Individual members of the SPJST and SPJST lodges from across Texas have been the Czech Heritage Museum’s most consistent supporters since the beginning and remain so even today.
A brief history of our founding supporters
The Czech Heritage Museum & Genealogy Center is the oldest Czech cultural or heritage museum in Texas.
While the need to establish a Czech library, archive and museum was recognized and discussed from the 1920s, supporters starting writing in favor of it in the early 1950s to the weekly Czech newspaper, Věstnik. Among these were Charlie Holasek of Corpus Christi, Otto Hanus of San Antonio, Bessie Valcik of Dallas, Jaroslav Kleprlik of San Antonio, Milos Podlipny of Rosenburg and Věstnik Editor, Frank Moucka of Ennis and West.
In 1954, a sort of official gathering was held at the SPJST fraternal organization’s offices at Central Avenue and 2nd Street in Temple.
Members of the Catholic fraternal organizations, KJT and KJZT were represented. Among those present were Charlie Holasek, Bessie Valcik, Otto Hanus, Edward L. Marek, August Kacir, Raymond Urbanovsky, J.F. Chupick, Charlie Navratil, L.O. Hosek, Milos Podlipny, and Jaroslav Kleprlik.
In the late 1950s, representatives and leaders of several Czech organizations, including Nick Morris, new editor of the Věstnik and Jerry Valchar of the RVOS met to discuss the project.
Several members of the clergy attended, as well as several of the original supporters named above.
The editor of the Czech publication Našinec, Josef Maresh and his son, Timothy, were at this meeting.
Nick Morris announced that he would take responsibility for starting a Czech library.
The first donation of books came in September of 1963, given by West attorney George Kacir.
After that, books began to come in from all parts of the U.S. Publisher Joe Holasek gave Morris space to store them in the rear of the printshop of the Cechoslovak Publishing Company in West.
Once that space was filled, Morris was able to move the books to an old ice house behind the printshop. It took many hours to vacuum and clean the inside of this building, but it was the first home of the Czech SPJST Library.
A year later, the ice house was sold, so the library moved back into a larger space at the publishing company. By now, there were about 1,500 books.
In 1968, Nick Morris obtained permission to move the books to the fifth floor of the SPJST building at Central and 2nd Street in Temple.
Otto Hanus transported the books from West and then became curator and librarian. By then Mr. Hanus and his wife lived a few blocks north of downtown Temple. He walked to the SPJST building every weekday to work on the collection. He was meticulous and a true caretaker. His passion for the collection is obvious to today’s Museum staff, whenever working with the original artifacts and his documents.
The importance of a library of publications and books in the Czech language to the Texas immigrants is significant, a fact that newspaper editor Nick Morris must have recognized.
The Czech language was under attack numerous times in its history and almost went extinct. In fact, today’s Czech linguists are still working to recover lost pieces of the language by studying ancient texts and manuscripts. It not only suffered under Austrian rule, later occupational authorities also worked to subordinate if not denigrate the language.
Czech is considered the third most difficult language in the world for English speakers to learn. With seven cases, it has an intricate grammar. But the adventure is really in all of the word play, double entendre and inside humor of the language.
Czechs really enjoy their language!
When the Czech immigrants came to Texas, the illiteracy rate of people in the U.S. averaged more than 25 percent. The illiteracy rates of other ethnic groups from the Habsburg monarchy at the time ranged from 11 to 41 percent.
The illiteracy rate of Czech immigrants from Bohemia and Moravia was a mere 1.7 percent. More than 98 percent of the Czech immigrants could read and write.
It is understandable then, that Czech immigrants craved books and publications in their own language. Many brought their own books and Bibles with them from Europe, but once here Czechs published their own newspapers and books in the U.S.
Our collection of artifacts in the Czech language are more than heirlooms. As the Czech proverb states, “As long as the language is alive, the people will not disappear.”
Morris, Nick A. A History of the SPJST: A Texas Chronicle 1897-1980. Temple, Texas. Stillhouse Hollow Publishers,1984.
U.S. Immigration Commission, 1907-1910, Statistical Review of Immigration, 1820-1910
U.S. Immigration Commission, 1907-1910, Emigration Conditions in Europe.