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What a Day!! Guess what we did on October 21, 1995?

by Gordon Flynn, Davenport, IA

 The Dedication of The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

 (from a note provided by Velma Vanicek Flynn, his wife. Velma is the daughter of Anton and M. Elizabeth Wosoba Vanicek, granddaughter of Frank and Josephine Souhrada Wosoba)

Velma (Vanicek) Flynn, Viola Noska, Gordon Flynn, and Janel Souhrada Stephens

At the dedication of The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Cedar Rapids, IA - October 21, 1995

 1995-10-21 Czech Museum Dedication007 (800x517).jpg

President Bill Clinton (center), Czech President Vaclav Havel and Slovak President Michal Kovac dedicate the museum, October 21, 1995

Picture courtesy of  


That was the week of the Czech festival in Cedar Rapids, Iowa -- or more specifically, in the Czech Village of Cedar Rapids, IA. It was the time of the dedication of the new Czech & Slovak Museum and Library on 16th Avenue SW. Leota Campbell from Edina, MN., and Viola Noska from Park Rapids, MN -- both of whom are second cousins of Vonnie's (Velma Vanicek Flynn) on the Souhrada family tree — came to visit us and to take part in some of the festivities in Cedar Rapids. Leota had an ulterior motive also, in that she wanted to check out the facilities where we might hold the annual Souhrada family reunion next summer.


Vonnie and I had tickets to an ethnic luncheon at the museum on Friday, but we were unable to get tickets for Viola and Leota. So they browsed around the Czech village while we ate and watched a very nice fashion show of Czech, Slovak, and Moravian folk costumes. The show was delightful, and the meal delicious - roast pork, dumplings, applesauce, green beans, Bohemian rye bread, then kolaches for dessert. All very authentic, both in concept and in execution. Then we browsed about in the museum gift shop, and enjoyed a guided tour of the museum itself - which is not completed as yet, but already quite impressive. Our Souhrada relatives in the Czech Republic donated some embroidered pieces which we had delivered to the museum and are quite anxious to see on display. But we are told it may be another year before all the exhibits will be ready to show. So we'll have to wait.


On Saturday we got up early and drove again to Cedar Rapids for the really special occasion: the appearance at the dedication ceremonies of three presidents: President Bill Clinton, President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, and President Kovacs of the Slovakian Republic. They were scheduled to speak at about 11:00 AM, but we were told we should be at the museum by 9:00 AM if we wanted to get in on the affair. We left the car at Kingston Stadium and rode a shuttle-bus to the Czech Village. It was a cold, miserable windy day-not one designed for standing in line and listening to speeches; but stand in the cold and the wind is just what we did. The line was several blocks long, and seemed at times to be much longer. Was it really worth all this misery!?


Suddenly, about 10:30 AM the line seemed to be moving faster, as though we were really going to get somewhere. Then they told us that those who had these little brown tickets - which they had been passing out as free as you please the day before - should move over into this line, over here. At about this time we were greeted excitedly by Janel Stephens of Tipton, IA, who is also a distant cousin of Vonnie's, who saw us and decided to crash the line rather than wait forever. And then there we were, walking briskly along this walk on the other side of a fence from the "commoners", until we were right up near the front of the crowd and being escorted like some kind of dignitaries to a row of folding chairs arrayed in front of the stage! How about that now? So there we were, sitting in relative comfort wafting for the three presidents to arrive. But first we (had)(were privileged) to listen to the mayor of Cedar Rapids, to Governor Branstad, to Congressman Jim Leach from Davenport, to U.S. Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa. Quite a day of speechmaking. (Oh, yes: I failed to mention that we had to go through a security check, just like at the airport; cold wind or no, the watches came off, the pens came out of the pockets, the coins and coin purses were laid out, pen-knives also. The ladies had to have their purses open so they could be inspected, etc. But we made it through alright.)


Finally, as the band played "Ruffles and Flourishes" and "Hail to the Chief, the motorcade arrived and the three presidents arrived on stage. Whatever one might think of the President, or of any of the other dignitaries, it was a thrilling occasion, and one we would not like to have missed. President Kovacs was the first to speak, in Slovakian and with an interpreter; his speech was not terribly impressive, actually, but not terribly long, either. Then came President Havel, whom everyone had awaited eagerly. He said, in English, that he could make his presentation in English, but felt the occasion warranted, rather, that he speak in the Czech language; everyone laughed appreciatively. His was a very nice speech, which brought out the poetic nature of the man; I hope we will be able to get a copy of his speech. Last but not least came Mr. Clinton. His, also, was a very good speech, and we were all impressed with its non-political nature. Very well suited to the occasion.


And then we were left standing with our faces hanging out, as it were; for everyone seemed all at once to have gone home! The dignitaries were led into the museum for a brief tour and for some private talks, and the rest of us were prohibited access to the building. So we five pilgrims set off in search of food. We found ourselves in the doorway of a very nice Czech restaurant know as Zindrick's Czech Restaurant, and decided to wait in line, since Viola and Leota had eaten there the day before and endorsed the food heartily. As we waited, who should make his appearance but Vonnie's brother Anton Vanicek. He had been in Des Moines at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Fund raising banquet, where he was acting as chauffeur/guide for some Czech people who were there from the city of Frydek-Mistek in the Czech Republic; these people included the mayor of Frydek-Mistek, the city manager, and Radana Vanicek (more property Vanickova), who is the daughter of Anton's and Vonnie's cousin Vaclav Vanicek. And at this point along came Radana and the Mayor and the City Manager plus some other folks known to us from contacts here and in the Czech Republic. There were about twelve of us, eventually, who had dinner at that restaurant. So we had a regular family reunion right there in Zindrick's restaurant. 

Velma, Gordon, and Viola – outside Zindrick’s

It was at about this point, as we were having our coffee and enjoying the conversation, that we noticed a fair degree of excitement on the sidewalk outside. So, being the rubes that we are, we all rushed out to see what was going on. As it turned out, the motorcade had come down the street and the presidential limousine had stopped in front of Sykora's Bakery and the president had gone in for some pastry and coffee. As we stood there, the President came out and started to walk down along the sidewalk shaking hands with all the people - much to the distress of the Secret Service men who were about in great numbers. We thought "Oh, sure, hell just go down that side of the street and then get back in his car and ride away”. But, NO! He crossed the street and continued shaking hands. I was right there at the edge of the sidewalk, and suddenly was accosted by a Secret Service man who said simply, "Keep your hands above your waist and out of your pockets!" Next thing I knew, here was Bill Clinton's hand right in front of me! What could I do, but shake it!! Won't that be something to tell my grandchildren!


While we were about all this business, Leota made some of the preliminary arrangements with Mr. Zindrick for a family dinner there next summer as part of the Souhrada reunion. After taking the last shuttle-bus back to the car, and after a little last-minute shopping, we left and made our way to the Stephens' home near Tipton IA for a delicious chili supper and lots of reminiscences.


What a Day!!

L-R: Leota Campbell, Radana Vanicek, Mayor of Frydek-Mistek CZ (name unknown), Anton Vanicek, Viola Noska, Gordon Flynn