Kde domov můj - Czech Sokol
Czech and Sokol MN (Sokol MN) was started in Minnesota in 1882 in the State's capitol, the City of St. Paul. There were several Sokol units over the years in MN, for example St. Paul, Hopkins and Minneapolis. The Unit my family and I have belonged to is now known as Czech and Slovak Sokol MN and is the only remaining Sokol unit in the State of MN. Prior to the merging of all of Minnesota's Sokol units into one unit in the 1980s, my family's history has been with Sokol St. Paul.
Sokol St. Paul was started by several men who were Czech Immigrants. They built a building on the site where our Sokol Hall now stands, but it burnt down. The current building was rebuilt in 1887 and it still serves as our Sokol Hall and is on the United States National Historic Preservation Site list. This is an important designation as it offers protections for the building, such as requirements that renovations on the building be historically accurate and prevents the demolition of the building.
This fall after my involvement in the Dobruska Language Program I will be studying in Olomouc. Part of my research project for my studies at Palacky University is to summarize the history of the Sokol movement in the United States, and more specifically in my home unit in MN. In addition to my thesis, I hope to design a survey that will question Czechs of all ages on their knowledge and involvement in Sokol. Knowledge of the Czech language, connections with local Sokols and official members will play a crucial role in my ability to complete this portion of my research. Unfortunately I do not have access to the research materials here in Dobruska, so this article will be limited to my personal experiences and recollections of Sokol activities as I have experienced them in my home unit.
Sokol in MN has been an important link for Czech immigrants and Czech Americans for many years. There are many families who are 3 generation Sokol members, and can trace their grandparents and great-grandparents roots to Czechoslovakia. Sokol was a unifying experience for the new Americans, it provided an opportunity for the Czechs to stay connected to each other, maintain their customs and use their language. Sokol's physical fitness training, coupled with its ideals of civic mindedness was ideal in the formation of strong personal character. Sokol was, and still is, a large extended family where people support one another and many individuals make successful contributions volunteering time and talent to the local community.
Sokol units in the United States are organized under the American Sokol bylaws, and are assigned to different "districts" around the country. American Sokol tends to have a Czech background, while Sokol USA a Slovak background. Sokol MN does not distinguish between Czech and Slovak origin, and welcomes members of all ethnicities to participate in its programs and membership.
Sokol MN is part of the Western District, along with the following Sokol Units: Sokol South Omaha, Sokol Omaha, Sokol Crete (all in Nebraska) and Sokol Cedar Rapids (in Iowa). The Western District is very active in American Sokol and has members from Sokol South Omaha and Sokol MN on the national American Sokol Board of Directors. There are Sokol Districts across the United States, but there are not Sokol units in every state in the United States. Sokol units tend to exist and be larger in cities where Czechs settled, for example Chicago area, parts of Texas, Cleveland and Minnesota.
Sokol units in the Western District tend to reflect the interests of the local Czechs. For example, South Omaha stresses its gymnastics program more than Minnesota. Minnesota stresses its cultural and educational programs more than its gymnastics program. All Sokols, however, do have some physical fitness, cultural and educational programs. The physical fitness programs still operate under the Tyrs model, and the National Instructors Schools that train Sokol gym instructors teach the Tyrs methods. The prostna (calesthenics) still distinguishes Sokol gymnastics from other gymnastics programs in the United States. Sokols in the United States have annual District Slets, and rotate national Slets between the American Sokol and Sokol USA groups every couple of years. Sokol USA just held a national Slet in Valparaiso, IN in July, next year Sokol Canada will host a Slet, and in 2005 Sokol Chicago area will host a national Slet. My mother participated in the Slet in Valparaiso and there were Sokol representatives from the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
My experience is with Sokol MN, where I am a third generation family member. Sokol MN offers physical fitness classes for ages 3 through adult. My mother, Mary Cahill, is the senior instructor for the youth gymnastic program. We have many senior members, such as my grandmother Val Kuisle, who still "gym" well into their 80s! They play volleyball, march and learn the prostna. In addition to our physical fitness classes we have a strong activities program that promotes Czech and Slovak culture and education. For example we have ties with the International Institute that date back to the origin of the Institute in MN and Sokol MN represents the Czech and Slovak community at the annual Festival of Nations.
The Festival of Nations is a cultural festival that provides an opportunity for individuals of different cultures and back-grounds to introduce their countries to others through food, dance, song and crafts. Sokol MN has been the organizer behind the presence of Czech and Slovaks at this Festival since the 1930s and we provide volunteers that staff a cafe, a culture booth and perform adult and youth Czech and Slovak dances. Sokol MN offers a Culture Camp in the summer for young people ages 6-15 that teaches Czech and Slovak traditions. I have attended these camps with my sisters, Megan and Carolyn, during my youth and am on occasion an instructor. Sokol also sponsors Czech and Slovak ethnic dinners throughout the year and holds Christmas parties and dances in which young and old come together to celebrate the holidays and learn the polka!
We have the honor of housing the Honorary Consul for the Midwest, Dr. Josef Mestenhauser, in our Sokol building, as well as the newly formed Czech and Slovak Culture Center which is independently organized from Sokol but Sokol members are members of both organizations and contribute to the efforts of both organizations to sponsor and promote Czech and Slovak programs of interest such as history, and immigration.
Sokol in the United States is still a unifying presence for Czech Americans, although the faces of its participants in some activities are changing, especially in the gymnastics programs. Many of the Czech Sokol Halls are in the oldest parts of large cities, and new immigrants have moved into these neighborhoods. As a result, there are gymnasts of many ethnic backgrounds participating in the Sokol gym programs. These gymnastics students still learn about Czech culture in classes, although it varies by Sokol unit. The values of Tyrs are still taught and expected in class, however. And, whenever a Sokol travels in the United States to another Sokol unit, he or she is welcomed by their Sokol brothers and sisters. There is a fraternal feeling to Sokol in the United States, and Sokol members are welcomed as family members.
Although Sokol membership has declined over the past years in the United States, there are many who are dedicated to its preservation and are working to "adapt" it to appeal to a broader section of people and especially to those of Czech American descent. The founding values of Sokol will remain in place, however, what Sokol emphasizes at the "Unit level" will continue to reflect the interests of the local unit.
I look forward to the opportunity to expand on this article when I have had the chance to do my research and have the time to write a more accurate historical version of Sokol in the US.
Sokol has been a part of my life since birth. I am here in your beautiful country as a result of my association with Sokol. Sokol has instilled in me all of the traditions and values the original founder stood for. My grandmother, mother, sisters, father and fellow Sokol members have inspired me to explore my heritage. During my five months of study I intend on taking advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. My goal is to return to the United States with a better understanding of the Czech culture and to enlighten those that have little or no knowledge that such a wonderful place exists. I am fortunate enough to not be the only American that holds such passionate feelings for the Czech Republic. Sokol's ideals live on in its members, and these members contribute to the quality of life in the communities in which they reside. Tyrs and the people of the former Czechoslovakia have given a great gift to people worldwide through the development of Sokol.Colleen Cahill
My name is Colleen Cahill. I was born and raised in St. Paul, MN. I have two loving parents, Mary and Dennis Cahill, a twin sister Megan, and a younger sister Carolyn. I have been highly active in the Sokol MN organization since birth. I have been dancing and singing traditional folk songs since the age of 6 and took gymnastics for a portion of my youth. I was President of a an international scouts group sponsored by Sokol MN that provided me with an opportunity to visit scouts in Blatna, CZ in 1996 and to participate in the International Slet in Prague 2000. In the Slet myself, and other members from my Sokol unit performed calisthenics and I was able to represent the United States in the 400 m relay race. It was an incredible opportunity since my grandmother, mother, and myself where all able to attend the event.
My involvement in Sokol has also given me the opportunity to perform for Vaclav Havel when he visited St. Thomas University in St. Paul, MN some years ago. Furthermore, Sokol has given me the opportunity to work with Dr. Mestenhauser, Honorary Czech Consul for the Midwest. With his guidance and the help of others I was able to make my dream of studying in the Czech Republic a reality.
Currently I am a third year student at Beloit College located in Southern Wisconsin. Through the Associated Colleges of the Midwest I was able to apply for a spot in their Central Eastern European Study Abroad Program at Palacky University in Olomouc, CZ. As a History Major and a European Studies Minor with a concentration in Eastern Europe, this is an excellent opportunity for me to discover more about my roots.
Dobruska has been a wonderful opportunity for me. I am living the dream that many fellow Sokol's hold. I have been given the chance to rediscover what my grandmother and mother can only dream about. I am very appreciative and feel I cannot express enough what this means to me and my family. I hope that with my "graduation" from Dobruska I will be able to maintain contact with the individuals that made this possible and that I will one day be able to repay them for their generosity and belief in me.
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