My first introduction to Ferenc Marki was at the 1978 Junior College Championships for Northern California.  Maestro Marki called us all together at the start of the Men’s Team Foil to explain the format and strip assignments.  He spoke for a good 15 minutes and I didn’t understand a single word that he said.  After he stopped, my teammates and I stood around in bewilderment until one of the coaches from another school approached us and said, “Oh, Cabrillo College?  Strip three.”

Whatever other sentiments or exhortations to excellence may have been part of the lecture were lost to us.

Marki with an unidentified fencer.  I wish this photo was in color.  I want to know more about that suit and tie combo.

Fencing in NorCal as I did for many years, it was not possible to miss Maestro Marki.  He was a fixture in the area.  When I was first starting out, he was the coach at both San Francisco City College and San Francisco State University.  He retired as coach at the Pannonia Athletic Club in 1977 – the year I started fencing – after 16 years there, and also taught at Mills College for a long time.  To say he was influential in the region is an understatement.  However, my own interactions with him were fleeting and I never knew much of his history or background.

Needless to say, writing and collecting for this Archive has altered my thinking of who I need to know about in every conceivable way.  Particularly after making the film The Last Captain, I felt it imperative to learn more about the man Dan Magay chose to pursue as a replacement at Pannonia upon the death of George Piller.

Ferenc Marki, left, and a classmate at the Toldi-Miklos school, taken sometime before 1934.

Marki had been Dan’s coach in Szeged, Hungary, when Dan was an up and coming sabre fencer.  Dan began with him after a couple of years of training with the Italian maestro Eduardo Armentano.  Marki taught the Hungarian sabre and Dan had much to un-learn.  Marki turned Magay into a champion, and he was on the Gold Medal winning 1954 World Championship team and also made the individual final at that, his first, World Championship.

Ferenc Marki was trained at the Toldi-Miklos school in Hungary to be a fencing master.  That’s the same school that produced Piller and countless other Hungarian champions and coaches.  In fact, in Marki’s graduating class of 1934, other graduates included Istvan Danosi, Julius Palffy-Alpar and Imre Vass – and those are just the ones I recognize.  I don’t doubt there are several more from that class who went on to great careers in sport – although it’s quite possible some did not survive the coming World War.  In that, Marki was one of the lucky ones.

Marki with his classmates.  He was a radioman during his service years.  That’s him, second in from the right.

He was captured by the Soviets at the end of the war and was sent to a work camp for about a year.  Many in those circumstances were simply worked to death by the Soviets.  Tens of thousands of Hungarian soldiers taken to such camps never made it home.  Marki, however, had a unique survival strategy.  An old sports injury had left him with a bad knee that could be teased into swelling in an alarming way, making him useless as a manual laborer.  Marki was put on one of the first trains repatriating Hungarian soldiers.  When his train began pulling into the station at Szeged, locals ran along side, shouting, “Anyone from Szeged?!”  Marki responded, “Yes! Me! Ferenc Marki!”  He was answered, “Your mother is dead!  But you have a daughter!”

Marki is 4th from the left with a bandaged right knee.  Looks like a speedy winger to me.

Marki’s mother was a successful business woman.  She ran a paprika business and upon her death and his return home, it fell to Ferenc to pick up the work.  He managed the paprika concern for several years and also returned to teaching fencing at the local University and at a private club.

“This is all great, Doug,” you’re thinking.  “But what about the road trip referenced in the title?”

Excellent question.

Last October I made contact with Ferenc’s daughter Juli.  Since I was never around her father very much but wanted to do a profile of him for the Archive, what better way to source information than to go directly to family?  We met up at a restaurant and had a great chat. I heard lots of stories about the family’s history in Hungary,  about how they got out of the country during the Revolution to Romania, and many more.  So much great information.  As it turned out, the family also had some memorabilia related mostly to Marki’s time teaching in San Francisco that they didn’t have great need for but didn’t want to just toss.   With the approval of the family, Juli offered it to the Archive.  The only hitch was it was more than she wanted to try to ship, so I’d have to come pick it up.  In Boulder.

Marki with a Pannonia AC foil team.  They won something here but I don’t recognize the plaque.  Jim Green on the left, then Gerard Biagini, Marki, an unknown, and Ferenc’s eldest son on the far right.

If you’re following me on Find My Friends, you know I’m in the Bay Area.  (Yes I am sad the Warriors weren’t able to grab the ring for a 3rd in a row thank you.) So, my-place-to-Boulder is a commitment for a concentrated driving excursion across multiple Western-sized states.  I’d initially planned to go in May but driving conditions on the morning I was to start proved to have been made untenable by a late season snow storm in the Sierras and I’d likely have been driving two days just to get out of California.  In the snow.  Which I hate.  Last weekend the weather was finally balmy enough to have dealt with the snow over Donner Summit, so off I went.  Across California, Nevada, Utah, a good sized section of Wyoming and then turning south into Colorado got me to Boulder 2.5 days and 1,460 miles later.

Juli fed me a wonderful meal of Chicken Paprikash made in the Marki family style – totally delish – then we took a look through the boxes.  Trophies, mostly from the early 70’s to the early 80’s, lots of papers, several ledgers from Pannonia detailing members and lesson payments, a few photos, and fencing books.  Great stuff.  There were also some family albums that weren’t coming home with me but that I was able to scan, along with some other loose photos and some framed ones that I took apart, scanned and put back together.  All in, about 90 scans, many of multiple images.  Some truly astonishing material.

Juli told me her father easily took to anything related to sport.  I’m sold.  That’s Ferenc Marki diving.

Then back in the car, 1,460 miles the other way and home again, just in time for my oil-change reminder alert.  Couldn’t have timed it better.

Ferenc with Daniel Magay.  Later in his life, Marki was told by his doctors that if he didn’t quit smoking he would soon pay the ultimate price.  He stopped instantly.

So much more to share from this trip.  I’m still carving through the papers and photos, most of which I’ll scan.  I promised Juli to send her photos of all the trophies once I get them taken, along with all the other bits of memorabilia I need to document.  My summer now is pretty set with tasks to tackle and I won’t have to put on snow chains for any of it.  Very thankful for the little things.

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