Ray and Jean Petrzelka are grateful someone is working to save a big piece of their life story.
That someone is Linda Seger, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago. Seger and her family are working hard to repair their flooded home at 1629 Eighth St.NW. The 100-year-old house is in the “construction zone” around a planned levee. But the Segers, who drained their savings to save the home, are determined to stay put.
Now, thanks to Ray and Jean, the Segers also know the rest of the story about their home. “The more I hear about the house and the people who lived here, the more I feel I must save it,” Linda Seger said.
Jean Petrzelka’s grandfather, Carel Votava, built the house for his family, which emigrated from Czechoslovakia and landed at Ellis Island. Jean lived there with her grandparents, parents and brother. And the old place still echoes with stories of life, love, happiness, sorrow and comedy.
“I loved my grandma and grandpa. The house is very sentimental for me,” Jean said when I sat down to talk with her and Ray. They both grew up in the Ellis Park neighborhood during the 1930s and 1940s, when their parents often went to dances together and brought them along. They joke that they were “born married.”
It was quite a neighborhood and a remarkable time in the city’s history. Jean’s family, like everybody else, did whatever it could to get by in hard times. Both families at one time ran beer parlors peddling bootleg booze. Jean’s father once was storing a bootleg stash in the oven when her mother fired it up. “It just exploded,” Jean said.
Her mother, Frances, was a self-reliant, tough-minded “soldier,” as Jean puts it.
She held down multiple jobs. Frances also came from Czechoslovakia, alone on a ship as a young girl. And her language skills helped Frances become a big asset to Killian’s Department Store, where she was sought out by Czech-speaking customers.
But her toughest job came after Jean’s father took his life in 1941. “My mother was very good about making sure we didn’t get too far down in the dumps,” Jean said.
And in those days, you could depend on your neighbors to help pull you through. Ray and Jean tell endless stories about people lending a hand and looking out for each other.
Ray got a scholarship to play baseball at Notre Dame and later signed a professional contract with Cleveland. Injury cut his baseball career short, which was also what the Indians did with his name. They made him go by “Peters” because the team thought Petrzelka would be too tough for radio announcers to pronounce.
Ray and Jean were pronounced man and wife in October 1949. Their rousing wedding reception was at, you guessed it, 1629 Eighth St. NW, with beer kegs “upstairs and down,” Ray said.
Jean’s Uncle Frank, the family’s most prolific provider of comic relief, drank too much, got sick and lost his false teeth down the toilet. A plumber was dispatched to retrieve those choppers.
So many stories, and all a reminder that nearly every house has a rich history. We’ll be saying goodbye to many as spring arrives.
But not this one.