Kim Thi Tran of Lima, Ohio, originally from Vietnam, gets a hug from Nancy Mills of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Fort Industry Chapter, at a naturalization ceremony on South Bass island.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio — Pain and hope.
Blanca Alvarez Stransky of the National Park Service used those two words Thursday to sum up the flurry of emotions that immigrants have as they seek U.S. citizenship.
She made the remarks while addressing a standing-room-only crowd of 500 at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial in Put-in-Bay, not far from where one of America’s important battles for freedom was fought 200 years ago.
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But even if she hadn’t, pain and hope was evident in the voice of former South Vietnam resident Kim Thi Tran, who got choked up and shed tears as she described what it was like fleeing her homeland as a child in the 1970s as it was being overtaken by a brutal Communist regime.
Every immigrant — all 46 sworn at Sauder Village in Archbold, Ohio, and 11 others at Put-in-Bay in simultaneous ceremonies Thursday — have their stories.
But Ms. Tran, now 41 and a nail salon owner in Lima, Ohio, was overcome by emotion as U.S. District Judge James G. Carr of Toledo handed her a microphone and encouraged her to convey her thoughts on becoming a U.S. citizen.
The number of people sworn in at Put-in-Bay — 11 — was small enough for Judge Carr and another jurist who assisted him, U.S. District Judge George C. Smith, to give each of the new citizens an opportunity to address an audience that, only moments earlier, had witnessed their allegiance to America.
Most naturalization hearings are too large for that.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but I’m very, very happy,” Ms. Tran, 41, told The Blade moments after getting a rousing applause and handshakes and encouraging words from officials. She got a warm embrace from Nancy Mills, who represented a Daughters of the American Revolution chapter in Perrysburg.
Ms. Tran said she remembers her family barely escaping South Vietnam in a boat after that country fell to North Vietnam in 1975, when she was 3.
She and her family then spent an extended time in a refugee camp and emigrated to the United States in 1979, when they were sponsored by a church in San Jose, Calif., she said. Ms. Tran was 7 then.
“This is a happy occasion,” Judge Carr told the new citizens at the Put-in-Bay event. “This is now your country — not perfect, but certain to be better than what you left.”
The Put-in-Bay event occurred under a sunny sky with a warm breeze on the shoreline of South Bass island.
South Bass has been a popular spot for naturalization hearings with its connection to the War of 1812 and how a young Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the seemingly invincible British Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. Since then, the United States, Great Britain, and Canada have lived in peace with each other.
The latest event, though, was Put-in-Bay’s first in which a delayed enlistment ceremony was held in conjunction with a naturalization hearing. In the delayed enlistment ceremony a few dozen people took an oath to join the military.
Later in the afternoon, some 2,000 Masons were to rededicate a cornerstone for Perry’s Monument that had been laid 100 years earlier on that date.
Ms. Alvarez, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, is now the superintendent of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial.
She acknowledged the sacrifice her mother made at age 18 to leave her family in Mexico and start life anew in America.
“As an American, she was not alone because this nation has always been one of immigrants,” Ms. Alvarez said. “Some stories of immigration are painful and some are full of hope.”
The new citizens include two nurses at the University of Toledo Medical College, formerly the Medical College of Ohio Hospital, Merlin Atienza San Diego, a Toledo resident who used to live in the Philippines, and Pammella Ngefor, a Sylvania resident who formerly lived in Cameroon.
“It’s a dream come true,” Ms. Ngefor said.
Gordana Matovic Noblitt, formerly of Serbia and Montenegro, said she fell in love on South Bass years ago when she met her husband, Adam Noblitt while visiting Put-in-Bay with friends. The couple now lives in Marblehead, Ohio.
“I'm proud and happy to become a part of this nation and its wonderful people,” said Ms. Noblitt, who was a physician in Europe.
Ve Emch, formerly of Norway, said she was proud to become an American because the United States “is an example for countries all over the world.”
“I really understand this is going to be my home for the rest of my life and I want to put a tiny mark on this country by voting,” said Ms. Emch, wife of retired neurosurgeon Dr. Willard Emch. The couple lives in Vero Beach, Fla., nine months of the year and three months in the Lake Erie shoreline community of Lakeside.
Duane Williams, 36, of Toledo, is formerly of the Bahamas. An employee of The Andersons in Maumee, he said he has been living in the United States since he was 8 and was glad to become a citizen because it “just makes me feel equal” with others.
All of the young people who took an oath to enter the military have enlisted in the Air Force, Army, or Navy.
The Marines and Coast Guard did not have enlistees at the event.
One of those who took an oath, Joseph Baker, 18, of Findlay said he joined the Air Force because his father’s side of the family has a long history of military service.
“I wanted to explore the world. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to be in the military,” said Mr. Baker, who graduated from Van Buren High School in June.
Alyssa Arman, 17, of Northwood, said she still has a year left at Northwood High School but took her Air Force oath early. Her basic training begins July 20, 2014.
Dean Mollenkopf, 23 of West Toledo, a 2008 graduate of Toledo Technology Academy, said he is entering the Air Force while taking a break from classes at the University of Toledo, where he is working toward an engineering degree.
Ally Musser, 18, who graduated from Bryan High School, said she is entering the Air Force for a career in operation intelligence. She said she wanted to join after seeing her brothers enlist in the Army.
Contact Tom Henry at: email@example.com or 419-724-6079.