Reliving the New World Symphony - Impressions and Images from SVU Conference in Iowa
When I asked some of the participants of the SVU Conference to characterize it in a few words, they usually responded with words like "Grand", "Smashing", "Could not be better", "Highly enjoyable", "Highly informative", "Fun", "First rate", "Extremely well organized", etc. There seemed to be a consensus that it was the most enjoyable conference SVU ever had.
The conference was held on 26-28 June 2003 in Cedar Rapids, IA with the general theme "The Czech and Slovak Presence in America: A Retrospective Look and Future Perspectives". It was convened under the patronage of the Presidents of the Czech and Slovak Republics, Vaclav Klaus and Rudolf Schuster, respectively. with the participation of the representatives of Czech and Slovak Embassies in Washington, DC.
It was organized by the SVU Executive Board with cooperation of the SVU Nebraska Chapter, Coe College, National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau, Department of Languages and Literatures of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Federation of Czech Groups of Cedar Rapids, Bily Clocks Museum, St. Wenceslaus Heritage Society, St. Wenceslaus Parish and the Spillville Historic Action Group.
Some people began arriving several days before the Conference. The first official event took place on Wednesday night, June 25, with a reception at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, during which the Director of the Museum, Gail Naughton, dedicated a new hall bearing the name of Andrew Laska, a long-time SVU member. The reception was concluded with a Czech bagpipe performance by Michael Cwach of the University of South Dakota. Today, in Czech Republic, the "Ceske dudy" is primarily preserved by folk music enthusiasts in the Southern and Western Bohemia, and may be heard in major festivals such as the one in Domazlice and Strakonice.
The ceremonial opening took place on Thursday morning, with the National anthems, sung by Anita Smisek. After the words of welcome by the Coe College VP for Student Affairs, Mr. Louis Stark, the Conference was officially opened by Miloslav Rechcígl, SVU President, followed by the greetings of the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the US., H. E. Martin Palous and the Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the US, H. E. Martin Butora, the latter being represented by Miroslav Wlachovsky, Political Counselor of the Slovak Embassy. Among other dignitaries who greeted the Conference were Senator of the Czech Parliament, the Honorable Jaroslava Moserova and Director of the Cultural Department for the Relations with Czechs Abroad of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Zdenek Lycka. The Lord Mayor of Cedar Rapids, the Honorable Paul D. Pate who was out of town, was represented by Doug Wagner.
The academic program immediately followed, with a break for lunch. Because of the large number of papers given, four to five sessions were running simultaneously in separate lecture halls. Each lecture hall was equipped with the state of the art visual-video equipment, serviced by the Coe College students. Each session had between 3 6 speakers and occasionally also a few discussants. In between the sessions were 15-minute breaks during which "kolace", coffee and other refreshments were served.
At 4 PM of the first day, sessions were interrupted so that the participants could hear the welcome keynote address by Ambassador Martin Palous and the words of welcome by . the Coe Collge President James R. Phifer. After a short intermission the SVU General Assembly meeting followed. In the evening, the guests were treated to chuck wagon BBQ to the tune of an 11-piece popular Czech Plus Band of Cedar Rapids.
The academic program continued on Friday from 8 AM until 6:15 PM with a break for lunch. On Friday night was a traditional SVU banquet during which SVU President presented several citations and awards and a number of lucky attendees received a door prize donated by various sponsors. The highly enjoyable evening was concluded with a sing-along, led by Anita Smisek, as well as tunes of Michael Cwach´s bagpipes.
It is beyond the scope of this article to delve into the subject matter of the various papers presented, whose number well exceeded 150. Suffice to say, that they covered practically every aspect of immigration, settlement, life and contributions of Czech and Slovak Americans. A number of sessions were devoted to their contributions to North America and to the question of how to preserve their cultural heritage. Other sessions dealt with the issues concerning the Czech and Slovak Americans, the echoes of Czech and Slovak history and culture in America and American culture in Czech and Slovak Republics, as well as with the relations with the Czech and Slovak Republics.
On Saturday, those participants who signed up for the tour, had to get up early so that they could get on the excursion bus which took us through the rolling Iowa landscape to Spillville and the environs. Loren Horton, a noted historian of the State Historical Society of Iowa, accompanied the tour, explaining everything about all important sites along the way. It was a memorable day during which we saw the famous Bily Brothers Clocks and Antonin Dvorak Museums, the St. Wenceslaus Church, the awesome Czech cemetery with the famous Andera crosses, the Dvorak Monument and the schoolhouse purported to be the oldest Czech Catholic parochial school building in the US. This is also the building where Dvorak would have first performed his Opus 96 and 97.
Senator "Jara" Moserova, who came with us on the tour, showed us her music skills on the St. Wenceslaus Church organ on which Dvorak played during his memorable summer of 1893. At noon, a lunch was served in the lunchroom of the new school, prepared and served by the members of the St. Wenceslaus Heritage Society. After the lunch was an official dedication of a historic Andera Cross on the grounds of the Museum, with active participation of Michael Klimesh, Loren Horton. Mayor of the City, SVU President and Dr. Zdenek Lycka. Some of the visitors had the opportunity to also see several other Czech settlements, including Ft. Atkinson and Protivin and retraced the historic route of Antonin Dvorak to Spillville.
Going back, Loren Horton again accompanied the tour. After a dinner at Coe College, visitors were treated to a special piano and clarinet recital of Vanhal, Dvorak and Martinu works, performed by Bohumir Zvolanek, on clarinet and Erik Entwistle pianist.
Sunday was devoted to sightseeing of Cedar Rapids and the old Bohemian settlements in the vicinity. The bus first took us to the Czech village for a walking tour of this historic area, following which we stopped for lunch at Zindrick´s or Sykora´s Café, now operated by SVU member John Rocarek, who also donated many of the baked goods served at the breaks.
Mark Hunter, a historian of the Linn County History Center, accompanied us through other areas of Cedar Rapids rich in Czech history and culture. We saw the magnificent St. Wenceslaus Church established in 1873, the Czech National Cemetery, and the nearby communities of Ely and Salon. Ely was the home of the first Czech Protestant Church in the US. In Solon, we viewed Sts Peter and Paul Church and the adjacent extremely well-kept Bohemian cemetery, founded by the Czech settlers in the second half of the 19th century. Here we were treated to Czech kolace and other goodies prepared for us by the Czech parishioners.
The conference, in its totality, was an extraordinary event; in the opinion of many, the pivotal event of the year for anyone interested in the anything Czech or Slovak. The organizers prepared a truly outstanding program. Never before had such a comprehensive conference been convened and so many experts on the subject and different community leaders assembled, be it here or abroad. According to my count, just about every state of the Union with a significant Czech or Slovak population, was represented, including; California, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, as well as Canada. There must have been at least 10 participants from the Czech and Slovak Republics. What was remarkable was also the presence of the young people. In terms of various organizations represented, I counted at least the following: American Czech & Slovak Club of North Miami, American Friends of Czech Republic, American Sokol, Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association of New York, Bohemian Citizens´ Benevolent Society of Astoria, Czech Slovak Association of Canada, Czech and Slovak Heritage Association of Maryland, Czech and Slovak Music Society, Czech and Slovak Society of Oregon, Czech and Slovak Solidarity Council, Czech Heritage Foundation, Czechoslovak Society of America (CSA), Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU), Damska Matice Skolska, Federation of Czech Groups of Cedar Rapids, Friends of Slovakia, German Bohemian Heritage Society, Komensky Club, Matice Vyssiho Vzdelani, National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Nebraska Czechs, Nebraska Czechs of York, Spillville Historic Action Group, Slovak Institute, St. Wenceslaus Heritage Society, Texas Czech Heritage & Cultural Center at La Grange and the Western Fraternal Life Association (WFLA). All in all, everything was perfect, including the weather. Everything was fantastic, enjoyable, memorable, educational and relaxing. And above all, everybody was pleasant, friendly and hospitable. No single adjective or noun can express the atmosphere and the prevailing mood. Those SVU members who did not attend cannot imagine what they missed.
Thanks to the organizers, especially Kacenka Oslzly, for the unforgettable days which will forever stay in our memoriesMila Rechcigl
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