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In Hernando County's Masaryktown, connection to Czechoslovak culture fades

The Beseda dancers have always been a highlight of the annual Czechoslovak Independence Day party in Masaryktown. But interest in the Hernando County town’s immigrant heritage has waned, and this year, there will be no celebration.

Times (2007)

The Beseda dancers have always been a highlight of the annual Czechoslovak Independence Day party in Masaryktown. But interest in the Hernando County town’s immigrant heritage has waned, and this year, there will be no celebration.

MASARYKTOWN

Each year since it was founded in the 1920s, this small agricultural settlement on the Hernando-Pasco county line has celebrated Czechoslovak Independence Day. It has always been a chance for the community — settled by Czechoslovakian immigrants from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York and named after Thomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia — to recall its heritage and renew traditions. But on Sunday, the Masaryktown Community Center will sit quiet.

Those who have organized and cooked for the event in years past are growing old. Many have died. The annual celebration, normally held the last Sunday in October, will not take place this year.

"They're all gone," said Violet R. Cimbora, 86, who has lived in Hernando County since the early 1940s and whose family built the landmark Masaryk Hotel. "All of the ladies I used to pal around with, all of them are gone. And the men, too."

In a settlement first built around the citrus industry and later known as the egg capital of Florida, Masaryktown's community hall became one of the largest gathering places in the region. It served as a destination, particularly for New Year's Eve gatherings and weddings.

"We had big weddings," said Linda Lovelady, 59, board secretary for the community center. "The town was invited. If you didn't get an invitation, you came anyway."

The hall's kitchen was designed with large crowds in mind. To prepare for the Independence Day dinner, which marked freedom from centuries of Austrian-Hungarian rule, there would be a hubbub of activity.

Volunteers baked poppy seed and nut breads over the course of Friday and Saturday. At 3 a.m. on Sunday, the group would meet again to cook dozens of chickens and prepare the rest of the noontime meal.

Afternoon entertainment would include music, dancing and a traditional performance by the Beseda dancers.

Through World War II and the Cold War years, the event took on even greater meaning. While Czechoslovakia was under communist control, Czechs and Slovaks freely celebrated their heritage in Hernando County.

But these days, the youngest generation just isn't interested, said Cimbora, who once served as the ceremonial mayor of Masaryktown, population 1,002.

The generation that might have carried on the local cultural traditions has followed another set of ancestral footsteps. Just as their grandparents and great-grandparents did, they have moved away from the place of their birth in search of new dreams.

Lovelady's two children and a young granddaughter live in Tallahassee and Gainesville. Cimbora's middle daughter lives in North Carolina, and her other daughters are in Florida, but not Masaryktown.

Scattered across the region and country, those who left may fondly recall the taste of poppy seed rolls or the steps of a traditional Czech dance. But their children do not understand Czech or Slovak. The only clue to their heritage might be the sound of their last name or a hand-painted Easter egg tucked on a shelf.

Long before Interstate 75 and the Suncoast Parkway were built through the heart of Hernando and Pasco counties, Masaryktown's Beseda dancers and the Weeki Wachee mermaids graced the cover of a brochure touting the wonders of the region.

If there's enough interest, it's possible the dancers might return for an annual spring dinner the community holds each year.

It would be on the birthday of Masaryk, who helped create an independent nation in the heart of war-ravaged Europe. Ninety years ago, he was a hero to the world.

Residents such as Cimbora and Lovelady long to preserve the community's history and culture.

"When I was young and my mother and father were alive, we used to have big, big celebrations," Cimbora said. "A thousand people would come. All the eating and dancing and singing — it was just beautiful.

"Everything goes, you know. It's just too bad. It was so colorful."

At the bottom of her closet, carefully tucked in an old red suitcase, is the costume Cimbora wore so many years ago for community celebrations.

With luck, she hopes one day to wear it again.

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at slmarshall.sptimes@gmail.com.

In Hernando County's Masaryktown, connection to Czechoslovak culture fades 10/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 23, 2009 11:55pm]

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