Vladimir Cvicela was born in Kl’ačany, Slovakia in 1946. He came from a farming family and says that, after school, he would chase rabbits with dogs and play hockey with the other village children. Growing up, Vladimir wanted to become an electrician, but began working as a repairman on the local collective farm instead. When he was 19 years old, Vladimir was conscripted into the Czechoslovak Army and sent to České Budějovice, where he trained as a tank driver. He says his tank unit was disbanded two years later, however, following the Soviet-led invasion in August 1968.
Vladimir spent his last year of military service helping farmers in the Šumava region of the Czech Republic. Following his time in the military, Vladimir returned to work at the collective farm in Kl’ačany. He left Czechoslovakia in 1969 when he visited Vienna on a bus trip organized by his employer from which he did not return. He says that he was approached by two Slovak emigrants in the Austrian capital who gave him information about how he too could claim asylum. Vladimir spent five months in Austria, where he found a job as a glazier’s assistant and started learning English. He came to Cleveland in March 1970, where he was met at the airport by two of his distant relatives who had also recently arrived in the city.
Vladimir says he almost immediately found a job in Cleveland, at the city’s Sherwin-Williams Paint plant. He worked at the company for 12 years until he was laid off and found employment at Joseph & Feiss tailors. Outside of work, Vladimir was a member of the Cleveland Slovak soccer team, where he played goalkeeper. He met his wife Maria in 1980 when she came to Cleveland from Kolačkov, Slovakia to visit her sister, Ludmila Anderko. The two were married at Sts. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church in Lakewood, Ohio, later that same year. Vladimir and Maria have two children who were raised understanding Slovak and as members of the Lucina Slovak Folklore Ensemble. Vladimir says it was ‘important’ for him that his children maintained Slovak traditions and the language, and that he is happy his children’s involvement in dance troupe Lucina has taken the family back to Slovakia on several occasions. Today, Vladimir lives with his wife Maria in Parma, Ohio, and is a grandfather. In his retirement, he maintains several rental properties around the city of Cleveland.
“We were schooled for one year where we learned everything about everything, mainly about tanks because I was a tank driver. And the second year we went to Prachatice. And at the end of that, in August 1968, the Russians came and occupied Czechoslovakia, so we thought that maybe we will stay longer in the Army or something but our activities ended, so… Russian soldiers were behind our barracks and we went to work on farms my last year in the Army. [We were] helping the farmers and they treated us nice. They cooked for us, good food.”
“We went on a trip to Austria and my mother said ‘If you have a chance, you should stay there somehow.’ So I got the chance and I stayed. We went [on a work trip] to Austria and we were visiting the Stephansdom [St. Steven’s Cathedral] there. And there were lots of people in the front saying ‘Hey, do you want to go to America?’ They were asking us people, the Czechs and Slovaks, and we went in and checked the Stephansdom inside, and we went to the Praterstrasse and on the [Ferris] wheel. We spent the schillings that we had, a few schillings, and then went to the hotel to sleep. And two fellows from Okres Topol’čany, friends, saw the bus there, they saw the plates on the bus and they came over to my room and said ‘Hey, do you want to go somewhere, to America or somewhere?’ And I went with them and they showed me the Catholic charity and they showed me (at night) where I can register.”
Socializing in Cleveland
“We went to the German Central [Deutsche Zentrale] for dances, it was here on York Road close, or Ceska Sin Sokol on Park Avenue, they had dances or even we played some divadlo – we put on plays. And we had a soccer team, a Slovak soccer team, so we played between the different nationalities; Germans, Hungarians, Serbians and stuff.”