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Friends, food draw residents to party

Masaryktown honors its founder's birthday with traditional Slavic dishes and polka music.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 2001

MASARYKTOWN -- Sunday's stormy weather didn't keep crowds from the dance floor at Masaryktown's annual birthday celebration for its founder, Tomas G. Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia.

Least of all, John and Helen Rudy, who celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary with a short waltz around the floor.

"We come nearly every year," said Helen Rudy, who spends summers in Pittsburg and winters in Masaryktown. "The dancing and friendships mean a lot to us."

Many years ago, the birthday celebration was a weekendlong outdoor event. People from miles around gathered on the grounds of the Masaryktown Grammar School for authentic Slavic dinners of potatoes, sauerkraut, applesauce and traditional pastries. Chicken and kielbasa was cooked on large, open-air grills. After dinner, live bands played, and folk and polka dancers took the stage.

A bit winded after coming off the dance floor, Mert and Sandy Capes said that they never miss the annual event and the chance to polka.

"We did a little too much polka after all that food," said Sandy Capes. "But it's a lot of fun."

Regulars at the annual event for 55 years, the Brooksville couple met at a dance in Minnesota. They were engaged to be married after five dates.

"We came here to the complex as strangers, and before we left, we knew everyone," said Sandy Capes. "It's like a family here."

Many of Masaryktown's original settlers were Czechoslovakian immigrants from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York who made their living in the citrus industry.

When hard freezes brought hard times, many were driven back North. Those who stayed found work in the poultry industry, introduced to the area by Stephen Otruba and Dominik Voscinar.

By noon Sunday, nearly 200 tickets had been sold for lunches of traditional Slavic fare, said Masaryktown's honorary mayor, Pauline Chorvat. In the entryway of the Masaryktown Community Center, built after the grammar school burned in 1974, women sold traditional pastries and Czech specialties such as lekvar, a prune butter used in Slavic dishes.

For 77 years, the traditional birthday event has been held on the first Sunday of March, Chorvat said. Next year's event may be held later in the month.

"There are a lot of other things to compete with us," said Chorvat, who cited the monthly Hernando County Jazz Society concert and poor weather for smaller attendance than usual.

Carolyn Blaha met many of her friends at the community center in 1986 when she moved to Masaryktown and worked at a local bank.

"I didn't know how to dance, but I knew I wanted to," said Blaha, who took dance lessons at a Dade City studio.

"It's the lively band, good food and nice people that keep people coming back," Blaha said. "We love this."

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