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Pauline Chorvat, fierce advocate for Masaryktown, dies at 89

MASARYKTOWN — Pauline Chorvat stands under a brilliant blue sky, smiling as she holds the new sign that would tell visitors about the roots of the place she had called home for half a century.

The moment from a dozen years ago, captured by a camera for posterity, was a proud one for Masaryktown residents as they celebrated the planting of the roadside marker designating the tiny hamlet as a Florida Heritage Site.

Czechoslovakian immigrants from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York founded the village in 1924 and named the place in honor of the first president of the independent republic of Czechoslovakia, Tomas G. Masaryk.

Mrs. Chorvat married into Czechoslovak culture and moved to Masarkytown in 1948 with her husband, Stan, who was raised there. But she developed a fierce sense of civic pride for the place where she would raise four children, toil for untold hours to prepare community events, and eventually serve as honorary mayor. Her efforts helped make the new sign a reality.

"She was very proud of her community," said her grandson, Doug Chorvat Jr.

Mrs. Chorvat died March 1 after a roughly monthlong hospice stay. She was 89. A memorial service is scheduled for today.

Born and raised in Amherst, Mass., the former Pauline Moran lived modestly but relatively comfortably during the Depression because her father had a steady maintenance job at the local university. Her father's parents emigrated from Ireland, and St. Patrick's Day would always be her favorite holiday, her family members said.

She met Stanley Chorvat in Amherst in the early 1940s, and they married in 1943. The son of Czechoslovakian immigrants, Stan owned a taxi service in Massachusetts but wanted to return to Masaryktown. The Chorvats brought their two young sons, Doug and James.

By then, the village had recovered from the freezes in the mid 1920s that devastated its citrus groves. Many turned to chicken farming, and the Chorvats did some of that and built a general store, gas station and garage along U.S. 41.

Stanley ran the garage; Pauline ran the general store. The family, which by then included two daughters, Kelly and Vikki, lived upstairs.

For the next five decades, Mrs. Chorvat would remain in an almost perpetual state of motion.

"She was at her happiest when she was with other people and family," Kelly said.

In 1963, she got a job as a receptionist for Brooksville dentist Chan Springstead. She would stay for about 30 years, remaining after Springstead retired and Phil Heinecke took over at that location.

When she wasn't working, she was volunteering. During her time with Springstead, she served as president of the Brooksville Chapter of the American Business Women's Association. She spent a lot of time at Hernando High School, where her children played baseball and performed in the band. She helped raise money for the Masaryktown Volunteer Fire Department as a member of the Women's Auxiliary.

Mrs. Chorvat served for years as president of the Masaryktown Recreation Club. The new community center on Lincoln Avenue opened in 1975, and she helped organize events there, large and small.

Two of the largest were Masaryk's birthday celebration each March and Czechoslovak independence day in October. She beamed as she watched her children dress in traditional garb and take part in the beseda folk dance.

The Chorvats loved to travel, often taking to the road in their motor home. Stanley died in 1996.

The following year, Masaryktown residents elected Mrs. Chorvat to the position of honorary mayor, one of seven members of a community council that oversaw fundraising for student scholarships, organized community events and maintained the community center. She served for six years.

The position suited her easygoing but energetic nature, friends and family said.

"She was full of life," said Masaryktown resident and longtime friend Helen Jones, whose brother and sister also married Chorvats.

Masaryktown grew, but Mrs. Chorvat never lost her love for her adopted hometown, her family said.

"I've seen a lot of changes," she told the Times in 2000. "But the people are still the same."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com.

Pauline Virginia

Chorvat | 1922-2012

A memorial service for Mrs. Chorvat will be at 3 p.m. today at Merritt Funeral Home's Brooksville Chapel, 2 S Lemon Ave.

Pauline Chorvat, fierce advocate for Masaryktown, dies at 89 03/16/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 16, 2012 9:29pm]

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