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July 10, 2007 > History

History

Agapius Honcharenko

By Jim DeMersman

I am sure that many of you have passed by a California State Landmark sign on Mission Boulevard near downtown Hayward, not too far from Carlos Bee Boulevard. It bears the name of Agapius Honcharenko; those who have read this name probably wondered what it was all about. Here is the scoop!

Agapius Honcharenko was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1832 and was ordained as a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church at the age of 25. He was almost immediately assigned to a diplomatic post in Athens, Greece where he was exposed to the revolutionary preaching of Alexander Herzen who published an anti-czarist newspaper in London. Honcharenko became a secret correspondent for the newspaper using his government contacts to dig up and reveal secrets of persecution in Russia.

It took the Czar's secret police three years to track him down. In 1860, Honcharenko was invited to dine on a Russian ship. He was arrested, chained and put on a ship to be taken back to Russia. In Constantinople, he was taken off the ship and placed in a jail cell. A friend, dressed as a Turk, was allowed in to see him. They changed clothes and Honcharenko escaped and headed to London. While in England, he continued his fight against the Czar - who still had a price on Honcharenko's head. Honcharenko eventually found his way to the United States finding refuge in the home of Henry Citti of Philadelphia. It was here that he met, fell in love and married Henry's sister, Alvino.

He worked as a translator, always two steps ahead of the Czar's assassins and even organized a reformed Russian church. A few years later he moved to San Francisco and founded the Alaska Herald - an English-Russian newspaper that forecast a bright future for Alaska. Honcharenko told Russians who lived in the area to cherish the freedom of America. He was critical of the military government that ruled the territory and how they treated Native Alaskans and Russian immigrants. Because of his views, he was verbally and physically abused and forced to sell his paper moving across the bay to Hayward where he found refuge in the Hayward hills.

Honcharenko's farm became a gathering place for Sunday visitors where he conducted religious services in a nearby cave and baptisms in a local creek near the wood home that he shared with Alvino. She conducted open air classrooms for nearby ranchers' children under a Cyprus tree planted by Agapius. They lived a quiet life, occasionally coming into the town of Hayward where they would pick up supplies and sell produce grown on their little farm.

After Alvino died at age 81 in 1915, friends and neighbors helped Agapius bury her on the crest of a hill behind their home. The hill overlooked a wild canyon that Alvino loved; her grave was located under a pine tree she planted when they first moved to Hayward. A wooden fence was placed around the grave. A year later, Agapius, whose health had not been good, died as well; he was buried next to Alvino. Russian Orthodox crosses were placed on both their graves. Today, the wood is weathered but the fence and crosses are still there under a large pine tree in the Hayward Hills.

The site has been designated a California landmark. It is now owned by the East Bay Regional Park District, which plans to provide greater access to the site. Those who wish to visit are welcome to call Garin Park at 510-582-2206 for access information.

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