DUBLIN, Ohio — Immigrant stories today often spawn antipathy for illegal entry and deal with politically related issues, making them unlike the charming and romantic tales of yesteryear when most of the immigration was from Europe, the aspirants entering the United States through Ellis Island.
On a trip here to see Ohio State play a football game, I had an opportunity to visit an old friend. Pandelis Bogosavlevich was one of those who passed through Ellis Island and experienced the American dream. His feel-good story is classic. He arrives here, learning a new language, settles in an ethnic neighborhood and parlays education, hard work and college football into a golden opportunity — all of which results in the sale of his company for $25 million.
The circumstances of his saga make for an intriguing, fascinating and inspiring story. His father had gone on before him and settled in Youngstown, Ohio. His mother died when he was 4 years old. He lived with his grandmother who died soon after. His father, who had changed his name at the suggestion of an immigration lawyer from Bogosavlevich to Savic, sent for Pandelis, who became Pandel once he settled into Youngstown. Pandel had a new name, a new home and a new stepmother, Margaret, who he says with great affection, “made me what I am today.”
Picture the setting. It is the late ’30s. The rumors of war are heavy throughout Europe, even in Macedonia. When his father sent for him, Pandel’s uncles arranged for the son to make the journey from Macedonia to Youngstown. First, he took a wagon from the town of Bitola to the train station. Even at his precocious age, he had a sense of opportunity and adventure that reminded him of his countryman Alexander the Great who conquered the world.
Pandel spoke no English. He had very little money, but had the instincts to avoid the solicitation and deceit of strangers, finding his way from Macedonia to Belgrade to Paris to Le Havre, France, where the ocean liner Normandie would take him to New York for admission into the United States. He got on the right ferry over to Manhattan and to Grand Central Station, where he made the connections on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Youngstown, where his dad and stepmother met him at the train station — a journey of more than a fortnight before he had reached his 10th birthday. Parents today wouldn’t put a 9-year-old child alone on a bus from one side of town to the other. Pandel’s story reminds us that, with the passing of time, we are a different world, which seems to have reverted to provincialism. We are afraid and apprehensive, and, as a result, often replace adventure with cynical precaution.
Pandel’s father had become a U.S. citizen. He had a delivery route for a bakery and was doing well by his family. His stepmother had a passion for education, which caused a family rift when Pandel, a big kid who was initially placed in classes with younger students until he learned English, had an opportunity to go to work for the bakery. His father thought that would be a good idea but stepmother Margaret insisted that school and education be given priority.
World War II interrupted things, and Pandel fought in the Pacific, arriving with the first wave of Marines at Pellilu. When the war ended, he enrolled at Ohio State to play football. When Jack Nicklaus was first married, he became Pandel’s neighbor. A deep and abiding friendship ensued.
I got to know Pandel during the Masters years ago and would see him at major golf championships, following his friend, Jack Nicklaus. We also had a mutual friend, Roy Mann, who made work gloves at a plant in Menlo, Ga. Pandel made a lot of money for Roy and for himself selling Roy’s product.
Pandel lives at Muirfield Village, Jack’s golf club where the Memorial tournament is played each May. Pandel has become forgetful as we all do with the aging process, but he will never forget his train ride across Europe and the trans-Atlantic voyage to settle in Youngstown. After coffee and a tour of his home on the Muirfield Village golf course, we said goodbye. Pandel then gave me a warm hug. With a glint in his eye, he said softly, “I’m so glad you came to see me.” As I rode away, I could see images of trains and austerity, ocean liners packed with people with faith and hopes, the Statue of Liberty, the welcoming party at Pandel’s destination and the American flag waving in the background.
I have never thought of Pandel as an immigrant — only an American who helped make this country truly great.