Marie Jandacek Smelhaus (1935-2010)
Eulogy Delivered By Her Brother, Petr Jandacek
Prosim odpujste me za to ze budu mluvit vecinou anglicky. 38 let uz ziju v Los Alamos v Novem Mexiku a pred tim jeste asi deset let co by studak, ucitel, manzel a otec malich detich — v ruznych castich teto zeme a na Jamaice. Tudiz, v malem krouzku krajanu si promluvim cesky jeste dobre…. Keca mi to… Ale kdyz jsou tu davy tak mam trozku tremu ze me ta cestina vynecha a to by mne Marus neodpustila.
At times like this we ponder the question of what happens to the life-substance or soul after it no longer is evident in the body.
No ja si myslim ze jestli Marus chce do nebe – KDO BY JI TO ZABRANIL?? IF MARIE WANTS TO GO TO HEAVEN – Who is going to stop her. Our Sister… The mother and grandmother
And great grandmother of many here is a person of remarkable will-power and determination. Those qualities of character were honed under the adverse conditions of the refugee camps in 1948, 1949, and 1950.
Recently I have been working on our family history and Marie refreshed my memory about many of the events when she was a pre-teen and a teenager in the DP Camps and how she developed such uncommon leadership skills and the Capitalist savvy of Enlightened Self Interest. If you make the people in your environment prosper – You too will prosper. Adam Smith could take lessons from Maruska.
As a youngster in the Refugee camps Marie was a very quick study. By her own admission she was a busybody who knew everything about everybody…. Who was sleeping with whom, who owned money to whom, and who committed crimes……..etc.
In the refugee camps we had periodically a census called a “Master’s Day” and Marus was always invited by Mr. Holas, one of the camp leaders to be at his right hand. If anybody tried to go through the line twice (under a different name) so as to secure additional tickets for food or other scarce refugee camp resources, Marus would call him/her out! In a concentration camp she would have been called a CAPO. For her services she was given a carton of cigarettes. She never was a smoker, so she would sell them to the (as she called them – “Miserable Smokers”) who paid high prices – not for a carton or a pack – but for individual cigarettes.
It made her RICH by the Refugee Camp standards.
She had confessed to me about her misspent youth in the camps — and how she would cut off the bottoms of fur coats of the women in church and two weeks later produce the fur parts for ransom.
It was not easy for me to give her absolution for being such a cut-up! 😉
The Jandaceks had an “inside track” in the refugee camps –because our father was living in America. He would send rolled-up newspapers (the NAROD & KATOLIK) to us and would wrap a Five Dollar bill inside of the newspapers. Tony or Marus would go to the seedy parts of town and change them for Deutsch Marks.
Marie always knew the exchange rate and would drive a hard bargain on the black market.
In her impoverished refugee camp environment and in her early teens Maruska acquired remarkable business acumen. I would often compare her to Scarlet O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND where Scarlet, after grubbing in the devastated soil for scraps of tubers – raised her hand to the sky and swore: “As God is my witness – I will never be poor/hungry again!”
Marie always worked two or three jobs when we came to America. She gave frugality a bad name. Because she was so very bright, even as a teenager, she would rise to middle management positions within weeks on any job. When an opportunity came to purchase a home for the Jandacek family it was Marie who had the $15,500 in her savings. Alas! The purchase price was $16,000. She was $500.00 short. She tried to get a loan at banks – but they laughed at her….. they do not give mortgages for $500 !!! One of the three jobs that Marie had at the time was at Ames Supplies – so she approached her superior. He said that he would give her an advance on her wages of $65 a week – but wanted to know why she needed it – was she pregnant or in trouble?? So, for the next seven and a half months she worked for free.
THAT is how Maruska Jandacek Smelhaus got into the Real-estate business! Nine out of ten American Millionaires made their money in Real-estate. Marie had received many prizes for selling more houses than anyone else in the Chicago area. Many new Czech immigrants did not understand the housing market. She would teach them how to save their money and how to get the best bargain through her on their first home. She kept track of all the purchases and sales and when a better bargains came on the market she would have the old clients upgrade or purchase additional homes which they could rent. I know many people here as we celebrate the life of our beloved Maruska who benefitted from her guidance in learning how to have the American Dream.
Thus I recognize here so many of Marie’s friends and my friends from my previous life of some 40 years ago before I left the Czech-American community in Chicagoland. Here are the friends of our youth from the Czechoslovak Scouts in Exile, from the Zdruzeni Mladych (The Czech Youth Society in northern Illinois) now in their advanced years with their walkers and canes….. looks like Lourdes….. I see the many people who benefited from Marie’s business acumen. I see people who benefitted from her translation between English and Czech. I see her many descendents. I see many people with whom Marie partied and prayed, danced, dined and drank, laughed and cried, sang and played.
Eulogy Delivered By Her Son, S.J. Peters
Many thanks to all of you for joining us here to celebrate and fondly remember the wonderful life of Marie – universally and lovingly known as “Maruska.” Beloved mother, grand-mother, sister, aunt, friend, neighbor, and colleague. To us she was Mom, to her grandkids she was “Babi.” To everyone, she was very special. And we’re finding her passing is difficult to even believe.
Everyone has a “Maruska” story, and most of us have many. When the prospects seemed bleak and clouds dark over whatever problem or dilemma that was being faced, do you recall the sincere pledge you’d hear from her? The simple but real words that she’d chirp would be: “I’ll help.” And she would help. Things would work out, because she got involved and followed through on what she’d promised. Everytime.
If you’d call, she’d answer. If you cried, she’d comfort. If you smiled or laughed, she’d join you. If she smiled or laughed, you’d be pulled right in. Her joy was real, true, and contagious.
It all started in 1935 when Maruska was born to Marie and Anthony Jandacek in Prague. The second of four children, Maruska followed our Uncle Tony, and was followed by our Uncle Petr – and much later, and in a new land, by our Aunt Vera.
Her Dad was a journalist who turned his critical pen to oppose first the Nazi occupation of his homeland – then known as Czechoslovakia – and as the war drew to a close, the Stalinists. These communist forces put their own followers into critical government posts, and our grandpa put down neither his pen nor put away his typewriter.
After being tipped that his freedom and his life were in jeopardy, Anthony had no choice but to flee the country and reluctantly leave behind his wife and then three children. He received a death sentence, in absentia.
The remaining family endured the absence of their father, and overnight intrusions by so-called police seeking so-called clues as to his whereabouts. Sometimes the searches occurred twice a day. It was a frightening, uncertain time. Eventually, the rest of the family plotted their departure from their homeland. Leaving with only what they could wear and carry, this young Mom – our grandma – with her three kids aged 14, 12 and 7 made their way for many hours until they wandered across the German border pretending to be mushroom hunters who simply lost their way. The next two and a half years were spent in German refugee camps, subsisting on whatever food and provisions they could scrape together.
My Mom told us the story of our grandfather having shipped goods to them at the camp, including a supply of Kelloggs Corn Flakes cereal. Our grandma was unfamiliar with the product, and proceeded to cook the contents in boiling water. Maruska found the resulting concoction most unappealing, and said, “If this is what they eat in America, I don’t want to go there.” But they did go there.
The family arrived in New York’s Immigration Processing Center on December 21, 1950 after 11 days at sea aboard an army transport ship. They finally arrived in Chicago on Christmas Eve. The family lived at 2230 South Austin Blvd., first renting and eventually buying this bungalow.
The kids were enrolled in school, with Maruska starting at Morton East. Junior college followed. With a sharp mind for business, the bright and industrious Maruska maintained a “straight A” grade point average in school while working a variety of jobs – a dime store and cookie factory among them and always wound up moving up quickly to management positions.
Vera arrived on the scene in 1952, as a happy surprise, and Maruska became like a second mother to her new baby sister – frequently buying her clothes and toys from her own earnings.
Maruska spent two summers in the mid 1950s in Ennis and Dallas, Texas, teaching a children’s summer Czech school.
She was also involved in a group of younger Czech immigrants known as “Sdruzeni Mladych,” and she and my Dad were among the group that performed some formal dances at the first “Representative Ball” established by the Czechoslovak Allied Organizations.
Our parents – Maruska and Stana – were married on September 14, 1957. Their 53rd anniversary would have been just two weeks ago. The two had met when my Dad passed through the refugee camps in Germany at age 19, and she was just a child of 12. A chance visit to Chicago by my Dad in the mid-1950’s led to a call to the Jandaceks by his hosts.
Our now adult Maruska and the young bachelor got to know one another and not long after, wedding plans were in the works. The couple took up residence in a small converted garage, then another apartment, and eventually the infamous two-flat at 2406 South Austin Blvd. – just two blocks from the folks house, and across the street from Morton High School. Maruska’s parents took over the “Dairyland Delicatessen” in Lyons, IL that same fall of 1957, and she often helped in the store. Soon after they took over the tavern next door, and renamed it “New Prague Liquors.”
Maruska continued working in the family business as much as she could. First baby Jana came into the world in October of 1959, followed by son Stan in May of 1961, and four years later Helen joined us in June of 1965. In fact, with her father driving a group to the camp, Maruska was working at the bar until a few hours before Helen was born.
Maruska had planned to be counselor again at Camp Hostyn in the summer of ’65 as she had done the two years prior. Father Janicek could not understand why having a baby should interfere with that, but he had to do without her at Camp Hostyn that year.
The now infamous Camp Hostyn in the Laurentian mountains of Quebec outside of Montreal took up entire summers as Marie led the kids’ activities and still managed to take care of her own.
Dad worked for the airlines, both for Lufthansa and Air France, until grandpa was able to get him placed as a language teacher at the all girls high school, Sacred Heart Academy, in Lisle. Dad continued his studies, and eventually landed at Addison Trail High School. Maruska would bring in desperately needed extra money to the household by translating documents and taking on interpreting assignments through various agencies.
This only grew with the influx of new Czech immigrants in the later 1960s. Her list of clients expanded, and she went out of her way to fill out documents and get legal and medical help for the newly arrived.
Both Maruska and Stana provided English lessons and translation and interpreting services. Many owe their citizenship to Maruska, since it was she who often served as a witness – attesting their good character for the INS.
In the late 60s, Maruska also began to dabble in real estate. After several years as a part-time realtor with Active Real Estate, she honed her skills, knowledge and knack for selling and soon was recruited by Pav-Hanson Real Estate — quickly becoming top sales person, breaking her own incredible record year after year.
My sisters will attest to the fact that our Mom was completely swallowed up by her endeavor. At home the phone rang almost non-stop with customers, colleagues, attorneys, and other real estate observers and shakers looking to speak with her. Still – Maruska also knew how to punch out. In 1971 Maruska traveled through Europe with Stana and Vera, and Mary Pat Francel. In 1972 our family drove through western Canada, and in 1973 spent the entire summer in Mexico, taking a tour of the southwestern U.S. on the way home.
I say this because these were two-month long vacations that only a realtor and teacher would be able to take from a time perspective. Maruska planned every detail and stop on these trips, and served as navigator and tour director. Our mode of transportation was always an oversized station wagon, with the custom-made metal carrier box on top. It was fun. As proof, we don’t remember the lack of air conditioning or the fact that the radio was never turned on. We do remember Tang as the beverage of choice, picnic lunches along the highway with Rizky (breaded pork tenderloin), hard boiled eggs and those regal roadside relics known as “Stuckey’s.”
Back home, Maruska continued to excel in real estate, and also became a ‘pro bono’ assistant and advocate to many in need just because she knew how to get things done. “Maruska to zaridi” was her Czech catch phrase, and roughly translated it means: Marie will take care of it.
I remember my Mom visiting folks in nursing homes because she knew she’d be the only one, or taking someone to the hospital, or talking through the details of a funeral with her friend Anne Svec. She’d arrange rides, take care of forms, make the follow up phone calls, send a photograph to brighten a day – and all with not even a hint of expectation of any reward or even a thank you.
We can all remember extra place settings at Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter – someone who would otherwise be alone would be invited, warmly, genuinely – to join our celebration.
As kids, we don’t know how she did it all. Birthdays, Christmas, holidays, trips, summer camp, school, church, scouts, the Czech cultural and social events, and on and on.
As a girl scout leader, Maruska helped my sister Jana sell cookies; she came on my Cub scout day trips; she made it to school programs and open houses and parent teacher conferences, and still turned over more bungalows in Berwyn and Cicero than any of her competitors.
Maruska knew the names of our friends and teachers, and would always make sure that the special gift we’d hoped for would find its way under the tinsel. She must have discovered the 25 hour day, because she got it all done, all the time.
Our family moved from Cicero to Brookfield in late 1976, after 14 years on Austin. We went from one bathroom to four. It took a little time, but Maruska accented her dream house with all her beloved collections – souvenir spoons, cut glass, tiny liquor bottles, mushroom figurines, many Czech themed do-hickies and other valued possessions collected on vacations.
Dad and she went on trips to Europe, Australia, the Caribbean, the Orient, and more. Meanwhile, she continued to thrive in the real estate business, and loved almost every minute of it.
Jana was married in 1980, me in 1986, Helen in 1992. A total of 8 granddaughters captured her heart: Kristina, Rianna, Michella, Carolyn, Diana, Nikole, Natalie and Angela.
Great-grandson Jacob came along in 2009, and Maruska will just miss the next great grandbaby, as Kristina and husband Rob are expecting a new arrival in November.
When Maruska turned 70, a gala party thrown in her honor gave us all the chance to celebrate with her – it was a lovely gathering and she beamed at being with so many dear friends and family. I watched the video a few nights ago, and I assure you that all our devoted tributes were heard by her then.
I’m sure many of you feel that it doesn’t seem that long since assembled together to say goodbye to our Dad. Actually, it’s only been a year and a half – since February 2009.
To Maruska’s credit, she took care of my Dad as his health declined, to the very end. Thankfully, in 2007 we were able to mark their 50th wedding anniversary with a special family party in their honor.
We’d hoped that his passing, though sad, would give her the opportunity to rest, to nourish her body, mind and spirit, to travel, enjoy friends and activities, and all the fruits of her many years of labor.
Instead, one health issue after another seemed to challenge Maruska since the time of our Dad’s passing. With the real estate market at a standstill, her ability to be immersed in business disappeared too. For this “type A” person, it was difficult for her to bear, and for those around her to witness.
Fortunately, she was not one to sit still for long.
Maruska took several trips to see Helen and her girls in Canada. She joined Vera, Jana and me in early summer to take part in the surprise retirement party for her brother Petr in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
This past August – just about 6 weeks ago — Maruska attended the Hostyn Summer Camp reunion in Quebec – being a hearty soul along with Helen and me, and being able to catch up again with such wonderful friends as Alice Cekal, Paul Pinette and others. We’re so glad Alice is here with us.
As many of you know, Maruska was planning a trip to the Czech Republic, with daughter Jana accompanying her for the first leg of it, to be followed by stay at a health spa.
She was scheduled to leave for Europe on September 1. The journey was to include many visits with relatives and friends, and she was so looking forward to it – and of course was disappointed when it was to be postponed until spring.
Her luggage was in the midst of being packed, gifts already selected for each person, and her itinerary of course carefully mapped out. The anticipation of this meaningful trip, we think, inspired her to keep going.
Yet the past year, and especially the months leading to her passing were difficult. Her sister and our aunt Vera stepped up and became a most amazing loving ally and caring support person. I cannot overstate how indispensible Vera has been and we cannot thank her enough. There are no words.
Her friends knew the real Marie – Maruska. Caring, fun, endearing, joyful, and accepting.
To her family, we were blessed with her unconditional and full love. Everyone was welcome in her home, and you could feel her generosity and kindness.
We also knew the Maruska who was often in a hurry, not because she wanted to leave our company but because she had more to do.
The Maruska we knew and loved ‘wamped’ on the gas pedal because she had other places to go. She always had “stops to make,” and it was a wonderful surprise if she was in the area and popped in to see us. Her phone calls would brighten our day, and she often dialed us up just to see how and what we were doing.
We now believe Maruska has been reunited with family and friends who made the journey earlier. They’ve all welcomed her, and our loss is of course their immense gain.
There will come a day when we all will be together again, and we will miss our Maruska, our Babi, our Marie, and our Mom until that wonderful day arrives. Our sadness is deep, and our tears will fall for a long time to come.
So we bid farewell to a warm, loving, and special lady who will always have a place in our hearts.
Thank you for touching our lives. Thank you for the memories.
Good night, Maruska. Dobrou noc.