Albion Interactive History / People / Helen Egnatuk

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / People

Egnatuk, Helen Blesheriski, 1850
    Died November 29, 1946

Helen Blesheriski, born in Brest-Litow, Russia, came to the United States in 1908 by way of Baltimore and New York City, where she then worked for a time. She was hired away from there by agents of Harry Parker of the Albion Malleable Iron Company to cook for workers in Albion; the company had recruited several Russian immigrants who did not like American cooking. After Helen moved to Albion, her three sons (one with a family) and a daughter joined her from Russia. For a time they lived in company housing, which stood until the 1940s at the present site of MacAuliffe Park on Austin Avenue.

The boarding house which Helen and her married daughter Anna Demetrick operated was built in 1912 in the 700 block of Austin Avenue. It was a large house with fifteen bedrooms, three beds to a room. The kitchen had twowood burning stoves. There was also an outdoor oven in the yard to which the local Russian people would bring rye bread to be baked. Much of this bread was made with yeast “starters” that the immigrants had carried with them from Russia.

Helen, already in her sixties, and Anna provided three meals a day for thirty to forty boarders, mostly immigrant men. They baked every day, kept a cow, and raised and butchered hogs, fattening them so they would have several inches of back fat for good salt pork. After her daughter’s family moved to an acreage, Helen’s daughter-in-law, Anna Egnatuk (1904-1958), helped run the boarding house. Of Czech descent, Anna Egnatuk had worked in a bakery in Pennsylvania before coming to Albion.

Alexander Egnatuk, Helen’s oldest son, eventually returned to Russia to live. Russian revolutionary agents had come to the Russian community in Albion, seeking recruits for the Revolution. Helen’s sons Egnat and Walter were teenagers at that time and did not want to return to Russia. They went to West Virginia to live with relatives and work in the coal mines for two years until the Russian Revolution was over.

In 1916, the Holy Ascension Orthodox Church was dedicated. Helen, as a founding member, had helped select the site. In 1928, the Egnatuks moved to a farm on Condit Road and Helen lived with them until her death on November 29, 1946, at age 96.

Source: Albion Public Library, Local History Room

From: Albion AAUW. Some Notable Women of the Albion Area. Albion, Michigan: American Association of University Women. 1998.

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