My Bohemian Heritage

The Music and Art of Chicago's Černý and Vašák Families

Jetta Marie Vašák

ISBN: 978-1-57733-298-5, 228 pp., 6 x 9, 115 photos, paperback, $19.95

"Unless we document the lives of those who came before us, they will forever be forgotten."

My Bohemian Heritage highlights two families who contributed greatly to the art and musical culture of Chicago in the early 1900s. Ms. Vašák first focuses on A. V. Černý, her grandfather, who founded the first Bohemian Conservatory of Music in Chicago. His father, Jan, was a violinist who owned the Prague Orchestra. A.V. Černý was an exceptional teacher and educated a whole generation of musical artists as soloists and as members of orchestras.

Indeed, his own child, Milada, a child prodigy, began piano at the age of 3, becoming a virtuoso pianist and touring the United States at about age 9 and Europe at about age 10. Her younger sister, Zdeňka (the author’s mother), was heralded as “The Greatest Bohemian Violoncellist” in the world. The art-nouveau artist, Alfons Mucha, a personal friend of A.V. Černý, often stayed at their home, and generously painted portraits and posters of A.V.’s two eldest daughters while teaching art at the Chicago Art Institute.

A.V. Černý was also a personal friend of Antonin Dvořák, and founded the Dvořák Quartet in the 1890s and later The Society for the Uplift of Chamber Music. Music and conversation filled their home. Through their doors and at their dining table appeared many of the most talented people of the era, bringing their cultural preferences for a variety of Bohemian delicacies, prepared by Grandma Černý, all while playing chamber music, card games, and sharing many late-night stories. Among them were Rudolf Friml, pianist and composer, and Jan Kubelik, violinist, called “the Paganini of the 20th century.”

When Zdeňka Černý eloped with Otakar Vašák , who had immigrated from Prague at age 24, it had been “love at first sight.” Thus, a small section of love letters adds color to otherwise black and white photos.

In compiling these personal vignettes, Jetta Vašák passes on a small portion of her family story, while providing a window into the personal lives and times of these interesting people who contributed their gifts and talents to the rich and diverse culture of early Chicago.

Table of Contents

1. The Černý Gene
2. Exploitation of the Slavs
3. A.V. Černý
4. Dvořák in Iowa
5. Francesca Engelthaler
6. The Černý Immigrants
7. A.V. and Victor Herbert
8. The Genius of Milada
9. The Lawndale Apartment
10. Milada’s Triumphs
11. School Days
12. A Solemn Day
13. The Paganini of the 20th Century
14. Otakar Ševčík
15. Young Milada and Kubelik
16. Friml’s Beginnings and Life with the Černýs
17. A New Home
18. The Family Seamstress
19. Friml’s Surprise
20. Friml’s Great Loves
21. The Operetta King
22. Mucha, Master of Art Nouveau
23. Mucha Meets Maruška
24. Mucha at the Černýs
25. Mucha’s Poster of Friml
26. Muchas, Černýs and Cranes
27. Good Advice
28. Mucha’s Paintings of Milada
29. Golden Chamber Music
30. A.V. and Slezák
31. Zdeňka and the Cello
32. A Tragic Mishap
33. Zdeňka’s Improvisations
34. Zdeňka and the Ballet Master
35. Jarka’s Dance
36. The Palette and Chisel Club
37. Mucha’s Slav Epic
38. Mucha’s Portrait of Zdeňka
39. Milada’s Elopement
40. Zdeňka’s Success
41. Pending War
42. Wardrobes After a Successful Voyage
43. The Brink of World War I
44. Love At First Sight
45. Letters To My Mother Zdeňka From My Father Otto
46. The Final Straw
47. The Death of Marie Rokos Vašáková
48. Forever United
49. A.V.’s Second Marriage
50. Retrieving the Posters
51. U Flekǔ
52. Back to Chicago
53. My Father’s History
54. The New American
55. The Bohemian National Alliance
56. The World of Banking
57. My Father’s Elegant Life
58. My Brothers’ Births
59. Copper Harbor, Michigan
60. Hunting and Fishing Trips
61. Houby Hunting
62. Children’s Memories
63. Our Neighbors, the Spilmans
64. Summers in Chicago
65. Winter Trips to Florida
66. Bohemian Arts Club
67. Goodman Theatre
68. Zdeňka’s Bridge Club
69. A Game Called Cvik
70. A.V.’s Move to Clay Street
71. A.V.’s Unceasing Music
72. Lizzie Novak
73. John Černý
74. Fred and Anna Engelthaler Wetterau
75. Camil Van Hulse
76. Tribute to Milada
77. A.V. In California
78. Kay Friml’s Research
79. Milada’s Burial with A.V.
80. Our Summer Cottage
81. The Yearly Trek
82. Pine Paradise
83. The Simple Life
84. Our Dog Pekoe
85. Nature’s Bounty
86. A Halting Noise
87. Adventures With the Černýs
88. Travelling Down Clay Street
89. The Treacherous Lake
90. The Rio
91. Baseball and Bandstand
92. The Pain of Laughter
93. Magic Healing
94. Guests at the Cottage
95. Miss Kraemer’s Engineers
96. My All-Boy Group
97. The Qualities of My Parents
98. My Brothers
99. Our Piano and the Russian Genius
100. Morton High School
101. The Blaha Years
102. National Music Camp
103. My Dear Friend
104. New Year’s Eve 1945
105. An Outing to Remember
106. Off To College
107. Jaroslav Vašák
108. Retirement and a New Home
109. Last Fishing at Hayward
110. Chapter II, An Old Friendship
111. Our Family’s Adjustment
112. Alan’s Inventions
113. Gifting Zdeňka
114. U.C.L.A., Mucha and Zdeňka
115. Birthday Celebrations
116. Zdeňka’s Letters
117. Mucha’s Daughter
118. Confirming Jaro’s Story
119. Meeting Jiří Mucha
120. The Social Agent
121. Eugenie Shonnard and Mucha
122. A Last Try at the Cello
123. Trickery and Deception
124. A Special Surprise
125. Losing Robert
126. Transition
About the Author


My mother’s father decided to be “on rest” and take the family on vacation for the summer of 1915. Since he liked to fish, and daughter Zdeňka always rowed the boat for him, he rented a new cabin at Ouska’s Farm which was on Bear Lake near Haugen, Wisconsin and where the men enjoyed fishing. Despite her father’s “vacation”, my mother was expected to practice six hours every day which she usually did in the woods among the birds and pines. In August she would celebrate her 20th birthday and thought she was in love with a violinist named George (Jiří) Hruša. In fact, they were secretly engaged, but that summer in the north woods changed everything!

At the farmhouse, A.V. was introduced to Mr. Otto Vašák and his friend, Mr. Cipra, and they became friendly. Zdeňka’s grandmother Engelthaler was making sulč (fish in gelatin), since Zdeňka’s mother was already an invalid, so A.V. decided to invite the two gentlemen to dinner. He told Zdeňka and her youngest sister Marcella to get “dressed up”, because Vašák was a banker. A.V. seated my mother across from Vašák, and when she looked into his gorgeous brown eyes, it was “love at first sight”, and neither of them had any appetite. When A.V. asked Vašák how he liked the sulč, my father replied that it was delicious. There was more talk of fishing, and A.V. suggested that they all go fishing together in the morning. They would have two boats for the three men and my mother.

A.V. boated with Cipra and put my mother with Vašák, thinking that since he was much older than she (13 years), it would be safe. They had to carry the boats to the next lake where A.V. separated them, so that they would use different fishing grounds. Because there were no other fishermen there, there was an abundance of fish. They filled gunnysacks with black bass and wall-eyed pike.

Otto was a great fisherman, but when he asked Zdeňka if she could cast, she said, “No”. He told her that a big black bass was hiding across the lake in the lilies. They rowed there, and he told her what to do. When she caught him, he guided her in reeling him in. He asked about her life, and before long he proposed marriage—after one day—and she accepted. My father had remained a bachelor for 33 years.

Copyright 2016

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