The Story of a Book
For years, there were rumors circling among the members of the San Francisco Sokol regarding a book, allegedly a book of the Sokol San Francisco beginnings and history. Of course, we would love to have such a book. Our unit is in existence for more than one hundred years and we were not even sure when has that anniversary passed and we did not celebrate it.
But finally, some positive things started happening. First, in November 2008, a former Sokol member and a granddaughter of Brother Anthony George Kohoutek, a very active Sokol member in his time and a long time ago vice president of the Pacific District, contacted us. She, Ms. Judy Bouska Bonfilio, has located two brochures of the Sokol San Francisco fifty years anniversary celebration held in July 1954. Ms. Bonfilio lives out of the Bay Area now and she is not an active Sokol member. In the brochures she promptly mailed us, we have got all the facts and names of the people who put their brains and hands together back at the beginning of the last century to create the Sokol San Francisco.
We now know with certainty that our Sokol was founded in August 1904 and the board of officers is ready to organize a 110 year anniversary once the time comes. Could the big book, the one which was supposed to have even more information, help us to get a more detailed picture of the Sokol past? That book is at the Sokol headquarters in Chicago now. It was sent there by Sister Blanche Duffey, our former President, after our Sokol Hall in San Mateo was sold.
To learn more, Sister Jara Dusatko and I went to visit Sister Blanche to discuss the subject. Sister Duffey might have some problem with her eyes, but her brain and memory serve her excellently and age is not a problem for her. She is still the tall and sharp woman who used to represent our Unit at national competitions. And she remembers the book very well. It has nothing to do with our Sokol history, she assured us, but it is significant in much broader view. According to Sister Duffey, that book holds signatures of the visitors of the Czechoslovak Exposition at the World Fair in San Francisco in the year of 1939.
It just happened that I was visiting my family in Chicago in June and could not stop thinking about that book. Is it really exactly what Sister Blanche said. And how does it look like, whose signatures are there? At the end, I just went to see it. We came, with my cousin and his wife, to the Sokol headquarters, a small house in Brookfield where Sisters Jean Hruby and Annette Schwabovski were awaiting us. Sister Jean is a member of the Sokol Executive Board for public relations and also the ASO office manager. Sister Annette is a librarian and Archives and Museum curator. It was a warm welcoming in mixed English, Czech and Slovak languages. My cousin is Slovak and Jean wanted to prove that she still can speak some Czech. We settled for English then and I was admiring the small exhibition of pictures, posters and flags around the rooms. Sister Annette brought a big box and a pair of white cotton gloves for me and then I could see it and touch it, the beautiful leatherbound book called The Golden Book of Czecho-Slovak Exhibit at the Golden Gate International Exposition, Treasure Island on San Francisco Bay, February 18 to December 2, 1939.
No, this book does not say anything about the Sokol San Francisco. It presents signatures of people who came and recognized the country which has lost a big part of its territory to the Nazis before the Exposition began and which was occupied and non-existent not even a month after the the Exposition opened. The Nazi Army flooded Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939 and the Potectorat Bohmen and Mahren was declared a new country. That was a terrible year, I remember my parents talking about the feeling that the world they knew and lived in just ceased to exist.
And yet here, at the Pacific coast, Czechoslovakia still presented itself and the signatures are proving that America did not consider that small far away country dead. The first page and signatures: Franklin D. Roosevelt, followed by Herbert Hoover, Jan Masaryk, Rudolf Friml, and then pages and pages of names. It was very moving, to see and read it.
The book is in perfect shape, well protected and kept in Sokol archive. It cannot belong to Sokol San Francisco, this is a national treasure and a valuable one, too.
So I did not find any details of our Unit's history. Instead, I had the opportunity to see a wonderful piece of history of my native country and to meet people who are taking good care of it.Zelmira Zivny
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