Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. Leslie S. Domonkos

Leslie Domonkos

Leslie Domonkos, Source unknown

I grew up disliking history. Up through high school, history had largely been presented to me as a series of events, dates to be memorized, and important people. All this, I had to remember for tests, and promptly forget afterward.

Today, I love history as the story of how different factors and forces contribute to events and how these help us understand how we got here, historically, at least. As you might tell from my posts about Youngstown, I love local history–how places get their names, who was such and such, and how they were important in Youngstown history and how the cultural institutions of the city developed?

I think I owe this love of history to Dr. Leslie Domonkos, now an emeritus professor of history at Youngstown State, and the professor who taught the Western Civilization course I took during my first quarter at Youngstown State, 46 years ago. What I remember about his class, is that I never took so many notes in my life–and it was a good thing. His exams were tough. They weren’t fill in the blanks, or a computer-read form. They were essay-based exams of three or four questions that we would answer in handwritten “Blue Books.” You needed to study your notes, do the readings, and take his exam prep suggestions seriously. His lectures were riveting as he opened up the events of European history and the cultural, social, economic, religious and political forces that led to them. He made us think about these forces, and argue which were most important. It was hard, and I loved it, and he awakened a love of history I never knew I had. Looking back, I sometimes wonder why I didn’t major in history. I also think of how much work it was for him to read all those hand-written Blue Book exams and grade them!

Both Dr. Domonkos and his wife Eva were born in Budapest, Hungary, he in 1938 and she in 1941. Her tribute in The Vindicator notes that she came to the U.S. as a World War II refugee in 1951. I do not know if this is true of Dr. Domonkos but he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959. For both of them, their arrival in this country was a gift. She worked for many years as a labor and delivery nurse, and later as a childbirth educator at St. Elizabeth’s, returning to Hungary to introduce modern childbirth techniques to that country.

Dr. Domonkos gift to this country was his scholarship and inspired teaching. He graduated from Youngstown University in 1959 with a Bachelors degree in history and completed Masters and Ph.D. degrees in medieval history at Notre Dame. He received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Vienna during 1963-1964.  He returned to teach as an instructor at Youngstown in 1964, then as an assistant professor in 1965, associate professor in 1969 and full professor in 1975. Twice he served as acting department chair. In 1971, he received an Outstanding Educator in America award. Over the years six Distinguished Professor Awards followed. He published numerous articles in medieval and Hungarian history in addition to co-editing three books. He was admitted to the Corporate Body of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2003. He retired from Youngstown State in 2002, receiving emeritus status.

In 2013 he was awarded the YSU Heritage Award, the university’s most prestigious award, recognizing faculty and administrative staff who have made a major contribution to the university during their career. At the date this was written, he is continuing to enjoy his retirement.

It is staggering to think of how many students lives were touched by Dr. Domonkos during his four decade career at Youngstown State. Some went on to academic careers in history. No doubt some were just glad to pass his course! But I can’t help but believe there were many of us who gained a much bigger vision of the world beyond the Mahoning valley through his teaching. For me, he inspired a lifelong love of history, manifested in a house full of history books, and a curiosity to know the story behind the facts. I know my life is richer for it. Thank you, Dr. Domonkos!



15 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. Leslie S. Domonkos

  1. Bob
    I actually knew Leslie through festivities of the Hungarian club. I love reading about Hungarian Youngstown folks that I was lucky to meet through my parents. My father was president of the Hungarian club for a few years. At one time I think there were 4-5 Hungarian churches in Youngstown. So sad people do not relate to a European heritage any longer. Hearing stories of families and backgrounds makes me feel lucky we are here today. Youngstown was a true melting pot of diversity. Thank you for sharing these blogs with all of us. I love it!!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Check out St.Stephen of Hungary Church on Wilson Ave. My in-laws were members. I don’t think they have been able to find a Hungarian-speaking priest recently, so they no longer hold masses in Hungarian.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Bob,
    You can count me among those students whose lives were touched by Dr. Domonkos. I, too, disliked history through high school. At YSU history came alive in every course I had and I, too, developed a lifelong love of history as a result. Everything you said in your post about Dr. Domonkos mirrors my experience with him in 1976. I have an additional (funny and embarrassing) recollection. The first day of classes I rode the elevator up to the classroom. There were several people on the elevator and I encountered a friend. We chatted about which classes we were going to and I shared that I had a history class that I wasn’t looking forward to as I was sure it would be boring. An unassuming, casually-dressed gentleman off to my side commented, “You don’t like history?” I was a little too emphatic with my response, “I HATE it!” We got off the elevator and I walked to the classroom. The gentleman followed me in the room and I was horrified when he stayed in the front of the room and announced he was Dr. Leslie Domonkos. I wondered if I had a prayer of passing the class after that! I don’t know if I ever told him how much he changed my opinion of history but I loved every moment of his class.
    Thanks for taking me on a trip down memory lane with this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Best professor I had at YSU, three classes. (1964-68). He was gracious enough to write a recommendation for me for the Peace Corps. I was unable to take advantage of Peace Corps acceptance due to being drafted following graduation. Wonderful person; caring and passionate. I’m privileged to have had him as an inspiration, Spent 35 years as a US Air Force librarian, 19 in the United Kingdom Thanks to his influence.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Bob, Ann, Maria and Patrick,

    My sincere thanks for your kind and generous comments. I was delightful to hear from you.It was students such as you that made teaching at YSU such a joy. May you continue to grow intellectually
    in the years to come. With warm regards to each of you,
    L.S. Domonkos

    Liked by 1 person

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