Jarka Stepina (Jaroslava Štěpina), born 1944
Jarka Stepina was born in Prague in 1944. She lived in the city’s Žižkov district with her parents and younger sister until 1953, when her parents divorced and she moved to the Letná district with her mother and stepfather, who worked at the Czechoslovak Ministry of the Interior. Jarka’s father also remarried and, as he lived in Prague as well, she saw him often. Although it was her desire to become a pediatric nurse, Jarka attended business school at her parents’ behest. She had a variety of jobs over the summers, including caring for children with Down syndrome and working in a factory and at a camp. Upon graduation, Jarka started a job as a payroll cashier. As a young adult, Jarka was involved in a youth group which afforded opportunities to travel to places such as Austria, West Germany, and Yugoslavia. It was through her activities as a young woman that she met her husband, Mila Štěpina.
Jarka and her husband were planning on taking a trip to Yugoslavia in September of 1969; however, her brother-in-law warned them that the borders would be closing soon, so they decided to leave for West Berlin, where Jarka had friends, in August of that year. The pair lived in Germany for two years where they applied for a visa to the United States. In 1971, Jarka and Mila settled in Cleveland. Jarka remembers that finding their own apartment was difficult as they had no credit when they first arrived; however, they soon were able to rent a place. After a few years, they bought a house in Parma, Ohio. Jarka worked in accounting at American Greetings while Mila was an electrical engineer who had several jobs. Jarka says that the two traveled throughout the United States, especially to Colorado and the Southwest, as Mila was fascinated with American cowboy culture. Jarka has been back to the Czech Republic many times, although she says that after her first visit back in 1978, she was subsequently denied a visa for about ten years. She says that after being in the United States for 40 years, she feels more at home here than when she is in the Czech Republic. Today, Jarka lives in Parma, Ohio.
Jarka talks about her time as a young adult in Czechoslovakia
“Some people at that time of my age, we loved country music, and we had tramping. We’d go to forests, which belonged to everybody, nobody can shoot you – there was no private property. We had campfires and the boys played guitar and sing old kind of country songs, so that was kind of our weekend. In Europe, everybody had weekend houses – most of them, like 95% – or you knew somebody who had a weekend house. In the wintertime when parents stayed home, then we’d go to a weekend house in the winter and have fun there. So it was just a different life, and I would never change it. I’m glad that I had it, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
After emigrating, Jarka was able to return to Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s
“They let me go back, in 1978, to the Czech Republic. So I was there for six weeks with my three year old son, and I had a good time. I went to my old company and saw my old friends and everything. After that, I never got a visa for ten years. I got a feeling my [former] supervisor found out I was there and I think she went to the secret police and made a report of some kind and made sure I was never granted a visa. My husband went every year – he could twice a year – and he never had a single problem. I was the only one they told was a danger to the government. I was marked like a terrorist – I’m a danger to government and I am not good for the country.”
Jarka’s husband brought some Czech entertainment to Cleveland
“My husband met, in Europe, some kind of famous country music group, which was KTO with Waldemar Matuška, and then he met Fešáci, and then he met Greenhorni (Zelenáči), and then he met Šlapeto, and all these men came. So first thing was Petr Novotný with Karel Poláček from Fešáci came to America by themselves, kind of snooping around, and my husband took them to Kentucky and showed them all kinds of things and they had a concert there later on. I had a tape but somebody borrowed it and never returned it, but I definitely have a couple of tapes in Europe. So they came as whole groups, and we always had concerts in Karlin Hall; the boys stayed at our house. When Waldemar was here with Olina, they stayed with Daša Poseděl; they came here for the picnic, so we had a concert in my backyard and we invited my neighbors. So I told Fešáci learn some Škoda lásky and all kind of old polka which people know. So he sang for them and a whole bunch of people came.”
Category: Cleveland, Oral History