Saint Paul, Minnesota, March 13, 2016
The International institute of Minnesota (IIM) has created an award to be given annually called the Olga Zoltai Award. Its purpose is to acknowledge outstanding service within the community to New Americans. It was awarded for the first time on March 13, 2016. The inaugural recipient is Zoltai herself, in honor of her extraordinary contributions to helping new Americans flourish.
Zoltai worked at the IIMN from 1971 until 1993 and initiated many of the programs that have blossomed into the wealth of services IIMN provides today to help refugees get a strong start to a new life. Upon her retirement, the Minneapolis Star Tribune dubbed her the local “Patron Saint of Immigrants” in a front page tribute to her career.
Born in Sopron, Hungary, Zoltai learned the struggles of being a refugee at the young age of thirteen, when her family fled their homeland minutes ahead of advancing Russian troops. Crossing the Alps predominately on foot, her family spent several years in Austria where multitudes of refugees streamed in from many countries, food was scarce, and the fear was palpable that the cold war between the Allies and Russia would explode around them. Her family eventually immigrated to Canada, hoeing sugar beets for two years as indentured agricultural servants to repay the Canadian government for their passage. While in Canada, Olga married a fellow Hungarian, Tibor Zoltai. They eventually moved to Saint Paul when Tibor was hired as a professor at the University of Minnesota. To learn more about their fascinating journey, read My Flag Grew Stars: World War II Refugees’ Journey to America written by their daughter Kitty Gogins and available on Amazon.com.