WORLD FOCUS: Becoming an American

During my daily walks at Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area, I take a rest at a bench adjacent to the Governor’s Palace. The bench overlooks the Palace Greens. Tourists often join me, and we start a conversation. They soon notice my accent, and they ask me where I am from.

My standard answer is: “Originally, I came from Czechoslovakia, then I became a ‘Yankee’ in New York state, and now I am a ‘redneck’ living in Williamsburg. My answer usually amuses them and leads to more questions.

My late wife, Jaroslava, and I arrived at the port of New York City on the old Queen Mary in l958 as refugees from communist Czechoslovakia. We lived in New York City, then Cleveland, Ohio for a few years. My wife was a fashion designer, and I served as the foreign news editor of the largest Hungarian language newspaper, Szabadsag, (Liberty,) in Cleveland.

While on a short vacation in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state, we fell in love with nature there, the mountains, the deep forests and the lakes. We decided to settle there. My wife’s background as a fashion designer prompted us to open a boutique store on the Main Street of Lake Placid.

The small mountain village of Lake Placid was the site of two Winter Olympics. It was a good place to start a new business. While my wife ran the store, I kept writing on world affairs.

Reading about Alexis De Tocqueville’s observations about American democracy, I followed his advice and integrated myself into American society by joining local organizations, becoming part of the community.

But I went a step further. Using my journalistic connections and multi-language capabilities, I helped Lake Placid to secure the approval of the International Olympic Committee, to be the site of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. One of the decisive votes was cast by a Czechoslovak member of the IOC. I served as his interpreter.

Once Lake Placid was chosen as the site of the 1980 Games, a group of locals felt there is a need to inform and educate the 2,500 year-round residents of the village about world affairs. I founded the Lake Placid Council on Foreign Policy, and together with Paul Smith’s College and North Country Community College, our monthly lecture series, held in the Olympic Arena, became a forum for serious discussions.

It helped that Ambassador Roger W. Tubby, once President Truman’s press secretary, served as chairman of the Lake Plaid Council on Foreign Policy. He was able to secure prominent individuals as speakers.

Informed residents became the backbone of the Olympic People-for-People Program. During the 1980 Winter Olympics, hundreds of residents opened their homes to athletes from around the world, hosting them for dinners, taking them shopping and sightseeing.

The Olympic People-for-People Program was judged to have been the most successful non-sporting event of the Games. Served by volunteers, it didn’t cost the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee a cent.

Just as our first vacation in the Adirondack Mountains promoted us to settle in Lake Placid, a visit to Williamsburg decades later made us decide to have a second home in Virginia.

Eventually, we sold our store in Lake Placid and spent the next 42 years living a dual life, part of the year in the ‘Burg and part of it in Lake Placid.

Williamsburg played a major role in turning me into a deeply patriotic American. The historic milieu created by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the College of William & Mary have been the ingredients that fueled my weekly columns published during the past 42 years in the Virginia Gazette, and many times reprinted in the Lake Placid News.

I have never forgotten how much I owe to this country for the opportunity to live in freedom and be able to succeed.

Two resolutions by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, passed 20 years apart, attest to it, my efforts have not been in wain (Frank Shatz, Virginia Senate Joint Resolution 2021 SJ 336).

When 42 years ago, Bill O’Donovan, at that time editor of the Gazette, hired me as a columnist, I mentioned how funny it is, that considering my foreign accent I am writing for one of America’s oldest newspapers.

O’Donovan responded: “When they read your column, they cannot hear your accent.”

(Frank Shatz is a former resident of Lake Placid and a current resident of Williamsburg, Virginia. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his columns. This column is used with permission by the Virginia Gazette.)

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