Corporal Charles P. Kemeny – Park #59

July 2017 – The ceremonial shovels have turned over the first patch of dirt on the new Kemeny Rec Center.   Look for new photos later in the fall. 

HARDWORKING, DEDICATED DELRAY FAMILY

As a teen, Charles (Karoly) Kemeny enjoyed playing baseball on Detroit’s sandlots.  His relatives tell us his baseball skills were so exceptional the St. Louis Cardinals took interest in signing him to a contract.  Alas, he was too young to sign and his grandmother’s disapproval put this dream on the rear burner.  Charles worked odd jobs after graduating from Holy Reedmer High School intending to enroll at the Carnegie Institute of Technology for Engineering.  He heard the call to serve in WWII and in 1942 he enlisted with his parent’s consent. 

Charles Kemeny in uniform
Charles relaxing in uniform before shipping off to war. Photo: Courtesy of R.S. Bujaki and the Kemeny family.

The Kemeny family was well-known in their Delray neighborhood.  Steve (Istivan) and Julia were European immigrants chasing and realizing the American dream.  Their travels took them first to West Virginia where they owned a grocery store and Charles was born.  When Detroit became their home base, they started the Hinky Dink Bar, a longtime fixture on West Jefferson Avenue.  Charles made the family proud with service in North Africa as well as Salerno, Anzio and Casino, Italy with the 36th Infantry Division, Army Corps of Engineers.  He was killed in action on August 25, 1944 in France. 

Steve and Julia courtesy of rs bujaki and the kemeny family
For Isitvan and Julia Kemeny family came first. They were hardworking business owners that loved to have family around them. They were fixtures of the Delray community. Photo used with kind permission of the Kemeny family via www.old-delray.com

STAYED BEHIND AND GAVE HIS LIFE

On August 25, 1944 Kemeny’s platoon was assigned the mission to establish a line of defense outside a small town in France.  He and four buddies were manning a machine gun post when enemy infantry troops and tanks charged.  They determinedly remained in position and braved heavy fire defending the advance.  As the enemy closed in they moved to a stronger position across the road.  They  continued to return intense fire knowing their stand would be fatal.  The summation of their courage enabled their platoon to withdraw establishing a more favorable defense. Charles received the Silver Star posthumously.  His body was re-interred in Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery preceded by a funeral march and formal military salute. 

The women of the Kemeny family at Charles' grave in Woodmere. Photo used with the kind permission of the Kemeny family / R.S. Bujaki.
The women of the Kemeny family at Charles’ grave in Woodmere. Photo used with the kind permission of the Kemeny family / R.S. Bujaki.

In 1951, Kemeny was honored with a large memorial park and recreation center in the southernmost tip of Detroit snuggled between Fort Street and I-75.  Detroit Mayor Louis Miriani and Holy Cross Pastor Andras Jakab presided over the dedication.  Kemeny playground is stocked with a mixture of new and old equipment/amenities, baseball diamonds, bleachers, picnic grounds. The rec center is now closed but boasts a great stand of cana lilies in the front of the building. The playground possesses what is possibly the only concrete horse [sans ear] in a Detroit park.  The dedication plaque honoring Charles is intact on the flagpole base.

Kemeny rec center now closed but the cana lillies are still going..
Kemeny rec center now closed but the cana lillies are still going..
One of the few plaques left in Detroit.
One of the few plaques left in Detroit.  A gift from his mother.

Please read more about Detroit’s former Hungarian community and this interesting Detroit family.  There are some really great written histories, photos and detailed descriptions of the events and the neighborhood on the above link. With the advent of the new bridge to Canada, more of the Old Delray neighborhood will likely be disappearing.   Thanks to R. S. Bujaki and the Kemeny family for their patience and the permissions in using the family photos.  

concrete horse kemeny
He’s kind of ugly but I have never seen another concrete horse in a Detroit park. He’s really old and it’s amazing that he still exists. The usual dolphins and turtles are starting to disappear from the parks so it’s only a matter of time for this poor little guy who is missing an ear and tail.

As always, thanks for reading.  Andrea Gallucci ©2015.