Mathew J. Teffenhardt age 88 of Ashland, passed away on July 15, 2020.
Born the son of Alexander and Anna (Pfeiffer) Teffenhart, on February 18, 1932 in Petrifeld, Romania
in the County of Satu Mare, a mostly ethnic German village in Romania. The village is now known as
Petresti, in NW Romania.
Until he was 12 years old in 1944, he helped the family on the farm. He only got a very high view of
the rural village by climbing inside to the top of the church bell tower after being a server in mass. All
he could see was the distant flat land fields in every direction. At that time it was most common to still
be using horses, wagons, and hand-powered tools on the farm.
He fondly remembered working on the family owned fields outside of the village with his dad. Mathew
riding and controlling their pair of powerful draft horses, riding bare-back in the hot summer sun, as his
father operated the plow being pulled along. He enjoyed working in the family grape vineyard with his
parents and grandparents to produce enough home produced wine for the family for the entire year. He
brought his love of growing grapes and fruit trees to America and had dozens of trees and prune plums
he personally grafted and experimented with over the next 50 years.
Mathew immigrated to the United States in 1950 after World War II, having spent 4-5 years in
displaced person camps around Germany because of the war. He also lost his civilian father Alexander
Teffenhart (known as "Sandor" in Hungarian. Please note the missing 'd' in the last name). His father
stayed behind to take care of the farm animals, planning to catch up on horseback if the bombing got
too close. Unfortunately, the entire area was surrounded and the village was captured by the Russian
army, the ethnic Germans were then sent to prisoner-of-war forced labor camps somewhere in the
Eastern Ukraine, his father was never to return, with reports many years later that he died at the hands
of the Russians at the camp. This was a constant source of sorrow as Mathew never was able to say
good-bye to his father Alexander.
All of this happened during the diaspora of the ethnic German-Donauschwaben in Eastern Europe.
They were simple hard working farm people, who got caught up in a bad way like millions of others
during the war.
Losing his father to the war so young caused him to be the head of the family for the next 76 years. He
immigrated to the Cleveland area with his mother Anna and three younger sisters to start their life in
Ohio. Mathew first started learning basic English by reading the Sunday comics in the newspaper and
proudly became a United States citizen years later. He loved the opportunity this country afforded his
family to improve their lives through hard work.
On June 16, 1956, Mathew was married to Kathryn Thiel, who survives. They were married for 64
In addition to his loving wife Kathryn, Mathew is survived by three children and their spouses; Linda
(James) Morris, Lora (Robert) Custer and Steven (Sharon) Teffenhardt. Also surviving are four
grandchildren; Eric Morris, Alexander Teffenhardt, Nicole Teffenhardt and John Teffenhardt. He is also
survived by three sisters and two brothers-in-law; Ann (Jerry) Sykora, Teri May and Laurie (Bill)
Ramirez and many nieces and nephews. Mathew is preceded in death by his parents; one sister and
brother-in-law, Mary (Robert) Tumney and one brother-in-law, Raymond May.
Due to the war, he was not afforded a normal education, yet he was a very self-educated man who spent
countless hours learning about the solar system, and any and all subjects about science, nature and
He enjoyed cutting wood to heat his home for nearly 40 years. Mathew would often like to say he
would heat himself 3 times; first, when he cut up the tree, second, when he split and stacked the wood,
and finally when he burned the wood to heat his home. He only purchased 250 gallons of heating oil in
1980 when they built their new home. It lasted several decades before he had to get a first refill.
He took great satisfaction in their property, as he built almost everything on his own: the family home,
cabins, tree houses and sheds for his equipment, improving natural springs on their property, building
dams and a lake. As one neighbor put it, his woods were so clean of fallen sticks and limbs, it was as if
he stood there under the trees and as they broke off he would catch the sticks and limbs before they hit
the ground! All those fallen branches he collected were ample fire wood for the hundreds of camp fires
family and friends gathered around in the woods sitting on “Teffenhardt Tumbler” chairs over the past
50 years together.
Kathryn and Mathew enjoyed their many, and vast, flower and vegetable gardens to save money and
feed their growing family with healthy fresh foods.
Mathew was sponsored to come over to the U.S.A. along with his mother and three young sisters by a
distant relation. In order to repay their passage fare, they worked on the Winkler family farm in NE
Ohio. The sponsorship was a thank you and a repayment for Mathew's family having helped the
sponsor family financially to move to America several generations prior.
Sailing over from the port of La Havre, France, on the S.S. Washington, the food was unlimited. After 5
years of near starvation levels between 1944-1950, he ate bananas for the first time. He enjoyed them
so much that he thought it a shame to throw away the peels and ate them also, he did not enjoy the
peels as much. Not understanding he could eat oranges from the giant bowl of fresh fruit on their
dinner table on the cruise ship, he somehow managed to ask the porter if he could take an extra orange.
The porter said "Take all you want!" He then quickly stuffed his pockets full of oranges to take back to
the cabin and ate them all.
After several different jobs to help support the entire family, Mathew worked many, many overtime
hours and provided for his family at Ford Motor Company in Brook Park for 37 years, he only missed
one day of work due to illness in all those years! He was primarily a machine oiler. He then operated a
enormous furnace to harden steel rocker arms at the Ford Foundry. All this before he had a happy and
long retirement of 30 years.
He kept active over the years raising chickens, cows, and sheep as a hobby. He loved his several
wrapped-strap-pull-start, oily-smelling, burnt-orange, antique Gravely, single-axle, grass mowers that
could easily go anywhere on the undulating slopes of the property.
He also gave hair-raising tractor rides to giddy grandchildren, friends and adults alike. With the rapid
quick glances back at the riders, he would purposely go speedily bumping along over exposed tree
roots and across the creek with a devious grin on his face, nearly (but not actually) launching the
startled and nervously laughing passengers out of the little red homemade utility cart. He purposely
built it to have sides with top boards that worked as seats to carry guests around the property. Most
were glad to get out of the wagon at the end of the ride, but then they always seemed to want another
exciting ride soon after.
He and his wife Kathryn built their dream home including garages, cabins and sheds for his equipment.
Most notably Mathew built several legendary, huge foot swings in which he would climb a young,
maple sapling nearby to get the rope 50-75 feet in the air over a branch. The last of which he did in his
late 70s with only a belt that you would wear in your pants for Sunday Church. That was Mathew, get
the job done with the tools, or possibly no tools, he had at hand. The task would get done no matter
He had an extraordinary love for all his children and grandchildren. He was amused by playing the
accordion, loudly yodeling, and singing traditional music. When they were little, he delighted to watch
them run around and dance for him as he played his accordion at an enthusiastic volume. One of his
favorite songs to sing and play on his several accordions was “In Heaven There is No Beer.”
During his retirement, Mathew also experimented with recording CD discs. Once again using the tools
at hand, a karaoke machine and home recording equipment, he recorded playing his accordion. He
would then sing and yodel along with the pre-recorded traditional German music that he loved. His
grandson Eric would then make many duplicate CD discs on his computer to be gifted and distributed
widely to family and friends.
(In this video link close your eyes and just listen, it almost sounds as if Mathew was playing his
accordion in his self taught, Donauschwaben style https://tinyurl.com/AccordionLikeMathew )
When he was able, he enjoyed helping the older generations at the Donauschwaben German-American
Cultural Center in Cleveland make traditional Hungarian smoked sausage. It was very important to
Mathew to keep the old world traditions alive, yet live a modern life in the U.S.A. His life was very
difficult for about a dozen years starting at 12 years old. Eventually, he came to America and had no
choice but to start fresh. Here, he finally found happiness and fulfillment with faith, family, friends and
A private, family burial will take place at the Riverside Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio at a later date.
Mathew was a loving son, husband, father, brother, cousin, and grandfather. He will be sadly missed by
many friends and relatives and of course his loving wife Kathryn.
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