Czech School in Chicago celebrates 100th anniversary

T.G. Masaryk School in Chicago

This weekend, the T.G. Masaryk School in Chicago celebrated its 100th year of existence. The institution was established in Chicago’s suburb of Cicero in 1921, when tens of thousands of Czech immigrants already lived in the city. Today, it’s the only beacon of Czech culture in a predominantly Hispanic neighbourhood.  

Photo: Jan Kaliba,  Czech Radio

Ach synku synku, the favourite song of the first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, marked the start of the centennial celebrations at the Czech School in Chicago, bearing the late president’s name. On the occasion, the school’s principal Klára Moldová unveiled a stone engraved with the number 1921, the year the school was founded:

“I found the stone last year when I was cleaning the room where we have our boiler and washing machines. It was turned to the wall so you couldn’t see it properly.

Czech School in Chicago celebrates 100th anniversary | Photo: Jan Kaliba,  Czech Radio

“I took it out and at first I was going to throw it away because it was cracked in the middle, but then I turned it over and noticed it had a year written on it. We eventually placed it in its original location in the outside corner of the building.”

Among the people who attended the celebrations was Andrew Bultas, president of the Czech School, who was born to Czech parents in the nearby Pilsen district in 1935. He recalled the hardships the school faced in the early 2000s, when he was appointed its president:

“I inherited a building that was falling apart. The people who had it before me wanted to sell it. I think some of the old-time Czechs though the school would just stay here forever. But you have to maintain it.”

Irena Čajková and Klára Moldová | Photo: Jan Kaliba,  Czech Radio

But with Ms. Moldová’s arrival in the newly created position of full-time teacher and principal ten years ago, things began to change, explains her colleague Irena Čajková:

“She succeeded in connecting the school with the old Czech clubs, from the Friends of the Czech National Cemetery to the Czech American Congress.

“Financial support started coming in from these people, who realized relatively early on that we were one of the few functioning Czech organizations here.”

Hand in hand with the money for the reconstruction, new pupils enrolled and the number of teachers has grown to six. Today, the Czech school is thriving and apart from weekend classes for children, it also offers courses of Czech for adults.

Photo: Jan Kaliba,  Czech Radio

On the occasion of its 100th anniversary, a delegation from the Czech Senate awarded Klára Moldová and her team Jan Amos Komenský and Merit for Diplomacy medals.

“I must admit that when I stood on the podium here, I felt a great sense of pride and also a sense of satisfaction. I would say that the whole school, as well as Masaryk’s personality, shaped my ten years here in the United States.”

Klára Moldová, the principal of the Czech School, is now retiring after ten years in the position, but she will remain in town and continue to work with the school.