A History of the CEFT - Part II

1 2005 Ostatní English
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Czech-American celebrations such as Westfest and the Ennis Polka Festival became ever more popular, and new events were added in communities across the State, as fraternal organizations became more active in promoting Czech language and culture in State schools, and other support groups, such as CESAT (Czech Ex-Students Association of Texas), were revived. However, the CEFT itself entered into a stage of relative inactivity after the death, on December 27, 1972, of Dr. Skrivanek, its guiding light. Co-founder Henry R. Maresh had died in 1957, and August Kacir died in 1973.

In the mid-1980s, however, the CEFT emerged as a re-energized organization that was to successfully complete one of the most important projects in the history of the Czech community in Texas. At this time, the organization was led by President Joseph J. Skrivanek and Vice-President Cyril (Sid) Pokladnik, another long-time member of the organization, along with Tim Kostom, R. J. (Rudy) Sefcik, Mrs. John M. (Lil) Skrivanek, and Mrs. Benita Pavlu. Among newly elected directors were Louis Hanus, Marvin J. Marek, Albert J. Blaha, Calvin C. Chervenka, Victor A. Peter, Jan Vaculik, Bishop John Morkovsky, Rev. Henry A. Beseda, Sidney Kacir, Steve Shiller, Amos Pavlik, and Jerry D. Odstrcil. Marvin J. Marek served as the new Secretary, Sidney Kacir as Legal Advisor, Rudy Sefcik as English-Language Publicity Director, and Jan Vaculik as Czech-Language Publicity Director.

Meeting in early 1985, the CEFT officers and directors decided to organize a drive to establish a Czech Chair at either the University of Texas at Austin or Texas A&M University. An endowed chair of Czech Language and Literature or of Czech Studies had long been a dream among Texas Czech leaders. Although the Czech language had been taught at the University of Texas continuously since 1926, even that program seemed to have an uncertain future in the eighties, and Czech programs at other universities -- like that at Texas A&M -- had been discontinued. The goal of the CEFT was to establish a strong institutional base with independent funding to insure, first, that basic Czech language courses would be offered from semester to semester on a regular basis, and, second, that resources would be available to build a total academic program, both on the undergraduate and the graduate levels -- that would be competitive with major Slavic language programs throughout the United States. Initial contacts with officials from the University of Texas and Texas A&M University led to expressions of interest from both institutions.

President Skrivanek called for a major organizational meeting at the Supreme Lodge of the SPJST (Slavonic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas) in Temple, Texas, on March 1, 1986. Not only the CEFT representatives but delegates from all organizations associated in any way with Texas Czechs, and any other interested individuals, were invited to attend, along with deans and other representatives from both the University of Texas and Texas A&M. The general enthusiasm expressed for a fund raising project at this meeting encouraged the CEFT officers and directors to continue their efforts. It became apparent that Texas Czechs from a broad spectrum of fraternal and religious groups were willing to cooperate in the project.

The CEFT, once again an active organization, began to hold frequent meetings, and the drive to fund the Czech Chair was publicized throughout the State. Many of the largest donations in 1986 were made by the CEFT officers themselves, and fraternal and other organizations began to pledge large sums as well. The goal was to collect $500,000, with the expectation that the University receiving the endowment would match this figure, for a total endowment of one million dollars. As early as January 1985, a few individuals had already begun to make pledges toward a possible endowment.

At a CEFT meeting in Ennis on May 3, 1986, it was reported that about $102,000 had been raised in pledges and actual donations. Later that year, on November 16, a meeting was held in conjunction with the Sesquicentennial Celebration entitled "Czech Music in Texas" in Bryan, Texas, an event which itself functioned as a CEFT fund-raiser. By this time, over $125,000 was committed to the endowment, and Ben Trcalek of Caldwell was appointed Treasurer of the organization, assuming the financial duties that had been carried out until then by President Skrivanek. (After Mr. Trcalek's death, the position of Treasurer was taken over by Mr. Trcalek's son Ben, Jr.) At a meeting on January 31, 1987, it was reported that nearly $175,000 in cash and pledges had been raised. During 1987 Glen Hutka and Laddie A. Matula, Sr., joined the Board of Directors.

Although the rate of donations and pledges declined during 1987, by January 1988, the total was over $200,000. In 1988 Roger Kolar and Clinton Machann joined the Board of Directors. The CEFT intensified its publicity efforts with press releases and a brochure designed for mass distribution.

By the end of 1988, only about half of the goal of $500,000 had been met, but a major breakthrough in the fund-raising campaign came in early 1989. At a meeting on March 4, at the headquarters of RVOS (Farmers Mutual Protective Association of Texas) in Temple, Mr. Skrivanek announced that--after preliminary contacts made by Sid Pokladnik and Calvin Chervenka with Al Kercho of Fort Worth--Patrick Patek, President of the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation of Wilmington, Delaware, had indicated that a substantial contribution to the endowment fund was imminent. The Birch Foundation had tentatively agreed to pledge approximately $200,000, assuring that the goal for the endowment could be met in the near future. Negotiations concerning matching funds and other issues were reopened with both target universities while discussions with the Birch Foundation continued, with Sidney Kacir taking an active part. At the same time the CEFT adopted a new set of By-Laws which refined and clarified the form and functions of the organization and which made it more efficient in administering the endowment. The process of organizing a master list of donors to the CEFT was begun, and Howard Leshikar, President of the fraternal organization SPJST, was elected to serve as a new director at a May 1989 meeting.

By March of 1990, a final agreement had been reached with the Birch Foundation and negotiations with the two universities were intensified. Under the provisions of the new by-laws, Roger Kolar was elected Chairman of the Board, and Calvin Chervenka, Vice-Chairman. On May 1, 1990, Chairman Kolar and President Skrivanek signed a letter of agreement with William H. Cunningham, President of the University of Texas at Austin, outlining the provisions for an endowed chair, which was to be named the "Texas Chair in Czech Studies," and which would represent a commitment to Czech language, literature, and culture, in perpetuity. With matching funds from UT, this Chair, the only one of its kind in the United States, was eventually funded for one million dollars. The agreement was ratified by the CEFT directors at a meeting in La Grange, on May 19, 1990. The University Board of Regents ratified the agreement at its meeting of June 14, 1990. The CEFT’s total gift of $667,000 was matched by $333,000 from the University. The establishment of the Texas Chair in Czech Studies was celebrated by the University and the Texas-Czech community at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on April 21, 1991. Acknowledging CEFT’s achievement were Dr. Cunningham and the Honorable Rita Klimová, Ambassador of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic.

Since that time, the Chair has brought a series of distinguished educators to UT to teach undergraduate and graduate classes in Czech Studies, including Igor Hajek, Jindrich Toman, Miroslav Prochazka, Michal Bregant, Otto Urban, and Craig Cravens. The endowment has also funded numerous visiting lecturers, as well as symposia, including one on Czech Music in 2000, and the international Milan Kundera Symposium in 2002. In addition, the Chair has also strengthened the University’s programs for study in the Czech Republic.

After implementing the Texas Chair in Czech Studies at UT-Austin, the CEFT was soon to embark on another major project in the spirit of its founders. In the fall of 1999, after years of planning and fund-raising, with Marvin J. Marek as President and Clinton Machann as Chairman, a CEFT Czech Fellowship was formally established at Texas A&M University, based on an endowment of $250,000. Once again, many generous individuals and organizations contributed to the fund-raising effort, capped by a $100,000 donation from the heirs of William J. Hlavinka. Like the Texas Chair in Czech Studies at UT-Austin, the CEFT William J. Hlavinka Fellowship at Texas A&M is unique. It is designed to bring advanced graduate students from two Moravian universities (Masaryk University in Brno, Palacký University in Olomouc) to Texas A&M, establish Czech language classes in the Bryan-College Station area for members of the general public, provide Czech-to-English translation services for the Texas Czech community, provide assistance to Czech-American historical and cultural groups in Texas, and encourage cultural and educational ties between the State of Texas and the Czech Republic.

The beginning of the new program was celebrated in coordination with a concert of Czech classical music by pianist Richard Urbis at the Presidential Conference Center at Texas A&M University on October 28, 1999. Among the distinguished guests in attendance was Antonín Hradílek, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington, DC. Daniela Kukrechtová was the first CEFT Hlavinka Fellow (1999-2001), followed by Martin Svoboda (2001-2002) and Magdalena Vintrová (2002-2004). The current Fellow is Martina Vránová. In addition to teaching their classes, the Fellows have prepared exhibits on Czech heritage and sung Czech folk songs for special “ethnic” celebrations at local public schools, advised the group in neighboring Burleson County that sponsors the annual “Kolache Festival” in Caldwell, translated Czech-language correspondence and documents, and lectured to various groups about the geography, history, and current conditions in their native Moravian homeland.

In recognition of its success in establishing the two educational programs at major universities in the US and in promoting Czech culture abroad, the CEFT received the prestigious Jan Masaryk Gratias Award from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2000. On June 28 of that year, CEFT Chairman Clinton Machann attended the awards ceremony in Prague, where, on behalf of the CEFT, he accepted the award from Jan Kavan, Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic. The Gratias Agit award was created in 1997 to demonstrate the Czech Republic's appreciation of individuals or groups who promote the nation in the sphere of science, education, the arts or public life. In 2000, individuals from Uruguay, Denmark, Russia, Chile, Sweden, Switzerland, Great Britain, France and the United States received the award, but the CEFT was one of only three organizations to be so honored (the others were from Australia and the Czech Republic).

Over the next two years, CEFT officers and directors began to discuss the possibility of yet another major program at a Texas university, and during these discussions, Director Jim Bezdek called attention to the work of Thomas Sovik, a Professor of Music at the University of North Texas with a particular interest in Czech composers and musical traditions, who for about ten years had coordinated a cultural exchange program between the UNT College of Music in Denton and the Janáček Academy of Music and the Performing Arts in Brno, Czech Republic. The UNT College of Music is one of the nation's largest and most respected comprehensive schools of music with the country's top rated jazz program, and many Grammy-winning alumni. Its programs have the highest national rankings of any music program in Texas. Approximately 1,600 students enroll annually in B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. programs taught by globally acclaimed faculty. The college, with its acoustically magnificent Winspear Hall in the Murchison Performing Arts Center, is a hub of North Texas cultural life.

Preliminary talks between CEFT Directors and Professor Sovik, Elida Tamez (Director of Development at the UNT College of Music), and James C. Scott (the College Dean), revealed a strong interest at UNT for expanding programs related to Czech music. On October 25, 2003, after several months of negotiations, CEFT and UNT representatives met on the university campus in Denton and signed a Memorandum of Agreement that would establish the CEFT Residency in Czech Music and Culture at UNT. The program would be designed to 1) bring distinguished Czech musicians, composers, artists and educators to UNT for teaching, performing, conducting research in Czech music and culture, and for purposes of outreach throughout the State of Texas, particularly to Texas-Czech centers of population; 2) stage colloquia and festivals of Czech music and culture; and 3) mount the production of Czech operas, emphasizing usage of the Czech language.

The current goal for the CEFT is to raise $400,000 in order to fully fund this new endowment and the organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary by intensifying its promotional and fund-raising efforts. In April of 2004, in collaboration with Professor Sovik and the UNT College of Music, it sponsored the Texas tour of the Brno-based dance troupe Mimi Fortunae (with choreography by Hana Latalová) as part of its anniversary celebration. In the following months, plans were being made for a public ceremony at the State Capitol marking the 50th anniversary on the afternoon of October 20, 2004, to be followed by a gala dinner at the Westwood Country Club in Austin. The current CEFT officers are Marvin J. Marek, President; Al Kercho, Vice-President; Paul T. Hlavinka, Secretary; Anton Pustejovsky, Treasurer; Sidney Kacir, Legal Advisor; Jan Vaculik, Czech Publicity Officer, and Brian Vanicek, English Publicity Officer. The Directors are Clinton Machann (Chairman), Woody Smith (Vice-Chairman), Jim Bezdek, David Chroust, James E. Ermis, Elo J. Goerig, Paul T. Hlavinka, Daniel Hrna, R. J. Holasek, Sidney Kacir, Al Kercho, Roger Kolar, Anna Krpec, Mark Labaj, Eugene B. Labay, Howard Lesikar, Marvin J. Marek, Anton Pustejovsky, Emma Jean Ribar, James Sassin, Grace Skrivanek, Clarice Snokhous, Ben Trcalek, Jr., Jan Vaculik, Brian Vanicek, Diane Sulak Wilson, and Louis Hanus (Honorary).

Prepared by Clinton Machann, CEFT Chairman, for the 50th Anniversary Celebration, October 2004.

Vydavatelem Českého dialogu je Mezinárodní český klub

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