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Remembrances of Mike (Michael) Souhrada

[Source: 1998 Souhrada Family Newsletter]

Mary Zak and Mike Souhrada

Michael J. Souhrada: I remember fishing with Grandpa on the Wapsi River and catching a 5 pound carp. Grandpa smoked the fish that were caught and felt that carp was the tastiest when caught in the spring.

Penny Souhrada: Mike was quite elderly by the time I met him. We have snapshots of his visit to Milwaukee, without older children. On that visit, he said, "You must think I'm not going to last long, because everyone is taking pictures of me."

Leota Campbell: Uncle Mike was my mother, Barbara Souhrada Daws Sager’s uncle but everyone I knew, who knew him, called him Uncle Mike. Uncle Mike was a people person. I believe he liked every one he knew, and every one he knew seemed to like or love him. When I was perhaps 12, his son Albert, who was 6 years older than I, came and stayed at our home for a few days while he was in military training at Fort Snelling. This continued for 2 or 3 years. Al was close to my sister, Marie's (Mazie) age and they became good friends.


One year Uncle Mike came to visit us. On Sunday morning he asked if I would go with him to the Catholic Church which was about a mile walk from our home instead of going to my own Sunday School. I was delighted to be asked by him. Seems I couldn't go into the main sanctuary with him because he forgot that I needed something on my head for a covering, so I stood at the back of that area and watched him as he went in to worship. I have no remembrance as to what we talked about while we walked along together, but I enjoyed being with him and my thoughts were wishing he was my grandfather. He was a gentle spoken, kind man who treated people of all ages with respect.


It was important to him that we should know he was in good physical condition. To prove his point he would place his hands on his hips and do knee bends....squatting up and down, many times without losing his balance.


My sister Marie had a beautiful singing voice and in her 20's was in show business. She sang, played the piano and also the accordion. Uncle Mike too, played the accordion and this made a common ground for the two of them. They liked and respected each other. Uncle Mike had one of Marie's professional pictures hanging on the dining room wall in his home. When she was working in a club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, his son, Albert and his wife Helen came to the club to visit with her and see the show.


Back in the 1950's my mother married Rush Sager and lived in Hollywood, California. (Rush had a sudden heart attack and died 6 months after their marriage.)


Hollywood was close to where Uncle Mike and his second wife, Flo, were living and the two couples enjoyed getting together.  Mike kept in touch with the Souhrada family through his letter writing. In fact he kept the family informed of the Souhrada events and happenings.  Using his typewriter, he sometimes made 4 carbon copies to send to family members.  I believe his letters were the original Souhrada Family Newsletter.


Our Souhrada Family has been blessed to have had Michael as a member of our Souhrada Family Tree.

Anton Vanicek: Uncle Mike Souhrada was really a "great uncle" to me. He was a half-brother to my grandmother, Josie Wasoba. They both immigrated to this country from near Pisek, Czechoslovakia at a young age.

Uncle Mike was a special kind of person. Even when I was 6 or 7, and later, it was always a treat to go to visit him. There was no generation gap with him. He liked and was liked by everyone no matter their age. He always seemed to be in good humor, and always had some kind of story to relate to us kids. I remember being fascinated by the star fish he had on display in the living room. He had been in the army during the Spanish-American War and was sent to Cuba. The star fish may have been a souvenir.


Uncle Mike was very proud of being in the military of his adopted country. It was something he readily reminisced about. He took a lot of pride in that his two sons, Albert and Art, both were Army officers During WW II.


I think his 10 months in the army during the War of 1898 deeply colored the rest of his life. He always stood and walked with military bearing, even in his later years. And he walked a lot since he never owned a car.


Being an avid fisherman, he wore many a path to his fishing spots on the Wapsi River in nearby Oxford Mills. If he wasn't fishing or working, he was a familiar sight uptown Oxford Junction, where he liked to visit with people. I know he was well regarded, yet was known somewhat as a "character" around town.


He and Aunt Mary lived in a small house in the "Cooksville" area of Oxford Junction, Iowa. The house still stands, along with a small garage which he always called the "car house". It’s funny somehow, Uncle Mike was kind of bigger than life to me, yet I barely remember Aunt Mary. She seems to have an opposite type of personality, and was retiring, when we came to visit them back in the 1930's and 40's. Looking back, I suspect she was in poor health.


Uncle Mike was a railroad man. He was the foreman of a crew that maintained the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroad tracks from Oxford Junction to several miles east. The railroad ran past our farm so we often saw Uncle Mike and his crew going by on their rail motor car. He took considerable pride in the way he and his "boys" did their job.


In those days the CMSP&P railroad was a very important route, not only for freight but also many passenger trains. Two sets of tracks were needed to handle all the trains. I still vividly recall freight trains during WW II that stretched over two miles. During this period the famous Hiawatha passenger trains roared by at 100 miles per hour. Track maintenance then was top priority. Uncle Mike had a lot of responsibility in his job. It wasn't easy. It was heavy work out in all kinds of weather. But his section of tracks was among the best on that railroad, we were told by others.


I think Uncle Mike was already retired when Aunt Mary passed away. Sometime later he married Aunt Flo, and they were able to take advantage of his railroad pass for vacation travel....if he wasn't fishing, that is.


The Milwaukee Railroad and Uncle Mike are both gone now. Uncle Mike lived a long, interesting life. I suppose the Souhrada genes had something to do with it.

Lillian Vacek: (Niece of Mike Souhrada) I remember when I was a child, I was staying with my grandmother Josie Souhrada Wasoba, (Mike's sister) when my grandmother and Mike took care of their father, John, The 'old boy' [their father] would run away. He didn't like the country.


With his second wife, Flo, Mike traveled a lot. He also liked to go mushrooming and fishing.


His sister, Josie, lived close to the railroad tracks. A hand car on the track would take them there and they would walk the rest of the way to her home for a visit or Sunday dinner.

Velma Vanicek Flynn: Mike Souhrada was my great uncle, a half-brother of my grandmother, Josie Souhrada Wosoba. My mother, Elizabeth Wosoba Vanicek, once said that he was her favorite uncle and he certainly was one of mine.


His father, John (1824-1918) married for the second time at the age of 54 after his first wife Barbara had died. He and his new wife, Anna, age 31, then began to raise his second family. They welcomed 3 new babies to their household (one at a time!) By the time the last one had arrived, John was around 60 years old. At that time in history this was considered late in life for marriage and new fatherhood.


One of the babies was Uncle Mike who was born in 1880. In 1880 Uncle Mike's oldest half-sibling, Barbara Souhrada Wosoba was 34 year old, already married with a family of her own. His oldest half-brother, Vaclav was 29 years old, married and starting a family. I mention all this only because as a young person I remember occasional family discussions concerning great grandpa's age when having his second family, to those who considered him too old for this, my mother would say, "Oh, but we otherwise would never have had Uncle Mike!"


Uncle Mike greeted children and adults with equal enthusiasm and always with a big smile. He loved to talk, tell stories and genuinely loved people. He enjoyed being with them and having fun.

As a child, I enjoyed visiting him and Aunt Mary in their little, one story home (still standing) in Cooksville, a section of Oxford Junction, Iowa that was about a block south of the Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad that ran through town.


The house was very small. If my memory serves me right, there was a beaded curtain in the doorway to the tiny bedroom where Uncle Mike and Aunt Mary slept. The house was situated on a large lot. I think it was actually several lots and here he tended a fair-sized garden in which he took a great deal of pride. In those years about everyone in Oxford Junction raised and preserved a year's supply of vegetables and fruit. Today, many of the people living three still have gardens but most are small in size.


The most enjoyable part of our visits was checking out Uncle Mike's museum. Most of his collections were in a cabinet with open shelves. Each shelf may have had a glass door but I'm not sure. Some of the items were displayed in other parts of the room. As I recall, he had his Spanish-American War uniform hung on a hanger. Of this he was very proud. It is now in the collection of the State Historical Society in Des Moines. There were a number of items collected during his Spanish-American War days, mostly from Cuba. Also artifacts that he had collected while hiking fishing and working on the railroad. He would take out one at a time and enthusiastically tell about it. Two items most vivid in my memory were from Cuba...a piece of wood which surrounded by its' outer shell. That was the first I knew of the existence of mahogany trees and the coconut was a novelty to a young midwesterner. While all this viewing was going on, Aunt Mary stayed quietly in the background and sometimes retreated to her bedroom as she was in poor health.


I attended a rural school, Oxford #5, grades primary through 8th. The school was on grounds adjacent to the farm home where my family lived east of Oxford Junction, Iowa about 1/4 mile north of the Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroad tracks. The school yard was on a slight elevation of land and provided a nice view of1/2 to 3/4 mile of the railroad where Uncle Mike was the foreman of the section crew. I often saw the crew going by in the hand car and sometimes they would be working where they could be seen from the school. When the hand car was not running and no one was around, I knew it was either "break" time or work was finished for the day and that Uncle Mike (and maybe some of the others) were fishing in the ponds on the other side of the tracks. Their catch, there, usually was sun fish and sometimes a turtle. Once, Uncle Mike brought us a large turtle that he caught there and left my mother wondering what to do with it. At his suggestion, she did end up making a big kettle of soup.


I seem to recall that Uncle Mike also used "break" time to wander in the field across the tracks looking for Indian artifacts, I believe that he was successful a time or two.


Uncle Mike was an avid fisherman. During warm months he fished almost every day, frequently in the Wapsie River, which was only about 3/4 mile from his home. Now and then, he would be at our door with fish, having come as far as he could on the R.R. hand car and then walking the rest of the way to our home. In the spring, he would come by with a sack of mavel mushrooms. That made us all happy as my mother used them to make delectable treats, scrambled eggs and mushrooms seasoned with caraway and mushrooms sautéed in butter with added salt & caraway seed.


Through the years of my memory, Uncle Mike always looked the same...lean and fit. I don't recall that he ever owned a car. He did a lot of walking. He also took advantage of the railroad's hand car when it was appropriate and for longer trips he would use his railroad pass. When relatives from the Cresco area or from Cedar Rapids came to visit, they often came to his home first and he would ride with them as they visited family living in the Oxford Jct. area.


A couple of years after Aunt Mary's death, Uncle Mike married Flora Powlishta, a window from Cedar Rapids...Aunt "Flo" to us. She had a bubbly personality and was just as fun loving and friendly as he. I remember visiting my parents soon after their marriage and running into them on a Saturday night in town...that being the night farmers and townspeople came to shop and socialize on the streets and in the stores. He was happily introducing his new bride to everyone they met and she was glowing with happiness. They enjoyed traveling and never seemed to tire of visiting friends and relatives. His well-used railroad pass took them to places near and far....Cedar Rapids, Nebraska and every winter to Long Beach, California. According to post cards received by my mother, they had an active social life there too.


Uncle Mike enjoyed music, especially the old Bohemian polkas and waltzes. I heard him play with the Oxford Jct. band only once but I remember his playing the accordion quite a few times. He seemed to keep his accordion handy in case the opportunity to play came along. A couple of times stand out in my being after my brother John Vanicek's marriage to Nelda Chamberlain in 1964. After the church reception, the family went to Mom's home in Oxford Jct. for a more private get-together. Uncle Mike and his accordion were there and I was delighted to have him play and to hear my Aunt Irene Vanicek sing. It was all too short so I urged him to continue but he declined much to my disappointment.


Another time was at a family picnic in Oxford Jct. when we again enjoyed his accordion playing. This particular time stands out in my memory because his sister, Anna Hicks, was there and sat in the car the whole time. Her health was failing and she passed away not long after that.


The last time I saw Uncle Mike was a time of anxiety and sadness for him. Aunt Flo had been ailing for some time and her doctors weren't giving her much hope for recovery. He had heard that my family and I were going to be visiting my mother, so he had someone bring him and Flo out to the farm where mom lived at the time, hoping that my husband, Gordon an M.D., might offer some kind of hope. Uncle Mike was obviously feeling very devastated and it was sad to see.


I attended his funeral in June of 1975. At the service in Oxford Junction, I met for the first time, Anna Souhrada Merrill, a great niece of his, and a granddaughter of Vaclav, Mike's oldest half-brother. I was just beginning to have an interest in Souhrada genealogy and Anna graciously wrote on the back of a funeral card the descendants of their spouses of Vaclav and Kate Souhrada. I also met for the first time, Jane Souhrada Stephen, a great granddaughter of Vaclav and Marketta Souhrada, the wife of Darrell, a great grandson.


I asked my children what they remember about Uncle Mike. Their responses were: his friendliness, his smile, his blue eyes, the coffee cans he had sitting around his house because he chewed tobacco. Daughter, Barbara, remembers combing his hair when she was a small child.

Good memories for all of us!

-- Velma Vanicek Flynn, May 12, 1998