In 1883, a 14-year-old young woman sailed from Bohemia to America with her family to make a new life. They lived in a sod hut on the treeless plains of Nebraska, which was a much different environment from their previous home. The extreme isolation and financial struggles that they endured in Nebraska, eventually led to her father’s suicide. Since his death was self-inflicted, he was not allowed a burial in the town’s Catholic cemetery. Instead, he was buried beside a road near their homestead.
This young woman worked hard on the family farm and as she grew older she was employed as a hired girl in the nearby town of Red Cloud. This gave her the opportunity to gain some academic learning, apprentice in more refined skills and meet more people. Eventually she fell in love with a man who worked on the railroads. They ran away together, she became pregnant and he quickly left her, so she returned to her families land near Red Cloud. Soon after, she met John Pavelka who was a tailor’s apprentice and also from Bohemia. He was a good man but not much of a farmer, as he had spent his years of schooling in New York City. After they were married, Anna ran the farm that she and her husband lived on and had eleven children as well. She spent her entire adult life on that farm and was not successful by any worldly means but she was a hard worker, a true friend and was loved and admired by all who knew her.
Anna is buried in a small cemetery in Nebraska just north of the town of Red Cloud. The small headstone simply reads “Anna Pavelka, 1869-1955.” Her story is not one filled with adventure and fortune, only adoration for her children and pride in the farm she ran so efficiently.
Because of Anna’s strong character, she drew the attention of a young girl in Red Cloud, who name was Willa – Willa Cather to be exact. As Willa observed Anna’s daily life she took note and in later years, turned Anna’s seemingly uneventful life into the much-loved American novel, My Antonia. The character of Antonia in Willa Cather’s book in real life was Anna Sadilek Pavelka.
Anna teaches all of us the great lesson that no one is commonplace and that everyone can offer something to the world by the life they live. She also opens our minds to the fact that history is everywhere around us and sometimes we just need to take a deeper look to find it.