WINTER PARK – Debbie Komanski just got back to Central Florida, following a trip to Eastern Europe.
Seated at her desk in the office at the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, Komanski pointed to the bag filled with items, papers and research she brought back from the Czech Republic. It had been, she said, an incredibly rewarding and inspiring experience.
What not enough people understand, she said, is the strong connection between this nation and the Czech Republic, formerly known as Czechoslovakia – ties that the museum at 633 Osceola Ave. in Winter Park has been celebrating since it first opened 50 years ago, in November 1961.
“In the United States, there’s a surprisingly large Czech descent community, particularly from Texas up to the Midwest and over to the Northeast,” said Komanski, the museum’s executive director. “There’s a very large population in the U.S. that’s very proud of their Czech roots.”
This morning, the museum joined with the people of the Czech Republic in celebration of Czech Independence Day. Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, the independent republic of Czechoslovakia was created in 1918, with their independence celebrated every year on Oct. 28.
“The Czech people have always celebrated National Day, or Czech Independence Day,” Komanski said. “It’s kind of the way we look at our Independence Day on July 4. They were the first democratically elected government in Europe after World War I.”
The museum’s founder, Albin Polasek, was born and raised in the province of Moravia, in what is now the Czech Republic. His historic home and chapel in Winter Park has been preserved for five decades, and remains a tribute to the people of Polasek’s homeland, Komanski noted. That’s why the museum and its staff join the people in the Czech Republic in celebrating their independence.
“I’ve been getting invitations to various things from over there, and the Czech Embassy in Washington,” she said. “It’s a celebration day there, and there are a lot of concerts and theatrical performances and special dinners.”
At the museum, the regular admission free is waived for the day.
“Albin Polasek also wanted to be able to give back to his adopted home in Winter Park, and for those of us who have been here a long time, you know there were very few cultural institutions here at the time,” Komanski said. “Our general theme today is we’re open free to everybody in celebration of this. It’s free admission all day. We serve a very special coffee drink with spices in it. It is a tradition, and we try to have Czech pastries as well. Our gift shop specializes in a number of Czech items and we have discounts today on Czech jewelery and other gifts.”
What’s even more unique, though, Komanski said, is the link that the museum played in her trip earlier this month to Prague: the dedication of the Woodrow Wilson Monument in the Czech Republic’s largest city.
Komanski was in Prague on Oct. 5 when Czech officials dedicated the new Woodrow Wilson Monument, which had originally been designed by Polasek in the 1920s, in honor of the former American president who led this nation through World War I and led the fight for creation of the League of Nations.
“Woodrow Wilson was given the name of the Godfather of Freedom,” Komanski said. “Wilson was a champion of democracy. A huge monument was created in honor of Woodrow Wilson. Albin Polasek was chosen to design it.” It was dedicated on July 4, 1928, to coincide with the American celebration of Independence Day.
“They chose the day because it was the birth date of the Unites States,” Komanski said.
The original Wilson Monument stood in front of Prague’s main train station, but in 1948 it was removed following the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia after World War II.
The organization American Friends of the Czech Republic helped raise the money to get the monument rebuilt.
On Oct. 5, it became a reality with the statue unveiling and monument dedication, which Komanski attended.
The Friends organization, she said, was “very much about building relationships and very aware of the Wilson Monument and what it stood for.”
She was there when “a fully recreated Woodrow Wilson Monument was dedicated by the Czech president, and the Woodrow Wilson Monument now stands facing the Woodrow Wilson Train Station in Prague. It’s back. It’s marvelous. They did an outstanding job with the recreation.”
The celebrations, she said, lasted five days, and demonstrated how strong the Czech-U.S. ties have been for more than 90 years.
“It was a spectacular symposium about democracy in the modern world,” Komanski said.
To learn more about the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, call 407-647-6294 or log on to www.polasek.org.
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