Czech Heritage Society of Texas

Bexar County Chapter

Dedicated to Preservation of our Czech Heritage


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History of the Czech American Cultural and Education Foundation

As early as 1978 Dan Pavliska had a dream. He approached the San Antonio City Council and asked for necessary zoning to build a Czech Cultural Center. Pavliska explained that he wanted "to call to the attention of San Antonio citizens the vast contributions made by Czechs in the city." (San Antonio Express-News) His dream of a Czech Cultural Center was never realized; however, he worked incessantly to help in the building of an all purpose Activity Center at St. Margaret Mary's Parish.

He then hoped to establish an organization to fulfill his dream of awareness of the Czech culture in the city. The original objectives he set forth read, in part: "To unite Czech descendants into a strong organization through social functions, education programs, information bulletins, low interest loans, family reunions, history, handicrafts, and customs." To realize its objectives, the organization was to be non-denominational. Its purpose was to promote knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the Czech culture in all its forms. Through education it hoped to help Czech Americans to become aware of and understand the historical and cultural background of their ancestry.

Some of the activities of the organization were to include:

  1. The sponsorship of an annual heritage day
  2. The establishment of Czech Language Classes
  3. Their rendering of assistance to refugees from Czechoslovakia in acquainting them with the customs of America, helping them to learn the English language, and giving them financial help

Dan Pavliska started to realize his dream after he established a Board of Directors, and consulted Tommy Adkisson, attorney, to get approval of a charter as a non-profit organization. The Board members were: Dan Pavliska, chairman; John Jenicek, treasurer; Sister Julianna Kozuch, Hattie Poole, and Rev. Dennis Darilek. The organization was to be known as the Czech American Cultural and Education Foundation.

During the summer of 1982 the Board of Directors held several meetings to plan for a Czech "get-together" which Dan named a "Convergence." The date of the "Convergence" was set for December 5, 1982 to celebrate St. Nicholas Day or "Mikulas." He contacted his many acquaintances and friends of Czech descent to help with the planning.

The day arrived and Bishop John Morkovsky from Houston, Texas, opened the day's festivities with a Mass at St. Margaret Mary's Church. Co-celebrants of the Mass were: Rev Msgr. Balthasar Janacek, Rev. John Wagner, Rev. Anthony Pesek, Rev. Lawrence Stuebben, Rev. James Janish, and Rev. Dennis Darilek. Deacons were David Shoemake and George Dubensky. Servers were Jason Kahanek, Scott Reinhard and Lisa Kahanek. The Mass honored couples who were married 50 or more years. Wence Shimek's Orchestra provided the music for the singing of the Czech hymns by the Czech Choral Group throughout the Mass.

After Mass the crowd of over 600 went to the Activity Center for a traditional Czech dinner. Each family brought a favorite dish. The Czech Choral Group under the direction of Dominic Netek sang during the meal. The Czech Folk Dancers of West, Texas, performed during the afternoon. During the intermission Tommy Adkisson presented Dan Pavliska with the charter of the Foundation. Wence Shimek Orchestra provided the music for the dance.

Dan Pavliska was elated over the success of the day as these goals were accomplished:

  1. Over 600 people attended this first event and enjoyed on another in an old fashioned Czech cultural gathering. They came from many parts of Texas.
  2. The media provided excellent coverage of the festivities. Besides interviews, news casts were televised by Channels 4, 12, and 36.
  3. Along with the TV and radio coverage much attention was focused in the newspaper column, "Action Line," by Joe Falkner. TODAY'S CATHOLIC, KJT NEWS, and VESTNIK provided widespread publicity in their publications.

The next year the celebration was scheduled for December 4, 1983 at the Villita Assembly Hall; but due to Dan's terminal illness the celebration had to be canceled.

Therefore in January, 1984, the group realized that something had to be done to revitalize the organization. The original Board members met to formally reorganize. The group proceeded to elect officers. Elected were: Mel Wondra, President; Hattie Poole, Vice-President; John Jenicek, treasurer; Sister Julianna Kozuch, secretary; and Mary Popp, historian. During the year numerous refugees from Czechoslovakia were brought to San Antonio and needed assistance. The Foundation dedicated a Memorial Fund in Dan Pavliska's memory for the purpose of helping the refugees. Mel Wondra became deeply involved in this work and subsequently asked to resign as President and became Director of the Program for the Foundation. Hattie Poole assumed the Presidency and Loretta Valenta was elected as Vice President. The same officers were re-elected in March, 1985.

This newly formed Board of Directors with representatives from the Czech organizations of KJT, KJZT, SPJST, and RVOS decided to hold a second "get-together." It was held in honor of the Tree Magi on January 6, 1985 at St. Margaret Mary's Church.

The day's festivities opened with a Mass said in the Czech language by Rev. Msgr. Anthony Drozd. The concelebrants were: Rev. Msgr. Balthasar Janacek, Rev. Msgr.A. V. Maneth, Rev Msgr. Stanley Petru, Rev. Anthony Pesek and Rev. John Wagner. Deacons were: George Dubensky and David Shoemake. The honorees were the fifty-years-plus wedding anniversary couples and the Czech refugees. After the Mass a bountiful repast was enjoyed. The afternoon program included a skit "Arrival of the Magi" and a Sing-Along with Czech Choral Singers. The Bobby Jones Orchestra played for the dance.

The next "get-together" was know as Czech Heritage Day held on March 2, 1986. In conjunction with the Sesquicentennial the theme was "The Czechs contribution to the heritage of Texas Culture." Wence Shimek Orchestra and the Czech Choral Group were again part of the program.

Czech Heritage Day was held on the first Sunday of March at St. Margaret Mary's Activity Center on March 1, 1987, March 6, 1988 and March 5, 1989. In 1990 and 1991 it was held at the Holy Name Activity Center. On March 8, 1992 it was held at the Martinez Hall. At that time there were ten natives of Czechoslovakia studying English at Lackland Air Force Base and were the guests of honor.

The second activity which Dan Pavliska set forth was realized when Millie Wondra organized a Czech Language Class with Gloria Sell as the teacher. Classes are held at Holy Name Center since September 20, 1985. They are held on Friday evenings and are well attended. A second Language Class was started at Our Lady of Grace School in September, 1987. This class held on Monday evenings is taught by Agnes Helen Hyzak. There are an average of 25 in each of the classes.

Czech refugees have been helped financially and given every opportunity to learn the English Language. Books and tapes of the English Language were purchased by the Foundation in this project.

Since 1989 the organization sponsors a Booth at the Texas Folklife Festival where many ethnic groups are represented. Since the Czechs were the second largest group in Texas according to the 1980 census, it is a worthwhile project. Czech specialties such as klobasnicky, kolaches, and strudel are sold.

Membership in the Foundation was registered by families. In 1990 there were over 150 families registered. The mailing list included over 300 families who attended the Czech Heritage Day every year. In 1990 the decision was made to reorganize the Foundation and join the Czech Heritage Society of Texas. Therefore, the organization is now known as the Czech Heritage Society of Bexar County and membership is registered by individuals.

Compiled by Sister Julianna Kozuch