TCHCC incorporated on March 24, 1997, and received 501(c) 3 status in July of the same year. The location for this non-profit corporation was finalized when a lease was signed with the City of La Grange in November 1997. Statewide efforts by Czech-founded organizations to raise money to develop a Center that would preserve and promote the history, heritage, and culture of the people of Czech ethnicity actually began in 1995.
In December 1995, Texans of Czech Ancestry (TOCA), an umbrella organization that serves to improve and facilitate
communication among Czech-founded organizations, called a meeting to hear a proposal offered by the Czech Heritage Society of Texas to build a library for the preservation of books and documents significant to Texas Czechs. Following presentations and discussion, TOCA voted to support building a statewide Czech cultural center with a library, museum, and archives.
Member organizations of TOCA are the American SOKOL Organization, Southern District (SOKOL); Bexar County Czech Heritage Society (BCCHS); Catholic Family Fraternal (KJZT); Catholic Union of Texas (KJT); Czech Educational Foundation of Texas (CEFT); Czech Ex Students Association of Texas (CESAT); Czech Heritage Society of Texas (CHS); Czech Heritage Society of Travis/Williamson Counties; Farm Mutual Insurance Company of Texas (RVOS); and the Slavonic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas (SPJST). A representative from each organization serves on the TOCA board.
At the inaugural meeting, representatives of the Czech Heritage Society were President Carolyn Meiners, and CHS Trustees Robert Janak, Arnold Pechal, and Eugene Labay. TOCA representatives in attendance expressed the need to preserve artifacts and other aspects of Czech heritage and culture. TOCA agreed to spearhead the project since it was consistent with its mission to assist one another in preserving and promoting Czech culture and heritage.
The member organizations of TOCA pledged and donated seed money to begin the project. At subsequent TOCA meetings, members discussed the type and location of a facility needed to address the various aspects of Texas-Czech heritage. TOCA officers were elected: President, Retta Slavik Chandler; Vice President, Elo Goerig; Secretary, Carolyn Meiners; and Treasurer, Arnold Pechal.
The TOCA board organized committees and asked Texas communities to submit proposals on a location for the center. Proposals were received from the cities of Caldwell, Ennis, La Grange, and Temple. After a thorough examination of each of the proposals, including a visit to each site and a meeting with city officials, the TOCA board selected the La Grange proposal.
Cradle of Czech Immigration
Fayette County was selected as the site for the center because of its significance in the history of Texas Czechs. It has the largest Czech population per capita and the most Czech communities of any county in the state. More immigrants from the Czech lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire settled there in the second half of the 19th century than any other county in Texas. Many Czech-related historical sites and events, as well as prominent Texas Czechs, can be linked to Fayette County. Other reasons for selecting La Grange included the location and the amount of land offered.
On March 24, 1997, the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center, Inc., was officially incorporated. The interim board members of Texans of Czech Ancestry then became board members and founders of TCHCC with officers: Retta Slavik Chandler, President; Elo Goerig, Vice President; Carolyn Meiners, Secretary; Arnold Pechal, Treasurer; and directors Larry Laznovsky, C. S. (Woody) Smith, Eugene Labay, George Hruby, Dorothy Bohac, Glenn Hutka, and Howard Leshikar.
Governor George Bush signed House Concurrent Resolution Number 265 from the Texas House of Representatives and Senate on July 14, 1997. This resolution recognized all those associated with the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center to be built in La Grange, Texas. The resolution further recognized the contributions of Texas Czechs to the state's history and that Fayette County, which is known as the "Cradle of Czech Immigration," is an appropriate site for the center.
On November 1, 1997, representatives from TCHCC, the City of La Grange, Fayette County, and the La Grange Chamber of Commerce officially signed the land lease between TCHCC and the City of La Grange at the center’s future site.
Texas Czech Village Evolves
The Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center, Inc. has evolved from a single desk housed in the La Grange Area Chamber of Commerce, to a one-room office in a professional building in La Grange, to an on-site location in the meticulously restored Kalich House, to the library and museum center surrounded by the Czech Village.
Ground breaking for the new building designed by architect Roger Kolar, was held in June 2008. Gaeke Construction was awarded the bid for the 10,000-square-foot building. Board members at that time were: Retta Slavik Chandler, President; Johnnie Polasek, First Vice President; Marvin Marek, Second Vice President; Joseph Bartosh, Third Vice President; Barbara Hruby, Secretary; Dennis Vanek, Treasurer; and directors Ben Bohuslav, Richard Cernosek, Paul T. Hlavinka, Ed Krivacka, Larry Laznovsky, Sandra Matthijetz, William Melnar, Rudy Patek, William H. Schovajsa, Raymond Snokhous, and Pavla Van Bibber. Honorary board members were Dan Marek and Elo Goerig.
The Czech Village began with the Kalich Texas-Czech farmhouse, donated by Peggy and Jonathan Kalich in memory of their family, and moved to the site by Kana Brothers, Inc. House Leveling & Moving. The house is now home to the Czech Music Museum of Texas. An additional farmhouse, donated by the Migl family, was moved to the site and restored by the Migl family. The Bucek Building (originally a fur trading company) donated by Roy Bucek was moved to TCHCC on May 11, 2005. The Hoelscher Haus, donated by Henry and Esther Hoelscher, was moved to the site on October 19, 2005. It houses the Polka Lovers Club of Texas Museum. A twin log barn restored by Ed Vasek with the help of his brothers, Ernest, David, and Robert, was added to the Texas Czech Village. In July 2003, a Wallachian Bell and Belfry, from the Roznov region of Moravia and on exhibit in Washington, D.C. in 1995, were donated to TCHCC by the Czech Heritage Society of Texas and moved onto the TCHCC site. An economic development grant from the City of La Grange funded a walking trail through the village with stations, hand hewn by George Hlavinka of Caldwell, Texas. TCHCC has continued to develop the village adding the Sanford Schmid Amphitheater, Hluchanek-Salas house, Zapalac Sawmill, and Janak Barn & Texas Czech Agriculture Museum. Take a tour.
Members who have served on the board to promote the goals of TCHCC are: Dorothy Bohac (deceased), Glenn Hutka (deceased), George Hruby, Vice President (deceased), Jerry Elzner (deceased), Larry Laznovsky (deceased), Elo Goerig, Eugene Labay, Woody Smith, Mildred Bohlmann, Ernest Bezdek, Carolyn Meiners Heinsohn, Pat Parma, and Dan Marek.
In June 2007, the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center was recognized and honored with the Masaryk Gratias Agit. This prestigious award is presented by the Czech Foreign Ministry for work in promoting Czech heritage and culture. Accepting the award in Prague at the Cernan Palace were President Retta Chandler and Vice President Johnnie Polasek.
The development of TCHCC was made possible through many generous monetary contributions countless volunteer hours, and numerous in-kind donations from people living in all parts of Texas, some from other states, as well as grants from the Czech Foreign Ministry. All of these contributors can feel pride in building a Czech Center for future generations to enjoy.