Written by Arlene Shovald
Tibor “Ted” Sarai has come a long way over six decades – in more ways than one.
A Hungarian Freedom Fighter, in 1957 he was rescued by American soldiers from a detention camp in Yugoslavia and had a choice of going to the United States or Canada.
“I chose the US,” he said, smiling as he adjusted his cap that’s appliquéd with the word Hungary and an insignia of the Hungarian flag. “I arrived in New York with $5 and little more than the clothes on my back. That was scary for an 18-year-old who couldn’t speak English.”
For more than 40 years he’s played Taps at veteran’s funerals in appreciation for what American soldiers did for him. Now retired from a career in the medical field, he has a home of his own and a couple of rentals, one occupied by an elderly couple on a fixed income.
“I’m still charging what they started at 15 years ago,” he said. “I don’t have the heart to raise it knowing how expensive it’s become to live here.”
In the US, a sponsor got him a job making picnic coolers. He put himself through school becoming a radiological technologist and met his wife, Verena. They have three daughters. She passed away in 2010.
“I cook for myself now,” he laughed. “I’m not great but I get by.”
His career included Salida Hospital where he was Laboratory Manager and later Manager of the Histology Department, 16 years with the Department of Corrections and several years at the mortuary. He has played trumpet with Salida Brass for 40 years, volunteers with the food distribution at the Community Center and enjoys working out at the gym and biking.
A Chaffee County resident for 62 years he’s seen a lot of changes. “The hospital had six doctors then. Now we have 50 or 60 and most are specialists,” he said with pride. “That keeps people from having to go out of town. The hospital just keeps growing.” The economy has changed from mining to tourism and art and the cost of living has increased significantly.