HOW IT STARTED as recounted by one of our founding members, Sis. Mildred Barcal
A Sokol Unit in the Nation’s Capital was a dream and ultimate goal of many Sokols throughout the United States. The Czechoslovak Community in the Washington, DC area, however, was very small in number and it already supported two other organizations. One was a fraternal organization established in 1935, The Unity of Czech Ladies and Men, later a part of CSA (Czechoslovak Society of America). The other was a social club, The Czechoslovak American Center of Washington DC, which was founded in 1937 to promote and preserve Czech and Slovak ancestral culture and traditions. One of the Czechoslovak American Center’s activities was a monthly meeting followed by a dinner prepared by the ladies, and dancing to music provided by the Center’s own orchestra. It was at one of these events, in April, 1941, that Brother Frank Rosner and Sister Mildred Barcal, both new to the area, met and discovered that they had a mutual interest in Sokol. Brother Rosner immediately proposed the possibility of organizing a Unit in the Nation’s Capital. However, only the basic ground-work had been accomplished by December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor Day – when the United States entered World War II. During WWII, (1941-1945), the influx of new people coming to work for the U.S. Government, and military personnel on leave, brought many individuals to the Washington, DC area searching for Czechoslovak community and activities, and for Sokol. They all gravitated to the Czechoslovak American Center. Even though interest in a Sokol Unit was significant, most were in the area on a short-term or temporary basis and could not offer any real commitment to this project.
It was not until 1945, when Brother John Vaters moved to Washington DC, from Belcamp, Maryland, where he had been a charter member of Sokol Belcamp, that Brother Rosner and he began the necessary groundwork for a new Sokol Unit in the Nation’s Capital. They, along with Sister Barcal, worked diligent and long hours, and made numerous trips to the Baltimore and Belcamp Units to seek information and assistance. In 1946, Brother Vaters, Brother Rosner and Sister Barcal traveled to Sokol Belcamp to attend their exhibition and to meet with Eastern District President, Brother Joseph Sazama, and Eastern District Men’s Director, Brother Frank Capek, for the latest directions and instructions. On May 4, 1947, the organizational meeting of the American Sokol Washington, DC Unit was held at Matejka’s Restaurant on Calvert Street in Washington DC. Temporary officers were elected – President, John Vaters; Secretary, Frank Rosner; Treasurer, Zdenek Ptacek; Director of Men, Jerry Friedrich; Directress of Women, Mildred Barcal; Committee Members: Frank Kracek and Jerry Kroutil.
The first membership meeting of our Unit was held on May 16, 1947 in the Odd Fellows Hall at 419 7th Street NW, Washington DC. Eastern District President, Brother Sazama, and Eastern District Men’s Director, Brother Capek, were present to welcome our Unit into the Eastern District and to offer assistance. Our immediate goal was to find a gymnasium. Throughout the summer of 1947 a diligent search for a suitable gym was undertaken. Finally, the District of Columbia Recreation Department provided the large, but unequipped gymnasium of Central High School (13th and Euclid Streets, NW), free of charge for adult classes only, with the stipulation that the High School and the DC Recreation Department had priority, if they needed the space.
Gym classes started on September 9, 1947, with eight women and four men in attendance. Later the average attendance increased to 12 women and six men. While preparing for our first exhibition, we found out what “having priority” meant! Our sessions at Central High School soon were relegated to the back-stage area and the corridor. In spite of that, we were ready for our first exhibition and formal initiation into the American Sokol Organization. This event took place on November 23, 1947 in the Pythian Temple, 1012 9th Street NW, Washington DC. Five men and ten women presented a combined calisthenics number. They were: Brothers J. Friedrich, G. Soltis, Z. Ptacek. L. Sefcik and A. Mach, and Sisters V. Aubrecht, L. Cerny, V. Herman, J. Swinney, T. Vaters, O. Dzbanek, S. Dzbanek, A. Holubec, J. Droll and V. Basetlik. The Directors were Brother J. Friedrich and Sister M. Barcal. Our Unit was formally initiated into the American Sokol Organization by Brother Karel Prchal, President of American Sokol Organization, which was headquartered then, as now, in Chicago. The rest of the program was provided by Units from Curtis Bay, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago, under the direction of the Southern Section (okrsek) Men’s Director, Brother Edward Stetka. All the apparatus was brought in by truck from Baltimore. Dinner and refreshments, prepared by the ladies, were served after the program. Dancing followed. Thanks to all our Brothers and Sisters from other units, we were now duly initiated and ready for work!