Local heritage group opens library, archives
- CZECH HISTORY /Local heritage group opens library, archives
By MELISSA BECH GALLOWAY, Houston Chronicle correspondent
The recent opening of the Czech Heritage Society of Texas Library and
Archives means that books and papers on the Czech culture, which have
been scattered over the Houston area for the past 10 years, have been
collected and safely installed in one central building.
The society held a grand opening for the library, 4117 Willowbend,
earlier this month.
In the library are books and papers related to the Czech lands, along
with materials about other countries, such as Poland, Hungary and
Anna Krpec, a trustee of the society, and of Czech descent, said the
society had been actively collecting these materials for the past 10
years. The society was founded in 1982.
"We have books of various types, such as genealogy research, history,
culture, art, books that have just been stored in a variety of
different places," Krpec said.
In the beginning of the collection process, materials were stored in
a closet in Krpec's home. Then they overflowed into a space at
Krpec's brother's business.
More than 200 books on Czech subjects were loaned to the George
Memorial Library in Richmond, but many books and materials remained
useless, stored in boxes.
"Last year, we found a space for rent, and the landlord gave us a
very good deal," Kprec said. "It suited us to set up a library and
archives, making the material available to whoever wants to come and
use it, and it also gives us an office, a base of operation."
She said the association previously had operated at members' homes.
"Whoever was president would operate out of their home," Krpec said.
She said the materials could be used by students for research about
the Czech lands and by people of Czech descent who might be curious
about genealogy and culture.
Krpec said the group prefers using "Czech lands" rather than a
"The Czech Republic didn't exist until 1993, and a lot of people will
say Czechoslovakia, but it didn't exist until 1918," she said. "Prior
to 1918, it was under the Austria-Hungary Empire. So we just simply
referred to it as the Czech lands, because the Czech lands have been
in existence since centuries ago."
The nonprofit Czech Heritage Society has 1,600 members in Texas. It
has members from some other states and even some living in the Czech
Krpec said the society has been doing some calculations and has
estimated there are 2 million people of Czech descent in Texas.
"By `Czech descent,' we mean people of Czech ancestry," she said.
"Since the turn of the century, when many immigrants came here, the
(Czech ) population married into other ethnic groups, principally
German, because they went to the settlements where Germans originally
Money for the library was collected from memberships for the past 10
years and placed in a fund designated for a library.
Within the state society are a number of county chapters. The Harris
County chapter has pledged to pay half of the expenses of setting up
and maintaining the library.
"This has been a lot of hard work from members of this chapter, all
volunteers," Kprec said. "We are all-volunteer, with no paid staff."
Kprec got involved with the society because she is of Czech ancestry.
Her husband, Edward, is a full-blooded Czech whose father came to the
United States from Czechoslovakia in 1921.
"We had been involved in Czech culture," she said. "We became
involved in the organization because some friends told us about it,
and the rest of it is history."
Krpec served as president from 1996 to 1999.
Krpec said she finds the study of the Czech culture interesting
because of the history of the country, the patterns and reasons for
immigration to the United States, the language and the food -
"Everybody knows about the kolache," she said - as well as the polka
and waltz music.
She said the Czech communities exemplified the culture, with their
dance halls and Saturday night dances.
"I think a lot of that has gone by the wayside," Krpec said. "The
younger generation has other interests in food and music."
Krpec also is interested in the Czech culture today in the Czech
Republic. She travels to that country once a year and is learning
about its folk culture, which can be different from the immigrant
"There is another type of folk music there that we were not exposed
to until we went to the Czech countries," she said.
Krpec is leading a group to Moravia in May. Many of the first Czechs
to immigrate to Texas came from that area, and she said the group
plans to take lessons in different aspects of the culture, such as
egg decorating, music and cooking.
"They treat you like you are something special when you are from
Texas," she said. "They have this big picture in their minds of
Until she leaves for her trip, Krpec will be pitching in to see that
things run smoothly at the new library.
Hours will be by appointment in the beginning, with an initial
schedule of 1 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Thursdays and
Saturdays. There will be Czech language classes on Tuesdays at the
For information on the library and the society, call 713-349-0500 or
toll free, 1-866-293-2443. The society also has a Web page at