Frantisek Mikula of Dallas, Texas
It is the month of June in the year of our Lord 2002. I am currently serving my second term as president of The Czech Heritage Society of Texas as well as being the president of the Dallas/Brno, CR sister city program. What turns did my life take to come to this point?
I was born on August 16, 1936 in a little farmhouse about 5 miles east/northeast of the then small town of Ennis, Texas. A great portion of the farmers around Ennis had either emigrated from the province of Moravia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire or they were ancestors of the people who had emigrated from that region. My parents were first generation Texas Czechs. I was the first child of Frank Alphonse Mikula and Mary Lou Houdek Mikula, both born in the Ennis area. My paternal grandfather was Frank Mikula born in Vesela near Slusovice in 1869. My maternal grandmother, Cecilia Hubacek Mikula was born in Velikova near Lukov, also in the year 1869. The two of them, to my knowledge, did not know one another till they emigrated from Moravia to Texas in 1885. Both had friends or relatives who had previously come to Ennis and were well cared for upon their arrival. They were married in Ennis in 1889.
My maternal grandparents were Jerry Bob "JB" Houdek and Mary Slovacek Houdek. My grandfather was born in 1890 in Hamry in the district of Hlinsko. He came to Ennis, Texas with his parents as a baby. He and Mary Slovacek were married in Ennis in 1911. I have not completed research on my maternal grandmother.
Mom and dad met while performing in a Czech play being sponsored by the SOKOL organization in Ennis in the early 1930's. They were married in October 1935. In addition to me, my parents had four children, Mary Ann Mikula Cepak, 1938, Geraldine Mikula Pruett, 1941, Edwin Mikula, 1945, and Debra Jane Mikula Macik, 1954. Mary Ann married Benny Leo Cepak of Abbot in 1958 and, may God rest her soul, died of complications of multiple sclerosis several years ago. Geraldine lives in Mesquite and I live in the Dallas area, Edwin is in Ennis, and Debra Jane resides in Decatur, Texas. Mary Ann had an indirect but effective influence on me joining The Czech Heritage Society of Texas.
My early life experiences were all Texas Czech involved. Most of the farmers on the east side of Ennis were from Moravia or descendants of Moravian immigrants. The standard line then was that "we", the "Czechs", lived on the east side of the north/south running Southern Pacific tracks while "they" the "Americans", lived in town or on farms on the west side!
Our surrounding farm neighbors were dad's brother Josef Mikula and his family, my uncle John Babek and his wife Louise, the Krajca's, the Haba's, the Skrivanek's, the Pavlacek's, the Slovak's, the Hejny's, the Novy's, the Mensik's, and on and on. It was one Texas Czech family after another. Most of these people were Catholic and they founded their own church and school. In addition there were the Texas Czech fraternal organizations to which most of the people belonged. These were the KJT, the KJZT for the ladies, the SPJST, the SOKOL organizations, there were two in Ennis, one for the Moravian Brethren and the other for the Catholics, the Czech Circle of Women and many others. On Saturdays we all met in downtown Ennis and shopped at small Czech grocery stores. On Saturday evening we usually attended some event at one of the local Czech meeting or dance halls. Like the societies, there was the KJT Hall, the SPJST Hall, the SOKOL Hall, and early on the National Hall. My dad had learned to play the accordion as a youngster, and, though he never read a note of music, became quite the accomplished musician. He played with various Czech orchestras in Ennis and was invited to play for countless weddings held in homes as was a frequent custom up to the late thirties.
Sunday morning was always spent at Mass at St John's in Ennis where the prayers and sermons were most often in the Czech language. Followed by a meal at home, if not with one of our relatives, many Sunday afternoons were spent again at meetings at one of the society lodges.
Czech, or Moravian, is my native language. According to Ludwig Vaculik and others, Czechs and Moravians are separate entities, but we shall not address that issue here! From the time of my birth up to the age of six or seven my grandmother Mikula lived with us on the farm. My grandfather had died long before I was born. As my mom and dad worked the fields from early in the morning to late evening, it fell to our grandmother to take care of us children. Grandmother, as far as I know, never spoke a word of English, so naturally we learned the Czech language from her. In the home Czech was the daily language of communication. Much the same was the case with all of our neighbors. When we neighboring children got together to play we spoke in Czech, when we visited relatives we spoke in Czech. For all practical purposes Czech was all we knew. I know many Texas Czechs will relate to this. When I went to the first grade the only English I knew was how to ask to be excused! My aunt Louise could not understand why I wanted to learn English so well. She felt she was surrounded by people with whom she could communicate in Czech and had no need to learn English and could not understand why the same was not true for me and for my sisters and brother!
Czech experiences continued to surround me throughout the forties and the early fifties. Czech boys married Czech girls so I attended many Czech weddings.
With my dad playing the accordion, my sisters and brother sang many an old Czech song. At school many of us still spoke Czech on the playground. We were forbidden to do so in class! In the fifties things began to change. Several of my cousins, causing shook in the community, married non-Czechs! Many of the young men had been away to Europe, the Far East or Korea and were going to college on the GI bill. Farming was no longer attractive to them as a way of life and they began the migration to the cities and "office" work. People still spoke Czech and followed many of the Czech customs but change was in the wind.
I left Ennis to attend school in San Antonio in 1952. The Spanish, or Tex-Mex language became more attractive to me than Czech. I married a non-Czech girl and moved to St. Louis and then to Dallas. We had two children and I did not teach the Czech language to either of them. Buried in a business career, a stormy marriage ending in a divorce, a subsequent second marriage to a wonderful lady from the Texas Hill Country, time was short for any Texas Czech involvement. An occasional trip to Ennis for a wedding or a funeral was the only contact with the Czech community.
Things changed in 1995. The firm by whom I had been employed for over thirty years was purchased by a firm from St. Louis. Given the option of moving to St. Louis or taking early retirement, I chose the latter. At first I was at a loss as to the best way of using my time. I toyed with the idea of building a web site for the Texas Czechs. I built a test model called "The Czech Source" on Prodigy. I learned of Leo Baca and his research and publication of the Czech Passenger Lists and made mention of them on the web page. As inquiries began to hit the web site I knew this could grow into something beneficial. Using the search features of the Internet I found a Professor Vladimir Mikula at Technical University Brno in the Czech Republic and started communications with him which endure to this day.
Mary Ann and Benny Cepak, my sister and brother in law, had for some time belonged to the Mclennan-Hill chapter of The Czech Heritage Society of Texas. I had also met Willa Mae Cervenka at an event at Mary Ann and Benny's home. It was Willa Mae who occasionally sent me a note inviting me to join their CHS chapter. It was she who invited me to the Spring State Meeting of CHS held in West in 1997. My wife Roberta and I decided to attend just to see what the CHS was all about. Lo and behold, things have not been the same since! Leo Baca and Patrick Janis were in attendance at this meeting. Leo proposed that the CHS have a technology committee whose first task was to build an official web site for the society. By the time the meeting ended, the formation of the technology committee had been approved with Patrick Janis as the chairman and I the Webmaster!
The website quickly grew in popularity and with the addition of a TexasCzechs Electronic Bulletin Board in the last several years both have gained respect as a means of communicating genealogy resources, events, and most anything relevant to Czech customs, language, history, costumes, food, and Czech life in general.
As Webmaster I began to attend CHS trustee and executive committee meetings as well as state and chapter meetings. I became acquainted with the many wonderful officers and members of the society. At the 1999 fall state meeting in Fayetteville, I had the honor of being nominated and then elected president of The Czech Heritage Society of Texas for the years 2000/2001 and then again for 2002/2003.
In 1998 I also began serving as president of the Dallas/Brno sister city program. I made my first visit to the Czech Republic in the late spring of 1999 on a CHS sponsored tour. I used this occasion to also visit with the city officials of Brno. A number of Brno businessmen who had previously visited Dallas as sponsors of a youth soccer team again expressed the desire to use the sister city program as a means of introducing their products in the Dallas area. It was during this visit that I realized how important it would be for me to build my Czech language skills. As a result I attended the Summer School of Slovanic Studies at Masaryk University in Brno in 2000 and 2001. I also headed the Dallas delegation to Brno in January 2000 and January 2001 to represent the Dallas and the Texas Czech community at their annual RegionTour exposition. Various activities relevant to the sister city program or to CHS or to the language studies program gave me the opportunity to spend 21 weeks in Brno during the two years of 2000 and 2001.
Today I am involved with student exchanges, doctor exchanges, cultural exchanges, Czech visitor itineraries and problem resolutions when they arise. I also spend time working with the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grange and with the group know as Texans of Czech Ancestry. Yet another trip is being planned to attend RegionTour2003 in Brno in January 2003.
I have tremendous pride in my Czech ancestry and heritage. I love the land and the people of the Czech Republic. I hope to continue my contacts with them as long as these contacts continue to be mutually beneficial. I also hope to remain an active participant in Texas Czech organizations and events for the duration of my life.Frantisek Mikulka
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