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The Dash Between: Turk Vargo 'always liked to help people'

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Turk Vargo used 15 eggs for the cake batter and creamed a pound of butter for the frosting of the many-layered Hungarian tortes he made for friends, family and special occasions.

He contributed his culinary skills to Magyar United Church of Christ in Elyria, where he made noodles with the Dorcas Guild, assisted with stuffed cabbage and paprikash dinners and helped make kolbåsz, specially seasoned sausage links, for Easter and Christmas.

The retired production manager, who died August 14, 2010, at age 80, “always liked to help people, whatever had to be done,” said his sister, Vilma. “Need wallpapering? He’d go wallpaper for you. You could depend on him.”

Turk volunteered with the parents club at Spring Valley School, Cub Scouts and the high school marching band, while his three kids — Vicky, Bob and Julie — went to school in Elyria. He continued the tradition with his grandkids in Grafton.

“We would do Ohio Reads (literacy program) with kids,” said his wife, Eleanor. “Anytime they had field trips, they’d ask us to go. He would have so much fun.”

The Dash Between: About this feature

The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates. Award-winning writer Alana Baranick has made her living writing about the dash between. She’s focusing on Lorain and Medina counties and those who have made our area the unique and interesting place it is. Look for her stories on alternating Sundays.

The Dash Between is an obituary feature written by Alana Baranick about regular folks from Lorain County and adjacent areas. Baranick wrote her first obit in 1985 when she was a reporter for The Chronicle. She wrote obituaries for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer from 1992 through 2008.

She is the chief author of “Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers” and director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers. She won the 2005 American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the Obituary category.

Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between July 8, 1930, when Turk Vargo was born Julius Eugene Vargo in Elyria, and August 14, 2010, when the retired production manager died at age 80.

To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com. Read more of The Dash Between:

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In 1979, Turk suffered a heart attack and had triple bypass surgery at what was then Elyria Memorial Hospital.

After that, he participated in the Elyria Family YMCA’s heart rehabilitation program, designed to improve heart efficiency and endurance through exercise.

Concerned about other heart patients, who did not have health insurance or could not afford the $100 fee for the program, Turk came up with a plan to defray those costs. He created T-shirts with a zippered heart and the words “Overhauled at Elyria Memorial,” which he sold to anyone who responded to the newspaper ads he placed.

“All the money he made for it, he turned over to the rehab program,” his wife said. “We lived on Gulf Road at that time. People would come to the door and buy these shirts.”

Turk acquired his sense of community, work ethic and cooking skills from his Hungarian-immigrant parents. His father, a steelworker, commuted daily from his home in Elyria to his job at a mill in Cleveland to support his family. His mother spent most of her day planning and preparing food.

Turk was born Julius Eugene Vargo in Elyria on July 8, 1930. His nickname stemmed from a speech impediment. He couldn’t pronounce the hard “C” in “Coca Cola,” calling it something like “Tota Tola.” Somehow that evolved into “Turk.”

Nearly all the boys in Elyria’s Western Heights, a Hungarian enclave dotted with African Americans, had nicknames in those days.

“Turk, Dutch, Wink. Nowadays they’d probably call us gang members or something,” said lifelong friend John Vanco.

When Turk was around 10, he nearly died from complications of appendicitis.

“The doctor came out from the operating room and said, ‘I don’t think your brother’s going to make it,” Turk’s sister said. “He made it, but he was very weak afterwards. Probably, he was able to be strong later because of the illness.”

As a teenager in the 1940s, he shined shoes and cleaned hats at a shoe store and bagged groceries at the Kroger’s store, both in downtown Elyria.

“We were all taught at a young age that we had to work,” Vanco said. “Turk was kind of a homebody. I think he came out of his shell when he met Eleanor.”

Although he actually met Eleanor Chomi when they were kids at Magyar church, he didn’t start noticing her until they were in high school.

Turk, who had graduated in 1948, joined the Air Force in November 1950. The following May, he married Eleanor and took her to Denver, where he was stationed.

A year later, Turk was sent to Strategic Air Command at Hunter Air Force Base in Alaska, but Eleanor who was not allowed to accompany him, went back to Elyria.

“He used to tell me on a clear day he could see Russia from the radar site,” his wife said.

When Turk and around eight of his childhood friends got out of the service in 1954, they and their wives started a pinochle club that met monthly until about four years ago.

Turk attended Elyria Business College in the 1950s and Lorain County Community College in the 1960s.

He worked at Lee Wilson Engineering before landing a job with Cleveland Alloy Castings in Berea, which became a division of Lindberg Corporation. Turk took a disability retirement in the early 1980s and turned his time and attention to volunteering — mostly at his church.

“He was a member of the Consistory,” said his pastor, Rev. Alana Kelley. “Whenever an event would come up, he was always willing to help out. If an issue came up about giving money for a worthy cause, he was always fine with that. If somebody was struggling in any way, it was as though he could feel it and respond.

“Toward the end, he would say he was having trouble catching his breath, but he never complained. He seemed to be making the best of every day. He couldn’t participate as fully, but he did as much as he could for as long as he could.”

Contact Alana Baranick at (440) 731-8340 or abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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