Ivan Vaclav (born Ivan Václav), 1943
Ivan Vaclav was born in 1943. He was raised in Bošáca, a town famous for its slivovitz, in western Slovakia. He says he had a happy childhood there, and remembers stealing plums from the numerous fruit trees around the town. His father was the head of the local recreation area and Pioneer Camp. Ivan says that he took over this job when his father died. Ivan’s mother, meanwhile, worked at a restaurant and bar in nearby Inovec. Ivan has one older sister, who also came to the United States.
Despite ‘having a good life’ in Czechoslovakia, Ivan decided to leave the country with his wife in September 1969. The couple spent four months in Austria, where Ivan’s wife gave birth to their oldest daughter, Jackie. The family arrived in New York City on December 29, 1969. Ivan remembers the city was ‘dirty,’ and that there were cockroaches in the Manhattan hotel in which they were accommodated. Almost straight away, the family bought a car and drove to Chicago, where they have lived ever since. In 1970, Ivan started a painting and decorating business in the city, which he ran for almost seven years. Ivan and his wife also became partners in the Czechoslovak restaurant called Bratislava which was located on North Clark Street during the 1970s.
Eventually, Ivan set up a construction and remodeling firm and founded a car business, which he refers to as ‘practically my hobby.’ He says that the United States has provided him with a ‘great, great opportunity’ to pursue his interests and ambitions. He became an American citizen in 1976. Over the years, Ivan has been active in the Slovak and Czech communities in Chicago – he has been associated with the CSA Fraternal Life organization, as well as with the Slovak Athletic Association. Today, he lives in Glenview, Illinois, with his wife, Anna.
Ivan says he needed to be persuaded to leave Czechoslovakia in 1969
“I really didn’t want to leave because I had a good life there, I like Slovakia. Just my friends [were] bugging me ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go to America or Australia!’ We decided the year before the Russian occupation came to the country, and we left a year later, ’69 – ’69, September we left from Slovakia.”
How did you go? Where did you go?
“I went, I ran away with a car, we went to Austria and to Vienna. And we stayed there for a short time – three, four months and then flew to the United States.”
Ivan talks about the restaurant he owned in Chicago in the early 1970s
“We had a restaurant north of downtown – 2525 N. Clark – we had a Czechoslovak Bratislava restaurant. And we did very good. Because there was a big thing about Czechoslovakia [at the time] and it was open from 5pm to 10pm in the evening for dinner. We served chicken paprikash, roast duck, goulash – Anicka, what else? And apple strudel. And people would stand in a line, 20-30 people…”
Category: Chicago, Oral History