Stephanie Misangyi was a two-sport athlete and looking forward to her senior year at Estancia High School when her father died last summer, leaving her and her two brothers orphans.
The 17-year-old considered getting “emancipated” so she could be on her own and take care of her two teenage siblings.
One problem: They didn’t listen to her.
“They didn’t treat me like a parent,” Stephanie says.
That’s when Samantha Ward, a friend and teammate, stepped in. She wanted the Misangyi siblings to come and live with her family in Moriarty, so her parents could take care of them.
No one was sure it would work out – especially Aaron and Martha Ward.
Adding three teenagers to their home, which already had a teen, a 10-year-old and a daughter who comes home once a month from college, took some thought.
Both Aaron and Martha knew there would be challenges.
That was more than six months ago.
Loss of mother
The Misangyis – father Akos, Stephanie (whom everyone calls Sangi), 15-year-old Patrick and 13-year-old Christian – were living in Tajique when Akos became ill with liver cancer.
The mother, Lila, had died 11 years earlier, when the family lived in New Jersey. The kids don’t remember much about those times – there are memories of having a large swimming pool and going to their father’s native Hungary every summer.
Lila was Peruvian, and the kids speak English, Spanish and Hungarian fluently. They moved to Tajique in 2007.
Sangi remembers wondering why they went to New Mexico on vacation.
“We came to visit the year before to check out houses,” she said. “My father worked construction (in New Jersey) and then was a CO (correctional officer) at CCA (the prison in Estancia).”
Akos Misangyi worked long hours after the family moved to Tajique and was usually gone from home from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Where the family had live-in Hungarian baby-sitters in New Jersey, the mothering duties fell on Sangi once they lived in New Mexico.
“We barely had rules,” she said. “I said, ‘Patrick you can’t do this, this or this,’ but I couldn’t enforce it.”
With Sangi having no authority over Patrick, he soon did what he wanted and fell in with the wrong crowd.
While they always had food in their house, Sangi said she never wanted to see another Hot Pocket.
Martha Ward is the principal at Estancia High School. She said one concern she had about becoming a parent to the three teens was subjecting the Misangyi children to the extra academic and behavioral pressures that come with being her child. She said she has seen some of the drama Samantha and older sister Mariah had to go through in school.
Martha knew Sangi, but said she knew Patrick only from some of his high school troubles. She had yet to meet Christian.
Even Samantha barely knew Patrick and Christian.
But they met at the Misangyis’ Tajique home last summer, after Akos had become ill.
Martha called the Misangyi children her heroes for living on their own and attempting to take care of their ill father.
Soon after the two families met, Akos and his three children moved in with the Wards for the last two weeks of his life.
Akos, on his deathbed, agreed that Martha and Aaron should obtain legal guardianship of his children. There was not much discussion about the details of the care of the teens, since an immediate trust had already been built.
With the new living arrangements came some adjustments. Sangi and her brothers were used to living by their own rules, so life in the Ward home took some getting used to.
“It was weird sharing a room; I never had to before,” Sangi said.
Mariah Ward, a sophomore at Eastern New Mexico University, brought up another issue.
“There’s no room for me to come home to,” Mariah said. Her room was taken by Patrick and Christian.
Mariah also said that her younger brother, 10-year-old Bill, doesn’t get as much time with his parents. But Samantha said he’s happy that there are more males in the house.
“Bill idolizes Patrick – he follows him around,” Mariah admitted.
And while they get better food, all the Misangyis said the hardest adjustment has been to their new home’s rules.
“I can’t do anything to my sister if she hits me,” Christian said. Aaron Ward won’t let the boys hit girls for any reason.
Keeping grades up is the most difficult thing for Patrick, he said. And meeting up with his old friends isn’t allowed.
Right now, Patrick is working hard to raise his grades and is tutored every afternoon. But he will still have to attend summer school to become a senior. He works out every morning to become either a defensive end or wide receiver on the football field next year.
Patrick looks up to Aaron, possibly as the father figure he hadn’t had for a while.
“He’s getting me a car – if I get my grades up” Patrick said.
Christian is playing basketball and will be a sophomore next year. While the rules are still tough for him, he said he is happy that he can play sports.
Both Sangi and Samantha are pretty laid back and don’t like the drama that often accompanies being a teenager. That’s what drew the two together as friends.
In fact, at first, Sangi didn’t tell Samantha about her circumstances at home – that she was taking care of her brothers and ill father.
Sangi admits she’s a little too placid sometimes. “I’m bad at keeping in contact – a little stubborn,” she said.
“I make her talk to me,” Samantha said.
Now, the Ward family is teaching Sangi to embrace life more.
Sangi and Samantha agree that they have both become protective of each other.