By Yvette Panno
Ivan Kalina, 84, of Setauket died peacefully the morning of May 27 following a brief illness.
Originally born in Kosice, Czechoslovakia, in 1932 to beloved parents Geza and Ilonka, Kalina’s life was defined by courage, strength and resilience. First as a European Jewish Holocaust survivor, later as an escaped refugee from Communism to America, his story shaped not only his life, but also the history of a generation.
During World War II, Kalina was a young child who managed to survive the Nazis’ early invasion of Czechoslovakia and the deportation of the Jews to concentration camps through the help of Christian friends and false papers.
In the final years of the war, he separated from his mother and father and went to Budapest, Hungary, to hide in an apartment with relatives just blocks from Gestapo headquarters that was bombed day and night by American, Russian and British forces.
Returning to Kosice, his was among the few Jewish families to survive.
Although his education was delayed for years by the war, as a testimony to his determination, in 1956 he graduated as the valedictorian of his medical school class from Charles University in Prague, as a pediatrician. That same year, he married his beautiful wife Vera Atlas, a histopathologist, in Kosice.
With the onslaught of Communist persecution of both Jews and democratic sympathizers, Ivan and Vera realized they could never be free in their oppressive homeland.
In 1965, they left their close families and planned a daring escape through the Yugoslavia border into Austria, until they could manage a flight to New York City with their two young children, Peter and Yvette. They came to this country with two suitcases and $200. With prison sentences awaiting them if they returned to Czechoslovakia, they dedicated themselves to making new lives. Ivan and Vera worked long hours at Bellevue Hospital and New York University while he took his medical board exams in English – his fifth fluent language.
Ivan’s favorite expression – said with characteristic humor and positive spirit – was “that’s why I came to America.”
To this country, Kalina brought with him the grit, charm and fun-loving outlook to be successful. His career spanned a private practice in pediatrics in Rocky Point as well as medical director of Little Flower Orphanage in Wading River, associate professor at Stony Brook University, and attending physician at both St. Charles Hospital and John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson.
Always athletic and tanned, he was a fiercely competitive, daily tennis player and longtime member of the Harbor Hills Country Club near his original home in Port Jefferson. A perfect day was sitting in the sun near the backyard pool reading a newspaper. A remarkable skier until the age of 70, he loved to travel and took multiple trips out to his condo in Vail, Colorado, and traveled several times a year around the world.
His love of children was no greater than that for his five grandchildren, who called him Papi and of whom he was most proud: Olivia, Mia, Sydney, Jake and Sam.
He is also survived by his children, Dr. Peter Kalina and Yvette Kalina Panno; daughter-in-law, Michelle Kalina; and long-loved partner, Carolyn Van Helden.
As he would say in Hungarian: Sok Szeretet, Servuse Tatulko.