Sokol Minnesota's 125th Anniversary
Radio Prague: Sokol Minnesota celebrating 125th anniversary (Interview with President Joe Landsberger) Audio and text of interview
WCCO: Finding Minnesota: Czech-Slovak Meeting Hall Audio, video and text
MPR: Sokol keeps Czech-Slovak heritage alive Text and photographs
SOKOL by Robert J. Vanyo
It was September 1943 when I first came to St. Paul by train from Grand Forks, N.D. My parents had moved here during the war to work in the meat packing plant in South St. Paul. The first ride to school on a street car went out West Seventh Street. It was awesome to see the Minnesota State Capitol Building, the High Bridge and the C.S.P.S. Hall. My parents bought the brick house on Goodhue Street that still stands just to the south of the Winslow apartments. It is the only house not removed from that block. My parents lived there from 1945 to 1978.
Often family tradition and culture are tied to history, such was the Walla-Smolík-Dolejsí family. Joseph Walla was the first gymnastic instructor at the C.S.P.S. Hall in 1882. The family lived at 364 Goodhue through several generations. His daughter, Bessie, married Albert Smolík, and they raised their children within the protective embrace of the Hall. Bessie was a gymnastics teacher, involved for many years with St. Paul Sokol. Pictured here is the Smolík family in their gymnastic attire: Don, Georgiana, Sylvia, Bessie, and Albert in 1928.
The C.S.P.S. Hall was our neighbor, and many of the events attracted me and others of my family, but especially me. The Sokol Organization had a program that attracted my attention: First, I liked to dance to “Old Time Music,” polkas and waltzes. Second, I became interested in a new sport called gymnastics. So: welcome to Sokol.
Sokol was first founded in the Cech nation in 1862. Soon after the first American Sokol unit was begun in St. Louis, Missouri in 1865. St. Paul’s began in June 13, 1882 and has been continuous since then as a Sokol unit. The Sokol movement evolved from the great idea that bodily health produced mental and moral health. Sokols strive for physical improvement, moral purity and nobility, concord, equality, and sincerity. In the gymnasium, the Sokols instill in adults, juniors and children the ideals of self-respect, directness, and honor: to be physically fit, mentally alert and morally strong! There are Sokol Units in many other locations in the United States and the world, which makes being a member of the active gymnastic group exciting. Gymnsatic competitions are sometimes scheduled between other Sokol Units such as Sokol Omaha, Sokol Cedar Rapids, Sokol Chicago, etc. It’s fun to travel and meet Sokols from other places.
The Sokol program is the source of having Cech and Slovak Folk Dance Groups for children, juniors, and adults. These dancers have been invited to and performed at social events in many towns and villages in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, especially the Twin Cities. The folk dancers are constantly being asked to perform at some place or another. All the folk dances are taught right here at the C.S.P.S. Hall! St Paul Sokol changed its name to Sokol Minnesota in 1978 and purchased the lodge building from C.S.P.S. in a consolidation of St. Paul Cech organizations based there, as well as to care for our building. The third floor contains our meeting room and some storage. It has many very old pictures of old organizations and of their members hanging on the wall—some since the later 1800s. The second floor auditorium is where all the gymnastic classes are taught and require special set up or mounting hooks on the floor and ceiling for the gymnastic equipment. All instructors attend special training before qualifying to teach in our program.
Seniors have their own class on Tuesday mornings at 10 a.m. We sing Cech, Moravian, and Slovak folk songs about an hour, then go to the gym for marching, warm-up exercises, and games. There is no charge and it is fun. Several ethnic dinners are served each year at the Hall. The ethnic foods are prepared at the hall by volunteer members who come together to make cabbage rolls, pirohy, or koláce: only the best! We all learn to do some part of the preparations and contribute. If you just want to take a little break from making cabbage rolls, go up on the third floor and see some of the things there, or look out the East window and view downtown and the high bridge. Or, go to the first floor gift shop!