Of Citizens and Ceremonies



It’s July — the month our blood runs red, white and blue. Along with the pyrotechnics on Independence Day, there are marching bands, Dalmatians on fire engines, veterans saluting and flags flying all over the place. It’s a grand time to be an American. 

Outside of Native Americans, we all came from somewhere else, of course, and like our ancestors most of us were eager to become citizens. 

Okay, I did have one friend who dragged her feet a bit — like forty years. She just couldn’t detach herself from the Old Country. Then a gentleman of means proposed marriage only if she became an American. It took her all of two weeks to get that fixed. 

But Elena Moffly, our Russian-born daughter-in-love, pursued citizenship with determination, except she had to wait and wait. I began to wonder if they thought her father was KGB. That warm bear of a man who calls Jack and me from Moscow on our birthdays? Never!

When swearing-in day finally arrived in 2006, all us Mofflys sat in a Bridgeport courtroom waving our little flags. The judge was terrific. She sent home two candidates in blue jeans, telling them to come back another time when they were properly attired. She told thirteen of the remaining thirty-five that she had agreed to their name changes. “First I’ll tell you about myself,” she began, launching into her Irish-Italian background. “Now I’ll tell you about you,” she went on, pointing out that the group included four Russians, six Guatemalans, one Korean, etc. “Feel free to bring your family up to the bench for a photograph with me,” she added. “Afterward the League of Women Voters will take your papers across the street to make sure you can vote in the election on Tuesday.” Just four days away. Fast work — and a lasting memory. PS: Our five Moffly grandchildren, dual citizens like their mother, can speak Russian. Read and write it, too. 

In 1949, Jara Burnett’s family fled Czecho-slovakia and a communist regime bent on eliminating the middle class. When the secret police came for her father,  a known anticommunist, Jara’s little sister told them he was on a business  trip. Arriving home for lunch, he missed them by minutes and managed to escape to Southern France, where the family joined him later before emigrating to Canada. 

Then Jara married an American and in 1964 renounced her Czech and Canadian citizenships to become a U.S. citizen. (Multi-citizenship wasn’t an option here until the eighties.) “I really did it because I wanted to vote against Goldwater!” she quips.

Getting out the vote became a passion. By 1980 she was president of the Greenwich League of Women Voters (creating the first Voters Guide), recently served as president of the Connecticut League and is going back on its board to organize debates. 

“Having had three citizenships, I wanted to know how governments work,” says Jara. “It seemed a natural.” 

From Denmark came Birgit Svendsen on a student visa and met her future-husband, Jack Minor, on a blind date in New York. A long-distance courtship followed, highlighted by the day she flew into JFK from Copenhagen to find that Jack had arranged for a helicopter to deliver her to the top of the Pan Am building. 

She didn’t become a U.S. citizen until 1995 when their kids were teens. “I would have done it earlier,” she says, “but it was during that period when terrorists were hijacking planes and you were in big trouble if you had a U.S. passport.” So she and a Dutch friend had waited. In her honor Diane and Walt Alder threw an all-American party complete with apple pie. Birgit doesn’t believe in dual citizenship and uses only her American passport when she travels.  

“There is no other country like it,” says Ava Karasklewicz who became an American fourteen years ago. She gets goose bumps every time she returns from a visit to Poland and the passport officer says “Welcome home!” but is proud that her sons haven’t changed their Polish names. After all, says Ava, “America is a melting pot of everybody.” 

John Blankley, his Belgian wife, Vera, and their three children arrived from the U.K. in 1983, John as CFO of British Petroleum North America. But when he was due back in London, they wanted to stay. So John took an executive position with Stolt-Nielsen and after years of trying, became a U.S. citizen in 1997. 

“It’s not so easy for the higher-paid help,” he observes. “You have to prove to the Labor Department that you’re not taking a job away from an American.” But the ball started rolling thanks to Vera, a United Nations interpreter who speaks five languages. Few Americans could qualify for her job. “And quite honestly,” he admits, “we had to throw a lot of dollars at a big-deal immigration attorney, actually the one who got John Lennon into the country.” 

A historian, John thinks that our constitutional foundation and what our founders did a scant 200 years ago are unparalleled in history. “There are many people from overseas who just want to hold onto their green cards and don’t go the whole step,” says this gentleman, who has served on the Greenwich RTM and twice run for First Selectman. “I wanted to become an American and participate fully in the democratic process. It’s a duty as much as anything else.” 

These are the people who make our United States — for all its squabbling — the greatest nation on earth.

 

Greenwich Agenda

  • SAT & ACT Prep Classes

    2014.08.02
     @ Greenwich Education Group

    If you are planning on taking the SAT or the ACT in October or November, this is an ideal time to start your preparation! Once school begins,...

  • Seaside Center: Shoreline Seining and Plankton Tow

    2014.07.20
     @ Seaside Center

    Help us gather plankton and see what creatures are living in our ocean’s water! Examine microscopic organisms caught in our plankton net...

  • Cool and Collected ‘14

    2014.07.10
     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

    (Gallery 1) Featuring artists:  Carla Goldberg, Melanie Kozol, Francis Sills, and Eve Stockton Summer exhibition at Kenise Barnes...

  • TREEHOUSES: Look Who's Living in the Trees!

    2014.06.21
     @ Stamford Museum & Nature Center

    Saturday, June 21 - Monday, September 1 Hidden in the leaves, snug in the trunk or burrowed under the roots, what types of animals actually...

  • Exhibit: Tales of Two Cities: New York & Beijing | Greenwich, CT

    2014.05.03
     @ Bruce Museum

    May 3 – August 31, 2014 Tales of Two Cities: New York & Beijing This exhibition focuses on two of the world’s leading...

  • Seaside Center: Story Time

    2014.07.19
     @ Seaside Center

    Grab a comfy seat as we read stories about our favorite sea creatures. We will even take a peek at a real-life version of the animal in our...

  • Saturday Vals Free Weekly In-Store Wine Tasting | Greenwich, CT

    2014.05.10
     @ Val's Putnam Wine And Liquors

    We will feature an array of new and different International wines that are selected by our staff as “Staff Picks Favorites” in...

  • Seaside Center: Naturalist's Choice

    2014.07.19
     @ Seaside Center

    Be surprised! Changing topic that is fun and fascinating, selected by the Naturalist!

  • Happy Hour | Greenwich, CT

    2014.01.26
     @ Morello Italian Bistro

    Refresh yourself with our famous Red & White Sangria! Don’t forget that during happy hour every day 4:30pm-6:30pm your 2nd drink...

  • SM&NC Farm Market

    2014.06.15
     @ Stamford Museum & Nature Center

    Sundays, June 15 – October 5, 10am – 2pm We're thrilled to bring back the SM&NC Farm Market — now on Sundays!...

  • Animal Meet and Greet

    2014.06.22
     @ Stamford Museum & Nature Center

    Sundays, June 22 - August 31, 3:30 - 4:00pm Stop by for a chance to meet one of our Overbrook Nature Center or Heckscher Farm animals up...

  • Bar: Live Music | Greenwich, CT

    2014.03.09
     @ Barcelona Greenwich

    Join us in Greenwich every Sunday for live music and half-priced bottles of wine!

  • Wine Time Social Hour | Greenwich, CT

    2014.01.27
     @ Barcelona Greenwich

    $4.00 select wines, $4.00 well drinks, and $3.00 beers.

  • Bar: Ladies Night | Old Greenwich, CT

    2014.02.18
     @ Beach House Cafe

    Drink Specials starting at 9:00pm 'till close, $2.00 off any Martini or Margarita.

  • Tuesday Wine Appreciation Night | Greenwich, CT

    2014.02.04
     @ Terra Sole

    Receive 50% off on most listed Wine under $100.00 and 25% off on bottles $100.00 and over!

  • Seaside Center: Shoreline Seining at Low Tide

    2014.07.15
     @ Seaside Center

    Help us collect data for the Long Island Sound biodiversity database. 1:00 pm: June 24, July 8, Aug 5, 19. 4:00 pm: July 1, 15, 22, 29,...

  • “Summer Sings!” Wraps up the Season at First Congregational Church of Greenwich

    2014.08.27
     @ First Congregational Church of Greenwich

    Do you miss singing in your church choir during the summer months? Then join ‘Summer Sings!’ at First Congregational Church of...

  • Happy Hour Beauty Thursdays!

    2014.06.30
     @ ELLELA Cosmetics & Lashes

    Our Summer Happy Hour Beauty Thursdays are back at ELLELA Cosmetics! Hit the top of Greenwich Ave from 4pm to 8pm for the BEST Blowouts before...

  • Greenwich Harbor Sunset Wine Cruise | Greenwich, CT

    2014.06.05
     @ Delamar Hotel Dock

    The boat "Prudence" departs from the Delamar Hotel Dock on 500 Steamboat Rd. All the wine is sponsored through VALS with food...

  • Seaside Center: Arts and Crafts

    2014.07.18
     @ Seaside Center

    Let your creativity float free! Practice the art of Gyotaku fish prints; make a sundial, a shell wind chime, or fish bowl! Activities vary every...


Show More...

Most Popular Articles

  1. Best of Greenwich
    Delamar Greenwich Harbor
  2. Island Time: Nantucket
    Even if you’ve been visiting this little slice of paradise for years, here are a few gems you may not know about
  3. 10 Things Greenwich Teens Can Do This Summer
    One Greenwich teen shares some suggestions for summer fun!
  4. Save the Children Benefit
    Riverside Yacht Club
  5. Villa Maria School: Annual Spring Gala
    Richards of Greenwich