Norma Zabka was born 90 years ago in the heart of what was then the heavily Czech district of Yorkville on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Though now possessed of a soft but distinctive New York accent, she actually spoke only Czech for the first few years of her life, despite the fact her parents had been born in the US. Since her early childhood Norma has been attending a branch of the Czech Sokol gymnastics organisation on East 71st St., which she also headed for over a quarter of century. It was there, surrounded by loads of old photos and trophies
Suzanna Halsey is one of the most active members of the Czech community in New York and describes herself as an inveterate organiser. Alongside teaching Czech and other work, she is on the board of the New York chapter of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences and is involved with Friends of Czech Greenways. When I caught up with Halsey at the city’s Bohemian National Hall, I first asked her about her own background in Czechoslovakia.
Earlier this year the young piano virtuoso Tomáš Kačo performed for the first time at New York’s famous Carnegie Hall. It was the fulfilment of a long-held dream for the 31-year-old, who comes from a large Romany family in a small Czech town and was a youth prodigy before seizing a life-changing chance to study in the US. I caught up with Tomáš Kačo when he was visiting Prague last week from his home in LA. My first question: When was he first exposed to music in a meaningful way?
Bořek Lizec, Consul General of the Czech Republic in Chicago, has unearthed and preserved remarkable stories of Czech-American friendships and come to believe that, quite possibly, Czechoslovakia would not have gained its independence had it not been for efforts of the people of Chicago and the Midwest. To honour their individual and collective contributions and legacies, he is helping put together centenary celebrations in “the windy city” this autumn requiring two weekends to pack it all in.
Actor and puppeteer Vít Hořejš was born in Czechoslovakia but spent most of his life in the United States, where he emigrated in his late twenties. He worked for the legendary Black Light Theatre before establishing his own Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre. The group, featuring puppets and live actors, performs contemporary pieces as well as plays based on traditional Czech fairy tales.
Twenty years ago, Czech artist, graphic designer and musician Maxim Havlíček left for San Francisco with 200 dollars in his pocket and the deep-felt conviction that his destiny lay abroad; that his desire to explore – and paint – could not be truly fulfilled unless he left his homeland, perhaps forever. His reading of the Paulo Coelho novel The Alchemist proved the catalyst for that continuing artistic journey, and so Havlíček has borrowed the title for his upcoming exhibition in Prague.
Petra Tonder’s father Ivo Tonder took part in the Great Escape in 1944 and later also succeeded in breaking out of prison in his native Czechoslovakia. There, like many former RAF aviators, he had been persecuted by the Communists after their 1948 takeover. In the second half of a two-part interview, Petra Tonder shares details about her own incredible journey to freedom as a very small child, and the lives her family led in the UK. But first she discusses her parents' post-war return to – and subsequent escape from – Czechoslovakia.
The 16th all-Sokol slet (gathering) begins in Prague next Sunday and will bring together thousands of people from the Czech physical fitness organisation, which was founded in 1862. Among those attending the week-long jamboree – which this year celebrates the centenary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia – will be hundreds of members of American Sokol. Its president, Chicago-based Jean Hruby, stopped by at our studios ahead of the big event.