Češi v Americe:
The Nebraska Happening
Miloslav Rechcígl, Společnost pro vědy a uměníWhat happened in Nebraska during the August SVU Conference was unique and truly phenomenal which cannot be expressed by a better term than "Happening." Those of us who came there from other states or foreign countries felt like Alice in Wonderland or, as the Czechs say, "u Jirikovo videni."
The outpouring of kindness, goodwill and friendship was ever present wherever you looked, accompanied by a broad smile and helping hand. You could feel that it was all genuine.
I came there a day earlier "to check on things," landing in Omaha. I was picked up at the airport and driven to Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska, where our conference was held. By coincidence, it happened to be my birthday. My Nebraska friends threw me a surprise and joyous birthday party and from that point onward things began rolling.
We were all housed in fabulous, brand-new hotel-like suites in Kauffman Center, on the University of Nebraska campus, consisting of living room, kitchen and two nice rooms, for the price of regular student dormitories. Each room was equipped with all the amenities, including thermostats which allowed one to control temperature in each room. Whenever you needed something, you simply called the front desk and they would promptly take care of your needs. What a difference from the dormitories we had during our previous conferences and congresses. The prepaid food was served in the Selleck Hall which was situated next to Kauffman Hall where we were staying. The food was excellent and abundant and served in the form of a buffet.
Most of the Conference attendees began arriving on Wednesday afternoon August 1. After registration, which was initially conveniently placed in the Kauffman Center, the participants were treated to a reception in the close-by Wick Alumni Center. Apart from the scrumptious food and good company, we were entertained by music and song. Music performers included Svetlana Yashirin, piano, Budomir Zvolanek, clarinet, and Joel Blahnik and Anita Smisek of Czech Music Alliance. The program included a number of presentations from various Nebraska groups that took part in the Conference organization, including Ron Stiles, President of the Czech Komensky Club; Helen Pejsar, Nebraska Czechs of Lincoln; Glen Riensche, Czech Language Foundation; Merlin Lawson, Dean of International Affairs at UNL; Dr. Oliva, Dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts at UNL; John Fiala, President Elect, Nebraska Czechs Inc.; and Mayor Don Weseley. Carmelee Tuma, Assistant to the Governor of Nebraska, brought his personal greetings and presented to the SVU President a special proclamation making him an "Admiral of the Nebraska Navy." It was all in good fun.
The Conference opened the following day in the spacious Nebraska Union Auditorium, with all seats occupied at eight o'clock sharp. After the four national anthems (US, Canadian, Czech and Slovak) which were performed by Joel Blahnik, Anita Smisek, Maureen Beck, and the Capital City Czech Choraliers, came words of welcome from the University Dean of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Richard J. Hoffmann, followed by my official opening, in my capacity as SVU President.
Next on the program was Dr. Mila Saskova-Pierce, Chair of the Conference Organizing Committee, and Dr. Russell Ganim, Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. They were followed by Kate Witek, Auditor of Public Accounts of the State of Nebraska, who brought greetings and a special message from Governor Mike Johanns. On the occasion the Governor proclaimed the days of our Conference, August 1 through 3, 2001, as "Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences Days."
Then came Don Weseley, the newly elected Mayor of Lincoln, who welcomed the participants on behalf of the State Capital Lincoln, mentioning his Czech ancestors who settled in Nebraska in the late 1800s. (His name was originally spelled Vesely.) This was followed by a message from US Senator Chuck Hagel. The official part of the program was concluded with the greetings of Petr Gandalovic, Consul General of the Czech Republic, who addressed the audience on behalf of the Czech Republic. The program ended by a musical performance of the Capital City Czech Choraliers.
After a short coffee and "kolache" break, the SVU Conference started in earnest. Three or more sessions usually ran concurrently, following the printed program. All lecture rooms were equipped with the latest equipment. Most sessions were well attended and went smoothly. Each session was usually concluded with a question and answer period and frequently with an animated discussion. Space does not allow description of individual sessions which ran concurrently for two full days, August 2 and 3. It should be noted that a number of panels were attended by younger audience, as well as by younger presenters, which was one of the main objectives of the conference.
A special plenary session was devoted to the Presidential Symposium, "The Role of Ethnic Organizations in Preserving Our Cultural Heritage", which I had the pleasure to chair, with the participation of chief executive officers of ethnic organizations in the US. The session included representatives of the American Sokol Organization, Bohemia Benevolent and Literary Organization of New York, Bohemian Citizen's Benevolent Society of Astoria, Czech and Slovak Heritage Association of Maryland, Czech and Slovak Music Society, Czech and Slovak Society of Oregon, Czech Heritage Society of Texas, Czech Language Foundation of Nebraska, Czechoslovak American National Council of America, Komensky Club, National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Nebraska Czechs Inc., Nebraska Czechs of Lincoln, Nebraska Czechs of Wilber, Oklahoma Czechs, and Slavonic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas. The Czech Republic was represented by Jaromir Slapota of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute and Senator Milan Spacek, Chair of the Permanent Committee of the Senate for Czechs Abroad. Deputy Jiri Karas, Chair of a comparable committee in the Czech House of Representatives, was unable to attend.
During the lunch on Thursday, the participants were entertained by former Miss Czech-Slovak USA Queens and during the Friday luncheon they were addressed by Chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dr. Harvey Perlman. On Friday afternoon, the SVU General Assembly meeting was held with the customary State of the SVU Report by the SVU President. The latter, as well as the resolution voted on by the Assembly, are printed separately.
In the evening of August 3, there was the SVU banquet, featuring Rechcigl and Petr Gandalovic as speakers, followed by presentations of SVU Presidential citations to selected organizations that have made contributions to the preservation of Czech and Slovak cultural heritage in the US. These organizations were identical with those which took part in the SVU Presidential Symposium, associated with the National Heritage Commission. Additional citations were awarded to Matice Vyssiho Vzdelani, Slovak American International Cultural Foundation, and Masaryk Club and individuals: Jiri Eichler, Mila Saskova-Pierce, Tom Zumpfe, and Cathleen Oslzly. The latter, who likes to be called "Kacenka," was the chief driving force behind the Conference, received for her extraordinary effort a crystal vase from the SVU and an airfare voucher to the SVU Congress in Plzen next year donated to SVU by Tatra Travel. Czech and Slovak Ambassadors Alexandr Vondra and Martin Butora, under whose auspices the Conference was organized, sent their personal messages which were read.
Other activities concurrent to the SVU Conference included an Accordion Jam session on Thursday afternoon, the Czech Language Foundation Awards Banquet followed by a polka dance Thursday evening in the Cornhusker Hotel Grand Ballroom, the Wilber Children's Beseda Dancers entertaining the same evening at the Cornhusker, and the film "Divided We Fall" showing at the Sheldon Film Theater.
On Saturday, August 4, many of the Conference participants boarded a bus to Wilber, Nebraska to take part in the famous Wilber Czech Festival. This was a happening in its own right, resembling in many ways a traditional Czech "pout," except on a much larger scale, accompanied by a traditional American parade and beauty pageant, culminating in the selection of the Czech and Slovak Queen. SVU Secretary General Frank Safertal, and I, in my capacity as SVU President, had the pleasure of being driven in the parade with our names and office insignia exhibited on the cars.
Judging as a whole, the SVU conference in Nebraska and everything connected with it was a great success, thanks to local leaders and organizers like Cathleen Oslzly, Mila Saskova-Pierce and her husband Layne, Tom Zumpfe, John Fiala, and Ron and Jitka Stiles, as well as a number of organizations which enthusiastically worked with them as a team. The Nebraska Czechs of Lincoln were the greeters in "kroje"(authentic national costumes), beginning Wednesday in the Kauffman Center and continuing until the final presentation on Friday. They also monitored all presentation rooms in the Nebraska Student Union. They are to be commended for all of their fantastic efforts, including the Wall of Remembrance at the Great Plains Art Collection. The Nebraska organizers found a number of local sponsors which helped to defray costs so our registration fees were kept very low and most of the social and cultural events could be provided gratis. SVU will be forever grateful to them.
Those of you who attended the Nebraska Conference will most assuredly agree that it was a true "happening."