH: There were two that came from this area that went to… we had to go up to Syracuse for a physical, and once we went through there, we went to basic training together but then we got split up during basic training.

HD: Okay, and then you met your wife after you came back?

PH: Yes.

HD: You said was the Saint John’s social club? So, tied to this church?

PH: Yeah.

HD: Interesting.

PH: That is in the memorial center, still is there.

HD: Okay, so was it open every evening or once a week?

PH: Well, I think it was open every evening back then, yeah.

HD: And they had a bar you said?

PH: They had a bar, yeah. And of course, I would be in the bar we did not get paid or anything but you know that is how it was.

HD: And did a lot of people come including people from outside the Ukrainian community?

PH: When I was a bartender we had, we made the most out of anybody there that whole month.

HD: [laughs] That is great.

PH: Because I got all my friends in, you know so.

HD: Yeah. So that whole crowd of 20 or 30 you hang out with, did they all come?

PH: Well not that many but a few, yeah.

HD: Okay, that is really good. So, now you met your wife, in that interlude between meeting your wife and actually marrying your wife, for instance when you brought her home, I mean your parents are already Ukrainian-Polish mixed, so they must have been thrilled, did they care what her background was?

PH: My mother said why you do not marry a nice Ukrainian girl.

HD: What [laughs], okay?

PH: But my wife Phyllis was fantastic, you know.

HD: Yeah, they could not… what about her family? Did they want a nice Polish boy?

PH: No, not really. I just taught her mother a little Ukrainian saying, and once I told her what it was that was it you know. So, she loved me from that time on.

HD: What was the saying?

PH: [all laugh]. In fact, I told Phyllis this too, so she memorized it, I did not tell her what it was. [speaking Ukrainian]

HD: Okay, and can we have the quote? What does it mean?

PH: “How are the chickens shitting?”

HD: Oh. [laughs]

PH: So once her mother knew that, that was it.

HD: That is very funny. [laughs]

PH: [speaking Ukrainian]

HD: Yeah. So, now–

PH: So actually, I met her that first time after my first year in dental school, so the second year is, or it had to be the first year that I met her because then we start going out through now like, she would not go out at first and then we did go out for like two weeks and that was it. And I was wearing a new outfit just about as much as I could so after first week or a week and a half so I had to go back to what I wore before actually and she did not but I did not know she was borrowing clothes from her girlfriends.

HD: [laughs] Oh, that is great.

PH: Yeah, she had a different outfit on all the time. So, we went for two weeks we had such great time. We went out every night after the first date. You know.

HD: Where did people go?

PH: We went to, first date, we went to Schnitzel bank which was a restaurant on upper Court Street, and they had these little straws and we used to break them and it would fly up to the ceiling so we kept doing that we just had such a good time and good dinner and everything, and then after that we went to one of the pick stands in Endicott and that was it we had such a good time.

HD: So now you… after you went to dental school, you got married–

PH: I got married after my second year of dental school.

HD: After your second year?

PH: Yeah.

HD: Okay.

PH: During the second year.

HD: When you finished dental school, did you work for someone else? Did you set up your own dental office?

PH: I was already accepted to Ortho-school when I was a senior I had applied and we had our first child then, and it was like in May of the year I was supposed to go up to Buffalo for an interview, Pam was being born, she was born in April but she was. It was still, you know, was not ready to… it was the first part of April. I was in the middle of the final exams and had no money to go from Washington D.C. to Buffalo, so I called and told them, and said I cannot do it. So they put me on an alternate list and so when I got out of school, when I graduated, I worked for another orthodontist, Dr. Orchard in Binghamton and of course they wanted me to come in to the practice and everything too you know, but I was only there a couple of weeks and set up a preceptorship program and at that time you could do it that way but it had to be approved by the American Orthodontic Association. So, it was approved but the problem was I set up the program and you know, so I did not get much input from Dr. Orchard. So, I knew I could not get the education I needed so I was there like two months and it was approved and everything and I called Buffalo again and they said well come up for an interview which I did, and when I, they said well we will accept you the following September. So, when I went back and told Dr. Orchard he was not very happy but I told him why and I said, it is changing and everything and you just have to have the education. So that is what happened. But he still had me on a payroll and everything, you know I was getting 75 dollars a week and that is what kept us going so, that was really you know. That is how it was. So, when I came back after that of course during that first year with Dr. Orchard is when Dr. Mark was born and we went up to actually I went up to Buffalo myself for three months, my wife came up after about three months or so, and she was expecting then and that is where Jeffry was born in Buffalo. So, Pam was born in Washington… right where one of the Kennedy’s was born at the same time so, I met him there when I was… We watched him coming to the hospital, you know and everything. Pam was interesting because that was our first born and we did not know what was up or down and the OB guy we had was fantastic, you know, he did not charge us a nickel and the… he wanted to know what kind of anesthesia you wanted, you know, and my wife did not want any pain she said I do not want to feel any pain or anything baba so we had a general anesthesia, believe it or not they do not do that anymore.

HD: No!

PH: So Pam’s first breath was taken after about 12 minutes after she was born and I have it right on her medical records and everything and I did not get that until Pam became, she went to nursing school at Georgetown, So I said pull up your record and make a copy for, you know, so she did 12 minutes underlined in red first breath, so of course they did not cut the umbilical cord anything you know but that is what happened.

HD: So, now we asked before the interview, but I am looking at the information again now how many children do you have?

PH: Six.

HD: Six. How many boys, how many girls?

PH: Three boys, three girls.

HD: Okay, and do they all still live in this area?

PH: All live in the area except my daughter Pam who, not Pam but Nicole who married a boy and from Massapequa park in Long Island and they came here, they lived in New Jersey for a while, they came back here and he got his MBA at SUNY Binghamton and so they lived here for a while then at that time he was working after that he worked for IBM for a little bit of time, then once his friend from Wall Street was a managing director up in stockbrokerage firm in Boston and he took a job up there. So, you know they got them a free ride up there and everything else and he became actually a managing director himself while he was up there. So, she is in Boston my other daughter Christie when Nicole got married another boy from Massapequa park was in the wedding ceremony too so he kind of liked Christie so they were going back and forth and they got engaged and disengaged and got engaged and then finally got married, so then she moved to Massapequa park. That is where she is now. The other four stayed here.

HD: And what events… I think you said that they come… everybody comes and they gather here for Ukrainian Christmas?

PH: Ukrainian Christmas right, on the 7th of January–

HD: And the Festival, in mid of July.

PH: Oh, the ones that can, make it from out of town. But they usually do and we do it on Easter, so our Easter is always… so it is different from American Easter, they would all come in the town on Easter. And my wife does all the cooking.

AD: Ukrainian? Does she cook Ukrainian?

PH: Yeah. Well we have Haluski and Pierogi and you know.

HD: So also, how many grandchildren do you have?

PH: Nineteen.

HD: And how many great grandchildren?

PH: One and a half. [all laugh]. One year old, she is like fifteen or sixteen months. She is unbelievable. You know, she calls me Beepa. Well, Pam called us Meema and Beepa, she could say Grandme and Grandpe, so my wife is a Meema, I am a Beepa. We used to have that on a license plate, but we do not have it anymore.

HD: So, raising you children, was important to you that they knew something about Ukrainian tradition?

PH: Well they were involved in a church all the way through their young life, adult life and afterwards.

HD: So, what is it…? What aspects of Ukrainian culture are particularly valuable you think for your children and grandchildren?

PH: Well we have to go back to when father and Pani came in 1945 because they were a big influence on us, and they had the ability to be a member of everybody’s life, you know. Everybody thought that you know, they were part of their family which is really true. So, we used to say to our kids, if you do not behave we are going to tell father and Pani. So that was kind of a hammer over their heads you know, but they were fantastic people. And they instilled the traditions, you know the caroling, the dancing. They started the dance group when they first came. And I was 12 then but she said to the boys then and there was a couple of thirteen, fourteen look you do not have the dance with any of the girls, you just do the sort dance and the woodcutters and bluh-bluh … So, then we did that for a little bit of time and then she kind of introduced us to the female aspect of it with dancing, you know we did not dance with girls then, you know. It is different in today but that is what happened. So, we had a great dance group. We probably gave pretty close over that ten-year period time that I danced probably over 100 premises you know all over the country. We used to do it for the EJ dinners and stuff that they had there too. We would have dancing there. We also had an Andrews Sisters act that we put on too myself, George Stasko and John Milwaukee and we did that for a while too but somewhere in those books.

HD: So, when you were raising your children, and it might not be even a Ukrainian thing, right what were some of the… what are some of the traditions that brings your children seem to cherish and really want to hold on to, the things that really brought your family together?

PH: Well I think it has to be the main stays for the Ukrainian music, you know, the Christmas Carols, the choir carols and things. It had to do with the dancing because they all grew up when they were, started dancing, at two to three year of age and they still do. And it had to be the Christmas celebrations, the Easter celebrations, so and then on January the 7th we used to carol from house to house. And we still do that today, and right now we go… we used to go by cars all the time you know, in the snow and sometimes all the cars would get there sometimes they would not, they get lost or whatever. Now we have a bus, and we all get on a bus and you know, even the young ones and we go.

HD: That is great!

PH: Yeah.

HD: So, do all your children go to Ukrainian Orthodox Churches?

PH: Uh-huh. Yep.

HD: Great.

PH: My daughter goes to… there is a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Boston but we go also to an Albanian one. It is the same divine liturgy and everything so, because it is close by and the Southern one is you quite a distance yeah when we go up there we go to Albanian Church. But we have gone to the Ukrainian Orthodox too, so.

HD: So, this is something I am curious about too; and it is not necessarily though Ukrainian history per say because the liturgy is shared even though the language changes from one church to the next an Orthodox tradition, do you find you can go to any Orthodox Church and feel very much at home.

PH: It is the same Divine Liturgy that may put in a few of the ethnic languages in there but it is all the same Divine Liturgy, you know, and actually Orthodoxy was before Catholicism. So, that is how it started, you know. And so, it goes back, you know that far.

HD: That is right.

PH: But it has not changed. It is the same Divine Liturgy, you know.

HD: What about icons, do you have icons at home?

PH: Uh-huh

HD: Okay, and are they for religious purposes or are they art?

PH: Well, as far as icons are concerned, in our home themselves, we have some but it is not like you would have a lot of them, you know. There was a church in Dover, Florida that a monk built himself. He was actually a doctor and worked in University of Tampa, and that is the most icons I have ever seen in any place. He brought them back from Ukraine and you know, and it was just fantastic, it was a small church almost like almost like our old Church on Virginia Avenue, and he built a rectory actually it was a monastery and he built a memorial center with his own money and I have been there quite a few times and actually whenever the metropolitan, at that time he was a bishop and an archbishop but now he is metropolitan but, would come in to town there so he would always call us and say you got to go to Dover you know because I will be there. That was when we went to Dover. And it was about an hour plus drive from where we were and but I am talking about the young canister, so that is the most I have ever seen. I have been to Ukraine a couple of times and I have been to some of the museums there and everything. Iconography, was you know, was very big there. So–

HD: I mean my question was in part whether very traditionally in you know Ukrainian peasant homes or Russian peasant homes they would have an icon corner for instance, right?

PH: Yeah.

HD: And so, I am wondering if anything of that was carried over to North America an antique in contemporary homes?

PH: Well I think it has in a lot of the homes and things. It was not necessarily in ours to begin with. And the iconography, Andreov who lives in Lisle or Whitney Point one of those places was the one that was instrumental and did our iconography behind the altar here, so and that actually was… I was on that iconography committee and it almost split the church in half because of what was happening, Andreov was actually Russian iconographer and it was not so much him as it was the priest we had at that time father Zaroski and who was from Lviv in Ukraine and I have been in Lviv which is a beautiful city and that is a whole different story there but the thing is, the iconography seemed to divide the church because of things they were happening and what they wanted to put up there and what they did not, you know, we had a committee and the committee decided which… what we should have and during like in the middle part of the thing the iconographer wanted to put in a couple of seraphym and cherabum and just we did not want have that in there. So, we took that part out of it, out, and then what happened is that we got a call and I got a call and one of the other guys on the committee called said you know, you got what you wanted now. You wanted these angels on each side of the icon wall and that is where he wanted on the outside of the icon wall, not on the inside where the icon is. You know, so they put it, he put it on the inside without telling the committee or doing anything and you know that kind of you know really made it hard and half the church was okay with-it half was not, you know, so that is really what happened.

HD: I do have to say as someone who is not a member of the church and who is not really well-versed in iconography it is a real pleasure to come into a church like that, and I grew up Calvinist, there were no images, and so it is a particular… it brings joy, you know to see it.

PH: Right, it does. Icons actually do that. They really do.

HD: Yeah. So, we have been talking for over an hour and I do not want to–

PH: We have been talking that long?

HD: Yeah. So, is there something that I did not ask you that you really wanted to share or were hoping I would ask you?

PH: I had somethings here that not about my… but I did on jobs and things I do not think that is really important although I had some very unusual once. Growing up we used to pick beans on a daily basis, peas and beans and a truck would pick us up right on Harry L drive, we go to the fields pick the beans, used get fifty cent a bushel, and it took you a long time to do a bushel. [laughs]

HD: Oh, yeah.

PH: So, and then drop you off at night. Well one summer, they slogged it, some of the guys in our group, we went up to Norwich and we stayed there for like two, almost three months during the summer. No parents, no parental control, nothing you know, just us, but it was our same group from the area, you know, plus they had other people too, you know but so we pick beans and peas for almost two and a half months.

HD: Where did you stay?

PH: We stayed in shacks that they had, you know it was kind… like you would see in the movies–

HD: Shacks without houses?

PH: Shacks with you know bedroom and then they had an outhouse and everything you know. But that is where we used to stay in.

AD: How old were you?

PH: I had to be probably, probably I was in thirteen, fourteen, 12, 13, 14 area range.

HD: This is interesting too, so you worked. This would have been a summer job.

PH: Yeah, a summer job.

HD: Did you keep your wages or you expected to contribute to the family?

PH: Actually, if I remember right I kept my wages. And I remember buying a very colorful sweater and that was it, you know [all laughs]. And when my mother saw that she said, you know, how much did you pay for this, you know, so but we did not make a lot of money, you know, but it was more of… we used to go swimming in a river there, you know, so it was just that was what we did here too, you know, we swam in a river in the Susquehanna many times.

HD: How did you find that job? Like did someone come to your high school was–

PH: No, this was the job that they did during the summer. These trucks would come and if you wanted to work, that is how you pick peas and beans.

HD: Oh, you just went down to Harry L and–

PH: yeah, they would just pick us up, you know–

HD: Interesting.

PH: we probably had 10 or 12 guys went, you know from our area here. And–

HD: Did women ever go? Was it mostly young people?

PH: Mostly I do not remember too many women going, no. There were no women at the thing in Norwich, they were just men.

HD: Oh, yeah, very interesting. Is there anything else?

PH: I took Chemistry, you know at Broome, and I was hired by Columbia Gas in Pittsburgh because my next-door neighbor worked for Columbia Gas here, so he said why you do not see what they have, you know. They have an opening there. So, I called and two of us from the class went there and we were accepted. We were building a Chemistry lab, took us two weeks to do that, got all the equipment and everything for testing corrosion on a gas pipeline. Okay, so we had that all done in two weeks. I get a call on entry office and the bus wants me to Willing West Virginia in charge of a 26-inch gas construction line, and you do the corrosion on it too. So, I said I do not know anything about construction or anything he said well, just check with the supervisor, that was it, you know. So went myself by myself, you know I went in for the power wagon and things drove all the way down from Pittsburgh to Willing, West Virginia. It was the first time I was in a power wagon [laughs] had no idea what to expect but anyway a good old redneck all-timer took me under his wing and we got the job done. I am sitting in the dugout where the pipeline is going, you know, and I am checking, putting in some test wires and things and I get up to go out and here is the pipeline up above and a cable snaps bang right where I was sitting–

HD: Oh, wow!

PH: So, that was I remember that experience very clearly, so yeah. That was kind of-of unusual, you know, then another one I had to do as I had, after that was done, I was put me on another job there was just the two of us from Broome tech and four engineers and I went with this one engineer to Cumberland, Maryland to put in a six foot carbon thing in a water tank, you know these big water tanks you had to climb up and everything. So, I was with this engineer who was afraid of heights. So, I had to carry everything up on that back and forth, a settling torch and all through you know put it on the well into the tank and everything and that was probably one of the worst jobs I have ever had. You know, that was–

HD: yeah, so who was sending you on these jobs? Who was your employer, who was sending you on these jobs?

PH: It was the guy who was in charge of the corrosion, the department. He was in charge of, he and four other engineers, and the two of us that set up the… and the other guy went with was the guy who was testing the corrosion lines in lab but I did not do that [all laugh].

HD: So, you did this and then before you went to the service?

PH: Yeah.

HD: Very interesting.

PH: After, in fact I came home and worked for six weeks at home, putting in corrosion lines from where Quaker Lake is from that area north for about six weeks, so I put in all the corrosion lines along that pipeline. And then I went back to Pittsburgh and I got drafted. So, they wanted to keep me out, I said no I am going to go in, not knowing–

HD: Where–

PH: You know, so I was like had to be like about 22 years old.

HD: So, was it the experience of having to climb up that water tank that made you decide to be a dentist?

PH: No, [all laugh]. I got interested in dentistry after I got out of the service really, and I checked into it and I needed one-year biology in order to get in to the criteria that I needed for dental school. So, I checked with one of the dentists who was a New York State president, New York State Dental Society Dr. Irvy and he said do not go to dentistry. He said it is changing so badly that you know and of course I did not know anything about orthodontics then either but I said well, I still thought being your own boss and you know and doing everything you know that would be the thing to do, so that is what I did.

AD: So, your son took over your practice, he is the only other one who studied orthodontics?

PH: My youngest son is also a general dentist.

AD: Okay.

PH: And I let him make up their own mind, I did not push him into dentistry or anything else. So, he did about the same thing that Mark did. So, to get into Eastman Dental you usually have to have two years of general practice, general dental practice and so, Mark and Peter both went to general practice residency in Eastman, first year, second year they took a TMJ, temporomandibular joint course for a year and then you could get into orthodontic school. Right now, I have a grandson Patrick who just graduated from Buffalo Dental. He is accepted to the Orthodontic program at Eastman. He started in 27th of this month, without any experience. That was probably because Mark was on the staff of Eastman Dental, because he still goes up there and teaches up there. So, that is great and Patrick could come back in maybe go take over Mark’s practice.

HD: Do you have any family members who work in the practice like behind the desk?

PH: Oh, yeah. Well, my wife took care of the pay rolling, when she was when I was working. Both Mark worked in the lab in fact when he was a senior in high school. I sent him up to Buffalo for a week to learn how to all the models and retainers and things, ok, so that was his experience there. All my other kids who worked in the office do as much as I could get them… Mark’s kids do too.

AD: Was your office like his office, because we call his office like Disney world?

PH: I was in a home. It was Doctor Orchard’s practice, and actually there is an apartment upstairs, and it was a small, you know, we had four operatory and it was tiny but we used all the space that you could. So, Mark was in there about ten years. And I was there when three years after Mark took over. So, that is where it started. It was not like Disney world but we did a lot of nice things you know. We started the scholarship things he gives out every year; ten scholarships, ten or twelve.

AD: Yes, he uses a lot of character work is that from you?

PH: Well that is when we were together, yeah, we started that. And but he is the entrepreneur too, you know. That is really good. So, he takes a school, you know at least one student from each school is gets a scholarship, you know, so. In fact, he just got something from the Binghamton School system too because we give things to the health area you know and some other things there that he has been doing all that time too. You know so. It is we started way back when… So, it is nice. Yeah.

HD: It is great.

AD: I always ask this question, so I will ask you too. So how do you identify yourself?

PH: How do I identify myself?

AD: Yes, like when people ask let us say you are somewhere they do not know you, and how would you say I am American–

PH: I am Peter Hatala, you know. I am Ukrainian.

AD: So, you say I am Ukrainian?

PH: Yeah.

AD: Okay.

PH: I mean if you get into that conversation, yes.

AD: Of course, like when you get in. So, being Ukrainian is part of your identity?

PH: But usually I say oh, I have six children and 19 grandchildren. [all laugh]
AD: Of course.

PH: I do not say one and a half grandchildren. So–

AD: So how about your children? Do they identify themselves as Ukrainian or American-Ukrainian?

PH: I think they would say Ukrainian also. Of course, American-Ukrainian, you know. Yeah, I think they would.

AD: So that is still, that is really important; that it is still continuing that–

HD: Did your children marry Ukrainians?

PH: No. Pam married an Irish man. Actually, when they came back to this area, they came back here. They continued dancing in their adult lives, Bill was Irish and he did Ukrainian dancing, you know.

HD: Especially there is a lot of work for the men–

PH: I remember singing at Robinson and putting on, not only the singing, you know the choir, but also, they were dancing and both Pam and Bill were dancing at the time there, so yeah. That is Pam; Mark married a redneck from West Virginia [all laugh]. And they still talk to it; she was from Pittsburgh, West Virginia. One red light in the whole town, okay, so we went into this one establishment. There a restaurant and I think they still talk about it, you know. Yeah, that was quite a party. It was interesting because Mark likes to do things unusual too, so when we had the dinner, you know after the ceremony and everything in this one building we found an old black coffin. So, we put Mark in the coffin and carried him in for the dance.

HD: Wow! [laughs]

PH: Yeah, opened up the coffin and he comes back out and… [laughs] that was a fun time. That was Mark, let us see. The next one would be Jeff who married a Slovak girl from, actually, no she was from Saint Michael’s. That is right. So, she was Slovak Russian I think. And Next one is Nicole she married the Massapequa Park so, and then Christie married the Italian boy from, they are both Italian boys from Massapequa Park. And Peter married a nice girl from Vestal. So–

HD: But all their spouses what is interesting if I understand correctly they all participate in Ukrainian traditions?

PH: Yeah, all of four peter’s kids they live about three houses up from us, are all dancers now. They are in that book, so, it is great.

AD: That is wonderful. So how did you get interested in working with these–

PH: Family history?

AD: Family, yeah–

PH: One of our friends I grew up with was George Stasko left a church after he got married. He did a family history on his family. They had twelve kids in the family. So, you know that was a nice book, I said boy that was a great idea, you know, I am going to do that with my family and I think for the church it would be super. So that is how it started. And I think it started like about I do not know, 19 2011 is when I first got the idea to do it. And we had about fifty families, and these are the families that we have right here, you know and who I gave the books to and everything else. So, but you know we get a few more. I got one from a gal who used to be a dancer in Saint John’s Paticarium; got married and moved out of the area and they are in South Carolina or Virginia someplace like that. She sent back a book, and just recently her husband had some cancer problems and things so, she wanted to get the book back, you know, and she actually she gave it to me to begin with so, I had to copy that whole book [laughs] and you know send back the original to her. So, you know, but that was… but she said is it okay if I, you know keep the copy and everything, she said yeah that would be fine. So–

HD: It also looks like you have been doing research into your own family history.

PH: I am sorry?

HD: It also looks like you have done a lot of researching into your own family?

PH: Actually, what happened, Zenon … was instrumental in this? Each year he gives a speech in New York city, they have a seminar, it is all week long in the evenings and everything, and he talked about you know whatever is interesting at that time but one of the people from Poland came over and gave a talk on Ulychne. So, after the program he went up to her and he said you know our church has a lot of people from Ulychne, and she started crying. She was so happy to hear that, you know, so because that was her job in a Polish, I think she works for the Polish government. She is checking on all those people that came over during that time and everything so, I got her name. I emailed her and did not hear anything. About three months later I get a call and it is this Eric and I do not know I cannot remember the last name, it is a good Polish name called me and he… Phyllis would not let him talk to me. And then he says well I want to talk about Ulychne. So as soon as he heard that name I got on the phone. We talked for about an hour at least you know, and he said he wants to start a website on Ulychne and he heard that I was doing you know of that people from our church came so I sent him all that information and everything you know and he did set up the site. and this is where I got these things from. And he went, and found both families like this. And I know my father had two brothers and one sister and I knew the sister was in Paris since then she has passed away which I did not really get a chance to talk to her. That is another story anyway but. So that is those are from Ulychne site right there. So, I did get all the rest of my father’s family and I got a lot of my mother’s family, and you know.

HD: And is this site is in English, in Polish.

PH: English and Polish.

HD: Okay, excellent.

PH: Yeah.

HD: Excellent. So, do you have more questions?

AD: No.

PH: There is a couple of other things that I did. The timeline on our church with all the priests, the organization and the timeline from 1926 to the current thing. We I still have to finish the last page or so but that is all way up to our current father Evan.

HD: And you keep, you mentioned several times father and Pani.

PH: Lawryk.

HD: You mentioned as someone a Pani Julia. Got it, okay.

PH: Yeah, Pani Julia. That is there book over there I would know if you had a chance to look at it–

HD: No, not yet.

PH: I can pile that one. Right there. He was as close to the Saint as I will ever see.

HD: Really?

PH: Really, unbelievable.

HD: Was he born here or in Ukraine?

PH: Oh, that’s father Zolachetski. She has got the one Father Lark.

HD: Was he born here?

PH: No. I think he was born in Ukraine. His mother was an Obstetrician and he actually was in a Marine Corps before becoming a priest and I just like the front part here was one part but back here is, and this is Pani Lawryk actually. What is a priest is fantastic; I always put that in there. And that is what he wrote into one of our books and everything. But Pani, you know, after he passed away, she moved to Texas where there actually Minneapolis she moved to. Her daughter lived in Texas who passed away. She had an anemia type a thing. And died very early but she went to Minneapolis because that is where she was from and her brother was still out there and everything. And our whole family went to visit her, I been out to her couple of times visit her you know actually with my wife and then we were going to take the whole family for her birthday. So, we did, we all went there all our kids, you know and we came in and did not talk to her that evening. We got in there like, you know afternoon or evening. So, we were going to meet all the next day with her family. So, we were going to have a birthday party for her. She passed away that night.

HD: Oh, wow.

PH: And we did not know it until the next morning. So, we still went on with the party too you know.

HD: You could still celebrate her life.

PH: Yeah, that was tough.

AD: You mentioned life story of a woman like you said 43, 50 pages long a story right at the beginning of the interview, you were talking about somebody and then you said–

HD: They brought up their story.

AD: –Am I exaggerating the page numbers?

PH: Oh, this is the… no…. Pani Lawryk interviewed her mom while she was still alive.

AD: Okay, yeah.

PH: And she was born in 1904 and it is in that book, the biography… That is fantastic; I mean it tells how she lived and how they lived in those days and everything.

HD: So, I am looking at this book, just looking at the images from father and Pani they seem very charismatic.

PH: What?

HD: Very charismatic.

PH: Yeah.

HD: You know a lot of energy. She is very striking actually.

AD: She is like an actress, right?

HD: Yeah.

PH: She was a great dancer too. Yeah.

HD: So, we should stop the… Thank you, I want to thank you so much–
PH: Okay no problem.

AD: Thank you so much.

HD: That was really wonderful.

PH: Yeah.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview



Heather DeHaan and Aynur de Rouen


Peter Hatala

Biographical Text

Dr. Peter Hatala was born in Johnson City, NY and he is a first-generation Ukrainian American. His father was an immigrant from Ulychne, Ukraine. Dr. Hatala is a retired orthodontist. He is married and resides in Vestal. He has six children and two grandchildren.


81:41 minutes



Digital Publisher

Binghamton University

Digital Format


Material Type



Ukrainian Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Hatala, Peter. --Interviews; Ukrainians--United States; Diaspora, Ukraine—History; Ukrainian; Migrations; Ethnic identity; Borderlands -- Poland -- History; Church; Ukrainian folk dancing; Broome County (N.Y.)

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Interviews; Ukrainians; Ukrainian Americans; Immigrants; Ukrainian diaspora; Vestal (N.Y.) ; Ukrainian folk dancing



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About this Collection

Collection Description

The Ukrainian Oral History project consists of a collection of undergraduate student interviews with immigrants from East Central Europe, particularly the lands of what is now Ukraine. Four interviews took place in New York City and record the memories of Jewish immigrants. A few interviews testify to specifically Russian… More

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“Interview with Peter Hatala,” Digital Collections, accessed July 25, 2024,