METAMORA – The Evergreen Community Library extended an invitation on Thursday for all people who shared the Czech heritage to come to the library for a potluck dinner and the sharing of all things Czech. There were many displays, both on table tops, hung from the walls and inside the glass-paneled display cases for the gathering crowd to enjoy.
Before the dinner and program started, there was a four-part accordion band playing authentic Czech folk songs. Ed Gajdostik, Mike Kudlac, Tom Komon and Millie Okopal collaborated to play any requests and fill the air with music that these immigrants brought to the region.
Other people streamed in with their covered dishes to create the buffet line of various food favorites. As large as the entrees and side dish table, the dessert table was nearly as big, ladened with wonderful pasteries and dense flavored breads. Some of the attendees offered that the dinner-sized plates were at the wrong table.
One of the few quite moments during the evening was when Tom Komon offered the mealtime prayer. The other quiet time was during the presenter’s program. Otherwise, the room was filled with multiple, happy conversations.
Head Librarian Jane Dominique offered that this was not a one time event, but part of an ongoing process that ECL was developing. The participation of the library in this specific activity of maintaining a permanent collection of Czech genealogy is part of the Metamora Area Historical Society. The materials are available for researchers to access reserved books and materials at the library.
“By maintaining and enhancing this collection of information, the library becomes more than a place for books and magazines,” shared Dominique. “We become a community center for a wide flung area here in this portion of the county. The Evergreen Local School District is the second largest in geographic area (131 square miles) in the state of Ohio.
“Plus, the duties, services and responsibilities of libraries, in general, are evolving to remain a relevant role in society.”
The research materials, maintained in a sunny niche in the library, are part of the Fulton County chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, plus the multiple purpose Community Room builds a strength in the library to survive the digital growth of the Information Age and reclaim the library’s purpose to bear a rich bounty of information and personal sharing and learning.
One of the largest concentrations of Czech people living in the United States is the Chicago area. Next is the region from Blissfield to Monroe, Mich. and parts south encompassing the Royalton, Amboy and Fulton townships. One of the most difficult crops to raise and harvest are sugar beets. The Czech people had the drive and the physical skills to bring the crop out of the fields. Back in the day, the fields needed a lot of hoeing by hand. It was a very labor intensive process.
The wave of Czech immigration began in the mid-1800s, just before the Civil War. It was customary that a relative would make it to the United States, earn and save their money to bring the rest of the family from the old country. As that family became successful, they felt the duty to sponsor other Czech people seeking to leave Europe to find economic opportunity and freedoms enjoyed in the States.
Another large group of Czech people arrived after the World War I during the upheaval of the Czech Republic being united with Slovak Republic as part of the Austria-Hungary empire. Those arriving in the Midwest were greeted here by the Great Depression. Many people lost their farms and all means to support themselves. Still they persevered and thrived.
“The Czech community is known for being very hard working and industrious people,” said Dominique. ” In 2014, looking at Amboy, Fulton and Royalton townships, the Czech people owned 4,360 acres of land.” Compared to the total acres in those three townships (50,753), the Czech-owned land represents 8.6 percent.”
By creating the Fulton County Heritage Alliance, which consists of the Bean Creek Valley History Center, Fayette; Fulton County chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, Fulton County Historical Museum / Depot, Wauseon; Lyons Historical Society; Sauder Village in Archbold and the Metamora Area Historical Society, these treasures can be refined through specialization and create an atmosphere of inclusion of all elements of the county.
The mission statement of the Fulton County Historical Society is to collect, preserve, and interpret artifacts and written records pertaining to Fulton County.
The Society is uniquely positioned to provide access to a diverse audience to experience Fulton County’s local cultural history through a research facility, programs, demonstrations, and exhibits at its various sites. The Historical Society’s mission statement fits in with Historical Society Director, John Swearingen Jr.’s approach to preserving and promoting the unique elements of Fulton County’s past.
“Just as we are working towards a new museum / welcoming center (near the fairgrounds),” said Swearingen. “We need to build up these local, specialized area associations to preserve the rich history of the county.”
After Dominique offered her opening remarks, Bob Vajcner gave his presentation. The author of “Footprints of My Forefathers,” his book was a labor of love for his past and as a means for future generations to appreciate their roots. “I found myself in Salt Lake City, accessing the Mormon genealogical resource. The people there did in two hours which matched four years of my earlier research.”
He was able to trace his grandfather’s arrival to the United States to 1908. While he was able to start his family, he spent only four years in his adopted homeland. He died in 1912 as a result of being trampled by a team of horses while thrashing oats.
“While there were numerous shipwrecks between sailing and steam ships, the biggest killer on the Atlantic Ocean crossings was illnesses spread through the crowded ships,” noted Vajcner.
There was a period of sharing family stories and some jokes. Swearingen delivered his remarks on the importance of the alliance as well as the ongoing process of developing the new museum to be placed across the road from the fairgrounds.
Dominique closed the evening with her thanks for her librarian staff which helped with this event. Karen Condon, Linda Gonzales, Debbie Henricks, Carrie Hulett and Martie Yunker are all instrumental in the operation of the library.
The display cases filled with tributes to the Czech’s heritage and contributions to their adopted homeland will be kept through the end of September. The ECL is open from noon to 8 p.m. Mondays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Fridays from noon to 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
Norris Ledyard can be reached at 419-335-2010