Jerry Gusty (born Jiří Gusty)
Jerry Gusty was born in Krnov in northern Moravia. His mother was a nurse manager and his father was a teacher. He has one older brother who is a police officer in Krnov. Growing up, Jerry enjoyed playing sports such as hockey and soccer. He says that he did not participate in Pioneers and always found an excuse not to attend the First of May parades. For high school, Jerry went to a school for automotive training. He was in his third year there when the Velvet Revolution occurred in November 1989. After graduating from high school, he studied business management and economics. Jerry says that his decision to leave Czechoslovakia for the United States was twofold: when he was younger, his grandfather frequently spoke about the country and was particularly fascinated with the American West; furthermore, Jerry wanted to avoid mandatory military service by moving to the United States. He flew to New York City with a family friend and stayed with his friend’s uncle in Jersey City for two months. Jerry worked in a car repair shop during his time there. He then moved to Chicago where a cousin helped him find an apartment and he began working in construction. After six months, Jerry found a job as a driver and caretaker for a family in Indianapolis.
When he returned to Chicago, Jerry continued to work in construction and traveled around the country remodeling motels. After a stint repairing surveying equipment, Jerry started his own construction business which was bolstered by putting on an addition to his own house. Jerry’s first visit back to the Czech Republic was seven years after he left; he stayed for two weeks. He is a more frequent visitor now and owns a home there. Today, Jerry lives in Villa Park, Illinois with his wife, Hope.
Jerry talks about how his parents conveyed their views about communism
“They never wanted us to turn really bad against the system because they didn’t want us to fall in with some extremists. They wanted us basically to understand that it’s not a good thing, but we somehow have to go with the flow. Not to really stand up too much because that would create lots of problems. So only when there was some kind of a problem with electricity or no hot water, my father was always blaming them. When there was some kind of shortage of food, that was obvious, because they were well-informed people and they know we have that in warehouses and they just don’t want to let it out for whatever reason. They were creating artificial shortages of food, like sugar and other products that are important to people.”
Jerry became interested in the United States after hearing about the country from his grandfather
“My grandfather, when I was a little kid, he was always telling me that he’s going to go shoot bison in America because he said there was good land and there was lots of bison there, so it was his dream. But he was quite old and I’m not sure if he knew what he was talking about, but he read a lot of those books with Buffalo Bill and he kind of liked it and he thought he was going to make lots of money shooting those buffalo. Since then, I wanted to go [to America]. Not to shoot buffalo, but just to see how great this country is.”
After a few years in the Chicago area, Jerry started his own construction business
“I extended my house. At that time, I was already living in Norwood Park on the north side of Chicago. [It was] actually a nice neighborhood. I started extending my house. I put an addition on my house and in the meantime I established a construction company, so I just put the sign in front of the house and people from the neighborhood, which were a lot of cops and firemen, were calling and asking me if I can do an addition for them. I said ‘Sure, I can do it’ and before I knew it, I was building additions all around the neighborhood, and I built about 35 of them.”
Jerry discusses his identity
“I feel both, probably. I am born Czech so I think I am Czech, but on the other hand I’m American, so I feel kind of both. If you’re not an immigrant then you will never understand that, probably. You like both countries. They give you different things. It’s like living in two parallel worlds. You’re still thinking about the old country, but you’re living in a different country.”
Category: Chicago, Oral History