Tour of Pavelka farm caps special week at Cather Conference
BLADEN, Neb. (AP) — Walking the brick streets of Red Cloud, listening to the wind blow through the prairie grasses and watching the birds fly overhead are all part of what Willa Cather fans love when they make the pilgrimage to south-central Nebraska.
One stop of special significance for lovers of “My Antonia” is the Pavelka farmstead south of Bladen. That home is where John and Anna Pavelka, the inspiration for Cather’s novel, lived and raised their 10 children. A majority of the stories portrayed in the novel closely follow Pavelka’s life.
The Hastings Tribune reports that this most-famous of Cather’s works was the feature work during the 2018 Willa Cather Conference in Red Cloud May 30 through June 2, coming just months before the 100th anniversary of the book’s original publication.
For that reason, Cather conference attendees were given a special treat Saturday when they were able to not only visit the Pavelka farm but walk through the front door, take photos of the linoleum floor in the upstairs loft and even meet with some of the Pavelka descendants.
“I think being in a place does make you think about the history, the culture, the literature, everything differently,” said Shana Latimer, a scholar from Atlanta. “I think it will take time to absorb that as I reread the novel and study Cather.”
In all, more than 75 people made the pilgrimage to the farm from Red Cloud, including about 40 descendants of Anna Pavelka.
Of those, four of Pavelka’s grandchildren were in attendance: Antonette Skupa Turner of Bladen; David Pavelka of Golden, Colorado; Judy Pavelka Duncan of Tempe, Arizona; and Beth Pavelka Boher of Hastings.
Anna Hoyt of Culbertson is a granddaughter of Antonette Skupa Turner and great-granddaughter to Anna Pavelka. She and her family made the trip to the family farm Saturday, as well.
For Hoyt, the book is a personal connection that helps to keep bringing her and her family together.
“I’m so thankful that Willa Cather thought it important enough to make an archive of my great-grandmother’s story,” she said. “It’s so special and personal and gives my family a greater connection and brings us together.”
During Saturday’s gathering at the Pavelka farmstead, the guests were treated to a presentation by Mary Levesque on the genealogy of the Sadilek family going back to Czechoslovakia. Anna Pavelka and her family came to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia.
Levesque spoke of some of the homes where family lived and of Anna Pavelka’s siblings, including her oldest sister, Marie, who was already married with a young daughter and opted to stay in Czechoslovakia.
“You may have descendants there but through two female lines it might be hard to trace, especially since it’s in the 20th century,” Levesque said to the Pavelka descendants. “But it’s possible there is somebody out there related to you guys pretty closely. That would be third cousins.”
The biggest announcement of the day came from Willa Cather Foundation executive director Ashley Olson during her introduction.
“You might recall in book five Jim Burden he’s going back to see Antonia and he recounts he’s been west several times in traveling for business but he’s been reluctant to go back and see Antonia because he’s afraid he might find her ‘aged and broken,’” Olson said.
She said Cather Foundation staff and members have the same fears about what guests might think when they visit the Pavelka farm.
“So I am so pleased and humbled to let you know we are receiving a very generous gift that gets us half way to where we need to be to restore this home and that gift came from Antonette Turner, so we want to thank her,” she said.
That comes on the heels of action by the Nebraska Legislature earlier this year to transfer ownership of the property from the Nebraska Historical Society back to the Cather Foundation, which allows them to raise private funds to make the necessary improvements.
“We can do things like we’ve dreamed about — replanting the orchard to the east and doing more interpretation and doing all sorts of thing to return it to its former glory and make it a really lively happening and engaging place for tourists,” Olson said. “So we’re really excited about that.”
Olson said after the presentation that the foundation is still in the early planning stages and silent campaign phase of the Pavelka farm restoration project so she would not release any campaign goals or other information.
“This means a lot to me today how Anna’s family has grown to the great-great- great-grandchildren of Antonia who are here today,” Turner said. “This is why I am contributing a nice fund to keep this legacy going of Antonia.”
Information from: Hastings Tribune, http://www.hastingstribune.com