The Nebraska Happening
What happened in Nebraska during the August SVU Conference was unique and truly phenomenal which cannot be expressed by a better term than "Happening." Those of us who came there from other states or foreign countries felt like Alice in Wonderland or, as the Czechs say, "u Jirikova videni."
The outpouring of kindness, goodwill and friendship was ever present wherever you looked, accompanied by a broad smile and helping hand. You could feel that it was all genuine.
The Conference opened August 2. In the in the spacious Nebraska Union Auditorium, with all seats occupied at eight o'clock sharp. After the four national anthems (US, Canadian, Czech and Slovak) which were performed by Joel Blahnik, Anita Smisek, Maureen Beck, and the Capital City Czech Choraliers, came words of welcome from the University Dean of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Richard J. Hoffmann, followed by my official opening, in my capacity as SVU President.
Next on the program was Dr. Mila Saskova-Pierce, Chair of the Conference Organizing Committee, and Dr. Russell Ganim, Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. They were followed by Kate Witek, Auditor of Public Accounts of the State of Nebraska, who brought greetings and a special message from Governor Mike Johanns. On the occasion the Governor proclaimed the days of our Conference, August 1 through 3, 2001, as "Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences Days."
Then came Don Weseley, the newly elected Mayor of Lincoln, who welcomed the participants on behalf of the State Capital Lincoln, mentioning his Czech ancestors who settled in Nebraska in the late 1800s. (His name was originally spelled Vesely.) This was followed by a message from US Senator Chuck Hagel. The official part of the program was concluded with the greetings of Petr Gandalovic, Consul General of the Czech Republic, who addressed the audience on behalf of the Czech Republic. The program ended by a musical performance of the Capital City Czech Choraliers.
After a short coffee and "kolache" break, the SVU Conference started in earnest. Three or more sessions usually ran concurrently, following the printed program. All lecture rooms were equipped with the latest equipment. Most sessions were well attended and went smoothly. Each session was usually concluded with a question and answer period and frequently with an animated discussion. Space does not allow description of individual sessions which ran concurrently for two full days, August 2 and 3. It should be noted that a number of panels were attended by younger audience, as well as by younger presenters, which was one of the main objectives of the conference.
A special plenary session was devoted to the Presidential Symposium, "The Role of Ethnic Organizations in Preserving Our Cultural Heritage", which I had the pleasure to chair, with the participation of chief executive officers of ethnic organizations in the US. The session included representatives of the American Sokol Organization, Bohemia Benevolent and Literary Organization of New York, Bohemian Citizen's Benevolent Society of Astoria, Czech and Slovak Heritage Association of Maryland, Czech and Slovak Music Society, Czech and Slovak Society of Oregon, Czech Heritage Society of Texas, Czech Language Foundation of Nebraska, Czechoslovak American National Council of America, Komensky Club, National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Nebraska Czechs Inc., Nebraska Czechs of Lincoln, Nebraska Czechs of Wilber, Oklahoma Czechs, and Slavonic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas. The Czech Republic was represented by Jaromir Slapota of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute and Senator Milan Spacek, Chair of the Permanent Committee of the Senate for Czechs Abroad. Deputy Jiri Karas, Chair of a comparable committee in the Czech House of Representatives, was unable to attend.
In the evening of August 3, there was the SVU banquet, featuring Rechcigl and Petr Gandalovic as speakers, followed by presentations of SVU Presidential citations to selected organizations that have made contributions to the preservation of Czech and Slovak cultural heritage in the US. These organizations were identical with those which took part in the SVU Presidential Symposium, associated with the National Heritage Commission. Additional citations were awarded to Matice Vyssiho Vzdelani, Slovak American International Cultural Foundation, and Masaryk Club and individuals: Jiri Eichler, Mila Saskova-Pierce, Tom Zumpfe, and Cathleen Oslzly. The latter, who likes to be called "Kacenka," was the chief driving force behind the Conference, received for her extraordinary effort a crystal vase from the SVU and an airfare voucher to the SVU Congress in Plzen next year donated to SVU by Tatra Travel. Czech and Slovak Ambassadors Alexandr Vondra and Martin Butora, under whose auspices the Conference was organized, sent their personal messages which were read.
Judging as a whole, the SVU conference in Nebraska and everything connected with it was a great success, thanks to local leaders and organizers like Cathleen Oslzly, Mila Saskova-Pierce and her husband Layne, Tom Zumpfe, John Fiala, and Ron and Jitka Stiles, as well as a number of organizations which enthusiastically worked with them as a team. The Nebraska Czechs of Lincoln were the greeters in "kroje"(authentic national costumes), beginning Wednesday in the Kauffman Center and continuing until the final presentation on Friday. They also monitored all presentation rooms in the Nebraska Student Union. They are to be commended for all of their fantastic efforts, including the Wall of Remembrance at the Great Plains Art Collection. The Nebraska organizers found a number of local sponsors which helped to defray costs so our registration fees were kept very low and most of the social and cultural events could be provided gratis. SVU will be forever grateful to them.
Those of you who attended the Nebraska Conference will most assuredly agree that it was a true "happening."
Mila Rechcigl, SVU President
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