116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
You don't have to be Czech to enjoy this weekend's celebration in Czech Village.
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library reopened its doors to throngs of visitors Saturday, four years and one month after the Floods of 2008. Events continue today.
“We're Irish – very Irish,” said Tiernan Dolan, 55, of Cedar Rapids, who watched the Parade of States Pageant that kicked off the festivities.
Of the more than 3 million Iowans, just 62,390 claim Czech ancestry, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Museum president and CEO, Gail Naughton, took note of the diverse crowd that gathered to witness the reopening during a ceremony on the museum's steps.
“By learning about others, we learn about ourselves,” said Naughton, who was given the title of “honorary Czech” for her dedication to the museum.
PHOTO GALLERY (story continues below gallery):
Dolan and his family, who came in support of friend Molly Cook, were among several thousand people who watched and participated in the celebration.
Seven countries and 18 states were represented in the parade. More than 5,000 visitors flooded through the museum's doors when the building reopened.
“I'm proud to be a part of it,” said Cook, 52, of Cedar Rapids, who has done freelance graphic design work for the museum. “They're the comeback kids after the flood. It's been really emotional.”
The museum was inundated with at least eight feet of floodwater in June 2008.
Last summer, the 17,000-square-foot building was moved from the banks of the Cedar River to higher ground.
An addition was built, bringing the museum to 50,000 square feet.
"We are in another moment of rebirth," Naughton told the crowd. "In three words: we are back."
Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa,) along with public officials from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, addressed the crowd in the mid-morning heat.
"There is no doubt that it would overcome the challenges," Grassley said. "The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library is one of Iowa's great cultural treasures."
Harkin quoted the late Czech president, Vaclav Havel, after recalling his own mother's immigration to the United States from Slovenia.
"Isn't it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties," Harkin said, calling the expanded museum "unsinkable."
Czech Senator Tomas Grulich referenced the three presidents - Havel, President Clinton and Slovakian president Michal Kovac - who dedicated the museum during a cold October day in 1995.
Much-needed rain in the drought-stricken state fell for a brief time after Saturday's speeches ended.
Peter Zelenak, charge d' affaires for the Slovakian embassy, said the Czech Republic and Slovakia are on excellent terms with each other and the United States.
“You have a very nice community here,” said Zelenak, who was making his first visit to Cedar Rapids.
During an interview, Petr Gandalovic, Czech ambassador to the U.S., compared the natural disaster in Cedar Rapids to the 2002 floods in the Czech Republic.
“We know what it takes to start all over,” said Gandalovic, who made stops in Czech Village and New Bohemia, across the Cedar River, during his visit. “I think life will return to this part of the city.”
Sunday's events begin at noon, with a building blessing and service. Among highlights, the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre of New York City performs at 1 and 3 p.m. Exhibitions, including the works of Alphonse Mucha, are open until 5 p.m.
For more museum coverage, go here.
VIDEOS from the grand opening festivities: