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Best of Both Worlds

Kazellas mix Hungarian, American traditions

The Kazella family of Grangeville mixes both American and Hungarian culture for not only their Christmas celebrations, but for their lifestyle in general. Pictured (L-R) are Steve, Ildi, Olivia and Travis Kazella.

Photo by Lorie Palmer
The Kazella family of Grangeville mixes both American and Hungarian culture for not only their Christmas celebrations, but for their lifestyle in general. Pictured (L-R) are Steve, Ildi, Olivia and Travis Kazella.


Szent Mikulas filled the Kazellas shoes with treats in early December.

— Though Christmas Eve isn’t until this coming Saturday, Dec. 24, the Kazella family has already had a visit from St. Nicholas, or “Szent Mikulas.”

“In Hungary, children leave their shoes in the windowsill on Dec. 5, and when they wake up on 6th, their shoes are filled with treats – candy and small toys,” explained Ildi Kazella.

Ildi Kazella, a native of Hungary, moved to Grangeville two years ago, along with husband, Steve, daughter, Olivia, and son, Travis. Olivia is currently a junior at Grangeville High School and Travis is a sixth grader at Grangeville Elementary Middle School.

Steve is just a second-generation American, whose parents moved to New York in their late-teens, early-20s. He attended boarding school for two years of his secondary education in Hungary, and then returned to work with Habit for Humanity International. It was during this time that, in a Bible study, he and Ildi met.

“It only took me two years to ask her out on a date,” Steve smiled. “I work pretty fast.”

That date led to the couple being married in 1997 in Hungary. Soon after, a knock sounded on their apartment door with a delivery person telling Steve, “I have a love letter for you.”

“I thought, ‘What? No way. What is this?’ Ildi was in the other room and I quickly signed for it. That was my mistake,” he recalled.

That so-called “love letter” was straight from Budapest and the Hungarian Army. Kazella, who had dual U.S. and Hungarian citizenship, had been drafted.

As he did not want to sign an oath to Hungary and lose his U.S. citizenship, he and Ildi began to work quickly to get her passport and the proper identification to leave Hungary.

“Usually the paperwork takes at least a year,” Ildi said. “It’s a long story with many ‘coincidences,’ but in three weeks it was all finished.”

The couple had been married in April, Steve had been drafted in August, and they had sold their belongings, secured jobs and residence in the U.S., and moved by January.

The couple moved to New Jersey where he worked in the cell tower industry while she – who spoke little to no English at the time – provided child care.

“It was a culture shock,” smiled Ildi, who still carries a thick Hungarian accent. “But the area is a melting pot. So many people come from so many places –we would get into conversations and where we were from and what we were doing.”

Steve’s father fought in the Hungarian Revolution. Ildi’s family grew up Christians in an area where most people were communists, and Christians were treated as second-class citizens. Still, they embraced their Hungarian culture and did their best to pass on their customs when they started their own family.

When Olivia and Travis were born, and began to attend school, they also attended Hungarian school on Saturdays. The family often speaks Hungarian, and Steve, Ildi and Olivia are fluent in the language. Travis understands but chooses not to speak as often, his parents said.

In 2001, Steve received word he was no longer a “Hungarian draft dodger,” he laughed.

“I am perfectly legal,” he smiled. The family has continued to travel back to Hungary throughout the years.

The Kazellas ended up moving to North Carolina where they worked in missions and when Olivia was entering sixth grade, but by the time she was readying to enter high school, the family was ready to move again.

“I love the beach, but there was not good soil for growing and that was one thing we wanted,” Ildi said. “We had a checklist and I told Steve I was willing to move 30 minutes from where we were.”

Meanwhile, Steve began looking at a map and researching the U.S.

“I had been through Idaho years before, and knew it was beautiful,” Steve said. He happened upon Grangeville in his exploration, and he and Olivia decided to make the trip to the town to check it out in 2014.

They came at the end of May and were able to visit GHS and the Grangeville Christian Church.

“We fell in love,” Steve said.

“The mountains – I couldn’t believe it,” Olivia recalled. “I knew I could live here. My mom said if I liked somewhere, since we are so alike, she knew she would like it as well.”

They rented a house on E Street while they were here and returned home with the news.

“I did not get my 30-miles-from-where-we-were-living wish,” laughed Ildi.

Within two months the family was in Grangeville.

“It’s a great place to raise kids, to be involved in a community,” Steve said.

“It is so beautiful, I love it,” agreed Ildi.

Steve is still in the cell tower business and Ildi helps with this as well as volunteering at Hope Center. The couple also works with the youth at Christian Church. Travis has bene playing football since they moved here, and Olivia still loves the mountains, she said.

“I am very social, so moving is generally not difficult for me,” she said.

That attitude led Olivia on a grand adventure last summer she when she nannied for relatives in Hungary for the entire summer.

“It was a great experience and my Hungarian became so much better since I was able to speak it all summer,” she said. At the end of her time there, her parents and brother joined her in the country for three weeks and then they traveled home together.

Now, as Christmastime, the family is enjoying treats from their country of origin, including special chocolates, meats and drinks.

“I like it there and I am a Hungarian, but it is no longer my home,” Ildi said. “I am an American and I love it here. This is my home.”


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