Cresson TB Sanatorium Remembered
Katherine (Decker) Kovacs

I received the following story from Shirley (Kovacs) Elkins in October 2011.  Her email address is:

Hi Chuck,
Katherine (Decker) Kovacs was my grandmother and I wanted to share our family story about her fight with TB.
Katherine was diagnosed with TB in 1918. She had 2 little boys, Frank age 4 and Louis age 2 (my father).  She emigrated from Kormed, Hungary to Pennsylvania in the year 1912 and met her husband to be in Pittsburgh.  He emigrated from Porcelo, Hungary in 1912 as well. They married in 1913.  His name was John Kovacs.  They moved to Delray, Michigan (Detroit area) supposedly in the year of 1917.  I recently just found out this information from memoirs that my uncle wrote.  I would like to share a part of his story with you now.  Below is quoted in his own words.
...."As best I know my mother Katherine was a good wife and devoted mother.  I honestly don't have much recollection of our relationship, only vague recall about her size and fairness, light hair and round face.  She looked so tall to me down on the floor. I can't say that I recall anything prior to age four (1918).  I only now in my grown up years associate the significance of her departure from our lives as a result of her contracting TB in 1918.  Why I will never know for she apparently did not abuse herself, I never heard that she either smoked or drank; in fact I had heard that she was a model person.  Be that as it may, tuberculosis was very evident in those days with no known cure.  They used to isolate its victims in quarantine and most died.  For whatever reasons my father, John, had her committed into a sanatorium in Cresson, Pa, near Pittsburg.  I can recall only one time thereafter that I saw my mother.  I was about seven, brother Louie about five and we were already boarded out to family friends, Mr. & Mrs. Odor.  Our father could not maintain a home for us, we were living on Bank Street in Detroit.  Our father treated us to a train ride to Pennsylvania to visit with our mother.  I am aware now that he knew she was dying and she obviously wanted to see us kids.  I recall seeing her, but we couldn't get close or touch her.  She still looked big and strong.  That was our last look at her, she died sometime later..."
Back to my finishing the story for my Uncle Frank now.  As best as I can ascertain, my uncle’s recollection of visiting with his mother had to be in 1920.  I figure maybe it was the summertime and that is why she did not show up on the 1920 census.  In any event, the boys thought their mother died in 1920 where in fact her death certificate states that she died in 1924 at Herman Kifer Hospital in Detroit.  She was there for almost a year before her passing. I can only speculate why she was taken out of Cresson.  Within a year after Katherine's passing, John Kovacs contracted TB and was at Mayberry TB Sanatorium (1925) and then taken to Herman Kiefer where he passed away in 1926.  The boys were now orphans and were taken to Saint Vincent DePaul Orphanage for a short time until foster care was granted to Mrs. Odor who the boys were staying with since about 1920.  I find the mystery of their story and the sadness of their early life extremely touching.  I think that many families in those days could very well have had very similar situations.  I have attached the only photos we have of Katherine which clearly shows that she was indeed at Cresson (background in the photos).  I have also attached a photo of the boys with their father that is not dated but I think it had to be right around the time of Katherine’s death in 1924.
Thanks in advance for putting our story on your website.
Warm regards,
Shirley Elkins

1.  Katherine (on the right) and other patients sitting on a wall,
bundled up against the cold in winter.  The photo is mistakenly
marked "McKeesport", but was actually taken at Cresson. 

2.  Katherine (on the right) and friends sitting in
the grass in front of the Women's Cottages on a warm day. 

3.  In the woods.

5.  Katherine standing in front of an open air cottage.

7.  Louis Kovacs, about age 5, at the san with Grace Chapel in the background.  The photo is believed to have been taken when their father John took his sons Louis and Frank on a train trip in 1921 from their home in Detroit to Cresson San to see their mother Katherine who probably knew she was dying.
4.  Katherine (in the middle) with friends.  The san building is just visible through the trees in the right background.

6.  Katherine's two sons, Frank and Louis, and her husband John Kovacs.