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Keep museum at home in Czech Village
The Gazette Opinion Staff
Aug. 31, 2009 12:50 am
By George Joens
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library board has held three public meetings to survey its future. The apparent result: Repurpose the existing 18,000-square-foot museum building and build a new flood-protected building of up to 50,000 square feet to serve as an exhibition center and library.
The unanswered question: Where will the new building be located? An obvious site is the nearby 2 1/2 acres where the Roundhouse has been vacated for several years.
As a merchant in Czech Village for 50 years, I participated along with many other families in the revitalization of Czech Village almost 40 years ago. Czech Heritage, Czech fine arts, Czech Village and the building of the museum were their projects. They worked hard and long hours only because they were proud to be Czechs and accomplished much.
Many of their voices have been silenced, but we must listen to the past.
The history of Czech Village began in the mid-1800s, when it was known as the Avenue Sixteenth. The lower end, and even Bohemie town (slang to many old-timers) store sold groceries, meats, coal, baked goods, beer, etc. There was also harness and a blacksmith.
The main neighborhood was a strong ethnic community of Czechs who arrived through Ellis Island. Their homes were still very livable until the flood of 2008. It is sad to walk through there now.
If you listen closely, you almost can hear voices speaking Czech and smell the wood burning from the ovens that are cooking Czech goulash and fresh kolaches. The mothers stayed home, while the fathers worked two jobs so their children could go to school and learn the new American language, then go on to college. Jobs for those hard-working men were plentiful at the packinghouse, starch works and the cereal plant. These bright, loyal and strong workers were met with open arms.
The merchants of Czech Village want this new museum and library located near the existing museum in Czech Village, but they're not the only ones. There are many families determined to preserve their heritage, along with the thousands who settled in this great new land and are responsible for bringing us this far, to becoming the best Czech and Slovak museum in the world. Czech roots ran deep in the old days and still do today.
The museum's board of directors is expected to make its final decision on the location next month. Contact them at www.ncsml.org or call (319) 362-8500. Let them know how important it is to keep the planned expansion and the existing museum together in Czech Village.
George Joens of Joens Brothers Interiors Inc. is a longtime businessman in Czech Village.
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