Geza Kokochak

Submitted to the West Virginia Biographies Project by:
Valerie & Tommy Crook
September 26, 1999

The History of West Virginia, Old and New
Published 1923, The American Historical Society, Inc.,
Chicago and New York, Volume III,
pg. 280-281
Hancock County

GEZA KOKOCHAK. The United States, where total
democracy is supposed to reign and where no lines of
distinction are drawn other than those of relative, proved
ability, have long attracted the ambitious youths of other
countries. In making their home here they find their
dreams of earnest labor well repaid come true and their
immigration is of mutual advantage. A fair example of
the ease in hand is found in Geza Kokochak, who has risen
to be a leading business man of Weirton, where he is part
┬╗wner of the Leader-News and proprietor of a nourishing
real estate business.

Mr. Kokochak was born May 16, 1885, in Czecho-Slo-
vakia, then Hungary. When he was ten years of age he
was left in his native land by his parents, who in 1895
immigrated to the United States and settled in Jefferson
County, Ohio, not having sufficient means to take their
children with them. When he was only five years of age
Geza began earning a part of his living as a goose herder,
and continued until, when seven years of age, he had
charge of 500 geese on a nobleman’s estate, likewise being
overseer swineherd for the village. Later he was made a
shepherd and tended the village sheep, amounting to 1300.
Up to this time he received no wages, working merely for
his board, but eventually he secured a position with a
lumber company, where, in the mill, he was made foreman
of a bunch of twenty-five boys engaged in sorting lath,
and this employment paid him a small wage. His school-
ing, starting at seven years, consumed two and one-half
years, whereas the usual course was six years, but he was
palled upon to attend the examinations. During his resi-
dence in his native land Mr. Kokochak lived with an aunt,
who was interested in his advancement, and finally ar-
rangements were made, in 1897, for him to join his par-
ents, and in December of that year the family was
reunited. Geza secured work in the coal mines of Jeffer-
son County, where he remained three years, but it was his
desire to enter business on his own account, and in order
to prepare for a mercantile career he secured employment
as a clerk, a vocation which he followed for three and one-
half years. Mr. Kokochak made his initial venture into
the merchandise business at Connorville, Ohio, in partner-
ship with his father, Michael Kokochak, who is now de-
ceased, but lost all his capital on account of a coal strike
then existing.

It was at this time that Mr. Kokochak married Miss
Susannah Swartz, who had been born in the same vicinity
in Czecho-Slovakia as her husband, and had been brought
as a child to Steubenville, Ohio, by her father, Andy
Swartz, formerly foreman at the old LaBelle mines, and
now living in retirement at Steubenville. After their mar-
riage Mr. and Mrs. Kokochak settled at Steubenville,
where they embarked in the general store business, with
$6 cash and a $3,500 debt to pay. During the seven years
that they engaged in business at Steubenville they built
up an enterprise of $3,000 sales the first year to $100,000
sales the seventh year and paid off all debts. During this
time also Mr. Kokochak had been identified with all move-
ments and was a leader among his people. In 1913 he
opened a branch of his business at Weirton, then a village
of 800 population, with but one mill in operation. Mr.
Kokochak put in a general stock of merchandise and was
soon doing a thriving business. He had the foresight to
note how Weirton was to grow and develop, and, where a
man of less courage and self-reliance would have hesitated.
was prompt in disposing of his Steubenville business in
order that he might concentrate his full energies upon the
new enterprise. His judgment was also shown in the
choice of a location for his store, for when the community
grew up and developed it was found that his store was
located within a mile of the center of the city. For a time
it would seem that his foresight had been at fault, as his
store lost some money, but his business ability soon over-
came this obstacle and he made the mercantile effort a
decided success.

At this time there was somewhat of a boom on in real
estate, and Mr. Kokochak, a man of known acumen, was
frequently consulted as to property values. This opened
up a new field for his capabilities, and he soon was en-
gaged in the real estate business as the medium through
which could be transacted transfers of property. His in-
terests in this direction goon grew to such an extent that
he disposed of his store and purchased a real estate agency
from a Mr. Widing. With the growth of the town he
began to handle all kinds of property, and his deals grew
larger and larger, until at one time and another he has
probably sold as much property as there is in Weirton at
present, one of his deals involving the transfer of 340
acres of property, which extended the corporate limits
greatly. He became a salesman and also a stockholder for
the Weirton Home Building Company, which sells many
homes, and the Weirton New Home Building Company,
and acts as salesman for the Weirton New Home Company,
owned by the Weirton Steel Company, the leading industry
of the community. Mr. Kokochak has interested many new
people in the community and has encouraged them to build
and settle, and is the man in charge of the some eighteen
or twenty additions to the growing community of Weirton,
which during the past few years has shown an almost
phenomenal development.

Mr. Kokochak first entered the newspaper field in 1920,
when he purchased the Weirton Leader from James J. Weir.
On Mr. Weir’s return from the West he secured a half
interest in the Leader, and December 1, 1921, Messrs. Weir
and Kokochak bought the Weirton News from J. W. Jones,
who had purchased it in 1920 from Mr. Weir, its founder.
The two papers were thus combined as the Leader-News,
Mr. Weir being editor and manager and Mr. Kokochak,
treasurer. Mr. Kokochak is also president of the Weirton
Business Men’s Association. He has always been one of
the town’s best boosters, and has at all times been ready to
help progressive movements with his ability, his time or his
means. During the World war he was greatly active, par-
ticularly in the Red Cross, where he was a member of the
executive board, although he likewise did his full share in
other movements, being a member of all committees of
Liberty Bond drives and an assistant to the members of the
War Registration Board, in addition to working valiantly
in behalf of the Young Men’s Christian Association and
other drives. Largely through his work and that of other
public-spirited citizens like himself Hancock County was
among the first in every drive. He was appointed by the
director of War Risk Insurance to assist the Government
in gathering the necessary data to reinstate the service men
in retaining their Government insurance. When the Red
Cross first installed its local branch Mr. Kokochak gave
them the use of his offices free until the society had an
opportunity of erecting a building of their own. Mr. Koko-
chak is particularly well read in all Slavonic tongues, and
while a resident of Steubenville was frequently called into
the courts to act as an interpreter. He is the owner of a
modern home at Weirton, in which he has a well-selected
library of some 5,000 volumes. Taking a pride in his
adopted city and its institutions, he has helped to build up
all the churches, and not only aids all educational move-
ments, but is a regular visitor at the schools.

Mr. and Mrs. Kokochak are the parents of seven children,
as follows: Anna, who is attending the local high school;
Napoleon John, attending the graded school; Geza C., Alex-
ander Ferdinand, Olympia Josephine, Theodore Woodrow
and Lillian Susannah. Anna and Napoleon were the first
junior members of the Red Cross in Hancock County, in
the first branch, and the first chapter in Hancock County
was established at Weirton.