Ingrid Chybik was born in Brno, Moravia, in 1939. Her mother Hilda stayed at home and raised Ingrid and her younger brother Alfred, while her father (also called Alfred) directed a textile business. During WWII, Ingrid fell ill with diphtheria which, she says, saved both her and her brother, as they were quarantined when the nursery school they normally attended was bombed. Both of Ingrid’s parents were killed during the War and so she and her brother were taken in by relatives living in Novosedlý near Mikulov, southern Moravia. In 1946, Ingrid moved with her brother to Vienna, where the pair stayed with their grandmother. Ingrid spent six years in Vienna until she was sponsored by another aunt and uncle, Bohumil and Erna Hlavac, to come to Chicago. Ingrid says her aunt and uncle had left Czechoslovakia in 1950 when they heard that Bohumil may be arrested on charges of having collaborated with the Nazis during WWII. Such charges, says Ingrid, were ridiculous as her uncle had spent much of the War imprisoned in Mauthausen concentration camp.
Ingrid arrived in Chicago in March 1952. She first attended Epiphany Grade School, where she says the nuns were sympathetic and helped her learn English, and then Lourdes High School, where she did well academically. Upon graduation, she started working at Continental Bank downtown and studied accounting at DePaul University at night. She did not finish her degree, but says the accounting classes she took subsequently helped her with her business career. She continued to live with her aunt and uncle and, after years of speaking German in Vienna, re-learned Czech from them at home. Ingrid says she perfected her Czech by going to the cinema to watch old movies with her aunt. In 1963, she married Miroslav Chybik, whom she had known for five years and whom she had originally met at a series of Czech community dances in Chicago. The couple went on to have three daughters.
Ingrid says she became involved in a number of Czech and Slovak cultural groups in Chicago, and remains active in these societies to this day. She was president of the First Czechoslovak Garden Club of America until the end of 2010 and served as a long-term member of the United Moravian Societies. She has taken her children to Vienna and the Czech Republic to meet her relatives on a number of occasions. Today, she lives in Burr Ridge, Illinois, with her Czech-American husband Miroslav, whom she says she feels lucky to have married as he understands her so well.
Saved by Illness
“I remember during the War, and I especially remember when I had diphtheria and I was in the hospital, and every time the bombers came they put us under the beds if they did not have the time to take us down to the cellar. So, we sort of escaped the War in that respect, because we were in nursery school, my brother and I, but because I had diphtheria, he was quarantined, so he could not be in school with the other children, and at that time a bomb hit the school building and all the children there did not make it, you know.”
Coming to America
“It was very lonesome, because I had my brother since our parents died, you know, always we were together and I had my girlfriends in Vienna at that point, and when I came here I had to just put everything behind me and… I learned most of my Czech here, because my aunt and uncle spoke Czech amongst themselves and so I learned Czech by being nosy! I wanted to know what was being said.”
“I remember I came at the age of 12 basically by myself; they put me on the ship and, you know, I came on the ship to America. And in New York, a lady was meeting me, and she spoke Czech. But she soon realized that my Czech was not all that good. So then a different lady came to meet up the next day. But you know I thought my aunt and uncle would come to meet me in New York, but I guess financially they could not do it so, I ended up – they sent me to a convent where the sisters were, and you know, all the time I was on the ship coming here I was happy-go-lucky, but when I came to New York, and I expected to be met by my aunt and uncle and they weren’t there, I just – I didn’t let anybody know but – I was so sad, you know? What’s going to happen to me now that I’m here?
“I felt safe enough, but I was just so… You know, you’re 12 years old and you have a sort of a straight plan that this is how it’s going to be. And then you come to New York and, okay, they picked me up here, and then that other lady explained to me that in two-three days I was going to go to Chicago. They bought me new clothes in New York which was very… I was thrilled, because after the War there wasn’t – we didn’t really have anything. So I got a nice new coat, new shoes and a new dress and new this. So I was thrilled to see that but when they put me on the airplane coming to Chicago, that was really, I mean, wow!
“And then I came to Chicago in March, March 3 or 4, 1952; my aunt and uncle were meeting me there so, I had met them in Vienna and I had known them since I was little in Brno. So I knew who they were and all that, so I came here and first thing I was very disappointed because there was dirty snow all over, and I didn’t see any tall buildings in Chicago, because Midway Airport…you don’t see any tall buildings there! So it was totally different from what I expected America to look like.”
“We came to Vienna and we saw the buildings all bombed out, and there were parts of the concrete all hanging there – not concrete, the plaster on the buildings – and it was totally, you know… And at that point we didn’t even know, because we… I was born in ’39 and you know, all I remembered was bombs hitting and Russian soldiers coming by and then the American soldiers came by and you know I just… We didn’t know what it was because nobody explained things to us. We were just in our own little world as long as somebody took care of us. I was six years old when I came to Vienna and then during the next six years I started school and you know… Until I came here and I think then I sort of started realizing more that, okay, this is not how life goes on, you know? That bombs don’t always fall and, you know, I’ve been very fortunate and happy to be here.”
Czech in Chicago
“I think that people are more spread out, because you know before people lived close-by. I belong to the First Czechoslovak Garden Club of America and that was established in 1935, and the last two years I was president of it, but none of those people speak Czech as well as I do. And I’m not the best, but I can communicate in Czech, you know. So, it was really interesting, because whenever there was anybody who needed something translated from English to Czech I could do it.”