Tag Archives: Big Rapids

Dad spearheads immigration saga

Dad’s birthday spurs creative juices

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

I want to dedicate this day to my forever young dad  Vaclav Konecny who turns 81 today. He was born in Brest, Czechoslovakia on July 23, 1934 to parents Anezka & Antonin Konecny. He is the older of the two remaining  siblings  with Aunt Martha Pink. Both claim the original residence as Stipa near Zlin.

He is the behind the scenes character who along with my mom Ella inspired the memoir “Greenwich Meridian” about the family immigration saga that now spans three generations.

Dad continues to inspire me with his humor and sometimes cranky optimism and sarcasm.  He is what I call an atypical Leo. Dad has the strength of the Leo, as well as his leadership and determination to carry out projects to his liking.

Parents Vaclav & Ella have inspired the memoir.
Parents Vaclav & Ella have inspired the memoir.

But, he is not by any stretch of imagination a show off in the regal colors of golden and purple like the king of jungle or King Vaclav he is named after. On the contrary, dad is truly the entire support system behind a spectacular show.

However, during his tenure as math professor at Ferris State University from 1980 until 2001 in Big Rapids, he did play the role of the lion in front of the blackboard.

“You know you have to put on a show,” he always told me.

Students laughed at him, but colleagues admired him then as much as they do now.

Dad can make people around him flourish putting them at the center of attention instead of himself.

One time at a university party, dad hit a conversation with a complete stranger.

“Who was that,” mom asked.

“He is a dentist,” dad laughed.

“What did you talk to him about?” she watched him closely.

“About teeth, of course,” he laughed again.

At 81, he can strike magic with any female whether at a party, while wintering in Florida or at a perfectly authentic Spanish or Mexican restaurant. Maybe, that is where his lion’s character shows the best.

“Women admire him,” mom says.

Yes, dad is likable. He is witty, funny, talented and creative. Who ever has said that math or physics are boring, just never had the pleasure of meeting my dad. Vaclav Konecny studied physics in Brno and later took on math.

A life-long learner himself, dad studied computer science at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, while teaching full-time math at Ferris. During the turbulent times of the 70s, dad took to the canvas and painted his oils from mosques in Sudan, Niagara Falls to Saguaro cacti in the national park in Arizona.

Many years later he found love in languages, Spanish and French. Both, mom and I watched him in awe freely communicate with Mexican wait staff and owners at different restaurants.

I don’t know, but I have a valid feeling that his favorite food is Mexican or Spanish even though he will not admit that in front of mom.

He has the vitality of a 30-year old not quite grown up man. His persistence lets him drive 1,367 miles from Big Rapids to Venice, Florida.

His innovation spirit can take him anywhere. He closes his eyes and imagines new routes and new paths to mathematical solutions.

“He’s solving problems all the time or counting the number of people in pews,” mom says.

Dad is a perfectionist at the expense of being disappointed with the imperfection of others. He is a true gentleman with manners from the court and always lets women go first.

I always ask myself this question when mom dictates what’s going to happen next:

“Is mom really the true boss in the Konecny household?”

She appears to be, and dad wants it that way to stay in her shadow with his quiet personality hiding the lion’s strength.

But, dad has been the driving force behind the family happenings  over the last 47 years since we have ventured out over the Atlantic pond.

Thanks dad for being the modern captain on this bold voyage, for showing us the world, for broadening our horizons and for creating endless surprises.

Happy birthday,

Emma & the family

Copyright (c) 2015 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

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25 Years in the USA

25th Anniversary of arrival in USA, part 1

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Home in Lowell, USA
25th anniversary of arrival to USA

Lowell, MI- We arrived at the frozen JFK airport on Dec.22, 1989. I had a 20-hour trip behind me and a lifetime of memories. I was traveling with my two-and-a-half year son Jake and my daughter Emma, 10.

Long before Delta sky team, we took the Czechoslovak Airlines (CSA) from Czech capital Prague to Montreal and on to NYC.

My parents Ella & Vaclav Konecny were waiting for us with a gray station wagon. I still have the jean jacket United Colors of Beneton Tipe de Nimes that I arrived in for memorabilia purposes. And I was freezing in it. The first night we stayed in NYC at my parents’ friends, Mr. & Mrs. Herman from Vizovice.

City hall Zlin.
Our hometown Zlin in Czech Republic.

A long way home to Big Rapids, MI awaited us. I had no idea how huge the USA is. Czech Republic is maybe the size of Connecticut. The car was like an ice cave. You couldn’t see outside unless you scraped the windows from inside and outside.

First Jake wanted to sit on my lap, but he had to be glued to his place by a seat belt.

After a long haul and once we could see through the windows, Jake discovered water towers along the Ohio Turnpike.

“I want to go and sit on it,” he kept repeating. “I want to sit on that ball.”

“Alright I will stop and you can climb on the ball,” my dad said angrily. And slowed down.

We arrived exhausted in Big Rapids, Michigan on Christmas Eve at night. We had to pick up my brother Vas at his mobile home in Rogers Heights. I haven’t seen him since 1976, when he left Czechoslovakia with mom Ella to join dad. Since then, after the Velvet Revolution and breaking away of Slovakia in 1993, the country changed names to Czech Republic.

USA moments
25th anniversary of arrival to the USA

I was surprised at the huge reflector lamp on Vas’ home that almost blinded us given all the snow.

Mom had the Christmas Eve dinner ready in the fridge. In Czech Republic, Christmas Eve is the main holiday. It is also known as the Feast of Adam and Eve. That is when people open their presents, eat fried carp or other fish, mushroom soup and potato salad. On that evening the good ones, who had fasted, may see the golden pig on the wall, according to a legend.

Celebrating 25th anniversary in the USA
Our Christmas tree 25 years later in Lowell.

I still remember the feeling of that night. I was confused and uncertain about what I was getting myself into. Big Rapids is a small university town compared to where we lived in Czechoslovakia in a 30,000- people apartment complex known as the Southern Slopes. These enormous apartment complexes, spread around the country,are one of the few successes and remnants of socialism.

The fear of the unknown and a new reality kicked in suddenly. I was in a foreign country, even though I spoke English and had relatives by my side. What will the future bring?

My husband Ludek was in Canada because that’s how the visa process worked out. My parents sponsored me to the USA, while Ludek got immigration visa to Quebec.

I am an engineer by trade with a bachelor’s degree from Technical University of Brno.

Since my parents were both working at the Ferris State University, I took classes there in Computer Aided Design (CAD).

I hated engineering. It was the only university I could get into considering my American past. We had already lived in the USA in the 1970s in Texas, when we left communist Czechoslovakia illegally. And we were punished for that in many ways.

To be continued…….

For more stories go to http://etravelandfood.wordpress.com

Lowell Area Chamber of commerce at http://www.lowellchamber.org

Copyright © 2014 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Mom’s birthday

Mom’s birthday marks end of summer

My memoir “Greenwich Meridian” is dedicated to my mother Ella Konecny of Big Rapids, Michigan. Out of the entire immigration saga now spanning three generations, she was the one who suffered the most.

“Immigration is a lot of give and take,” she said in an interview in Venice, Florida in March.

Today as she celebrates her birthday, I recall the summer birthdays of the past in former Czechoslovakia.

Mom Ella Konecny, the pharmacist
Mom Ella Konecny, the pharmacist

After returning from Texas on presidential amnesty in 1973, we spent most of our summers at grandparents’ old house in Vizovice, region of Moravia in former Czechoslovakia. The old dwelling was called a “chalupa,” which has nothing to do with the Mexican food.

“I wanted to go home to help my parents,” mom said in a recent interview in Venice, Florida.

Mom was working at the pharmacy in then regional capital Gottwaldov, while we were living the country life on the streets of Vizovice. At first I wasn’t too happy about leaving behind the American lifestyle.

Back in Hawkins, we had a car, dad’s university apartment, and a coke machine at the Junior High School. I was not only on the honor roll, but also on the basketball and softball teams. I played the flute at the time, later the clarinet. I had dreams bigger than this world.

Coming home to Czechoslovakia was a shock. I couldn’t name the months of the year in Czech, I didn’t know Russian or geometry. So, mom entered me in seventh grade instead of eighth at the local 1st through 9th grade school in Stipa.

The school in comparison to USA was very strict and a lot more difficult. I thought the teachers were mean. My aunt and classroom teacher Martha had to tutor me.

But, I loved the summer breaks at the “chalupa” in Vizovice. By the time August rolled around, I was tanned and hardened by the streets. We spent all our time on street Krnovska in Vizovice playing whatever and with who ever was available.

Moravian dwelling called "chalupa."
Moravian dwelling called “chalupa.”

I started a street club with friend Zdena who was the treasurer. I remember exploring along the banks of the river Lutoninka. The river had a weir, and for many years we swam in its cold waters. My grandpa Joseph poached on the river catching fish with his bare hands.

Every year when August 23rd approached, grandma Anna gave me a 20-crown bill, usually late in the afternoon.

“Go and buy a gift for your mother,” she said. “It’s her birthday.”

I grabbed the money and proudly marched into town passed the tobacco/jewelry shop close to the grade school. I’ve always loved window shopping. In awe, I admired the crystal glasses and other famous Czech crystal and garnets.

Sometimes, I would just walk into the shop and buy a newspaper and linger around so I could smell the tobacco. Therein are the origins of my love for newspapers.

When I finally made it across the bridge to the general store called “U Kaluzu” ( “By the puddle,” ) I was fascinated by all the merchandise.

The store pitched atop the river bank had everything.

Many decades later, I was surprised to find a small organizer sewing basket at my parents’ condo in Venice.

“Mom you still have this?” I asked. “I got this for you ages ago in Vizovice.”

“I know,” she said. “And I kept it.”

Happy birthday, mom.

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova