Stephen Seleny

We’ve all met unforgettable people in our lives. Some were great in their fields. Some were just people we loved or who had a certain something that drew us to them. This is about one of the unforgettable people in my life

Thousands of men and women who grew up in Fort Worth are familiar with the name Stephen Seleny. But that wasn’t his name when he arrived here.

Sometime near the Christmas season of 1956, the Denton Civic Boy Choir sang the world premier of Ernst von Dohnanyi’s Stabat Mater, accompanied by the Wichita Falls Symphony under the direction of Erno Daniel. Dohnanyi was a cousin of Mr. Daniel, and they had another cousin fleeing the Russian occupation of Hungary named Istvan Szelenyi.

Hungary had been undergoing a terrific war as the Soviet Union attacked to enforce its rule over this nation, and Szelenyi and his wife Kato and their daughter Ani fled to the West. As I recall, it was around the time of this performance in Wichita Falls that George Bragg told us about them. Mr. Szelenyi, fondly called Pista (pronounced Pish-tuh) by his wife, and soon the rest of us, would be arriving in Denton soon to become the pianist and assistant director of the choir.

They arrived around February of 1957 with little more than the clothes on their backs, moving into the choir house where George Bragg lived. Kato spoke a heavily-accented but easily understood English, but Pista spoke almost none at all.

Over the next few months, Pista spent hundreds of hours watching television so he could associate the actions he saw with the words he heard. I had good teachers with orderly presentations teaching me Spanish and French, and I’m still not fluent in either language. I can’t imagine learning a foreign language as he did.

As mentioned in my earlier piece about George Bragg, the choir moved from Denton to Fort Worth and became the Texas Boys Choir that spring. The choir rented a house in the west side of Fort Worth where both George and the Szelenyis lived. I don’t recall how long that living arrangement lasted, but I can’t imagine that it was very comfortable for a young family to share a house with a confirmed bachelor—especially with choirboys traipsing in and out from time to time.

My voice was changing, and I left the choir after that spring, but I still had a lot of contact with the Szelenyis. My mother had taken Kato under her wing, so to speak. She was trying to plant roots in a foreign country, her only contacts with a bunch of young boys, and she needed female companionship. Mother was the first to step up and provide that companionship, and until Mother left Fort Worth in 1965 they were the best of friends, and I had a good bit of contact with them through that friendship.

In my piece on George Bragg, I alluded to the fact he dreamed of starting a school for the choirboys to attend. That fall of 1957, George, Pista and my father got it kicked off with classes held in some of the rooms of the house where they lived.

Although it was started as a choir school, it soon became clear that George and Pista needed to go in different directions. Obviously, as a kid, I was not privy to the meetings that went on to accomplish this, but ultimately the choir became solely George’s province and the school, Pista’s. At that point it was renamed Trinity Valley School.

It met for some years in an old building on Hemphill in the near Southside Fort Worth, before moving into a new campus on McCart, farther south. A few years ago it moved once more to a huge campus in Southwest Fort Worth.

I don’t remember when Pista Anglicized his name to Stephen Seleny, but that’s the name all the TVS students and graduates know him by—or more familiarly, Pista. He no longer runs the school, having retired several years ago, but as headmaster for over 40 years, he took a raw idea and built it into one of the premier private schools in Texas. Quite an accomplishment for a man who arrived penniless and unable to speak our language.

Ø Who are some of your unforgettable characters?

Ø How have some or all of these people affected your life?

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About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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5 Responses to Stephen Seleny

  1. Bp Sven Andreas Wallin says:

    Selecting Pista was low key, and I know how it started. A choir boy — Wynn Wagner — and his family were having supper with George Bragg at Caro’s Tex-Mex in Bluebonnet Circle. The elder Mr. Wagner was a donor to both the TBC and TBC School. They were talking about Mr Bragg’s biggest headache: who could run a much enhanced TBC School. The little Wagner was a student at the older school that had classes in the St Ignatius rectory. He said Pista, meaning István Szelényi, who was Assistant Director of the choir. The elder Mr. Wagner thought Pista’s speech would be a problem. Pista spoke in a whisper due to a hole in his throat caused by an earlier surgery. Mr Bragg was concerned about having Halász Kálmán as the only assistant director. Halasz could handle the assignment, but it would be a brutal schedule.

    In later years, Wynn Wagner says he sometimes regretted the suggestion. Szelényi was a violent Latin teacher. If you didn’t conjugate a word correctly, Szelényi would hit the student’s head with the Latin textbook. It happened often enough that his textbook was too deformed to be useful as a book.

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    • I was among the first people to meet Pista and his wife Kato and their daughter Anico when they arrived in Denton in 1957 – back when the choir was still the Denton Civic Boy Choir. Pista wasn’t nearly as bad as George about discipline. Many choirboys back then wore imprints of George’s ring on their foreheads. We loved both of them, though.

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  2. David, do you still have contact with Pista? When they first came to Texas the Choir had some tour, maybe the one to Rome, Marika and Ani came and stayed with us while everyone was gone. Marika spoke no English, but by the time the choir returned she was beginning to speak English. Marika remained a ‘member’ of our family until she finally went back to Hungary years and years later. I have never heard from her since and have thought and wondered about her so many times. We were like sisters and I would love to find some information on her!

    This article brought back many, many happy memories! 🙂

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  3. Of course I love this blog. I’ve always been so fond of both Kato and Pista. Though I was not part of the choir as you were, I am so glad they became part of it and accomplished so much, including the school. I recall that Pista used to come over and use our piano to practice .. and I was mesmerized by his incredible music. I’d love to hear him play again. I am grateful that they became part of our lives. I think that Mom and Kato enriched each other a great deal.

    Barb

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  4. Excellent blog, chocked full of interesting, historical facts. The Selenys are outstanding American citizens. Love, Sharon

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