The Slovak Cultural Garden, modern in spirit, extends along three acres of Rockefeller Park between the upper and lower East Boulevard drives, with the Italian Garden as its southern, and the Rusin Garden as its northern neighbor. Stone steps at the entrance lead to a large forum with two wings for the placement of the bronze busts of the Reverend Stefan Furdek (1855-1915) and the Reverend Jan Kollar (1793-1852), against a background of privet hedge and European trees and shrubs. Both statues are the work of Sculptor J. Tenkacs. A sandstone terrace opens on to a spacious oval lawn. This typically Slovakian garden was designed by landscape architect, T. Ashburton Tripp.
Slovak Garden history began in 1929 when, under the acting chairmanship of Joseph Smolka, leaders in fraternal, civic, and cultural Slovak organizations conferred with City Manager William R. Hopkins, and with Charles Wolfram and Jennie K. Zwick, at that time president and executive secretary respectively of the Cleveland Cultural Garden Federation, for the purpose of inaugurating plans to join other nationality groups and establish a Slovak Garden. The Slovak Cultural Garden Association was formed, with Judge George S. Tenesy as president and Mr. Anna Mokris as secretary. Substantial funds were raised by donations, song festivals, by the Stefanik Singing Society, card parties in halls and private homes, and a colorful Old World Slovak fair held in Stas' Hall.
On October 23, 1932, the first unit of the Slovak Garden was dedicated. With the aid of government funds, the garden was completed, and was dedicated on October 28, 1934, with the unveiling of the two bronze busts. The bust of the Reverend Furdek was the gift of the First Catholic Slovak Union, and that of Jan Kollar of the Slovak Evangelical Union and Lutherans of Cleveland.
Reverend Stefan Furdek, author and educatory, Cleveland Slovak leader, and pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, was born in 1855 at Trstena, Slovakia. While completing his theological studies in Prague, he was selected as a seminarian at the request of Bishop Gilmore of the Cleveland Diocese. He was ordained for the priesthood in July of 1882, a few months after his arrival in America. For a short time he served as assistant at St. Wenceslaus Church, then was appointed first pastor of the newly organized parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, where his ministry lasted thirty-two years—until his death in 1915. Father Furdek, in addition to his pastoral duties, organized the First Catholic Slovak Union and the First Slovak Ladies Union in 1889. He also wrote several books of outstanding literary merit, distinguished poems, scientific articles, instructive books and books dealing with entertainment, and a series of readers for Slovak schools in wide present-day use.
Jan Kollar was born in 1793 in Mosovche, Slovakia, of a family highly respected for its admirable character and inspiring community services. A Lutheran minister of high standing, Kollar fearlessly defended the scholastic and language rights of both Lutheran and Catholic Slovaks. His poetic masterpiece entitled, The Daughter of Glory predicted liberty and independence for the Slovaks. To his credit are the memorable words, " What hundreds of blundering ages prepared is changed by a single epoch."
For many years an active fund campaign and cultural program were conducted under the presidency of Peter Mokris. The Slovak Cultural Garden Association also has had splendid cooperation and generous donations from William R. Hopkins, Monsignor F. J. Dubosh, Reverend John Krespinsky, Reverend M. F. Benko, Anthony Stas, James J. McGinty, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Misencik, Mr. and Mrs. George S. Tenesy, Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Kulka, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Halko, Florian Zavasky, Mrs. Michael Beno, Zivena Beneficial Society, and Slovak Catholic Union. City Landscape Architect Thomas Jones, Parks Commissioner Sam Newman, and the Mayors and their administrations during the years of Slovak Garden history, are also gratefully acknowledged by the Slovak Garden group, which, from 1935 to 1941 raised the sum of $3,000 toward the completion of its garden. Materials were purchased with this money, and labor costs were paid from funds allotted by the Works Progress Administration through the City of Cleveland.
An elaborate celebration with a parade of all nationality groups took place in theSlovak Garden in July, 1939, when it was officially re-dedicated. During the period of the Second World War, the Slovak Cultural Garden Association transferred its activity to War Bond solicitation to an amount exceeding $50,000, and to patriotic national unity programs. In 1942, together with the First Catholic Slovak Union and the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Union, the Association sponsored a patriotic program during the Four Freedoms Festival. A playlet, The Dawn We Watch, was presented and attended by many national, state, and local officials.
In 1946, the Slovaks participated enthusiastically in the 150th anniversary of the founding of the City of Cleveland. In the One World Day Celebration on July 21st of that year, their beautiful parade float was awarded an honorable mention by the Sesquicentennial Committee. On the following day, festivities continued with singing and dancing on the International Stage by the Stefanik Singing Society, which won the acclaim of an audience of 200,000 people. The first One World Day program was held in the Slovak Garden.
On May 1, 1936, the Slovak leaders of the Slovak Academy of Culture and Science of Slovakia planted a linden tree in the Slovak Garden, when Dr. Hronsky, secretary of the Academy, stated that only in a city like Cleveland and a national like the United States can groups function for inter-racial and inter-cultural understanding.
A Four Freedoms Festival held at Benedictine Hall on August 30, 1942, was attended by 3,000 people, including many outstanding political and cultural leaders. There was music by a concert orchestra.
Cleveland Slovaks played a prominent role in the Sesquicentennial celebration in 1946. The Slovak group took a large and hospitable part in the preview tea given for the benefit of the Sesquicen-
tennial committee. The Slovak group float in the One World Day parade for July 25, 1946, was awarded honorable mention. A program of national Slovak music and dancing was later viewed with pleasure by many thousands of spectators.
On March 31, 1949, the Slovak group participated in the Unesco Convention. Mrs. Anna Mokris, whose faithful service as recording secretary of the Cultural Gardens Federations is well known, supervised the serving of delicacies, contributed by 24 nationality groups at the benefit tea given for some 3,000 delegates. Representatives of these groups wearing their beautiful native costumes supplied a colorful background. Here, too, the Slovak contribution was prominent.
The Second One World Day celebration was held in the Slovak Garden on July 20, 1948. Also, in June of that year, the Slovak group gave a tea for 200 Cleveland school teachers in the Slovak Garden.
Through the years prominent leaders from Slovakia, the Reverend Joseph Tiso, President of Slovakia, and a group of scientific and cultural leaders of the Academy of Science and Culture, have visited the Slovak Cultural Garden and planted trees and shrubs.
Present officers of the Slovak Cultural Garden Association are: Andrew E. Zolata, president Mary Misencik, 1st vice president Theresa Krajcer, 2nd vice president Tillie H. Bacik, secretary Peter Mokris, treasurer.
Thus has one more nationality group—the Cleveland citizens of Slovak descent—added another link to the Cultural Gardens chain. The city is grateful for this picturesque garden, and for the life works of the two great Slovaks who are honored here.
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