From the Iowa City Press Citizen By Heather Woodward
photo by Deb Barber

Sunday, December 23, 2001
format updated 28 Sep 2010

Iowa City gave Hayeks promised opportunity

Today's story about the Hayeks of Johnson County is the second in a week-long series celebrating people who, long ago, came to the area, got married and settled down to raise their families.

Their reasons for coming were many - jobs, adventure, family. For generations, their descendants have helped shape Johnson County.

When Pete Hayek was walking through St. Joseph's Cemetery about 10 years ago, he came upon a more than 100-year-old gravestone with a weathered engraving that read, "Frank and Anna Hayek."

Left to right, Ben, Pete, John and Matt Hayek are shown at Hayek, Hayek, Brown and Moreland law offices in the Bremer Building in downtown Iowa City.




Intrigued because the last name "Hayek" was not common in the mid-1800s, Pete paused to read the gravestone. Unsure if Frank and Anna are distant relatives or not, the finding still haunts him.

"It's a real puzzle," said Pete, 57. "I want to find out who they were. I was just stunned."

Pete and his brother, John Hayek, the fourth or fifth generation of Hayeks in Iowa City, live and work in the same city their ancestors settled in during the mid-1800s.

Their ancestors resided in the Czech and Bohemian section of Iowa City, called Goosetown, in and around North Dodge Street. The house at 802 N. Dodge St., where both John and Pete's grandfather and father were raised, remains there today.

The brothers don't know much about their great-grandfather, believed to be named Joseph Hayek, who was the first generation to live in Iowa City.

They do know their relatives were among thousands of Czech immigrants who came to the United States in the mid-1800s.

America promised a land of opportunity for Czechs who were looking for a way out of what they perceived as unfair treatment by the Germans. The railroad came to Iowa City in 1855, and the town seemed as good as any place to settle down.

"They were poor immigrants who struggled at first to make ends meet," said John, 60.

The brothers know more about their grandfather, Charles Hayek, who is the hero in several family tales. Charles, born in 1874, was a tinsmith who built tin roofs, some of which still sit atop downtown Iowa City businesses and homes in the old Czech neighborhood.

"He was a laborer who was handy with all kinds of work," John said. "It was good, skilled, cheap labor, which was work they would not have been able to have in Bohemia."

Within the Hayek family, Charles is known for his adventurous nature.

There was the time when, after a few beers, a fellow tinsmith dared Charles to climb atop the steeple of St. Mary Catholic Church. The friend promised Charles a big bottle of beer if he did it.

Charles took the dare and climbed up the steeple and touched the cross at the top. Upon returning to claim his prize, however, the friend who made the dare spit in the bottle of beer. A fistfight then erupted to settle the matter.

Then there was the day when Charles' fishing buddy fell off the Burlington Street dam. The tinsmith jumped into the water to save his friend. Although he was not able to find the body, Charles survived the treacherous attempt.

Will J. Hayek, father to both John and Pete, was born in Iowa City in 1896 and had a long, distinguished military career.

He started in the U.S. Army cavalry and ended up serving in World War I in France. For years, Will lead the Iowa City Memorial Day parade.

And after serving in the United States during World War II, Will left the service as a Brigadier General.

The military man also sat on the Iowa City Council and set up a law practice, which the Hayek brothers both are partners in today.

To some degree, Pete and John both followed in their father's footsteps.

They are both lawyers at the firm Will started, now named Hayek, Hayek, Brown and Moreland and located in the Bremer Building on Washington Street.

John graduated from Harvard Law School and could have gone to practice anywhere. Pete led a distinguished military career and could have settled down anywhere. Both were drawn back to Iowa City, though.

"Had our roots been in many other places in Iowa that I won't name, I might not have come back, but Iowa City is a really wonderful place ... the Hayek family has been here for generations," John said.

"I've had a good relationship with this community, and I could sense my dad's pride in it. That can't help but influence you," Pete said.

"I had a good childhood and a good relationship with my family, so that helped me decide to come back and go to law school."

Like the brothers looked up to their father before them, both John and Pete have sons now following in their footsteps.

In fact, John's son, Matt, 32, recently has joined the Hayek law firm, and Pete's son, Ben, 24, is a law student at the University of Iowa.

Both sons said they took precautions to make sure they were not going into law just because it's a family tradition. Matt entered the Peace Corps after college, and Ben worked in the golf industry.

"I wanted to be sure I was going into law for the right reasons," Matt said, who waited 13 years before returning to Iowa City and his family's firm.

"I took my time to figure out if I wanted to pursue the legal field," Ben said, adding that he is unsure whether he will practice law in Iowa City right after graduating from UI.

Matt said he has taken particular interest in his family's roots since returning to Iowa City.

"I can walk in front of the office and think this is the same street my grandfather used to walk on," he said. "That's really special to me."

Passing down the family's history was a favorite pastime of John and Pete's mother, Marjorie (Kurtz) Hayek.

"She was really the one to preserve the oral history and the written one," Pete said. "Our mother was the family historian. I try to pass things on, but there is not as much interest with our children. Our mother passed away in May of 2000, and she was good at passing things on. Now, John and I have got to take up the torch."

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