Czech-American Community Loses Native Nebraskan and Researcher of Czech Heritage
by Cindy Drake, NSHS Library Curator
Margie Sobotka passed away in Redmond, WA on July 23, 2016 at the age of 93 years. Her name is familiar to any Czech-American researcher with connections to Nebraska and in some cases other Czech-American communities in the Midwest. Her commitment to translating Czech-American publications to assist genealogists and historians brought her to the attention of the Czech Republic who conveyed upon her the Czernin Palace Memorial Bronze Medal in 2008 for her significant contributions to the progress of Czech-American relations. Margie was responsible for over 30 publications that assisted genealogical researchers in researching their Czech-American families. Her work rekindled American ties with their Czech homeland and helped them understand their Czech roots and heritage. Margie Perina was born and raised in the Czech neighborhood of South Omaha. In the mid-1930s, her family moved to a farm outside of Bedford, IA. She returned to Omaha at the start of WWII where she was employed at the Swift Company. She married Rudie Sobotka, a farmer from northern Omaha, in August of 1947. They moved to their farm near Irvington where they raised their only daughter. They both took on additional jobs in the area during the next 35 years. Her passion for genealogy research and particularly the Czech-Bohemian heritage of both herself and Rudie began after their daughter went to college. It became her passion and “lead to authoring research articles and books, translating documents written in the Czech language, and giving lectures under the Eastern Nebraska Genealogy Society in Fremont, Nebraska and the Czechoslovak Genealogical International Society.” Receiving the Czernin Palace Award in 2008 “was a pinnacle of her dedicated efforts for her contributions in Czech-Slovak genealogy and history, and for helping others to seek their own genealogical roots.” She was also the first recipient of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International’s Distinguished Achievement Award, presented to her in 1999. In the early 1990s Rudie and Margie sold their farm “and purchased an acreage with a house in the area around Elkhorn. Rudie passed away in 2003, and Margie resided on the acreage until 2011 when she moved to the Seattle suburban area to be near her daughter and son-in-law. She continued to be active even after she moved to assisted living in 2014.
The following comments are from the presentation I gave when the Czech Consulate honored her in 2008. In 1977 I started my career in the library at the Nebraska State Historical Society. One of my job duties included assisting patrons in doing genealogical research whether it was in person or by mail. My first mentors Paul Riley and Ann Reinert familiarized me with the best sources in our collections. I soon learned that with the large ethnic population in our state there were certain sources that you automatically reviewed and with Czech-Americans, that source was Rose Rosicky’s book “A History of Czechs in Nebraska” written in 1929. The book was greatly enhanced in 1976 when the Eastern Nebraska Genealogical Society reprinted it and it included an all-name index compiled by Mrs. Rudie Sobotka. I was delighted to personally become acquainted with Margie during those early years. As a charter member of the Eastern Nebraska Genealogical Society, Margie was instrumental in having the group reprint several Nebraska histories that included full-name indexes that had not previously been published with these titles. These publishing efforts included the title that at the historical society we associate the most with Margie: “Nebraska, Kansas Czech Settlers, 1891-1895” completed in 1980. With this book, she immortalized the work of Frank Mares, who recorded the early Czech settlers in 45 Nebraska counties and 11 Kansas counties for the “Hospodar.” Mr. Mares recorded not only the names, but also the occupation, addresses and exact birthplace. This valuable information for family historians could not be easily located today if it had not been for the translation work completed by Margie and her mother Mayme Perina. Throughout the years, she has continued to amaze me with the translation work she has completed of Czech-American publications that have aided genealogists and historians. Currently our library has at least 27 publications that are associated with Margie. They range from titles that she translated and published that contain deaths and obituaries from the “ Hospodar”, “Fraternal Herald”,” Denni Pokrok”, and the “Hlasatel”, to abstracting or indexing Czech histories, cemeteries, burial books, and passenger lists. These publications have not only aided genealogists, but also Czech historians. They will likely continue to be the major source for Czech research in Nebraska and in some cases for other states. Material that Margie transcribed was invaluable when we prepared a Czech exhibit in our museum that was on display in 1993 & 1994. She worked on projects with Joseph G. Svoboda, first archivist of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who established the Czech Heritage Collection at UNL. She has also prepared numerous programs and articles on beginning Czech research that have aided researchers locally and nationally. When CGSI held their annual meeting in Lincoln in 1999, Margie was one of the main speakers for Czech genealogical research. She has always been generous to the historical society by donating copies of her own publications as well as those of other researchers. On behalf of the Nebraska State Historical Society, I congratulate Margie on this well deserved honor from a country that is acknowledging not only her efforts in assisting genealogical researchers of Czech American families, but also her commitment and devotion to sharing her Czech heritage. With her passing, Nebraska has lost an invaluable Czech-American resident, and I have lost another friend who was an advisor to me for many years at the historical society.  CGSI published their own tribute to Margie in “Nase rodina”, Quarterly of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, September 2016, Volume 28, Number 3, pp. 130-133.  http://cascadememorial.com/obituary/156709/Marjorie-Sobotka/