Author will share inspiring journey to freedom
Peter Vodenka is proud to be an American. He knows this whole-heartedly because he spent the first half of his life under an oppressive government in Communist Czechoslovakia.
After years of planning, Vodenka, his wife, Lilly, and their two young children escaped in June of 1983. On a cold, rainy night, the family ran across the border from Yugoslavia to western Austria, being chased by guards with automatic weapons and dogs. His daughter was 4 years old and his son was 2.
"We had to get across the border before they shot us or catch us," said Vodenka.
They did not tell their families of their plan and they left all their possessions behind. Vodenka said if they had been caught, he and Lilly would have faced sentences in a hard-labor prison camp and their children would have been raised in government institutions.
However, their escape was successful and they spent several months in a refugee camp in Austria while they applied for entry into the United States of America.
To help make their entry into America possible, the family was sponsored by the First Lutheran Church in Beach, N.D. They arrived in America in September 1983. They spoke no English and had few possessions.
In their absence, the Czech government sentenced them to prison and classified them as traitors. Until the communist rule ended in 1989, they could not visit their homeland.
In the years since, Vodenka and his family have been able to return and visit the family and friends they left behind. He said they return to their homeland every other year.
In America, the Vodenka family has flourished. Peter went from working for a pig farmer, making minimum wage, to owning his own construction company. Lilly works for a prominent medical facility. Their daughter graduated from college with a degree in graphic design and their son, Peter, joined the Marines and was in the first wave of soldiers marching into Baghdad.
It was all possible, Vodenka said, because of the freedoms America offers.
For years people told Vodenka he should write a book about his family's story. He never gave the idea much though until the events of Sept. 11, 2001. That day, Vodenka had a change of heart.
On his website Vodenka wrote, "I have felt strongly that Americans need to be reminded how lucky they are to be free."
His memoir, Journey for Freedom, chronicles his story of living under an oppressive government, his family's defection and the success they have seen here in the United States.
Vodenka self-published the book. It came out a little more than two years ago and it has sold well.
"I've had people tell me once they start reading it they can't put it down," said Vodenka.
The book is available at journeyforfreedom.com.
Vodenka will speak about his defection and the freedom Americans enjoy as part of the author series at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at Robert Trail Library, 14395 S. Robert Tr. S.
The suthor series is put on by the Rosemount Area Arts Council and the Robert Trail Library. The program presents an author once a month from September through May. The programs are free..