From the Chair


dear members and friends of ceft:

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Here is our chance! We have an excellent opportunity to remake CEFT into a more vibrant world-wide organization starting today. As I write my first letter to you as CEFT Chairman, I’m reflecting on this day, September 28th , since it is St. Wenceslaus’ or (Vaclav the Good’s) feast day! (A photo I took on September 11th, of his quite imposing statue in Prague is to the right.) His new beginning was leading the original Bohemia in the 10th Century. The rest as they say “is history.”

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To say that I am excited, honored and humbled to be trusted with the responsibility of leading CEFT is an understatement.  In many ways we are beginning a new chapter in our organization.

Usually when a new challenge is in front of me, I reflect on individuals who came before and look for inspiration.  I think about historical leaders as well as important personal relationships from my formative years. Some of those leaders ironically claim this day as their saint day.  My first mentor was my dad, John Vaclav Sassin who would celebrate today if he were still around.  He was a “boot-straps” kind of guy who definitely fit the bill of his patron saint “Vaclav the Good”.  And some of you may already know the leader that is my all-time hero is Vaclav Havel.  He would be celebrating today as well.  Reading his keynote speech at from the Salzburg Festival in 1990 still ranks as a turning point for me.  The gist of the speech was that Havel became President and he had no idea what he needed to do next.  I never met the man, but I sat near him at a Bob Dylan concert when I was living in Prague in 1992. His whole life had been directed toward writing plays that were too intelligent for the communists to understand or leading underground movements which empowered his fellow Czechs.  When he took office he was faced with the question:  Now that we have freedom from communism where are we headed, seventy-one years after the founding of Czechoslovakia?  Obviously, he was extremely successful because the country of our ancestors thrives like never before. 

Although CEFT is not facing anything close to Havel’s situation, we are asking some of the same questions, “What’s next?” While we have enjoyed great successes as an organization under the leadership of Chairman Dr. Clinton Machan, CEFT is at cross-roads sixty-four years after our founding.  I am optimistic that we will use a strategy that will bring us fruitfully into the next generation of CEFT. 

It a great time to celebrate everything Czech in 2018! 

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In my first visit to then Czechoslovakia in August, 1989, I had a sense that change may be coming but had no way of comprehending that in three short months, the Velvet Revolution would occur.  My wife and I have just returned from visiting the Czech Republic and I once again witnessed the drastic changes continuing to happen. Economic prosperity is in the air.  A simple illustration of that change can be noted in the two photos of the National Museum I took from the same location:  The first on the left on August 26, 1989 and the one on the right on September 11, 2018.

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We are surrounded by change as well as celebrating new beginnings in our Czech/Moravian culture on both continents. Our culture is being promoted everywhere you look, whether it is by the “discovery” of kolaches or a very popular painted church tour or a newfound interest in Texas Dance Halls. And we are celebrating one hundred years of our home-country being a sovereign state. 

Building on our successes!

While we at CEFT will be energetically moving toward additional goals, we will also maintain the institutional structure that has allowed us to be successful on past projects. This is not to say we will not be doing some “outside of the box” thinking.

We are proud of the three programs that CEFT funded at Texas universities:

  • The Texas Chair in Czech Studies at the University of Texas at Austin

  • The William J. Hlavinka Fellowship at Texas A&M University at College Station

  • The Frank J. and Hermine Hurta Kostohryz Residency in Czech Music and Culture at the University of North Texas.

Each program is supported by a permanent endowment that we established.  It is always possible to enhance these programs in various ways and we welcome any and all supplementary donations.

In 2018, we will take steps in laying the groundwork for CEFT’s future:  Kind of like Havel we will be asking the question. Where are we headed?

Strategic Plan for our Organization’s Growth.  In our last meeting, we discussed revisiting CEFT’s vision and evaluating where we want to be in the coming years.  With a heavy emphasis on building on our many years of successful projects, the Board voted to establish a Strategic Planning Committee.  This gives us have an excellent opportunity to remake CEFT into a more exciting and pertinent organization …. and to raise our profile to a higher level than it has been in a while. 

Since taking over as Chairman in January we have implemented a Strategy Committee who were personally involved in many passionate discussions within two separate workshops which were focused on CEFT’s purpose and future.  We made an attempt to strip our opinions down to a very fundamental and personal level and build upon those ideas.  There was much creative thinking, some reflection about past projects, a lot of collaborating and in the end, we had a general consensus on a plan forward.

The results of our workshops were adopted as our strategy goals by the Board and they now serve as a blueprint for all of CEFT’s future achievements.  Yes, this blueprint will secure our future, but it will still take a lot of work to execute. Our plan will result in vibrant programs which have a self-sustaining structure and an ability to thrive.  In this way, we will always have the ability to continue focusing on CEFT’s future.

In the coming months, CEFT will be expanding its horizons and going through a rebranding process. We’ll be keeping you informed of these and other CEFT developments through Facebook and this website.  Any gifts will enable the CEFT to pursue innovative opportunities and ideas including supporting and expanding our existing programs as well as expand our reach into other part of the country and the world.

So, I will end by saying that these are exciting times!  With the implementation of our new strategy we are on the verge of serving as a major catalyst for Czech educational program’s worldwide. 

As Czechs, we are all passionate about our heritage and preserving every aspect we possibly can … so let’s challenge ourselves to raise the profile of this organization … in a well-organized deliberate way so that 100 years from now, folks in Texas and everywhere will say once again it’s a great time to celebrate being Czech! 

My heartfelt thanks to the members of The Czech Educational Foundation Board and membership for their ongoing support and for the guidance that they have provided. Thank you, too, for your kind attention and for the encouraging difference that you make! I will always welcome you to contact me at if you have questions or would like to have more information about CEFT.

James M. Sassin
Chairman, Board of Directors, CEFT