Czeching up on History

ENNIS, TX –  An Ennis native has a unique and endearing perspective on life — one that can be attributed to family, hard work and the integration of a people to an entirely new country and way of life. Today, Mary Betik Trojacek, a granddaughter of Czech immigrants, stands as a matriarchal symbol of an empire of Czech history and culture, especially for the Betik and Trojacek clans.

513ennisHer book, Beyond Ellis Island, depicts a simple way of life unfathomable to younger generations. “We lived in the great depression years,” Mary said. “Our kids wouldn’t know how to cope nowadays. This generation has so many giveaways. For us there was no welfare, or help like that coming from anywhere, but people made it. I call my parents and grandparents ‘the survivors,’ for each lived in a generation that truly tested their imagination and skills in methods of survival.” Mary’s mom and dad were born in Ennis, but her grandparents were originally from Czechoslovakia, and came to the United States by ship through the port of Galveston. Her paternal grandparents, the Betiks, arrived in 1901; her maternal grandparents, the Marusaks, landed the following year. Upon their arrival, Galveston was still recovering from the great hurricane of 1900, and Mary speculated that her family didn’t find exactly what they expected.

“The first Czechs that came to 8 EnnisNOW May 2013 America wrote letters to families back home saying that life in America was so bountiful the streets were paved with gold,” Mary recalled. Instead, widespread destruction was still evident in Galveston, but her grandparents were at a point of no return. They were in a new country, faced with unfamiliar customs, and a language they didn’t speak made it difficult for them to get around. They found a train station in Galveston, but it wasn’t in operation, so they walked for miles, carrying children and trunks. When the family found a station that was open, they boarded the train for their final destination – Ennis. There they were met by a friend from “the old country,” as Mary called it. Most immigrants settled in clumped areas with relatives where they depended on one another, bonded, worked and socialized.

They sharecropped on other immigrants’ farms until they saved enough money to buy land of their own. “These families, including children, really had to work to survive,” Mary said. “And always, there were enough chores to go around for everyone. Not one was left out.” In her book, Mary chronologically details their lives as immigrants in rural North America, sharing the many experiences farm life had to offer. Mary was born in Ennis on Christmas Day in 1929, to Joe and Frances Marusak Betik. The third of 10 children, Mary’s childhood was vastly different from that of today’s generation. She remembers a time in her youth when the only transportation was by horse and cart. Mary also noted that her family had no radio, refrigerator or running water until after she was of high school age. “Now, life is faster-paced, and people take these comforts and conveniences for granted so much,” Mary pointed out.” Immigrants who had done without had no sense of entitlement and valued whatever good came their way.” Beyond Ellis Island eloquently portrays the history of Mary’s family, and a segment of her husband’s family.

Easily read, Mary’s book flows in a harmony of anecdotes. Events of the past, supported and explained within the context of the time, give the account some historical value. Mary’s book documents her life through the age of 18 — a life that was secure, wholesome, happy and built on family unity. What was her inspiration and motivation for writing the book? “I wrote it for my kids,” Mary shared. “They kept asking me, ‘How were things when you were growing up?’ I would tell them bits here and there, but finally they just asked me to write 9 EnnisNOW May 2013 it down so they could have something to share with their children. So, I wrote down what I remembered. They were fascinated with the manuscript and insisted I have it published!” Mary and Jerry met while attending elementary school in Creechville. When Jerry was 9 years old his family moved from Telico to Creechville to a farm across the road from Mary’s family. When school buses came into being, they rode the same bus. Mary remembers it was on one of these bus rides her fondness for the boy across the street began.

The Betik home was set back quite a distance from the road. When it was muddy, she and her siblings wore old shoes to the bus stop, then walked over to the Trojaceks and changed their shoes on their front porch. One particularly muddy morning, Mary boarded the bus, and Jerry noticed she still had mud on the back of her legs. He pulled out a clean, white handkerchief and handed it to her to clean off the mud. “I thought it was so sweet, I’ve never forgotten it,” Mary smiled. “I remember thinking just how nice he was, and I guess that is when I started thinking I liked him. I’m not sure what point it was for him, though.” 11 EnnisNOW May 2013 The two didn’t make a connection until after graduating high school. Mary was in a nursing school in Dallas, and Jerry had enlisted in the Air Force. They were married in 1950 before her training was completed. After graduation, she moved to Wyoming to be with Jerry, and their first child was born there. Eventually, they relocated to Dallas, and in 1962 bought a farm in Ennis and have resided there ever since. Mary and Jerry, now retired, reared seven children.

They boast of having nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. “Between rearing a family, having a full-time job, being an experienced farm hand, marketing homegrown produce and working in the family nursery,” Mary said, “it has been a busy life!” Mary, Jerry and her ancestors faced many obstacles. But in the end, family, faith, commitment and confidence in themselves and in each other, motivated them to keep moving forward. “The Czechs have always been very family-oriented and believed in integrity, character and in doing the right thing,” Mary said. “They were known as workers and taught their kids how to work and be self-sufficient. I think that has been very important in our lives. You didn’t take anything for granted. You expanded on God-given talents. You worked hard and prayed a lot.”

Written by Hope Teel.