Sava Savchev ’44: My Children, Grandchildren, and Great Grandchildren Are My Fortune

September 9, 2016 by American College of Sofia

Interview by Petia Ivanova ’97

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Sava Savchev ’44 at his home, 2016

Everyone in the ACS Alumni Relations Office loves Sava’s short notes that are as informative as they are thoughtful, always signed with respect, and sent our way regularly. Sava writes them on a typewriter that only has Cyrillic letters but he still uses some English phrases, only transcribed in Cyrillic. He always calls to thank us, to let us know that our card or invitation has arrived, and whether or not he will be able to come to the Christmas Concert or Graduation Ceremony. We’ve counted on Sava for so many years now to tell us who of the Class of 1944 is still around, interviewing him was always on our to-do list. I’m so glad a lighter summer workload allowed me to finally pay that visit to Sava in July in his cozy flat across from the beautiful Zaimov Park. Our correspondence even intensified afterwards, as Sava was kind enough to send us several files of great value to ACS from his personal archive, among them, his speech at his class reunion in 2003 and the first ever alumni database of the College, covering Classes 1925-1943! Диър Сава, we thank you to the moon and back! Stay well!

Sava, how did you come to enroll at the College?

One of my cousins, Siyka Savcheva, Class of 1928, graduated from the College in Samokov. Actually, many boys and girls in my home town of Cherven Bryag had graduated from the school, so it was well known there. Additionally, my mother was a close friend of Venera Yankova, math teacher at the College, whose husband Konstantin Yankov also taught math there. In the summer of 1938, I attended a summer camp in Chamkoria, organized by the American Embassy. They used to organize such camps by the sea and in the mountains. One of the camp supervisors was Mr. Allen, the husband of one of the English instructors at the College, Mrs. Ada P. Allen. My camp experience allowed a sneak peak of a different atmosphere that I liked. So, I expressed my wish to go see the school for myself. Later that summer, my mother and I visited the College and the Yankovi family. My impressions from the visit reasserted my decision to enroll at the College, and so it happened.

Was it hard for you to live away from home and family for the first time when you started at the College? Did you make friends quickly?

 I had classmates, who especially in their first year hid in the lockers built in the walls of our shared bedroom and cried for their families that they were missing terribly. But that wasn’t my experience. Several weeks into the school year, Mr. Yankov asked me if I already had made friends. The truth was that, clumsy and hopeless as I was, much different from the sociable kids from Sofia and those of Jewish origin, I hadn’t made any friends yet. Mr. Yankov approached me once saying, “Look, there’s this nice kid from Lovech in the bed next to yours. Why don’t you become his friend?” That’s how my friendship with Mihail Radionov started. His father was member of the Parliament before the communist regime.

What are the memories you keep from the years spent at the College?

I remember the pool. Every time I visit the College, I plan to go look for the pool, yet the time is never enough to actually do that. Our campus escape route to Sofia started right there.

I recall this one incident – at the time I considered it embarrassing, though now, with the distance of time, I find it funny. My close friend Radionov – he later even became my best man, we had an agreement that the first one to marry will have the other one as their best man and I was the first to tie the knot – and I escaped from campus one weekend during the day. I don’t recall why anymore, could be it was just for the challenge of doing something forbidden. But Mr. Black found out, and on the following Monday we were summoned to his office to explain. Radionov started stuttering an apology when Mr. Black interrupted him saying, „Before you speak, you better button your trousers.” Can you imagine the embarrassment Radionov felt! No wonder he didn’t manage to formulate a meaningful answer to Mr. Black’s question after that. I think that I escaped again after that though, on at least 2-3 other occasions.

Field Day, the sports holiday, was our favorite event in the school calendar. We elected a Field Day queen, too, usually a girl in her senior year. I was a good long-distance runner and participated in hurdle competitions, too.

Mountain Day was a favorite, too, held at the beginning of the school year, sometime in the end of September, beginning of October. Every school day until Mountain Day, we would sing “Mountain Day” on our way to and inside the cafeteria, we could hardly wait. On the actual day, both students and teachers went to Vitosha – we walked till noon, at noon we ate, and then we played.

Which one of your teachers made the biggest impression on you and why?

I remember math teacher Mr. Zlatanov vividly. He was a war veteran, had been wounded, and had some tics as a result. Maybe it was out of compassion that I developed these warm feelings towards him.

I wasn’t a very good student and have never been on the Bulletin Board for instance, unlike Kolyo (Nikolay Georgiev, read his story here) of my class, always heading the list. I wasn’t on the list at all, not even at its bottom. I wasn’t into studying, not that it was hard or anything. I just lacked the ambition.

Did you ever appear on stage?

Yes, one year I played Father Tarapontiy[1]  in a parody on Stunt Night.

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Mountain Day 1939 – Sava is standing in the middle

Which classmates do you remember?

As far as remembering, I remember less and less, but take a look at this booklet here. I don’t know how it found its way here, but since I tend to keep way more stuff than I should, here it is. (He hands me a booklet of about 20 pages where the American College graduates of the period 1925-1943 are listed along with their university, major, and work place, where available.) Here is Dimitar Goncharov, our music teacher who was also an alumnus of the class of 1925 from the period when the College was in Samokov. I have highlighted everyone from my home town, Cherven Bryag: here is Tsenka Etropolska ’30, her brothers were masters of fencing, here is one of them – Tseko Etropolski ’36. And here is Vlado Palankov ’42, who was a major factor in the school’s reopening, he helped a lot. Take the booklet, no need to give it back, it’s more useful to you than it would be to my relatives one day.

What do you recall from 1942 when Americans were forced to leave the College and Bulgaria?

The first thing I did upon hearing of the Americans leaving was to write to my parents and tell them I didn’t want to stay at the College. They insisted I stayed though, and so I graduated from the Simeonovo Foreign Language High School which was the new name of the College. Radionov and Kolyo stayed until graduation in 1944, too.

As the war broke out, a negative attitude towards Jewish people emerged and spread. It was felt at the College too, where there were some students bullying our Jewish classmates – always away from teachers’ eyes, so that teachers never found out and intervened.

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Field Day 1939

After the events in September 1944, anyone connected to the Western educational system experienced difficulties. Was this your case too, as a university student and in your career afterwards?

No, I had no difficulties. I got into university and graduated from the Economy Higher Institute with a major in banking, and so did my College buddy Radionov.  Afterwards banking became my profession.

Finding work wasn’t difficult either. Accounting specialists were much sought after and I immediately got a spot at Sofjilfond, the state housing fund. After spending a couple of months there, I was made head of the accounting department of their Kolarov area branch, close to the Central Railway Station. Next, I started at the State Computing and Organizational Technology Institute, today situated at the 4th kilometer. I was promoted to Head of the Financial Department there and a couple of years later, I transferred to the State Economic Union for Plastics and Rubber[2] up in the Krasno Selo neighborhood. I stayed in the field of accounting until the end of my working days, climbing up the career ladder slowly but surely. At the end, I joined the Central Labor-Union Council as a main economy and accounting expert and accountability methodologist. Part of my job was to manage the financial aspects of the recreational facilities in the whole country, in addition to managing the accountants at the facilities who reported to me. I retired after 11 years of employment there.

I recall how I once stood on Vasil Levski Blvd. chatting with my direct manager at the Labor-Union Council. A woman I was acquainted with passed by and the two of us greeted each other and exchanged a few sentences. When she went her way, my boss asked me: “How do you know her?” “From my days at the College,” I replied, and he exclaimed, “But why didn’t you mention the College in your application then?” “Well, I did write that I graduated from a Foreign Language High-School, which is what I did.” “How smart of you!” he said.

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Sava at the Graduation of the Class of 2015

Where does the one who manages all recreational facilities in the country go on vacation?

Everywhere.

Which was your favorite spot though?

The seaside. Nessebar was where we used to go the most.

You have lived in three very different time periodsthe one before communism, communism itself, and the so called “transition” after the changes in 1989. If you could choose one period to have spent your whole life in, which one would you choose?

I was too young and immature in the first of the three periods, I keep too few memories, even if most of them are good ones. I don’t know about the second one. For me, it was as if a different period started when I enrolled at the College in 1938. This period lasted long and was spent in a very beautiful Bulgaria.

What makes you happy?

I’m blessed with many grandchildren and great grandchildren. I have two kids, a son and a daughter, and four grandchildren, two girls and two boys. One of my grandchildren lives with her husband and their two daughters in Edmonton, Canada. I have seven great grandchildren so far, the youngest one is three years old. The greatest fortune and happiness!

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Sava going through the alumni data base

I met my wife in our hometown of Cherven Bryag. Her sister K. Ivanova studied at the College in my class while my wife was four years younger and graduated from the English Language High School in Lovech. She used to tell stories about the school director Ms. Carhartt. During summers, we used to hang out with friends at the beach by the Iskar River and that’s how our relationship started off. She almost made it to our golden wedding – she died in 2001.

In 1972, my cousin and her Armenian husband emigrated from Bulgaria to the US via Paris. The parents of her husband actually paved the way 2-3 years before, though they took an escape through the Middle East. (pointing at a photo on the wall) This photo here shows my cousin in 2009, she had just given me this cowboy hat. I was so moved when she flew here from the US 2 years ago again especially for my 90th anniversary celebration.

Did you keep in touch with College classmates after you graduated?

Our first class reunion was held on 22 November 1969, 25 years after our graduation. We felt some change of attitude towards us American College alumni in the period 1955-1960 and thus more at ease to get together. 34 of the 73 of us based in Sofia showed up. Many must have still been afraid. And 34 had already moved to Israel where they had started their new lives.

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At the ACS Alumni Christmas Reception in 2014 with fellow alumnus Georgi Atanasov ’45

I became a driving force in organizing those reunions over the years. For that first one in 1969, my classmates Vicho Mehandjiev, who was our former class secretary, and Tanka Chakalova helped a lot.

We kept getting together for other anniversaries. At the one in 1994, celebrating 50 years since graduation, the turnout was smaller and it has been growing smaller ever since. In 2003 we celebrated 65 years since enrolling at the College, and in 2004 – 60 years since graduation. We were so happy to be able to hold these last two reunions at the already reopened College. I recall turning to my classmates on our get together in 2003, describing us as “a not very happy generation,” and the years past – as “not the lightest” for us. We had no tongue-in-cheek competitions because who would have found competing who had the most pain or the most diverse diseases amusing!

Now it’s just a handful of us living graduates of the Class of 1944. I am the one keeping track of who’s still around, who’s in Sofia, etc. And I keep you informed. Dimo Boychev spends most of the year with relatives in Bankya and I have the hardest time persuading Kolyo to come with me to the College alumni events. But why not meet at the College this upcoming Christmas? I would come even if I’m the only one among the old alumni.

 We sing the College anthem together. There are spots where we both don’t quite recall the words. It ends in laughter.

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At the Graduation Ceremony of the ACS Class of 2013

[1] A character from Rayko Alexiev’s satirical newspaper „Щурец“, or Cricket (1932-44)

[2]  State economic unions are organizations created in the 1960’s and 1970’s in an attempt to improve industrial factories‘ efficiency by centralizing their management by field. The unions were a stratum in the state management of industrial factories, they managed factories and research institutes and reported to their respective ministry.

 

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