|Elaine F. Kodres
The woman I have chosen to honor in the Plaza of Heroines is my mother, Ann Kathryn Vit Kratosky of Fort Dodge, Iowa.
She was born December 21, 1907, in a small house built in 1905 for $500 by her parents. Anton Vit and Agnes Onderka had independently emigrated from Bohemia and Moravia, at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Eventually they joined other Czech immigrants in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where they were married on March 2, 1905.
Czech was the language spoken at home, so when Ann entered kindergarten she spoke no English. On her first day of school, unable to tell the teacher that she needed to use the restroom, she left and walked all the way up the long hill to her home in west Fort Dodge. However, she soon became proficient in English and a student who loved learning. Perhaps inspired by Marie Curie, she dreamed of becoming a doctor who would make medical discoveries.
Alas, that was not to be. When she was fifteen, her father informed her that with three children in the family they could not afford for her to continue her education; she had to get a job. As a compromise, he lent her the money to go to Fort Dodge Business College, then attended mostly by adults. Again, she was a good and serious student, graduating in 1924. Soon she was employed as a secretary/bookkeeper at the Iowa Highway Commission office in Fort Dodge.
On October 7, 1929, she married Fred F. Kratosky, a 1927 electrical engineering graduate from Iowa State. He also was of Czech descent and didn't speak English until entering first grade. Ann continued to work until May 1932. (I was born in August of that year; my brother Tom in 1935.) From that time on she was a "homemaker" -- a title shared by millions of other women of her generation. In honoring my mother, I also honor all those unknown women who devoted their entire lives to their families.
And what a difference it made in my life! Whatever I wanted to do, my mother made it happen. We didn't own books but there were weekly trips to the library. A violin--fifty cents a month bought my first little fiddle. Brownies--she sewed my little apron and Brownie hat. Girl Scout projects, a neighborhood newspaper, parties at home, swimming, tennis, private violin lessons--she made it all possible.
We were not wealthy but I never knew it. Only later did I realize how much she sacrificed so that I might have the opportunity to succeed. There were long hours in the garden and even longer hours standing over a hot stove, canning and preserving to save money. I don't ever remember my mother getting her hair done in a beauty parlor and I have no idea how many clothes she didn't buy for herself that I might be well-dressed. As teenagers, we were quite oblivious to what was really happening around us--it just seemed the norm.
When I expressed a determination to go to college, she returned to part-time work to make that possible, too. After a year of junior college, I entered Iowa State in the fall of 1951. And every week, like so many others, I mailed a box of dirty laundry home; it came back ironed and folded in tissue paper, ready to be hung in the closet. All I had to do was concentrate on my studies. [A few years later my brother Tom, also an ISU grad, sent home twelve white shirts every two weeks which had to be ironed and starched to meet fraternity standards.]
After graduating as a math major in 1954, I worked for five years then married a Ph.D. from Iowa State and had two children. Twenty-five years later, I entered college again, this time as a "displaced-homemaker." From 2000 miles away, my mother couldn't do my laundry, but every letter contained a few bills (from her grocery fund) for a "little treat." When I graduated three years later in 1986 from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in CIS, she was as proud as ever. Three years later, my daughter Laura finished her Ph.D. in economics at Northwestern and is now an economist with the International Monetary Fund. The love of learning which my mother gave to me had been passed to the next generation.
I do not mean to downplay my father's role in my life (it was immense), but this is my mother's story. Whenever she proposed something for her children, he agreed. My father died in 1988, my brother in 1989. Alone for the first time in her life, she has since survived five surgeries--two knee replacements, one hip replacement, a gangrenous appendix, and carpal tunnel surgery--plus pneumonia. (Her grandchildren call her their bionic grandmother who gets frisked at airport metal detectors...)
She is now (in 1995) 87 years old. She lives alone, manages her own financial affairs, keeps her big house immaculately clean, and calls me every Saturday for our hourly chat. She still reads two daily newspapers to keep abreast of current affairs. Recently we journeyed to Washington, D.C. to visit her great-grandchildren, and together we toured the entire National Gallery of Art in one afternoon!
If this biographical sketch is unduly long, it is because I feel her life story is worth telling to illustrate why she is my personal heroine. She instilled in me a life-long love of learning. Her life was one of service to her family and to many others. She personified those characteristics which we deem to be of highest value: unconditional love, responsibility, service, trustfullness, piety, individuality, and a stubborn determination to be self-reliant, plus an indomitable spirit.
These were her greatest gifts to me. I see them in my own daughter and I'm sure they will find root in her daughter. One small quiet life in a small Iowa town has made its impact on the world.
-Elaine Kratosky Kodres