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Ask Me: International Institute helped immigrants learn, share cultures

Fresno’s International Institute helped immigrants learn English and American customs and also showcased their cultures to the community at Old World’s Fair. Practicing their Chinese sword dance for the International Institute’s Old World’s Fair are, left to right, Brenda Hee, Brenda Wong, Irene Wong and Julie Yee.
Fresno’s International Institute helped immigrants learn English and American customs and also showcased their cultures to the community at Old World’s Fair. Practicing their Chinese sword dance for the International Institute’s Old World’s Fair are, left to right, Brenda Hee, Brenda Wong, Irene Wong and Julie Yee. Undated Fresno Bee file photo

Q: When I was a kid, once a year we went to a fair sponsored by the International Institute where there were food booths sponsored by many nationalities. It was so good. I think my father ate something from every booth. What was the International Institute?

Diane Chernick, Fresno

A: The event you attended was the Old World’s Fair put on by the International Institute, which helped immigrants learn English and American customs. The institute also held citizenship classes.

In return, the immigrants showcased their food, music, dance, native costumes and customs at the Old World’s Fair.

In 1973, an oral history interview was recorded with Frank Tuck of Fresno, a former board member of the International Institute. Tuck called the Old World’s Fair “a really great exhibit for the public.” Eighteen countries were represented at the 1973 fair.

Fresno’s International Institute taught English and American customs to immigrants.

The International Institute was started in the U.S. in 1911. The Fresno chapter began in 1936, said Tuck, who joined the organization in 1942.

English classes were taught by volunteers, who also organized parties or dinners for the immigrants to help them learn American customs. Tuck recalled a Halloween party in 1971. Halloween decorations were displayed, cake, ice cream and coffee were served, and volunteers explained what the holiday was all about.

The main purpose of the classes and events was to assist immigrants in becoming citizens, Tuck said in the oral history. “We feel real proud when our students become naturalized citizens.”

The International Institute was funded by the United Crusade, which became the United Way, and fundraising events.

In 1982, the International Institute merged with the Fresno Community Council to become the Nationalities Service of Central California.

Q: I remember Karsh’s Bakery from the late 1960s. My favorite dessert was their cheesecake, which was very moist and had a sweet layer of pineapple on the bottom. I’ve never found anything else like it. What was their secret?

Juanita Salinas Jacinto, Fresno

A: Karsh’s Bakery was a fixture in Fresno for 26 years. Andrew Karsh, grandson of the founders, owns and operates Karsh’s catering today and remembers their cheesecake with pineapple filling.

“It was Chicago-style, that’s what my father used to say,” Karsh said. A 1982 Fresno Bee obituary said his father, Norman Karsh, was born in Illinois.

What set their cheesecake apart was that instead of the cream cheese called for in most recipes, Karsh’s version was made with baker’s cheese. “It’s similar in texture to a ricotta,” Andrew Karsh said.

Karsh didn’t share the family recipe but he noted their version was unique. “I’ve never seen it anywhere near Fresno,” he said.

Karsh’s grandparents, Joe and Rose Karsh, opened their first bakery on Van Ness Avenue downtown when they moved to Fresno in 1954. Norman Karsh later joined in the family business. In 1963, Karsh’s Bakery moved from 1121 Van Ness Ave. to a space in the Patterson Building at 938 Fulton St., according to The Bee. The new bakery had a ground floor, mezzanine and basement and a staff of 40.

By the time Karsh’s Bakery closed in 1980, there were four other locations, in Hanonian’s Market, the Mayfair Shopping Center and in the Gottschalks stores at Manchester Shopping Center and Fashion Fair.

Q: I understand that Del Rey had a newspaper at one time. Was it a daily or weekly publication, and who was the publisher?

H. Yasumoto, San Luis Obispo

A: Two newspapers were published in Del Rey in the early 1900s, both on a weekly basis.

The first was the Del Rey News, which published for just one year. It came out every Thursday and a monthly subscription was $1.

The paper’s first issue carried news of World War I. “Germans in Hard Drives in the West” headlined a story with a Berlin dateline.

There was also local, state and national news, including a story from Toledo, Ohio: “High Skirts Bad for Mere Man’s Morals,” about a proposed city council ordinance that would impose a “fine and imprisonment for women wearing on the streets skirts higher than three inches above the ankle.”

In its first issue on Feb. 17, 1916, publisher J.R. Gould said, “The News will do all it can for the upbuilding of the town and country around it.”

Gould placed the success of The News in the hands of its readers: “I will just ask you to watch The News and see if it does not always stand up for the town it is named after.

“If it does, support it – if it don’t (sic) it is not worthy of your support and should cease to exist.” The Del Rey News stopped publishing in February 1917.

The Del Rey Messenger was published from Jan. 22, 1925, to Dec. 29, 1927, by Rick Swanson. One of Del Rey’s early prominent citizens was Ben Swanson, but it’s not clear if the publisher was part of that family. Copies of The Messenger could not be found.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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