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Immigrant grandfather sparks a love of diversity in his grandson
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Photo: Submitted
Karel Dusek, left, is pictured in his Gladbook, Iowa, meat market in 1920.
Photo: Submitted
In July 2012, 42 descendants of Karel 'Charlie' Dusek gathered at Ellis Island to mark the 100th anniversary of his arrival there. From left are Charlie's daughter, Anna Hustedde, Milwaukee, and five of her seven children: William Hustedde, Milwaukee; Mary Cohen Ehlen, St. Louis; Margaret Skelton, Minneapolis; Michael Hustedde, Davenport; and Barbara Mathews, Marshalltown, Iowa.
Photo: Submitted
The 1917 wedding portrait of Karel Dusek, who later changed his name to Charles, and Antonete, or Tony, Jindrich.
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Ellis Island … the name evokes black-and-white images of Southern and Eastern European immigrants arriving by the literal boatload on the shores of the United States. Men in the photos wear dark suit coats and soft hats, and sometimes sport amazing facial hair, and the women are clothed in long, dark skirts and light-colored blouses, with their hair covered with patterned kerchiefs. The faces in the photographs reflect determination, confusion, desperation and hope.

One hundred years ago, on July 30, 1912, 20-year-old Karel Dusek arrived at Ellis Island at the end of a nearly six-week trip originating in Bohemia, Austria-Hungary (today, the country is the Czech Republic).

Thus began my grandfather's life in America, which ultimately has led to my interest in topics and people both foreign and domestic!

His processing in the Arrival Hall at Ellis Island was uneventful and efficient. Within hours of arrival, he was on his way by rail to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a city to which earlier immigrants had encouraged him to travel to practice his trade as a butcher.

Karel had come to America as a sojourner, one who hoped to earn sufficient capital to allow him to return to Bohemia with enough money to set up his own butcher shop. But with the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, any return to Europe was out of the question.

Karel started his business life in Cedar Rapids. While working for a meat market in what is now Czech Village in Cedar Rapids, he attended a church event where he met my grandmother, who was working as a hired domestic. Karel and Antonete Jindrich, known as Tony, married in 1917.

They moved to Mount Vernon when he found work at a butcher shop there. Desiring his own shop, Karel later was attracted to Gladbrook, where this young, Bohemian Catholic took up running the only butcher shop in a very German Protestant Iowa town.

While the Dusek family -- Karel, Tony and four children -- had to travel on Sundays to attend mass in other towns, they otherwise integrated themselves fully in Gladbrook, joining the social/fraternal organizations and the local business chamber and its auxiliary, and attending Bible school at local churches.

Part of the integration Karel underwent was legally changing his name from Karel to Charles, or as other townsfolk knew him, Charlie.

Frugality, quality and honesty defined the business plan of the Gladbrook Meat Market. Charlie and Tony saved regularly and invested in local farms when they came up for sale. At age 55, Charlie retired from the daily management of the meat market and focused on supporting other family members' businesses in Conrad, Marshalltown and rural areas near the Amana Colonies.

My grandfather also spent many hours trying to entice me to join him in the joys of fishing along farm creeks and the Cedar River. He and Grandma would take me in for weeks at a time when I was a small, overactive boy, in order to give my mother some needed rest.

Trips to the Black Hills, Minneapolis (pronounced Minnie-a-PO-lis) and Kentucky allowed me to watch my grandparents in action. They watched me, too, and I didn't get away with much.

Both grandparents spoke with an accent, Grandpa's much stronger because he did not start learning English until his arrival in Iowa. As a child, I had no conception that either of them "spoke funny."

In the mid-1970s, I was teaching a unit on immigration to a high-school U.S. history class near Des Moines. The thought occurred to me that I could interview Grandpa Dusek and share his story with my students.

That 1975 cassette tape did not blow my students away as I thought it might. They had trouble understanding my grandfather's accented speech. I felt bad for my students because they didn't try to listen beyond the sounds.

At about the same time, the early waves of Southeast Asian refugees were being welcomed by then-Gov. Robert Ray to Iowa. This state was founded by immigrants who spoke Czech, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and several other mother tongues. In the 1970s, we were about to embark on the next major inflow of people, accents and cultural riches that would help to define the new Iowa of the 21st century.

My experience in the classroom combined with a work-abroad summer while still an undergraduate ignited in my wife and I the desire to sojourn ourselves. Picking up our almost 1-year-old daughter, we set off to spend four years working and living in Berlin.

Unlike the experience of my grandfather, we were true sojourners, who after four years were able to return to Iowa to re-establish ourselves as citizens of the state, but with interests that went beyond the usual Iowa fare.

The Quad-Cities is not as cosmopolitan as New York City, no question, but the diversity of people and languages found here -- which infuse our local culture with wonderful sounds, engaging festivals, out-of-the-mainstream music, and terrific restaurants -- pleases me. Unlike my students of 1975, whose exposure to a "funny" accent seems to have been limited to my cassette tape, today's students hear wonderful accents in local stores, restaurants, doctors' offices, and classrooms.

Karel "Charlie" Dusek came to the United States alone in July 1912. His living descendants number a little over 160 today. Forty-two of those descendants gathered on July 30, 2012, in the Grand Hall of the Immigration Station on Ellis Island to celebrate his arrival and our shared immigrant heritage.



In addition to teaching in the English Department, Michael Hustedde is also the director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
Czech Republic
-- Location:Central Europe, between Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria.

-- Population:10,177,300 (July 2012 estimate). No. 84 in the world.

-- Languages:Czech, 94.9 percent; Slovak, 2 percent; other, 2.3 percent; unidentified, 0.8 percent (2001 census).

Source: CIA World Factbook.


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