June 24, 2020

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp '72 with the Czech Educational Foundation of Texas directors and their distinguished guests representing the William J. Hlavinka '50 Fellowship Endowment at the Texas A&M vs. Lamar University football game in fall 2019.

The values and customs of the Central European area now known as the Czech Republic continue to influence many Texans’ way of life. The cultural standards first brought to the Lone Star State by a group of poor immigrants two centuries ago include a commitment to close-knit families and reverence for the land.

These values and customs are closely aligned with Texas A&M University’s mission and core values, creating a natural affinity. “So many Aggies through the years have had Czech backgrounds,” said Dr. Clinton Machann ’69, a retired Texas A&M professor emeritus, retired chairman emeritus for the Czech Educational Foundation of Texas (CEFT) and chairman of the College of Liberal Arts’ advisory group for the William J. Hlavinka Fellowship. “Traditionally, Aggies were associated with agriculture—life on a farm, the rural way of life. That mission attracted Czech families to this tremendous university.”

To strengthen this nationality’s deep roots at Texas A&M, the CEFT created an endowed fellowship in memory of William J. Hlavinka ’50 through the Texas A&M Foundation. The endowment, created by the Hlavinka family in 1999, recognized the noted East Bernard businessman, who managed Boettcher-Hlavinka Co. from the mid-1950s until his death in 1992. During that time, the company, which was an International Harvester franchisee, became one of the nation’s largest-volume dealers of the mechanical cotton picker in the 1950s and machinery to support large-scale rice farming in the 1970s.

Hlavinka was also among the first Czech Texans to attend Texas A&M, and he created a family tradition of becoming an Aggie. To date, approximately 50 members of Hlavinka’s immediate family—including his two brothers, nieces, nephews and their descendants—have studied at Texas A&M, and more generations are expected to follow. Hlavinka also encouraged other Czech Texans from East Bernard, Wharton and surrounding counties to attend Texas A&M.

A recent CEFT William J. Hlavinka Fellow, Tereza Walsbergerová ’20 (right), and Lynette Urbanovsky ’07 (left), CEFT director and vice chairman of the William J. Hlavinka Fellowship, attend a Texas A&M football game.

Czech Roots in the Lone Star State

The Hlavinka endowment is one of three established at Texas universities by the CEFT. The University of Texas at Austin received the first endowment in the early 1900s and now has a Texas Chair in Czech Studies. The University of North Texas also has a residency and endowment that specifically focus on Czech music. 

When initially created, Texas A&M’s endowment funded a two-year fellowship to support a Czech graduate student who was earning a Master of Arts degree in English with an emphasis on American literature. The CEFT is now working with the College of Liberal Arts to reclassify the Hlavinka endowment to bring a visiting Czech scholar to Texas A&M. In addition, the CEFT leadership is organizing a fundraising campaign to create a Czech chair in the College of Liberal Arts.  

Tereza Walsbergerová ’20, a fourth-year doctoral student of English at Masaryk University in Brno, is the most recent graduate student to receive support from the Hlavinka endowment. “I’ve always been a bookworm, ever since I was really small, so studying literature felt like a natural choice to me,” the resident of Brno, Czech Republic said. “The reason why I chose to do it in English rather than Czech is that English is, in my opinion, the official language of world pop culture. If you cannot understand and present yourself in English, it can be hard to become a part of important cultural conversations.”

This experience, which was the her first trip to the United States, opened her eyes to the deep Czech influence in Texas. “I decided to come to Texas A&M because it was a phenomenal opportunity for me in terms of my research. I also had not done any study abroad up to that point in my life, so I thought this would be an amazing way to remedy that,” she said. “Additionally, the connection to the Czech community and history really intrigued me. I was really curious about the Czech-American community in Texas and eager to meet some of the senior citizens who still spoke some Czech. It felt like being offered a time capsule in a way.”

This experience also helps these students appreciate the rich history of being an Aggie. “One of the great things about students being able to be here is that the students are able to experience being an Aggie,” said Lynette Urbanovsky ’07, who is on the CEFT Board of Directors and serves as vice chairman for the College of Liberal Arts’ advisory group for the William J. Hlavinka Fellowship. “The visiting Czech students are able to learn about the culture and traditions at Texas A&M University.  While in Texas, the Czech Aggie students have been able to experience some of the traditions like Midnight Yell, Texas Aggie Football and Basketball games. Being a former student myself, there is nothing greater than being part of that and seeing the students’ first experience with these Aggie traditions.”

The Mother Tongue

The CEFT Hlavinka fellowship also benefits the Brazos Valley community since the recipient is encouraged to participate in public service and outreach, including teaching weekly Czech language classes hosted by the Brazos Valley Czech Heritage Society.  “These classes are open to anyone,” Urbanovsky said. “We’ve had numerous participants, ranging from high school students to individuals in their 80s, who sometimes bring their children and grandchildren to the classes.” 

The CEFT Hlavinka Fellowship also benefits the Brazos Valley community since the recipient is encouraged to participate in public service and outreach, including teaching weekly Czech language classes hosted by the Brazos Valley Czech Heritage Society.

These classes also offer a peek into the Czech Republic’s rich cultural heritage, including folk music and foods such as the kolache.  “We focused on learning vocabulary and grammar but also bits and pieces about Czech history and culture,” Walsbergerová said. “I miss my students a lot, because even though I taught them some Czech during those two semesters, it was actually them who taught me so much more about the history of Czechs and Moravians in Texas.”

These types of exchanges between the recipient of the Hlavinka endowment and the broader university community are helping to foster a closer relationship between the Lone Star State and the Czech Republic. “I actually think that this endowment can be considered kind of a symbol of that very bridge between the Czech Republic and America—or, more precisely, Texas, because there is a difference,” Walsbergerová added. “Since I have returned back home, the same principle applies, only in reverse, as now I get to talk about Texas and Czech-Texans to Czechs who may not know that there is this large active Czech community in Texas. I feel it is paramount that this fellowship continues, in whatever shape or form, because it benefits both sides and enriches both cultures.”

For more information on how to support the CEFT William J. Hlavinka Czech Fellowship, contact Larry Walker ’97 using the form below or Lynette Urbanovsky ’07 at lurbanovsky@gmail.com and 979-450-1820.