The Year of our Lord 2004 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Czech Catholic Home for the Aged. The home, which is located adjacent to St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in the Wharton County community of Hillje, is an independent entity run by an administrator and a Board of Directors. In spite of its name and in spite of its proximity to the Catholic church, the Czech Catholic Home for the Aged accepts residents regardless of denomination.
The home was opened on November 7, 1954. Its history, however, goes back a few years earlier. The idea of building a rest home for the Czech community of Texas was brought up at the KJZT convention in West in 1950. At that time a committee was appointed to study the feasibility of such a project. The committee members included Gussie Franta of Hallettsville, Angelina Matocha of San Antonio and Mary Baca of El Campo.
Mary Baca and Angelina Matocha were instrumental in the establishment, as well as in the operation of the home. For years Mary Baca had taken care of the indigent aged in her own home. Angelina Matocha became convinced of the necessity of a Czech rest home when her husband, who was the legal advisor for KJT, received a phone call about some elderly Czechs who were living on a farm near Kingsville in South Texas.
The ideas of Angelina Matocha, Mary Baca and other Texas Czechs who saw the need for a facility where their elderly could live out their final years in comfort and security came together around the donation of the aforementioned farm near Kingsville.
Josef and Peter Faltejsek and their sister Mary were getting along in years. They were single and had no children or other family members to take care of them. So they donated their farm in return for a guarantee of being well cared for. Until the rest home was built, they were to be taken care of on their farm near Kingsville. Then they were to be given residence in the Czech Catholic Home and after their deaths be given a Christian burial.
The sale of the Faltejsek farm brought some $20,000 towards the construction of the Czech Catholic Home for the Aged. More money had to be raised, however. Both KJT and KJZT made generous contributions, as did many other organizations and individuals.
On Sunday, October 18, 1953, a Grand Czech Day was held in the town of El Campo. Mary Baca organized the event as a fund-raiser for the Czech Catholic Home. It was estimated at the time that more then 3,000 people took part. There were bingo games to play. There was barbecue to eat. There was Czech music to which to dance. Many people showed their pride in their Czech heritage by wearing their traditional kroje. Speeches were given in both English and Czech.
Ground breaking for the Czech Catholic Home took place on February 7, 1954. It was a Sunday afternoon, and some 3,500 witnessed the ceremony. None other than the Governor of the State of Texas, the Honorable Allan Shivers, manned the shovel and turned the dirt. Other dignitaries at the event included former state Senator Ludvik J. Sulak, who welcomed the governor in Czech, and Msgr. Frederick O. Beck, who welcomed the governor in English. The high school bands from El Campo and Louise played for the crowd.
The first phase of the home, which included facilities for twelve residents, a kitchen and a dining room, was dedicated nine months later, on November 7, 1954, also a Sunday. It was estimated at the time that some 5,000 people were on hand for the celebration. Rev. Emil Vinklarek of the Hillje church celebrated mass, and Msgr. L. L. Manning blessed the new building. Both KJT and KJZT officials were there to see the results of their organizations’ support for and confidence in the project. They included KJZT President Josephine Habarta and KJT President Ivan C. Parma.
Another memorable fund-raiser for the Czech Catholic Home for the Aged was Mary Baca’s cookbook. The cookbook was published in 1957 and sold for $2.00 a copy. It contained not only recipes, but helpful household hints. It also contained memorials, family histories and advertisements for local businesses. Today the cookbook can be seen as a valuable source for Texas-Czech and local history in mid-twentieth century. The Czech Catholic Home reprinted the cookbook in 2001, so the valuable information that it contains is available to anyone who chooses to invest in a copy.
Eleven sagacious Texas Czechs are considered to be the founders of the Czech Catholic Home for the Aged. They include John Baca, Mary Baca, Sophie Hradecky Drozd, Gussie Franta, Angelina Matocha, Boleslav P. Matocha, Amos Pavlik, John Sablatura, Rudolph J. Strnadel, Ludvik J. Sulak and Rev. Emil Vinklarek.
Mary Baca and Angelina Matocha continued to serve the Czech Catholic Home for a number of years. Both ladies served as directors of the home, as did Angelina’s husband, Boleslav P. Matocha. In addition Mary Baca was the home’s greatest promoter.
As was mentioned above, the Czech Catholic Home for the Aged was dedicated on November 7, 1954. The first phase of the home had been built for some $60,000. Over the years the home continued to grow. A new wing of the home was added in 1958. A chapel and another wing were added in 1964. The year 1980 saw the addition of a Board of Directors room, a family room and three residence rooms. Still another wing was completed in 2004.
The current directors of the home include: Delores Hrncir, Lawrence Knebel, Al Kutac, Ethel Meek, Donna Munoz, Matt Ochoa, Bennie Reck, Robert Schmidt and Mary Sexton. Rev. Clement Quainoo, pastor of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, is the spiritual advisor. James A. Bouligny is the home’s legal advisor. Edith Molberg is the administrator, serving since 1978.
note: Edith Molberg is a long-time active member of the Czech Heritage Society of Texas. She served as the society’s reporter from 2002 to 2003. Tria Svatek, who is the home’s assistant administrator, served as the Czech Heritage Society’s reporter from 1996 to 1999, and as its vice-president from 2000 to 2001.
- Robert Janak
“The Czech Catholic Home for the Aged,” printed in the series Czech Connections, Cesky Hlas (Newsletter of the Czech Heritage Society of Texas), August 2004, pages 17-18.