A History of the CEFT

By Clinton Machann, PhD

Many of the Texas Czechs who became active in the CEFT had been members of Čechie, the Czech Club at UT-Austin; and Czech-Americans from across the State served on the Board of Directors during the early years. The CEFT strongly influenced the teaching of Czech in Texas high schools, colleges, and universities during the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. Scholarships were awarded to students of the language, and several of these students went on to obtain advanced degrees in Slavic languages while others accepted civilian or military linguistic positions with the United States government. Dr. Skrivanek himself built up the Czech program at Texas A&M University.

In the 1980s, the CEFT completed one of the most important projects in the history of the Czech community in Texas. At this time, the organization was led by President Joseph J. Skrivanek (the brother of John M. Skrivanek), Vice-President Cyril (Sid) Pokladnik, and Board of Directors Chairman Roger Kolar. The CEFT officers and directors decided to organize a drive to establish a Czech Chair at the University of Texas at Austin. An endowed chair of Czech Language and Literature or of Czech Studies had long been a dream among Texas Czech leaders. The goal of the CEFT was to establish a strong institutional base with independent funding to insure, first, that basic Czech language courses would be offered from semester to semester on a regular basis, and, second, that resources would be available to build a total academic program, both on the undergraduate and the graduate levels– one that would be competitive with major Slavic language programs throughout the United States. Numerous individuals and organizations made contributions to support the effort, and in early 1989, an especially significant contribution by the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation of Wilmington, Delaware made it possible to complete the plans for an endowed chair, which was to be named the "Texas Chair in Czech Studies," and which would represent a commitment to Czech language, literature, and culture, in perpetuity. Directors Sidney Kacir and Al Kercho played key roles in making arrangements for this agreement. With matching funds from UT, this Chair, the only one of its kind in the United States, was eventually funded for one million dollars. The University Board of Regents ratified the agreement at its meeting of June 14, 1990. The CEFT’s total gift of $667,000 was matched by $333,000 from the University. The establishment of the Texas Chair in Czech Studies was celebrated by the University and the Texas-Czech community at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on April 21, 1991.

Since that time, the Chair has brought a series of distinguished educators to UT to teach undergraduate and graduate classes in Czech Studies. The endowment has also funded numerous visiting lecturers, as well as symposia and other programs in Texas. In addition, the Chair has strengthened the University’s programs for study in the Czech Republic.

After implementing the Texas Chair in Czech Studies at UT-Austin, the CEFT was soon to embark on another major project in the spirit of its founders. In the fall of 1999, after years of planning and fund-raising, with Marvin J. Marek as President and Clinton Machann as Chairman, a CEFT Czech Fellowship was formally established at Texas A&M University, based on an endowment of $250,000. Once again, many generous individuals and organizations contributed to the fund-raising effort, capped by a $100,000 donation from the heirs of William J. Hlavinka. Like the Texas Chair in Czech Studies at UT-Austin, the CEFT William J. Hlavinka Fellowship at Texas A&M is unique. It is designed to bring advanced graduate students from two Moravian universities (Masaryk University in Brno, Palacký University in Olomouc) to Texas A&M, establish Czech language classes in the Bryan-College Station area for members of the general public, provide Czech-to-English translation services for the Texas Czech community, provide assistance to Czech-American historical and cultural groups in Texas, and encourage cultural and educational ties between the State of Texas and the Czech Republic. The beginning of the new program was celebrated in coordination with a concert of Czech classical music by pianist Richard Urbis at the Presidential Conference Center at Texas A&M University on October 28, 1999.

In recognition of its success in establishing the two educational programs at major universities in the U.S. and in promoting Czech culture abroad, the CEFT received the prestigious Jan Masaryk Gratias Award from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2000. The was created in 1997 to demonstrate the Czech Republic's appreciation of individuals or groups who promote the nation in the sphere of science, education, the arts, or public life.

In the following years, CEFT officers and directors began to discuss the possibility of yet another major program at a Texas university, and during these discussions, Director Jim Bezdek called attention to the work of Thomas Sovik, a Professor of Music at the University of North Texas, with a particular interest in Czech composers and musical traditions, who for about ten years had coordinated a cultural exchange program between the UNT College of Music in Denton and the Janáček Academy of Music and the Performing Arts in Brno, Czech Republic. The UNT College of Music is one of the nation's largest and most respected comprehensive schools of music with the country's top rated jazz program, and many Grammy-winning alumni.

Its programs have the highest national rankings of any music program in Texas. Approximately 1,600 students enroll annually in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs taught by globally acclaimed faculty. The college, with its acoustically magnificent Winspear Hall in the Murchison Performing Arts Center, is a hub of North Texas cultural life.

 Preliminary talks between CEFT Directors and James C. Scott (Dean of the College of Music at UNT), Elida Tamez (Director of Development at the College), and Professor Sovik, revealed a strong interest at UNT for expanding programs related to Czech music. On October 25, 2003, after several months of negotiations, CEFT and UNT representatives met on the university campus in Denton and signed a Memorandum of Agreement that would establish the CEFT Residency in Czech Music and Culture at UNT. The program would be designed to 1) bring distinguished Czech musicians, composers, artists and educators to UNT for teaching, performing, conducting research in Czech music and culture, and for purposes of outreach throughout the State of Texas, particularly to Texas-Czech centers of population; 2) stage colloquia and festivals of Czech music and culture; and 3) mount the production of Czech operas, emphasizing usage of the Czech language. Members of the CEFT Advisory Committee working closely with officials from UNT included Jim Bezdek (Chairman), Al Kercho (Secretary), Anton Pustejovsky, Margaret Klecka, Clarice Marik Snokhous, and Sidney Kacir.

The CEFT’s goal was to raise $400,000 in order to fully fund this new endowment and the organization celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2004 by intensifying its promotional and fund-raising efforts. In April of 2004, in collaboration with Professor Sovik and the UNT College of Music, it sponsored the Texas tour of the Brno-based dance troupe Mimi Fortunae (with choreography by Hana Latalová) as part of its anniversary celebration. In the following months, plans were being made for a public ceremony at the State Capitol marking the 50th anniversary on the afternoon of October 20, 2004, followed by a gala dinner at the Westwood Country Club in Austin. Participants included Texas Secretary of State Geoffrey Connor and Czech Ambassador Martin Palouš and Czech Honorary Consul General Raymond Snokhous.

In late 2004, Dr. Francis Kostohryz, of Memphis, Tennessee, made a substantial contribution toward the Residency at UNT in memory of his father and mother. Additional donors, including - once again - the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation, as well as the many other organizations and individuals listed in this booklet, made it possible to complete funding for the endowment in 2006. Once again, Sidney Kacir and Al Kercho played important roles in the funding process. A series of concerts organized by the UNT College of Music helped to publicize the project and demonstrate the kinds of performance that will be supported in the coming years by the new endowment: the CEFT Frank J. and Hermine Hurta Kostohryz Residency in Czech Music and Culture. The new Residency was celebrated on January 27, 2007 on the UNT campus. Czech Ambassador Petr Kolář was among the guests attending the celebration.

To date the Kostohryz Residency at UNT has supported such programs as the UNT Opera Czech language production of Smetana's opera Prodaná nevěsta (The Bartered Bride); the Leoš Janáček International Music Festival and Academic Conference; and tours of folkloric music in Texas Czech communities.  The 2013 Janáček Festival was organized in partnership with the Janáček Academy of Music and the Performing Arts in Brno, Czech Republic, and included performances on both continents as well as a scholarly conference at UNT.

The program at UNT continues to flourish with the establishment of the CEFT Dr. Jim J. and Rose A. Bezdek Endowment Celebrating Czech Music and Culture with a leading gift by retired UNT Professor and CEFT Director Dr. Jim Bezdek and his wife Rose; and in 2014 the Residency received an additional $1 million from Dr. Francis Kostohryz. Both gifts will continue to be used to fund artist fees, travel, and other expenses to maintain UNT's collaboration with Czech musicians and educators, and allow for more concerts and programming of Czech music.

"We are grateful for the $1 million additional donation and for our longtime history with the Czech Educational Foundation of Texas, which helped build the residency at UNT," said UNT President Neal Smatresk. "This gift ensures our students and the community will continue to benefit from the vibrant music and cultural experiences that UNT makes possible through this collaboration."

"The residency allows our students, faculty and guest artists to share historically significant classical and folkloric Czech music," said Dean of the College of Music James Scott. "With the addition of this gift to the endowment, new possibilities will open up for our collaborations."

"Strengthening this endowment benefits UNT students, the community and the history of Czech music, which my parents dearly loved," said Kostohryz, who recalled listening to Czech music on the radio while growing up in Central Texas. "I am happy to know that this music will continue to thrive through UNT and the Czech Educational Foundation of Texas."

The CEFT will continue to be a steward of the Czech language and culture through its established endowments, and will continue to be a good steward of contributions including the recent sizeable donation from the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation. All contributions made to the CEFT may be designated for a specific endowment and are disbursed accordingly; contributions not earmarked for a particular endowment are disbursed to the various endowments at the discretion of the CEFT Board of Directors.


(November 2014)