The Sokol gymnastics organisation was founded in Prague in 1862 during the Czech National Revival, and is still active today in the Czech Republic, and elsewhere. This Sunday, Sokol Minnesota is celebrating its 125th anniversary at a building in St Paul called the Czech-Slovak Protective Society – it originally served as a kind of insurance agency for Czechs and Slovaks in Minnesota. I called Joe Landsberger, who is organising the anniversary celebrations.
“We’re having a big programme of Antonín Dvořák selections and folk songs, and two theatre pieces – excerpts of them. We will begin the programme with the presentation of the flags – Czech, Slovak, our Sokol unit flag and the American flag. Then the national anthems, and we’ll conclude our programme with a sing-along – folk singing.”
How active is Sokol in Minnesota?
“Right now, this year, we have more members than ever in our history. This is very unusual for early immigrant groups, or European immigrant groups, in America. Most of the national halls have either become commercialised or suffer from lack of care. But ours is thriving, and is true to its origins.”
Around how many members do you have in Sokol Minnesota?
“Over 300, it was around 320 last year.”
What kind of age profile are we talking about?
“Well, if one considers the gymnastics programme with the young children, it goes from five…and we just had two members celebrate their 90th birthdays. So it’s quite a broad range really.”
I understand also your building is historically interesting.
“Yes, very much…In fact part of the programme will be a display of 125 years of artifacts – pictures and items of curiosity from our history, including Sokol uniforms, etceteras. In fact, I will be wearing one for our programme.”
And what’s your background, Joe?
“My mother’s family name was Dvořák. They were from a very small town in northern Iowa, a small but picturesque town called Spillville. It’s actually where Antonín Dvořák spent a summer in 1893.”
So are you related?
“They say no. But I mean, what do we know about family relations, I guess?”