The Slovak Garden

The History of The Slovak Garden

The Slovak Garden. Slovak Americans had discussed creating a Slovak religious, charitable, literary, housing and retirement community as early as 1906, at the 10th National Slovak Society Convention in Connellsville, Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, the idea was constantly shuttled to the side. The idea did not become a reality until the late John and Maria Jerga successful Slovak immigrants from Detroit, Michigan, decided to establish the Slovak Garden community.

The seed was sown on November 10, 1939 as the Zivena Beneficial Society Branch 163 celebrated its 25th anniversary. During the program at the celebration, Mr. and Mrs. John Jerga presented a check in the amount of ten thousand dollars toward building the Slovak Garden for Slovak Americans. Mr. Jerga, ailing for years, had visited Florida frequently and often remarked how ideal it would be to have retirement community for Slovak Americans somewhere in Central Florida, near Orlando.

John Jerga

Jerga was born on October 1, 1884 in the little village called Barca in easter Slovakia located on the outskirts of the city Kosice. He came to America in 1905 at the age of twenty – one settled in Detroit, Michigan. Shortly thereafter he became a successful businessman and a community leader. He soon married Maria Strapec. They made frequent visits to Florida searching for a suitable location for a Slovak American retirement community.

Slovak Village in Winter Park

On February 23rd 1941 John Jerga made his last trip to Florida, where he suddenly died in West Palm Beach at the ago of 52. Jergo Road, seeing as the dividing line between the Slovak Garden and Slovak Village in Winter Park, Florida, was dedicated in his memory honoring John and his wife Maria for their generous donation of ten thousand dollars to the Slovak Garden, and the many charitable projects they funded and supported.

On August 1, 1941 a trust agreement was made between the widow Maria Jerga, and Zivena Beneficial Society to retain the donation of the thousand dollars in escrow until suitable place could be found to establish the proposed Slovak community.

Karol Belohlavek

The plan of creating this Slovak community in Florida took on a new image and began to gain momentum when Karol Belohlavek become a great promoter of the idea. He published numerous article in Slovak newspapers and solicited financial support from Slovak fraternal organizations and affluent individuals to finance and promote the Slovak community. Karol and Maria Jergo Belohlavek made several trips to Florida searching for an ideal location.

Finally, they succeeded in finding a forty-acre farm containing many acres of citrus groves, wooded areas and an old-fashioned two-bedroom house. The farm was located on Howel Branch Road near Winter Park, Florida, and only 12 miles east of the city of Orlando.

Zivena Beneficial Society

On February 5,1949 an agreement was reached with the owner, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Land Searching Committee, to purchase the farm for $13,750.00. The committee met in Pittsburgh, Pa. at the office of the Zivena Beneficial Society, and its 13 members reached an agreement on the following topics:

                     1. The name would be “Slovak Garden”

                     2. The organization temporary directors

                     3. All fraternal organizations were invited to participate

                     4. Appeals were made to all nationality groups to take active part in the organization

                     5. Election of the offices for next two years

The officers elected including: Andrew Gabor-President; Paul Blazek-Secretary; Mary Belohlavek-Treasurer; S. Busy-Donations Receiver; Karol Bolehlavek-Publicity/Manager; Anna Blazek and Suzanne Gabor-Member. On May 22, 1949 a special celebration was held at the Slovak Home in Detroit, Michigan; the donor, Mrs. Mary Belohlavek announced ” The Slovak Garden” as being a part and parcel of the Slovaks, marking this as a significant milestone in the progression of Slovak Americans.

Over 300 hundred members

Over 300 hundred members from many national and local organizations were represented, including one from Windsor, Canada. A resolution was adopted thanking the donor for this wonderful gift to the Slovak people. The Slovak organizations also began to respond with contributions. Publicity continued, as did the contributions.

The early fifty’s was a pioneering period for the organization. The Slovak Garden began to take on a new look. Builder Juraj Jakubcin completed the first apartment for four thousand dollars in 1950. Th additions of the new building and the clearing of the orange grovers and land, brought the property value up to forty thousand dollars.

Finally, on February 22, 1952 a charter was applied for and accepted by the Slovak Garden, officially established ” The Slovak Garden, A Home for American Slovaks, Inc.” The first meeting was held on March 7, 1952 and the elected officers included:

J.Kacir- President;  Mary Warren- Vice-president;  Emme Yaros-Secratary;  Mary Belohlavek-Treasurer;  Karl Belohlavek-Manager, Publisher of Floridsky Slovak;  Joseph Pollay-Director;  Johanna Novak-Director;  Stephen Magyar- Attorney / Legal Advisor.

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