Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

Plenty of memories will be served up at Masaryktown reunion

MASARYKTOWN — Old-time residents of this community with Czechoslovakian heritage can always go home again. But it's not the same.

There's no dancing the old country's fancy-footed beseda. No ooh-ing and aah-ing over intricately hand-embroidered, traditional skirts and aprons. No stuffing of tummies with poppyseed-laced sweet cakes at a meeting of the communal groaning board.

But reminiscences of such experiences remain. And they'll be retold — and some told anew — today at what may be the last of the pioneers' community reunions.

"I'm too old and too tired" to organize the gatherings anymore, said Masaryktown native and historian Elaine Tokos Hogue, 75.

Those reuniting for an afternoon at Brooksville Country Club at Majestic Oaks mainly will be grandchildren of the original Czech settlers of Masaryktown, who arrived in the 1920s from New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The newcomers were eager to trade snow shoveling for orange growing.

While their grandchildren today regale with their own tales and others told to them, none seem to recall how their Northern ancestors heard of sunny citrus or Central Florida.

Having put together the annual reunions since 1992, Hogue said, "The people who come really care about each other and have tremendous memories that we share. We have dinner and then share stories. We look forward to the sharing part more than anything else."

With a flair for writing, and experience doing so in several jobs over 27 years at St. Petersburg Junior College, Hogue intends to pen some of the shared stories in a historical booklet after this year's reunion.

She achieved her first writing success in a congressional essay contest that she won as a student at Hernando High School in 1954. The subject: America's heritage. Her coming subject: Masaryktown's heritage.

A likely contributor to Hogue's project will be Ray Kalavsky, 69, of Inverness.

"He's on fire about Masaryktown," said Hogue, who moved last fall to Brooksville after living most of her adult life in Clearwater. Hogue noted that Kalavsky still owns and maintains the Masaryktown home of his parents where he grew up.

Last week, Kalavsky told a tale he thinks even Hogue doesn't recall. She has long remembered that he was the most junior member of a town band, and that he played the accordion. Kalavsky's secret, he chuckled: "Elaine said — oh, she was maybe 17 then — she was going to marry those guys (in the band)."

Also reminiscing, Kalavsky recalls that his family owned no car. They walked out to U.S. 41 to catch a Trailways or Greyhound bus that passed by every 10 minutes, riding to Brooksville to shop for groceries at Publix. By the time they returned home, their ice cream was melted.

And Kalavsky remembers his grandmother telling of U.S. 41 at one time being nothing more than an unpaved track. She was in a car with girlfriends, headed to Brooksville, when the car bogged down in a mud hole. A nearby farmer brought out a team of mules to pull the car from the bog. The farmer swatted the mules, the mules took off, and only the front end of the car followed, according to his grandmother.

As Hogue says, "Some of the stories are hilarious."

More seriously, she recounts historic citrus freezes, then the coming of chicken cooperatives, which bought out small family farms. Residents who weren't enamored of contract chicken production drifted away in search of other employment, taking the village's Czech cohesiveness with them.

But today's reunion promises to rekindle the sense of neighborliness.

Septuagenarian Ivan Platko, coming from Neenah, Wis., will moderate the sharing session, perhaps recalling how Frances Zalenta taught him, as an eighth- or ninth-grader, the beseda dance.

Platko's lifelong friend, John Bartko, will make the trip from Newville, Pa. The duo always brings news of their most recent visit to Slovakia.

Sidney Romine, still a resident of Masaryktown, likely will point out that, yes, this Easter, as usual, she brought out for display her Slovak-decorated eggs.

Said Kalavsky: "I'm going to break the accordion out of mothballs. What's a Slovak reunion without an accordion?

"I'm so glad we're having this reunion to keep these stories going," he said. "We'll have a few laughs from the past."

Hogue noted that 34 people with ties to Masaryktown are coming for the event. It's the most ever, since the beginning, when Hogue and friend Mildred Seles sat down in 1992 and wondered:

"Where are all our friends now?"

Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]

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