Stephania Gaber was born in the United States, but her mother, Stephania, father, Michael, sister, Donna (Dinusha), sister, Dorothy, maternal grandmother, Ahafia Rudiak, and grandfather, Maxim Rudiak, migrated from a small town outside Kyiv, Ukraine, in 1947, after World War II.
Ukraine was a poor country and America had its promises of fulfilling dreams, said Gaber, who now goes by Stephanie and is the Escapades producer at Brandywine Living Princeton.
Her grandmother had relatives in Manville, so the family arrived on Sept. 21, 1947, according to her immigration papers. If you had family in the United States you could get permanent residency and after two years you were granted American citizenship, Gaber said.
Her parents and her grandfather worked for Johns Manville, an insulation, roofing and building materials company in the town. Her father and grandfather built three houses and Gaber still lives on the same block.
Then, Michael and Stephania founded the M&S Bar & Grill in Manville, which was open from 1952 until about 1980. Stephania cooked Ukrainian food at the tavern, especially since Manville was a very Ukrainian and Polish area at the time, Gaber said.
Pierogi, stuffed cabbage, borscht and “a big jar of purple pickled eggs that everybody loved” were on the menu, Gaber said.
Their family traditions of their Ukrainian heritage included gardening.
“Both my grandparents were great gardeners in Ukraine. When they came to America they settled in Manville, built homes and built their own home as well. At least 80% of their backyard was a garden, full of every vegetable you can imagine.
“I still do a garden at home every summer on the same soil as they planted on because I live in the house my grandfather and father built. I have taken my garden skills to work as well and we now have a garden club (at Brandywine) with 16 residents called Can You Dig It. Last year we grew our garden and all the harvest went to the South Brunswick Food Pantry,” Gaber said.
Christmas Eve was an important holiday, when the family would eat fish, such as herring in wine sauce and sour cream sauce, and many other dishes and desserts – but no meat.
They handmade buckwheat, sautéed cabbage and had a lot of pierogies of potatoes and cheese and sauerkraut and mushrooms. Gaber’s favorite dessert was the poppyseed roll.
On Easter, her grandmother and mother would spend hours baking babka to give to everyone in the neighborhood, Gaber recalled. She still makes babka and ham and pickled eggs. The food would be blessed by a priest at church.
Gaber’s father’s brother and his family stayed behind in Kyiv – but unfortunately, with the current state of the Russian invasion, she has not been able to reach anyone. She is hoping they went to Poland to seek safety.
“When residents learned of the war going on in Ukraine, they felt very unsettled, especially residents from Ukraine and nearby countries. They joined together with (Gaber) to host a charity sale to donate the proceeds to Hope For Ukraine, located in Rowland, for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine,” Gaber said.
Items for sale included paintings of the Ukrainian flag and sunflowers, blue and gold potted pansies, T-shirts with the Ukrainian flag, and a Pray For Ukraine iron on.
There was traditional Ukrainian food for purchase, made by Gaber, such as pierogies, stuffed cabbage, Ukrainian honey cake and Ukrainian apple cake.
Overall, the community raised $2,863.20.
“My entire family is from Ukraine, so this really hits close to home for myself and the Ukrainian seniors at our community,” Gaber said. “They really like connecting with the community and like to be helpful always. They like to keep busy and I like to keep them busy.”
“Someday I want to. Someday, I hope if and when. I pray every day for this war to end,” she said.