Czech Celebration

Rudy and Jan Krajca Ozymy didn’t meet until they both had finished school. “We met at a dance in Elm Mott, a small town outside Waco, near West,” Jan remembered, stating that was the place to be on Saturday night. “I went that particular evening with one of my girlfriends.”

They grinned, agreeing that first meeting was love at first sight. Rudy and Jan’s legacy didn’t begin when they married on November 10, 1962. The heritage they continue to build upon first began when the Ozymy family journeyed from Czechoslovakia to America in the 1890s. “My grandparents, Paul and Terezie, came to the U.S. from Moravia,” Rudy explained. “Paul arrived in New York, while Terezie’s first stop was Galveston.”

ENNMAYMAIN_Page_7_Image_0001They settled in Burleson County, Texas, and married on May 21, 1890, in Caldwell, Texas. From there, Rudy’s grandparents drifted from several small towns between Texas and Oklahoma. Rudy’s dad, Rudolph, was the last child born to this union while they were still living in Bomarton, Texas, in Baylor County. One hundred years ago, in 1915, they finally planted their family roots in Ennis, and the service-minded family has been going strong ever since. Rudolph married Agnes Kubin in 1935. They also made their home in Ennis, where Rudolph and his brother, Tommy, were self-employed. “They hauled gasoline from East Texas Refineries,” Rudy shared. “After a few years of traveling up and down the highway, Dad branched out on his own and opened Ozymy Oil & Gas Co. I grew up at the station.

That was back in the days when gas stations were full-service.” Rudy laughs as he recalls having to stand on a box to reach and wash the windshields. “I met so many people there,” he added. “I got my real-life education at the gas station.” Rudy grew up in the city and attended Ennis High School, while Jan recalls growing up in the country and going to school at St. John Catholic School. When they married, the best of both of their worlds were merged into one, and after 52 years of marriage, five children and 14 grandchildren, they have withstood the test of time. “We were a family of farmers,” Jan said, referring to her family that settled in Ennis in 1901. “Rudy and I both came from wholesome families that believed in working hard.” Rudy and his family have definitely followed in the footsteps left by his grandparents and parents.

The service station was replaced with Dairy Mart, a drive-in restaurant, in 1957, and by 1968, the family had purchased the Geneva Motel located about a block from the Dairy Mart. Rudy took over the operations of the Dairy Mart during the 1970s and ’80s. “My days were spent flipping burgers and going down the street to repair things at the motel,” he laughed. In 1984, Rudy and Jan decided it was time to venture further into the business of hospitality, so they sold the Dairy Mart and the motel and opened the Quality Inn, the first hotel of its size in Ellis County. The couple’s oldest child, Bryan, has been the hotel’s only manager, while their middle daughter, Laura, works the front desk, some midnight shifts and, on occasion, will prepare breakfast. Their youngest, Jason, does most of the landscaping, maintenance and tech support. Gina is the oldest daughter. Her job outside the Ennis area allows her lots of travel time, while Sherri, the youngest daughter, works as a physical therapist in Ennis and surrounding areas. Two grandchildren, Cody, Gina’s son, and Mariah, Laura’s daughter, also work at the Inn as front desk service agents. The memories the Ozymy family still enjoys include the relationships and friendships they’ve made in their business ventures. Many of those remembrances are centered on and around the Annual Polka Festival that celebrates its 49th year later this month.

ENNMAYMAIN_Page_5_Image_0001The Festival started as just an idea and blossomed into a three-day-long event that brought the Ennis community together as a collective whole. After visiting several other cities, Raymond Zapletal, Len Gehrig and Joe Liska saw the overwhelming affect polka bands were having on people who had emigrated from Czechoslovakia. They believed people from all over the country could be brought to Ennis for the same reason. In 1967, the trio presented their idea to Jack McKay, manager of the Chamber of Commerce at the time, along with the citizens of Ennis. One of the largest polka festivals in the country was born out of this meeting.

The 49th Annual National Polka Festival promises to bring more than 50,000 visitors to the city, and Rudy, Jan and Bryan have differing opinions as to why it’s been so successful for so many years. “The Polka Festival is here to stay. As Czechs, the memories keep us strong,” Jan said. “The older I get, the more I’ve come to appreciate the history of the festival and all it represents.” “The festival revived the Czech heritage in Ennis, while blending the Czech population with the American population,” Rudy shared. “The festival brought everyone together. It’s everyone’s festival now.” Rudy and Jan totally agree it takes many behind-the-scenes people who have a heart for volunteering to make the festival an annual success. “They make it happen,” Jan said, as Rudy nodded in agreement. “They are the unseen heroes of 49 consecutive years of polka.”

As the fourth generation to carry on the Ozymy name, Bryan takes great pride in his heritage. He enjoys hearing the stories of how his ancestors made their way, many times perilously across ocean and rough, dangerous terrain, to Ennis — to the land that offered them a better way of life. “It has been a lot of hard work,” Bryan said, “but it’s been worth it. I’ve learned not to forget where my family came from.” Remembering their roots and keeping the history of five generations alive in story and photographs is important to the longevity of the family and the legacy they choose to leave for generations to come.

Breakfast each morning has proven to be a special time for Rudy, especially during the Polka Festival weekend. “I cook breakfast every morning at the Quality Inn,” he reiterated. “This is the time when I get to see the guests, meet and talk with them face-to-face. Conversation over breakfast is so easy. We experience the festival through our guests.” When asked when they are thinking about retiring, Rudy and Jan smile as Bryan gives a little laugh. “Retire to what?” Rudy asked in all seriousness. “I love being busy.” Jan agreed wholeheartedly. “I didn’t start working outside the home until we opened the Quality Inn, and that was 31 years ago,” she said. “I like taking the occasional weekend off, but it’s hard to slow Rudy down.”

They agree that working not only keeps them young, but it keeps them informed about the community where their family planted roots a century ago, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Written by Sandra Strong.