Farm centerpiece of Spevacek family
Six generations have lived on local land
Today's story about the Spevaceks of Johnson County is the seventh in a weeklong 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.
Source: The Iowa City Press Citizen by Reed DunnFriday, December 28, 2001
A die-cast red tractor is among the toys strewn around Gary and Patty Spevacek's living room floor.
The tractor belongs to the couple's 1-year-old grandson, Wyatt. As little Wyatt pushes it across the carpet, he makes "tractor noises" by forcing air through his tightly clasped lips.
"This is how we all got started," said Gary Spevacek, 53.
Wyatt is the first member of the sixth generation of Spevaceks to live on the family farm north of Iowa City. Joseph M. Spevacek bought the land, located about half a mile off Highway 1 in the Newport township, in 1893.
Gary Spevacek's great, great grandfather, Anton Spevacek, moved to the United States from Bohemia in 1869. He was a musician and stone mason, and he helped build Iowa City's St. Wenceslaus Church.
Little more is known about the earliest Spevacek to settle in Johnson County.
"My grandfather Spevacek didn't have too many stories about Anton," Gary said, though he had plenty others to tell his grandson.
Gary grew up across the road from Joseph Spevacek Jr.'s farmhouse, the two-story white home where Gary and his wife raised four children and still reside.
Gary and Patty Spevacek's two sons and two daughters also had the privilege of living across the street from their grandparents, Don and Esther Spevacek. Tamara Hill, the second oldest of the Spevacek's children, said she did not realize what a privilege it was at the time.
"The older I get, the more thankful I am for that," she said. "My family's very, very close. We have a close bond because we had to rely on each other."
Hill now lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband, Jim, and two stepdaughters. She said coming home to Johnson County evokes childhood memories that can take place only on a small family farm.
"There's so much imagination that goes into growing up on a farm," she said. "I don't think we ever played inside."
The recurring game Hill most remembers playing is "pig restaurant." She and her younger brothers, Travis and Brian, would go outside and pick weeds and dead flowers to throw to the hogs. The three then would sit and watch the livestock enjoy their meal.
"The only time you can feed pigs and play restaurant is in a place like this," Hill said. "It seemed like every day we were outside right after breakfast and not back inside until lunch. I'm sure it wasn't really that long, though."
Hill said some people did and still do look at the farm life as "backwards." She said things were not any different for her than they might have been for her classmates who lived within the city limits. She, too, could go bowling or go to the movies if she wanted.
If anything, Hill learned a great deal surrounded by cornfields and fenced-in livestock.
"The work ethic on a farm is something I'm so thankful for," she said. "You have chores to do and it doesn't matter how cold it is or how hot it is. The livestock and the corn don't care."
Don Spevacek said he knows it's a great thing to be able to look out his front windows and see his sons home. He enjoys the close proximity and the easy access to visiting his grandchildren and now his great grandchildren.
"It's just great to know they're around and, I can't explain it really, but it's good to see them grow up," Don Spevacek said.
Gary often looks back to his daily visits to his grandparent's house. He's thankful he took the time to get to know them, to hear their stories. And Gary knows his children one day will show the same interest in family history.
"I didn't have far to go to visit my grandparents," Gary said. "I woke up every morning listening to polka music, making kolaches with my grandmother."
His grandmother, Mary, often sang and spoke the Bohemian language.
"When I was growing up, she swore in Bohemie," Gary said. "I was much older when I found out what she was saying."
Even as a teen-ager, Gary sat on what is now his front porch listening to his grandfather's stories.
"He said he never forgot his dad took him to Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show," Gary said. "He still remembered it when he was 80, so it must have been good."
Grandfather Joseph Jr. also shared his favorite memory of farming the land with his interested grandson. Gary said his grandfather talked about "blowing the stumps," which involved using dynamite to clear the wooded areas of what is now open fields that can be clearly seen from the kitchen windows of the two-story home.
"He and his dad's footsteps are on all of this soil, because they walked behind a walking plow," Gary said of his grandpa Joseph Jr.
Gary's youngest son, Brian, lives at the farm, and his oldest son and the father of Wyatt, Travis, rents the adjacent Dvorsky land. There is fear the generations of Spevacek farming might die with Brian and Travis.
"For four generations, and that includes me, we've been able to make a living on this farm," Gary said. "I'm afraid my sons aren't going to have that opportunity. They're probably going to have to take up other interests to make it."
The Spevacek farm was recognized as a Johnson County century farm in 1993. The award is one among many the family has earned for its hard work on the land. Awards from the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce Master Corn Growers Contest form a collage on one wall of the Spevacek's dining room. Among the cluster of plaques is another award, naming Gary Spevacek the Outstanding Young Farmer of 1983.
Farming runs deep in the Newport Township area and especially in the blood of the Spevacek generations.
"All of these farms around here have been in the families for 100 years," Gary Spevacek said. "For four or five generations these people all knew each other. To this day, the families still intermingle and help each other out."
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