Vera Truhlar was born in Říčany in central Bohemia in 1940. Her father, Jaroslav, a cyclist who competed in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, owned a machine and repair shop. Vera’s mother, Marie, in addition to raising Vera and her younger brother, helped with the business. At the insistence of her mother, Vera began private English lessons when she was in fourth grade; she continued learning the English language through high school. Vera played on her school volleyball and basketball teams and was also an avid skier. She attributes her lifelong interest in sports to the influence of her father. After graduating from high school, Vera attended Charles University in Prague where she studied physical education and Czech language. She then began teaching at a school in Mukařov, a town a short distance from Říčany.
In 1969, Vera made plans to travel to the United States for two years to improve her English. A friend’s brother who lived on Long Island offered to sponsor her. He paid for her plane ticket and gave her a job as a receptionist at the nursing home he owned. Vera was able to secure a visa and, on July 18, 1969, flew to New York City. She first lived in Patchogue on Long Island while working at the nursing home. Shortly after arriving, Vera met her future husband, Joe Truhlar, a third-generation Czech who spoke Czech. When the couple married in 1970, Vera knew that she would not be returning to Czechoslovakia. She says that because of her failure to return, her mother was repeatedly questioned by authorities and only stopped being bothered when Vera asked the government for an official pardon. Vera and Joe settled in East Islip and Vera was hired as a physical education teacher by the Connetquot School District. She taught at Oakdale Bohemia Junior High for 33 years and coached the school gymnastics team. She keeps in touch with many of her former students.
Vera lives a short distance from the town of Bohemia, New York, and says that she has felt at home there since her arrival because of its Czech history. As a member of the Bohemia Historical Society, the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society of Astoria, the American Friends of the Czech Republic and the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU), Vera believes it is important to keep the ‘Czech spirit’ alive in herself and her surroundings. She has kept up her love for sports and participates in cycling and track and field in local and national senior competitions. Vera travels to the Czech Republic once a year to visit her family. Today, she lives in East Islip, New York, with her husband, Joe.
“He participated in cycling. He represented Czechoslovakia. He was a seven-time champion of Czechoslovakia; that’s why he got his spot on the Olympic team, and he had wonderful memories of it. First of all, he made his own bicycle when he went to the Olympic Games. He said that when the group arrived in Paris, nobody waited for them with fanfares, so they had to do things on their own. It was just absolutely wonderful when he started to talk about it, when his friends came by to talk about the Olympic Games. And I think that’s where my interest in sports started. He planted it for me. So when I was two years old, he made me a bicycle. Then I grew out of it and he made me another bicycle when I was four years old, six years old. So I grew up and he always made me a bicycle, because he had the machine shop and he was extremely talented. He was kind of an artist with this thing. He was a super, super influence, and I think deep inside he planted the seed for my future.”
“When I was a teacher I could not go to church in my town. So if I wanted to go to church I went to Prague because nobody knew me. If I would go into my town church, I would not be able to be a teacher because religion was something which was not favorable to the communists.”
“When I presented my mother with the idea of me going to America, she said to me ‘Go.’ Just like that. I started crying and I thought that she didn’t like me, that she wants to get me out of the house – because I was still living in the house. But my mother saw ahead. She saw that I will have a better life in America than I had when I was back in Czech[oslovakia]. As I mentioned before, when I was a teacher I had my love for my students, I had my love which my students gave back to me, but if I make a comparison with the American way of being in school, it’s just no comparison. The opportunity which America gave me is incredible, and that’s what my mother saw. My mother saw that my life will be better in America. We did not plan that I would stay here, but she thought it would be a wonderful experience and she said to me ‘Go.’ So, it was kind of brave on her part, but it worked out just fine.”
“I felt like I am such a small person compared to these huge big skyscrapers. And then my goal was to come to see the Statue of Liberty, and that was moving. To see the Statue of Liberty from a distance and then to be nearby and then to climb up to the hat to see the freedom… When I left, and I remember the National Museum [in Prague] being full of bullet marks from the Russians, and now I am coming [to the United States], I said ‘Wow. This is something like a dream come true to see the Statue of Liberty.’ And, interesting story, when my mother came to visit us in 1975, she wanted to go see the Statue of Liberty, so the two of us went. She climbed all the steps. I explained to her about Eiffel, who did the Statue of Liberty, and we came all the way to the head and I said to her ‘Wouldn’t that be nice if somebody could take a picture of us right here in the head?’ And there was a person who spoke Czech and they heard us and they took a picture of us. And my mother said ‘Well, that’s how the story goes. That before Columbus came to America, there was a Czech playing the violin.’ So that was my happy story with my mother.”
“When I knew that I would get the job, my first place that I went to was the cemetery. I walked in the cemetery and I knew that this is where I want to be. The first name that I saw was Novotny which was my stepfather’s name. Then I saw a statue of Jan Hus. And then I walked around the cemetery and I felt ‘I am home,’ because I saw all these different names – Czech names – and I said to myself ‘This is incredible that the people came here.’ Later on I learned that there were three families – Kolar, Vavra, Kratochvil – who found this village in 1855. When I started teaching, the open school night was absolutely wonderful because some parents, whose grandparents were Czech, knew some Czech language words so we were able to speak some Czech. The grandmas sometimes sent me kolačhe [pastries], some buchty [buns], some tomato omáčka [sauce], all these goodies, and it was like back home. It was just incredible. There was Kruta, there was Emanovsky, there was Stejskal, there was Nadvornik. All these students, I had.”
“Prague has changed very much, and I am very happy for people, that they do have the chance to experience freedom – freedom of traveling, freedom of food. I remember when I came back to America in 1974 and I went shopping and I started crying because when I saw the amount and quality of all kinds of fruit that we have here in the stores – peaches, oranges – to have oranges or tangerines was only for Christmas. Only during Christmastime my mother could afford to have tangerines, and here in America there is everything. So when I go there now, I see that they have everything, especially because of the European Union. So sometimes they even have things that we do not have here in America that they have in stores, because they have things from all over the world. And so things are very, very good in the Czech Republic now – if people have money. If people have to live on Social Security, that’s a different story.”
“Here in the museum we always have the Czech Christmas, so my specialty is that I bake vanočka [Christmas cake] and everybody loves it. Another dish which everybody loves is my dumplings, my knedlíky, with all kinds of gravy and all that stuff. But it’s not just the food. I think what I am trying to do is help this organization to bring the Czech spirit here. So when we had here the 150th anniversary of this village’s establishment, I invited our ambassador, Aleš Pospíšil, and his wife to come and celebrate with us. I had our gymnasts performing and he loved it. So I like to have the connection, and I think it’s important. Even when I gave my presentation in Cedar Rapids, Mr. Gandalovič, who is now the ambassador, he said this is what he would like, that the Czech organizations and the societies would be in touch with the museum, would become part of the museum. So he kind of thought that was nice that I was able to bring the proclamation from Bohemka [Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society of Astoria] and the greetings from the Bohemian Historical Society. Let the world know that there is Bohemia, Long Island. That the people came here and worked very hard to establish this village.”