A Conversation with Michael Fricker (Part I)

His Role in the Club, it’s History, and it’s Significance

Recently I took some time to talk with my friend, Michael Fricker, about his favorite topic: the United German Hungarians. It’s also a topic that, as a new member, I am always interested to learn more about. I hope that you enjoy reading our 3-part conversation, which takes a deeper look at some topics related to the club.

Mike S: Mike, I was looking forward to this because you’re so involved and-like, just for some of the articles that I’ve written, I’ve read articles that you’ve written just to do background research-and I just felt like you would be a real good person to talk to and go a little deeper with the club and the significance.

So, I was looking at your resume…Member of the Board of Governors, Chairman of Publicity and Editorial, served on multiple committees-multiple anniversary committees- and obviously, Cultural Group member and dancer…so just super involved. I’d just love to hear your thoughts on stuff.

Michael F: I think that’s a cool idea, and it’s something we probably don’t do enough of because we all know each other…we’ve known each other for so long and families have known each other, so we don’t think to do things like this. So, it’s nice and it’s cool to get a new person…and you’re already, you’re new, but you’re already…you’re in…you know what I mean? So, you’re in like a perfect place to do this kind of stuff. I’ve learned the most over my life from doing this kind of stuff. Not for any kind of article, just asking questions, you know?

Mike S: Yeah…So just, you know, a basic question for you, Mike. What has motivated you to take such an active role?

Michael F: (laughs) Oh man, you made me laugh because you started out saying it was “a basic question,” but that’s like a difficult question. I guess it’s not a difficult question. In one sense of life, it’s like, you just look at everything black and white and say, “Okay, what motivated me to take an active role?” The answer is my parents. You know, the answer is we’re club members…we’re club people…and they involved us. They involved my brother, they involved my sister, me. And their parents involved them, and their friends involved their kids. And there’s always people who were involved who didn’t involve their kids…and those people aren’t around anymore, with minor exceptions. There’s a few that stuck around, and the kids maybe aren’t involved, but they are still there. So that’s the black and white answer, but I don’t think that’s the crux of it because any of us could at any time say…or have said in our growing up…“I’m an adult now. That’s nice, mom and dad that you’re involved in that thing, but we’re going to move on.” And somewhere along the way, we haven’t done that.

Werner III, Karina, & Michael Fricker

And I don’t really know if I’ve thought a lot about doing it, not doing it. It’s just sort of like the club has been a constant for us. And I think especially now having gone through- well the world having gone through-that nonsense of Covid…we had a glimpse of what it could be like without it, and we still tried to maintain…and maintain relationships and maintain what we did throughout that, and we did. But to get a taste of what life would be like without that as an institution…as a family…I didn’t like it. So, I think that is somehow the answer. I don’t think I’ve ever asked myself that growing up, like would I continue. I kind of just assumed I would. But if somebody asked the question, the answer is I can’t imagine my life without it.

Mike S: Now let me ask…it seems like the Fricker family, in general even before you, took a more hands-on role with the club. Did any of that maybe play into why you took a more hands-on role?

Michael F: I think it’s possible. There’s a lot of families over the history of the club that have dedicated themselves to the club in a lot of different aspects. But a lot of things wouldn’t be the way they are…we wouldn’t have been able to continue without a lot of those families. My family has been really important to me…the people…my immediate family; my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister, but all my aunts and uncles and cousins, and my grandparents. We’ve always been very tight-knit. Chris Deely, a little bit after joining our family, said that we have an allergy to being alone (laughs). That we are allergic to not being together. And I think there’s some sense of truth to that; that’s where those people are. So, I think, yeah, all of my family having been involved for so long, is important.

I don’t like to say things like “a legacy” because I don’t think that’s why we do anything. Like there’s an idea of continuing a tradition, and if your family is part of the bearers of that tradition, then yeah, I think that I wanted to continue-and I think my brother and my sister wanted to continue-and my cousin’s wanted to continue. My dad talked a lot about what he referred to as “the five families.” And it’s a funny joke. It’s a Godfather thing. It’s a reference, you know, to that, but there’s more than five families, obviously. But it’s just a nice moniker to put on it. It’s like, oh, there’s five families, but there’s 10 of them (laughs). I can rattle off the last names and they’re all names you know. All of those families have been important, and all the families have been deeply involved in various areas and stuff.

The one thing that I think is interesting is…maybe ours seems…there’s a lot of us. Like I said, my grandparents had three children-Marlene, Janet, and Werner. And each of those had three kids, and my grandparents were involved. And then, with intermarriages and stuff, we’ve married in the Blanks and Galgon family and the Malofiy family, and we married in my mom’s family, the Hartmann’s…the Hartmann’s were involved for years. My Uncle Joey he married Susi who is a Schutz, but her mother was a Reiter. So, like, there’s this kind of spider web family tree that is overarching. There’s a lot of us, so it seems like, when you get in, you’re like okay, this persons in charge of that and this persons in charge of that, and they’re all related… Yeah, well you know, so there’s that, but I don’t think…it wouldn’t work if it was just us (laughs). You know, we need everybody, every individual, every family. We need new people, we need old people, we need everybody.

Mike S: Just curious, Mike, at what point in the club’s history did it sort of become narrowed down to five families or whatever? Because, as you know, U.G.H. has been around for a long time, even under different names. I mean, my grandfather and grandmother met at a U.G.H. club. And I think at that time, maybe there was a lot more people involved. So, I guess, can you speak to that at all?

Michael F: Well in the case of our Club…founded in the 1910 and you know, very, very early days…it’s founded as a singing group. So, there was like another club that threw a bunch of the singing group out…we don’t know why…and went from there. But all of the clubs around that time were founded by immigrants who, when you get to a new country, you say, “Okay what am I? Where am I gonna be…” In the city people settled in areas with the same kind of nationalities or ethnic group, and so that’s what it is. It’s like I want to be with my friends. I want to be with my people. Let’s get together because we’re in a new place and it’s strange and we don’t know how to survive. So, maybe it is easier to survive if we all come together and do something, you know? And over the years that grows and one of the things that happened is, in the beginning, a lot of things were very specific. This is the people from this town, this is the people from this area, specific region, whatever. And over time those things come together and merge and change. And that’s why in the 40s, eventually the name changes to “United German Hungarians.”

A lot of people don’t understand on the outside…they think it was a combination. I know you know it’s not. They think it’s like, Oh, they combined a Hungarian group and a German group, that’s why it’s United. It’s a little misleading. But it’s not; we’re multiple clubs of all people from the same area: all German Hungarians. Nowadays they use the term “Donauschwaben.” Eventually, it just seemed like, why aren’t we all together? So, they try to combine some of these things, and more and more people came, and that’s how it grew bigger.

The immigrants that come here…they join together, and they build a club, and they build a location. And eventually they realize they don’t want to be in the city anymore… That’s just the natural course of things. So, they all move to the suburbs. Then, for a while they have both…a city club and they got an out-in-the-suburbs club. They build this “shining city on a hill”; this big club with big grounds, and they have giant festivals because they have all these people that are all there-that want to be there-that come there and that partake. And over time it’s that same thing I said before…this family doesn’t involve their kids anymore. So, maybe the old people still come all the time, but their kids are like, “Eh..‘ or they move away or whatever. So over time that just happens. And it dwindles back down to a point where there’s not as many people left anymore. That’s I think why we blast everything out…we tag everything with “Continuing a Proud Tradition,” because if we don’t continue, eventually there’s only one person left. There are tons that that’s happened to…that have died because there’s nobody left anymore. So, we try to do our best to stay together and to change as the world changes, but maintain our history, maintain our traditions, maintain our close-knit nature.

Mike S: That must, maybe sometimes, be a hard thing to balance you know? Like sticking to your sort of specific traditions, but also being open to change…welcoming different people…

Michael F: Yeah, I think that’s a really difficult thing, and I think it’s probably oftentimes why, in some cases in our club and in other clubs, certain people’s kids or young people…they didn’t continue because they may have been brushing up against somebody older who didn’t wanna let go. (laughs) You know…there’s that old like, “Well, this is the way we’ve done it for 50 years, we’re not changing it.” One of the things I think our club prides itself in is, over the years, giving responsibility to other people, spreading out duties, and teaching the next generation, and letting them get involved. You know, so that they then learn to love it and they learn to partake. And that, I think, is hugely important: that, going back to my grandparents’ age people…and my friends’ grandparents…those grandparents got their kids-my parents’ age-and said, “Okay, you become the Chairman of the Kirchweih, or you take over the soccer team…you…ya know, run the fest…you figure out how to do it. And they guided them. But they got them involved, and our parents have done the same thing to us. It has happened in other clubs that the older people don’t want to let go, and then they can’t, and they realize that all of the sudden it’s just six or ten old couples, married couples, and they have nobody to pass anything on to because they didn’t get them involved at the time when they were prime age to take something over.

Mike S: Yeah…one of the things that I was impressed with about your group-our group-is just how many young people were there. Like people who I thought were around my age, maybe a little younger. And even now I’m impressed with it, and you know, just kind of curious-but probably mostly impressed-that people around our age would be doing that kind of thing! Like I almost feel like there’s got to be something special about our group of people, our young people.

Michael F: Yeah, you know, I don’t know. I like to think that there is (laughs). I like to think that most of the time, if I write something, I’m trying to always get at this idea that’s almost…it’s hard to put into words…but certain people have done it. Looking up at the chalkboard that I have above my desk, here, I have written on it my sister’s line from an article she wrote a little while ago, and she labels something in the article, and she says that it’s “The German Hungarian method.” And I like the idea, without sounding conceited, that we have a way of doing things…it’s like a spirit…like a school spirit or club spirit. It’s like there’s something indescribable-that we just all want to be together. And it’s cross-generational too. You saw that at the Gaufest. It’s not like the 40-, 50-, and 60-year-old people go do their own thing and the kids go do their own thing. We’re all together in the BS room. Everybody’s there, from babies to 80-year-olds, and everybody in between.

And we do everything like that, or we try to, because it’s…(laughs) the best word for it-and it doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody-is that it’s family. Because once you say something is family… Well, everybody has their own idea of what family is. You know, some people have different things with their family…they don’t get along with their families…some people do. Some people have a little family, some people have a big family, so like that’s hard.

“But for me, that’s the biggest thing that it is…it’s like every person-even the people I have no blood relation to-they become family when we’re together.”

Mike S: Yeah, it does seem that way, even for me… I just thought of a small thing when…who was it…somebody just asked me to like, keep an eye on some kids in the group. I mean, I just thought that was kind of like…you know…I felt like I was looked at as like a guardian or something.

Michael F: Yeah, of course. And I think that’s really important that we all rely on everybody. Some people, if they are a stranger, might walk into a hotel suite like that and see little kids on the floor, and babies and adults all drinking and eating food, and think, “Oh my God! How horrible…” Like this is not a place kids belong. And for us, it’s not. For us it’s…anybody bring your kid in there, and I trust every single person in that room with my kid’s life…that like if he all of a sudden was over on the corner and about to put his finger in a socket, six people would be there going, “Nope!” and pulling them away, you know? And I trust them all.

I don’t have to have eyes on him because I know I’m with my people. And my people- whoever they may be-will look out for them…for him…and look out for me, and I will look out for them. It’s just the way it is.

Mike S: Yeah, I agree with that. There’s a feeling of safety and community…and I wonder if that’s rare just in our modern world, you know?

Michael F: It absolutely is. And I think there’s a problem in community. I think the problem is that we’ve created all these identity communities which don’t really exist.. Oh “The Catholic Community,” “The Latino community,” Those things, they exist, but none of the people in those communities really consider it that. It’s the news and all the media that put these labels on everything, but they’re not actually doing anything community. They’re not actually together because they’re spread out over a whole country. So, like, yeah, there’s a pocket…and there’s local… You have your neighborhood; you can have your church… Those things are real, but you put these big giant labels on everything… You’re right, we’re in a community. It’s what an old-school traditional idea of a community is, you know? And that’s I think really important… It’s like we talk about the traditions, and yeah, there’s the traditions of the Tracht, you know, and the language and the food and all that stuff. There are the traditions of the stuff the club has developed over time, which are things we developed and made here that are our traditions, but it’s also a traditional values, you know? Its family, it’s sharing a meal, it’s working hard… It’s all those traditional things which are not “in.” They’re not popular now anymore. We probably don’t do enough of it, but it’s also God. It’s also, you know…

Mike S: Marriage? (laughs)

Michael F: Marriage… All those traditional values are something all of our people learn but don’t realize they’re learning.

Mike S: It’s interesting because, you know, you mentioned family…and I don’t have any blood ties, but what one of the things that attracts me to the group is that sense of community. I think that that can be there even if you don’t have a blood tie, necessarily.

Michael F: Oh absolutely. And that’s what I was trying to stress at the beginning when you asked the question of the Fricker’s…is yes…and there’s all kinds of people that I don’t have any blood ties to, but I think of them like my family. They held me as a baby…they, you know, done all kinds of different things like that for me…and they’ve been there.

Mike S: Almost like a tribe, you know? If you want to get like in an older sense…

Michael F: Yeah, no you’re right.


This interview was conducted via a zoom conference meeting. The questions were selected by Mike Stirm II. The opinions of the subject and the interviewer are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the United German Hungarians of Philadelphia & Vicinity.

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