Joseph Vondruska was born in Linz, Austria, in 1920. His family actually lived in a smaller city close by named Steyr. His parents emmigrated to the United States the following year while he stayed with relatives in Austria. Joseph was supposed to come to the United States in 1922 with an aunt, but she was denied passage. Doing something that is unheard of today, she sent Joseph to the United States with a young couple she did not know. After spending some time in the hospital on Ellis Island, he was reunited with his parents.
Five years later Joseph and his parents became U.S. citizens. In the 1930’s he moved back to Austria with his mother. During his childhood, he moved back and forth between Austria and the United States several times, living with his father when he was in the U.S.
After graduating from high school in Austria in 1938, he decided for one last time to move to the United States and be with his father. This was two weeks before the shipping lanes on the Atlantic Ocean were closed due to the beginning of World War II. Although he was already a U.S. citizen, poor eyesight kept him out of the Army, but the government needed people who were fluent in both English and German. Since he was bilingual, he became a translator for the government in New York City. However, his travelling between the two countries while he was growing up left the government unsure about his citizenship. He had to receive a letter from the office of the Secretary of State of the United States to confirm that he was an American citizen.
During World War II, Joseph became interested in art and began to study art in New York City. After the war ended, there was no longer a need for translators and the government offered him an office job at Wright Patterson Air force Base in Dayton, Ohio. He continued his art lessons at the Dayton Art Institute and became a graphics artist for the government retiring in 1986.
While in Dayton, he met his wife, Barbara. They had three sons: Joseph A., Eric and Thomas and four grandsons. Joseph kept a studio at home and was able to work on his art, doing portraits, landscapes and signs. His oldest son, Joseph A., remembers that at times he and his brothers would wake up in the morning and find themselves sketched in the column of the newspaper.
He travelled back to his hometown of Steyr four times after World War II. The last time was in 1996 when he travelled with two of his sons and his oldest son’s, family. They stayed with family members in a house where Joseph lived as a boy.
Joseph moved to northern Ohio in 1999 to be closer to his son, Joseph. He never lost his love of art and passed away in 2002 at the age of 82.
Text: Joseph Vondruska III