The Faces Behind SARA
Stephen Szilagyi is the Founder and Executive Director of SARA.
He was born in 1934 to Hungarian parents in Czechoslovakia during the Communist occupation. When he was fourteen, he and his father left his mother, two sisters and brother to seek a new life in a new world. After serving in the U.S. Army, he finished his undergraduate and graduate studies and was ordained into The United Church of Christ. After retiring from the UCC in Conneaut, Ohio, SARA was officially founded in 1987. He was finally able to return to his birthplace in Eastern Europe in 1988.
Rev. Szilagyi spends around half his time in Ohio and half in Hungary, where his son George resides with his wife Valleria and four grandchildren. His daughter Nathalie, her husband Greg and three grandchildren live in Sidney, Ohio. Mike, the youngest of the family, lives in Minneapolis.
Stephen has been married to “my love,” Jean/Jeannie for almost 48 years.
His memoirs and stories of SARA are available in From Habakkuk to SARA, published in 2009 by Trafford, Inc.
S. Jean “Jeannie” Szilagyi is co-founder and secretary of SARA. After becoming a Registered Nurse, she pursued undergraduate and post graduate studies at St. Joseph’s College of Maine, where she now serves as adjunct instructor of Long Term Care Laws and Regulations. Her studies led to a Master’s Degree in Health Administration and she was awarded an honorary M.D. from the University of Uzghorod, Ukraine for her humanitarian work with SARA.
She retired from the Ohio Department of Health in 2004 as a Health Care Facilties Surveyor.
Besides serving as SARA’s secretary, she is currently pursuing a doctorate in Health Sciences. Special Care Units for patients with Alzheimer’s type dementia will be the result of her research. These units will then be established in psychiatric hospitals and nursing homes in Eastern Europe. As a Certified Eden Alternative Associate, these concepts will be incorporated.
She assists and coordinates all aspects of the Executive Director’s duties from Hungary and their home in Conneaut, Ohio.
The Rev. Bob Molsberry is Conference Minister for the Ohio Conference, United Church of Christ. Following a career in mission in Central America and local parish ministry, he has held his current position since 2007. Bob has served as a Board Member for the Wider Church Ministries of the national setting of the United Church of Christ, and has traveled with SARA leadership to see projects in Ukraine and Hungary. A wheelchair user since 1997, he has written two books on adjusting to the reality of disability: Blindsided by Grace: Entering the World of Disability, and Tour de Faith: A Cyclist’s Lessons for Living. In his spare time, he enjoys competing in wheelchair sports such as marathon and triathlon.
Martha “Marty” Siegel, OTR/L, joined the SARA board of directors in the fall of 1998 and made her first trip to Ukraine in February 1999 where she stayed a month at the Good Samaritan Children’s Home in Nagydobrony, Transcarpathia. She has returned many times since then.
Marty is an Occupational Therapist who works with mentally disabled adults at a State Developmental Center in the U.S. She has a special interest in autism and a background in Physical Disabilities which she uses in her on-going work with children in Ukraine. She started “Project Rehab” to help supply the Children’s Hospital in Mukachevo, Transcarpathia with equipment and training.
Marty has been a member of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Bellevue, Ohio all her life and finds the work of SARA to be a true blessing.
SARA Board Member Sharon Fiely is a freelance graphic designer and a fine art painter. She has traveled to both El Salvador and Ukraine with SARA and has used her design and organizational skills to help SARA’s mission become better known to the world. Her painting, “God’s Love Shines”, based on her experiences in El Espino, El Salvador now hangs in a church in San Salvador and prints of the painting have been sold to raise funds for a soup kitchen located there.
Mrs. Fiely, from western Ohio, is a wife, a mother of three and a proud grandmother of three more. As for her artistic inspirations she claims the two masters, Bob Ross and Leonardo Da Vinci.
Randall Gehres is the Treasurer of SARA. He serves as Senior Minister at Christ United Church of Christ in Orrville, Ohio. He and his wife Grace have been active with SARA since 2001, traveling in that time to SARA missions in Ukraine and Serbia. His congregation financially supports a doctor’s salary at the Bethel Hofer Clinic in Ukraine as well as the Bethesda Day Care Center in Serbia.
John Gilberg, SARA Director for El Salvador, and his wife Joyce, have been involved with SARA since 1998. They made their first trip to Ukraine in February 1999. He and Larry Kuhn, also now an El Salvador Director, spearheaded a drive to send two ambulances to Ukraine. In 2002 they were told that an ambulance was also needed in El Salvador. A year and a half later an ambulance was sent to the Apopa Clinic in El Salvador. The El Salvador projects have been growing ever since. John and Joyce operated the Gilberg Funeral Home and Furniture Store in New Bremen for 40 years. They are retired now but still help out with the business.
Lana Sakash first learned about SARA when Rev. Szilagyi spoke to the Upper Sandusky, Ohio Rotary Club in 1998. She felt, in that moment, that his powerful message was speaking directly to her. Szilagyi was taking the first group to Ukraine in February of 1999 and she felt called to go. Since then Sakash has been to Ukraine ten times and plans many more returns.
Sakash is a licensed independent social worker in private practice with her husband George in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. After college she taught English for a time, a skill she has taken to Ukraine where she teaches English language and American culture, giving students a chance to interact with a native English speaker.
Robert Chandler is the Vice-President of SARA. He is a retired pharmacist and a member of the Brecksville United Church of Christ. He has been to the Ukraine with SARA and on the executive board for over ten years.
Ernie Hollenbacher has been a member of SARA for most of the last decade and now serves on the executive board. He got involved with SARA through his niece Terri Goodwin in 2002 and made his first trip to the Ukraine in that year. Since then he has been on 10 missions to both El Salvador and Ukraine and hopes for many more.
After spending most of his working career in the machine tool business he retired in 2002. Married for 49 years to his wife Nancy, he is going for at least 60.
Bonnie J. Furr is a SARA board member, has traveled to Ukraine and has introduced the predominately UCC-affiliated SARA to Disciples of Christ clergy, children at church camps, and various congregations in her denomination. Furr is a licensed minister on staff at the Karl Road Christian Church (DOC). She is the chaplain to several nursing homes and a volunteer with hospice. As well she has a piano and organ studio where she teaches up to 40 students a week. She is widowed.
Alan and Elaine Mikesell are active members of the St. Paul United Church of Christ in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Alan retired in 2008 from the dental specialty Endodontics after 42 years in the dental field. He is the co-director of SARA in Transcarpathia and continues to be active on the Mission Committee at St. Paul UCC and other missions of the Ohio Conference of the UCC. Elaine was a registered nurse, and retired from the ordained ministry of the UCC in 2009. The Mikesells have done mission work with several organizations, including the United Church of Christ, in Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, as well as Ukraine, where they have found a special love for the people there. Alan and Elaine have been married 45 years. They have two married sons and four grandchildren.
Dr. Ralph Quellhorst was the founding president of SARA when he responded to the mission opportunity put before him by the founder of SARA, Rev. Stephen Szilagyi. He developed the Board of Trustees and helped affiliate SARA with the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ. Quellhorst served as the Conference Minister from 1993 to 2003 and as the President of SARA until 2005. Quellhorst holds four Doctoral degrees and was one of the founders of the National Disaster Response Ministry of the United Church of Christ.
Sue Quellhorst is known as the “Mother of SARA’s Children.” As an Early Childhood Educator she began SARA’s emphasis on serving the needs of children throughout the world. She was awarded the Reinhold Niebuhr Award by Eden Theological Seminary for her humanitarian efforts and served as treasuer of the SARA Board for many years.
Dr. Donn Mettens is a dentist from Ft. Thomas, Kentucky. A 1983 graduate of The University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, he became involved with SARA in 1999. At that time SARA was searching for an American dentist to host a dentist from Ukraine so the match was natural and nearly immediate. After two trips to Ukraine as an observer, Mettens also traveled to Romania and Serbia on a fact-finding mission. The following year he was asked to become Co-Director for SARA in Ukraine and had the honor of being invited to become a member of The Christian Doctor’s Association of Transcarpathia. As of 2010, Donn has made four dental missions to Ukraine and, along with other dentists and a dental hygienist, has provided care to a wide cross-section of people in Transcarpathia.
SARA Media Director Andrew J. Tonn is a photo-journalist, writer and documentary filmmaker. He first became involved with SARA in 2006 while working and traveling in Central America. Since then he has shot a number of films and photo-essays about SARA’s programs in El Salvador and Ukraine. He was elected to the SARA Board of Directors in 2010.
George Szilagyi is a family dentist who currently resides in Hungary. He is the son of Stephen and Jean Szilagyi. George was born in Cleveland while his father was the Assistant Minister at the First Hungarian Reformed Church. After graduating from Sewickley Academy in Pennsylvania, he went to Hungary and graduated from Pecs University Dental School. He is married to Valleria and has four children, Sara, after whom the organization was named, a third year law student; Oliver, a junior in high school; David, who is eleven years old; and four year old Eliza Jean. George coordinates activities and missions in Eastern Europe. He also volunteers numerous hours at the M&M Dental Clinic at the Childrens Home in Transcarpathia, Ukraine. He is a member of the Reformed Church. He also enjoys studying military history and forensic medicine.
L. Fleming Fallon, Jr., MD, DrPH, is a physician with advanced training in occupational medicine and public health. He has served as a medical or public health missionary in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Ukraine and Serbia. He is a Professor of Public Health at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he is a Co-Director of the Northwest Ohio Consortium for Public Health, a Master of Public Health degree program. He is also an author. He is preparing the third edition of Essentials of Public Health Management and has published three other books including a cookbook. His weekly newspaper column, Health Thoughts, ran for over 14 years. Fleming has served as the President of SARA since 2002.
Fleming enjoys bicycling, cooking and working with stained glass. He writes a column on health for Stained Glass News. He resides in Bowling Green with his wife, Marie. They have two grown children, Jennifer and Bryan.
Pastor Attila Szemesi was born in the former Yugoslavia (now the country of Serbia), and moved to West Germany with his parents when he was three years old. He received all his schooling in Germany and grew up bi-lingual, speaking his native tongue of Hungarian and German. After completing High School he moved to Hungary. Here he studied at the Reformed Theological Seminary, which was founded in 1538, in Debrecen, Hungary. He graduated with a Master’s of Divinity (Magister Rerum Diviniarum) in 1992 with special emphasis on Crisis Counseling.
Having been drafted into all of the civil war conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, he decided to come to the United States to temporarily serve at the Hungarian Reformed Church in Lorain, Ohio. Temporary became permanent when Pastor Szemesi met Constance shortly after arriving in the States. They married in 1995.
Pastor Szemesi is ordained through the Christian Reformed Church in Serbia and through the UCC in the USA. In 2008 he completed a study of the “Protestant church as a minority in the former Yugoslavia”. He serves as a member of the Advisory Board of Ashland Theological Seminary.