Happy Birthday, Dear Maria!

It’s the birthday of my late husband Charles Novacek’s mother Maria Patko Nováčeková. She was born on January 8, 1902, in the village of Ožd’any in Austria-Hungary, the present day Slovakia near the Hungarian border. As Charles stated in his memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance “Mother’s native language was Hungarian and I learned to speak it proficiently from her.” She read Hungarian stories and poetry to her son.

Charles dearly loved “Maminka.” He said she had a beautiful voice and a pretty face — he wanted to paint it. She wasn’t a big talker, but had a quiet manner about her and was very polite.

Regretfully, I never met Maria Nováčeková, but from Charles and through photographs I’ve seen of her I could tell she was graceful and well-groomed. Even though she was from humble roots, Maria had attractive clothing and a simple elegance that made her seem aristocratic, but not pretentious.

Charles said his mother loved the arts and music and instilled that love in her children.  In Border Crossings, he describes an event his parents attended at a nearby spa when his nanny had walked him over to hear his mother sing.

kupel-brusno-historia-1cr“It was on the first floor, elevated only about six or seven steps above the sidewalk. A large double door was closed, so I peeked in, opening it just a couple of inches, and I saw my mother standing on the podium, singing with the musicians. She looked beautiful, and was dressed in a long lace gown trimmed with white, undulating fur at the bottom; the melody she sang was the zwischenspiel “Von Der Golden Pavilion” by Hans Henrik Wehding. Father, wearing his full parade uniform, stood at the window watching her. When she finished, the music continued and Father went to her to ask her to dance. The parade sword flashed at his side as they danced together. I remember crying, though I wasn’t sure why, and I watched the entire scene until my nanny pulled me away to go home.”

Charles enjoyed traveling with his mother to visit her friends in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Poland. They traveled by train, or in a one-horse buggy if the distances were short. “Mother took me with her to Rimavská Sobota, our district town; to Ožd’any, where I was born; and to Filakovo and Lučenec.” And Charles told me she especially liked taking her son “Karci” (Hungarian for Charles) to Banska Bystrica to a café that served ice cream pie.

Charles said his mother was the backbone of the Novacek family. She was brave and was rarely frightened or helpless. An excellent homemaker, wife and a loving, strict mother. She even taught him how to cook, clean and do needlepoint! I was lucky enough to benefit from Charles’ Hungarian/Slovak cooking talents.

Charles’ mother passed away on December 13, 1968. He wrote, “Her passing drove a deep hole into my heart, as if by a spear. I could not speak of it much then, and I still cannot do so.”

How grateful I am that Charles had such a loving mother who was so devoted to her son. Today I celebrate what would have been Maria Nováčeková’s 113th birthday!

Happy Birthday, Dear Maria!

Wishing for Happiness, Peace + Joy Around the World + in Detroit

 gingko2cr                   “I believe we create a more positive future through wishing.”                                                                                                                           —Yoko Ono 

It’s the start of the new year – 2015 and I’m making my list of wishes. There are many. Each year at least one comes true. And then there’s world peace. It’s always number one and that never seems to change. But that’s no reason to give up on it. Some things take time. So it goes back on top.

Another wish on my list has been lifelong – my wish for happiness, peace, and joy in Detroit.  I was born in Detroit and share its birth date of July 24. I moved back to Detroit when I married my late husband Charles Novacek and have made the city my permanent residence for nearly 20 years. The city has experienced some pretty rough spells. But that’s no reason to give up on it. The city’s on the mend.. Some things take time.

wishtreedetroitplaquecrOn April 29, 2000, Charles and I experienced an extraordinary “wish” occasion I will always remember. It was with 300 Detroit residents and Yoko Ono – multimedia artist, singer, peace activist and widow of John Lennon. Yoko was carrying on the work of her late husband. She appeared at Detroit’s Times Square Robert Hurst Park to dedicate “A Wish Tree for Detroit.” The gingko tree and granite stone “living sculpture” with a bronze plaque invited visitors to “whisper your wish to the bark of the tree.” Yoko spoke to the gathering and declared “I believe we create a more positive future through wishing.” She stated that she hoped the new art work would bring “happiness, peace and joy” to all who stopped by to see it. She was a gentle inspiration.

Yoko had made “wish” installations in other places around the world. For Detroit, she chose the gingko tree, considered a symbol of longevity, hope, resilience and peace for its beautiful fall color saying, “Yellow is the color of light.”

The tree’s delicate fan-shaped leaves have been prized for their beauty and copied by artists. Interestingly, there are many gingko trees in my Midtown Detroit Cass Corridor neighborhood. I have been collecting their leaves for years and pressing them and keeping them for good luck. Some are pictured above.

gingkobranchespragueWhen Charles and I visited Prague, Czech Republic we noticed the gingko leaf was a common motif used on its Art Nouveau buildings – decoration of the organic, of nature. Two of the best examples were the façades of Hotel Central and of Prague’s main train station.  Prague’s train station façade is now obscured by a freeway and Detroit’s wish tree goes unnoticed. In 2007 the Robert Hurst Park was razed to accommodate the new Rosa Parks Transit Center. The wish tree was removed temporarily and thankfully, replanted at the north end of the terminal. Yoko’s plaque is mounted on the nearby granite boulder.

Take time in 2015 to create a more positive future for the world. Visit the Rosa Parks Transit Center in Detroit and “Whisper your wish to the bark of the tree.”  Each year at least one comes true!

A Carol for Peace in the World + A Piece of Land in Detroit


Yet with the woes of sin and strife
    The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
    Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
    The love song which they bring; –
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
    And hear the angels sing!”

–Edmund Hamilton Sears, excerpt from “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”

Those who know me know my passion for storytelling and linking of “noteworthy” historic pieces of information, events, people, etc. together.  So now that Christmastime is here – I’ve been thinking, “How can I possibly link Christmas and my late husband Charles Novacek’s book, BORDER CROSSINGS: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance?

Well, there’s the obvious – Czech and Slovak Christmas customs, Novacek family and wartime events at Christmas, buying books as holiday gifts, etc.  But lesser known are the links to the Detroit couple composer Richard Storrs Willis (1819-1900) and his wife Alexandrine Macomb Sheldon Campau Willis (1829-1910).

Who were these people and what is their link to Christmas and Charles’ book?

While Charles was writing BORDER CROSSINGS I started to do research on our residence, a condominium in a nearly 100 year old structure in Detroit’s Cass Corridor aka Midtown. I was part of a group creating an architectural walking tour of the condo’s neighborhood for Detroit’s 300th birthday in 2001. I also needed information to write a history for our building’s centennial in 2005. I wanted to find names and information on previous owners and residents of the property, especially ones that might have been famous.

I browsed through city directories at the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library and researched and copied property records at the Wayne County Register of Deeds Office in Greektown. From these sources I transcribed names of owners and residents and then researched most persons named. Information on the Internet was not as readily available as it is now.

Perhaps, the most famous person/link I located was Richard Storrs Willis and his second wife Alexandrine. Interestingly, his last name (Willis) and her first name (Alexandrine) are the names of the cross streets that border the block where our condo is located. So I figured the couple must have been “important.”

Further investigation revealed Mr. Willis was from an influential Boston family and became an important composer and publisher of hymns (both sacred and secular) in nineteenth century America. Perhaps his most famous hymn was the composition in 1850 of the tune “Carol” which is the melody for the popular Christmas carol “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” with powerful lyrics written in 1849 by  Edmund Hamilton Sears.

Throughout its history the carol has been controversial for its focus more on the universal human hope for peace than the birth of Christ in  Bethlehem. Sears’ message was written with concern of revolution in Europe, the United States-Mexican War, and slavery. During World War I American soldiers sang “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” in the trenches of France during the holiday season.

The song went to war and home with a generation who made it a part of their holiday traditions. Years later U.S. troops took the song back to the front lines of World War II and entertainers such as Bing Crosby sang the carol in Europe at U.S. O. shows. The haunting music and words of “peace on earth” voiced the hopes of homesick soldiers. “Man at war with man hears not the love song which they bring. Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.”

The angel’s voices continue to be ignored. . . this carol’s words raise the ever-contemporary issue of war and peace and perennial hope and call for peace on earth. . . a message that motivated Charles to write Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance.

I am also amazed to find out that Willis composed music for “Gaudeamus Igitur,” the beloved Latin student drinking song.  Mainly sung at graduation ceremonies “Gaudeamus” is a light-hearted composition with lyrics written in the tradition of carpe diem with urgings to enjoy life.

Charles mentions “Gaudeamus” in Border Crossings.  “Vlasta, three years older than I, attended the school in Rimavská Sobota, the district city. She studied Latin and French in school, and these fascinated me when she practiced them at home. She did not like my interference when I tried to repeat expressions after her, but she couldn’t keep this song from me: 

Gaudeamus igitur

Juvenes dum sumus.

Post jucundam juventutem,

Post molestam senectutem,

Nos habebit humus. 

[Let us rejoice therefore

While we are young.

After a pleasant youth,

After a troubling old age,

The earth will have us.] 

I could sing it better than she after I dug up the words from her papers when she wasn’t home.”

Additional information on Richard Storrs Willis. . . He studied at Yale University and was president of the schools’ Beethoven Society. After graduating in 1841, he spent the next six years in Germany, studying theory in Frankfurt and Leipzig where he became a member of Felix Mendelssohn’s circle. Returning to America, he supported himself as a music critic and wrote and edited publications including the periodical Musical World from the 1850s into the 1860s. When the Civil War began, Willis moved to Detroit, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Willis, a widower married the widow, Alexandrine Macomb Sheldon Campau, of Detroit in 1861. She had inherited many properties from her late husband John Barnabas Campau, including part of Belle Isle, Detroit’s island park. Alexandrine and Richard also owned the land on which Charles and my residence was built in 1904/1905. While doing my research I located a deed, dated October 1. 1864 from the Willis’s sale of the land which is located in what is now known as the Willis-Selden Historic District.

There are many other historic pieces of information about the Willis’s, but that’s for another blog. . . I will mention, however, that Mr. Willis was on the Detroit Public Library Commission in the 1880s and 1890s and even served as its president!

Local Author Fair and a Sketch

sanddyportraitandylockwoodLast Saturday while I was exhibiting BORDER CROSSINGS Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, I had my sketch done by two author/illustrators at the Orion Township Public Library’s “The Giving Season: Local Author (and Illustrator) Fair.” One of them was Andy Lockwood who describes himself as a writer, filmmaker, wanderer, poet, imagineer, bibliophile, cinephile, all-around adventurer and sometimes artist. He has two degrees in film and is currently employed in the education technology field. Andy is the author of the supernatural horror novel EMPTY HALLWAYS and co-producer of the short film ATLAS. Thanks, Andy! It was a pleasure meeting you and fun being sketched!  

Participating in events like this helps to promote books and strengthen ties with other authors and publishers which creates a great environment for learning more about writing and publishing.


Border Crossings at Eastern Market Holiday Market

bcholidaymarketCome for fun and local holiday shopping to the 2014 Sunday Street Market Holiday Market on December 7 and December 14 from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. inside Shed 3 at Detroit’s Eastern Market. My 1021 Press booth will be there with my late husband Charles Novacek’s award-winning memoir BORDER CROSSINGS: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance and notecards and bookplates with Charles’ painting “Still Life at 13” painted during World War II.

At the holiday market you’ll find Michigan-made gifts, jewelry, clothing, art, music and food galore, locally grown trees and trimming, food trucks, carolers and even Jolly Old Saint Nick. Holiday-themed food and beverage vendors, and last but certainly not least, a wonderful selection of LOCALLY-SOURCED GIFTS and HOLIDAY GOODIES will be available to help check everything off this season’s shopping list. Official hashtags to use in social media plans! #SundayStMkt #HolidayMktDet.

27 Authors at Orion Township Library “The Giving Season: Local Author Fair”

bcsandynovacekembassycr400Meet Sandra Novacek and 26 authors and illustrators from the Metro Detroit area at the Orion Township Library’s “The Giving Season – Local Author Fair on Saturday, December 6, 2014 from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Books for readers of all ages will be available for signing and purchase. This is a perfect opportunity to find holiday gifts for your favorite readers.

Sandra Novacek is a librarian, writer, editor, and owner of 1021 Press in Detroit, Michigan. Widowed in 2007, Sandra has dedicated herself to fulfilling her late husband Charles Novacek’s’ wish for publication of his memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of 9780985415105-JacketGray_novacek.inddAge in the Czech Resistance, a firsthand account of his life spent as a boy in the Czech Resistance during World War II and the Cold War. Endorsed by Madeleine Albright, the memoir, published in late 2012, has been a finalist and/or winner of 14 awards for independently published books including a Gold Medal for Autobiography/Memoir in the 2012 Midwest Book Awards.

Click here for a list of attending authors and illustrators.

The Orion Township library is located at 825 Joslyn Road, Lake Orion, Michigan 48362, www.orionlibrary.org.

Czech Resistance Subject of Genealogical Society Talk


November in Námĕšt nad Oslavou

bohemian-moravian-highlands-zdar2bwKarel (Charles) Novacek was nearly seventeen years old when on May, 9 1945, his homeland of CzechoSlovakia was liberated from Nazi Germany, mainly by the Russians from the East, and  also by the Americans from the West. Freedom at last! Soon after Russian troops occupied the country and Charles’ struggle for freedom and work in the Czech resistance continued.

In the following excerpt from his memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, Charles recalls happier days before occupation and wartime.

“November brought about nostalgic feelings for bygone days. The leaves were almost gone, and I found myself compelled to go to Námĕšt to walk my hills. My thoughts raced through my head, swirling like the last leaves in the wind; I had brought my journal along, and stopped for a moment to record all that moved in my mind:

     I walk slowly over a low ridge and muse over the intermittent murmur of a stream now cresting over its banks in the valley. Anxiously my eyes try to penetrate the fine bluish vapor emanating from the forests scattered around me and from the hills on the other side of the valley. I turn reluctantly from the colorful background to keep walking.   

     My gaze falls on parched grass stalks bordering my walk, now muddy after a gentle rain. Many water droplets wreathe the bent grass like small pearls, reflecting a stunning spectrum of crystal tears shattered by the toes of my shoes. I reach the top of the hill anamestbrifgeandchurchbwnd suddenly a precious vision is revealed to me: the sun’s rays reflecting red on the roofs of Námĕšt. In the square is a church, a monument of old Gothic architecture; its bell chimes, imploring heaven, calling folk to pray. My sight moves from the church, over the statues on the stone bridge, and stops at the majestic castle. Its silhouette shines brightly from the blue-gray behind it. The massive battlements crown the enormous walls, seeming to resonate a festive tune to the countryside, as if singing about long gone medieval glory. Wherever I look, nature triumphantly responds.   

     Here I lived for seven years, through beautiful and bad times.       

     All of this reminds me of the Low Tatras region in Slovakia; that was also my home, where I spent my youngest years. It was lovely there, until the Nazis brutally divided our Republic, and I, together with my family, had to depart. Knowing that I was not going to an utterly foreign country, I knew that here, in the place where I now stand, I would find another home, and that Moravia would surely give me all that I need.    

     I was not disappointed, and hoping that soon we would be free, I lived my sad youth until that freedom came, when everyone breathed a sigh of relief and I believed that I could start a new and happy life.    

     Now I work with joy, and shall try to prove that I am a worthwhile member of the human race.        

Shortly after I wrote these words, the joy to which I looked forward vanished, and we all started a new struggle for survival.”

International Students’ Day – November 17th


bcjJanOpletalThe 17th of November is INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’ DAY, an observance of student activism throughout the world. The date commemorates the anniversary of the 1939 demonstrations in Prague, Czechoslovakia by Czech students against the German Nazi occupation which resulted in the killing of Jan Opletal – an aspiring medical student by Nazi soldiers. The student’s funeral procession which was held on the 15th of November led to thousands of students, who used the occasion as another anti– Nazi demonstration. In a brutal retaliation all Czech higher education institutions were closed down; Nazi troopers stormed the University of Prague, more than 1,200 students were jailed or sent to concentration camps; and nine students and professors were executed without trial two days later on the 17th of November 1939. This day has further significance for Czechs. In 1989, the 50th anniversary of these events sparked the Velvet Revolution, the beginning of the end of communist rule. 

Border Crossings at SC4 Global Awareness Day


globalhorizontalSt. Clair County(Michigan) Community College’s 18th annual Global Awareness Day is set for Wednesday, November 19, 2014. This year’s theme is “Holocaust, Persecution and Refugees.”

The day’s schedule includes emotional stories from survivors and refugees and experts discussing current refugee crises, including in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.

All events are free and in the Fine Arts Theatre on the college’s Port Huron, Michigan (48061-5015) campus at  323 Erie Street.  Global Awareness Day is presented by the college’s Global Awareness Taskforce.

bcsandynovacekembassycr400I’m honored to be doing the evening keynote to tell Charles’ story!

  • 7 to 8:30 p.m. – “Resistance.” Sandra A. Novacek will share the story of her late husband, Charles Novacek, who was a member of the Czech underground resistance during World War II against the Nazis, as well as his resistance against the Soviet communists after the war. 

Here’s the rest of the day’s schedule, starting at 10 a.m.

  • 10 to 11:15 a.m. – “Natalia’s Story.” Hear the dramatic story of Natalia Malaydakh, who was rescued by a local American family after her homeland of the Ukraine was invaded by Russia. Her host parents, Linda and Greg Binda worked tirelessly to bring her to the U.S. Learn about her experience, which is part of the larger story of what is happening in the Ukraine today, and hear how one family chose to make a difference.
  •  12:30 to 1:45 p.m. – “Holocaust survivors Rene Lichtman and Esther Lupian.” Rene Lichtman and Esther Lupian, who were children when the Nazis were rounding up Jews for execution, will share their stories. Rene was living in France when the war began and hid in plain sight after being adopted by a family who risked their lives to keep him safe. Esther’s mother saved her by escaping the ghetto and living in the forest for months.
  • 2:30 to 3:50 p.m. – “Rescue.” Although much credit has been given to gentiles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, research is coming to light about Jewish rescuers. Rene Lichtman will discuss the current research on this topic followed by a screening of the film “On the Wings of Eagles.” The film tells the story of the community of Le Chambon, which was responsible for saving 3,000 to 5,000 Jews from certain death.
  •  4 to 5 p.m. – “ISIS, Persecution and Refugees.” In Iraq and Syria, many people fear for their lives as ISIS advances. Rampant sexual slavery, forced marriages, torture, beheadings and mass executions are causing a flood-tide of refugees. Hear Dr. Bassim Gorial, founder and CEO of the Arab Broadcasting Network, discuss the current persecution of those who differ from the radical ideology of ISIS.
  • 6 to 7 p.m. – “International Reception in SC4’s Fine Arts Galleries.” Join us for a meet and greet with SC4’s international students and foreign exchange students from local high schools. The international students represent several countries, each with their own unique culture and way of life. Refreshments will be provided.
  • 7 to 8:30 p.m. – “Resistance.” Sandra A. Novacek will share the story of her late husband, Charles Novacek, who was a member of the Czech underground resistance during World War II against the Nazis, as well as his resistance against the Soviet communists after the war. She will be draw upon his story featured in “Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance.”

For more information about SC4’s Global Awareness Day, contact Kraig Archer at karcher@sc4.edu or (810) 989-5695.

See more at: http://www.sc4.edu/global/#sthash.Cmf4yJ7T.dpuf.