Stan Pechan (born Stanislav Pechan), 1951
Stan Pechan was born in Michalovce, eastern Slovakia, in 1951. His father was an engineer who became head of the local road-building department, while his mother stayed at home with Stan and his brother, Marcel. After graduating from the local gymnázium in Michalovce, Stan went to medical school in Košice, studying at the Univerzita Pavla Jozefa Šafárika, at first general medicine and then dentistry in particular. A keen handballer, Stan continued to play for his home team Michalovce throughout his studies, as well as making it to the university world cup in the sport in Prague. Upon graduation, Stan was conscripted into the military for one year, which he spent in the Army Medical Corps, mostly at a clinic in Olomouc in southern Moravia. Following discharge in 1975, Stan returned to eastern Slovakia to work as a dentist in Budkovce. He met his future wife, Julie – an American of Slovak extraction – during a trip she made to Czechoslovakia at this time. The couple were married in Slovakia and Stan embarked upon the process of legally moving to the United States. The paperwork took one-and-a-half years, says Stan, who eventually arrived in Cleveland in March 1977.
After a number of years spent learning English and retraining as a dentist in the U.S., Stan became progressively more active in Slovak and Czech societies in the Cleveland area, such as Krajanský výbor, the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU) and the Zemplin Club. To this day, he is an active member of the Cleveland chapter of SVU. Stan has his own dental practice and counts a large number of Slovaks and Czechs in Cleveland amongst his patients. He has two children, Michael and Nicole. He lives with his wife, Julie, in Avon Lake, Ohio.
Stan says there was a shortage of housing in Michalovce when he was young
“My dad – as a little kid, I remember – he actually, the building wasn’t even… there was scaffolding, and he moved, so as to secure, so that nobody could take this apartment. So he lived with no heating, there was nothing, there was not even a façade finished, it was just this brick or whatever, and [he] lived there so that nobody could come and steal this. Because that is how difficult it was to get an apartment!”
Stan says that growing up he had different concerns than his American peers
“We did fine, as a kid growing up, we did fine. We accepted the food was rationed, the dwellings were rationed, you know, you had only so much money, so yeah, but it was fine. There’s only so much food you need and then… you didn’t go hungry. We had to eat certain foods over and over, you know? Still today, I couldn’t eat cabbage for many, many years! But you adjust, you were able to adjust, and yeah, it was tougher. Occasionally we didn’t have hot water, maybe once a week, and those little conveniences that you have nowadays. So you can’t tell somebody… you got bread every day with lard on top of it and that’s it, that’s what you… nobody worried about nutrition, you worried that you were full, that’s all. So yeah, you can’t tell somebody if they didn’t have the same experience, yeah.”
It was only in Cleveland that Stan says he became politically active
“It was interesting, it was something and, you know, all of a sudden you think, well, all of a sudden you were more interested in your country than I was living there, you know? Because you tried to think, well, the country should… the country should be better, better off than… When you live there, you accept it. And when you look from the outside, you look at all of those inequities in the country and you think ‘this country should be much better, it’s got so much potential.’ You tried to, sometimes you were able to – not too much later on – but give certain donations to certain organizations to spread the word or help refugees. We always gave at the Krajanský výbor some money towards refugees. And politically, certain people tried to go there and get some information through so, you supported them.”
Stan visited Prague with his family just before the Velvet Revolution in August 1989
“That was the time when the Germans were going through, escaping East Germany, going through Hungary. So already things were, something was going on, or there was a big influx of Germans going to West Germany through Hungary, and Hungary allowed them to go. And you talked to different people, and at the time I talked to some, you know, Communism was still… on the surface it looked like nothing would change, to me the country looked the same. But you knew that… you talked to several people and they said that they… they talked to some in Prague and they said that the Communists already have their suitcases packed. They’re just ready to go, they knew that time was over for them.”
Stan says the Slovak and Czech communities in Cleveland were more ‘cohesive’ during Communism
“Obviously, when I came, it was more cohesive. And I think the grouping took a lot of knowledge and hoping for change of the system, regime, and so people were coming together just to get some gossip or some information – if somebody traveled, [to ask] if they knew if maybe it’s getting better or worse. So there was some, people were together, and there was still this ethnic… there were a lot of programs. Even in the Zemplin Club, actually, the programs were very nice. At the time we had a, they made me MC a couple of times, of the Zemplin Club, and a little side note; I had to make a speech. And so I wrote the speech, I had to, for this one there was Cardinal Tomko who was, I think, third or fourth in the hierarchy in the Vatican – he was from Zemplin. And there was a General Čatloš, who was a big general, a Slovak general, and so, you know, I introduced it, and I made a little, kind of political, speech. Well, behold, this my speech ended up on Radio Free Europe. And my mum, she listened to Radio Free Europe, and there’s my speech being, at this time… and this was still communism so…”
There was more open discussion about Communism during Communism, says Stan
“We talked about communism, even during communism. You know, in groups you talked, sometimes alcohol was involved, and then you started to talk, you know. People did talk. Sometimes you were unlucky and somebody maybe turned you in, you know? But this did not happen too much, it did not happen too much. Because we exchanged and we knew what was going on, later on, the abuse of power – we talked about it right openly. And the funny thing is afterwards, not being there but, it’s like a closed chapter, it’s over. Communism is done. Maybe some people do talk about it, but it seems like – what I read – that a lot of people just don’t want to talk about it, and I think that that’s historically, a lot of people don’t want to talk about certain things which happen. When there was war, they didn’t want to talk about it.”
Category: Cleveland, Oral History