One day last summer, we attended the Mentor Chamber of Commerce luncheon where we were seated at the same table as Ms. Eva Nemcik, who told us that she had left Czechoslovakia in 1968 with her family after the Russian invasion. Eventually they settled in the Cleveland area where she worked for General Electric for 26 years before she retired. At this time, she is a successful small business owner who founded “My Happy Feet,” an online company that sells “foot alignment socks.”
We enjoyed visiting with Ms. Nemcik and thought that she would be a perfect candidate for an iForeignBorn interview. We contacted her and she said that she was flattered that someone would want to hear about her life. We met her about a week later at her home where we talked in her kitchen.
First of all, we learned that she was actually born in Hungary but the Slovakian/Hungarian borders were changed after World War II. She recalled that while she was in grade school she was told one day that they would be speaking Slovak instead of Hungarian from now on.
When she was older she attended a technical university and became a chemist. She married a good man named Joseph and together they had two children, Tom and Livia, while she worked as a chemist doing textile research. Then in August of 1968, when Tom was 9 and Livia was 4, the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia and chaos ensued. Fortunately, the people who no longer wished to remain in Czechoslovakia were given the option of leaving so Eva, Joseph, Tom and Livia loaded their Fiat with all of their belongings that it could carry and left for West Germany leaving behind parents and other family members.
When they arrived in West Germany, they settled in a small town in the vicinity of Stuttgart, a manufacturing hub where Joseph found work as a mechanical engineer. They only stayed in Germany for five months or so because the attitude the people there was not very hospitable; even those who have lived in Germany for 2-3 generations were regarded as foreigners, and therefore subjected to standoffish treatment.
They decided that they wanted to leave, but unfortunately most countries had already met their immigration quotas for the time being, except for Egypt and Canada. Thus off to Canada the four of them went, arriving in Windsor, Ontario, on December 16, 1968. It was certainly beautiful, but, sadly, working conditions there were not too good at that time — although Joseph eventually found work as a draftsman.
Eva, herself, learned English in a language school provided by the Canadian government. As for Tom and Livia, when they left Czechoslovakia they were already bilingual because they spoke Slovak and Hungarian. When they were in Germany they, of course, studied German and now they learned English.
Still, the family income was just not enough to start life anew as they wanted. Happily, after several years in 1971, Joseph received an offer to come to work for General Electric in Cleveland as a glass machinist expert in the lamp division. So in September, 1971 the family moved to the Cleveland, Ohio area and Joseph went to work in the Highland Heights plant of General Electric. Eva also found work at GE as an analytical chemist at its Euclid location. She remained there for 26 years. She told us that the transition from Canada to Cleveland was not very difficult but, not surprisingly, the move from Germany to Canada was quite tough due to cultural differences. Eva told us that she felt more accepted in the United States because she didn’t feel like a foreigner the way she did in Germany.
Tragedy visited the family in 1973 when Joseph was killed in a car accident. Eva’s parents wanted her and the children to return to Czechoslovakia. However, Eva, even though she wanted to be near her family at this unfortunate time, decided to remain in the United States because she liked the lifestyle here — mainly the freedoms that the United States had to offer her and her children. What’s more, Eva was very touched by the kindness that her neighbors as well as her supervisors and colleagues at GE displayed towards her and her children after Joseph’s untimely passing. So they stayed in the United States.
Eventually Eva married again, this time to a very kindly man named Karl, who, like Eva, was a Czech émigré and widowed with two children named Karl, Jr. and Daniel. So a new family was formed and they enjoyed life together.
Finally, in the late 1990s, Eva was able to retire and started a new phase of her life. She was a very active person and loved to play tennis even though her feet started to bother her after a while. This motivated her to do some research, and, as a result, invented “My Happy Feet” socks, which lead to Eva starting a new business marketing the socks in 1999. She was quick to tell us that these socks will not cure a serious medical problem but they are an “effective aid’ to help those with “tired” feet. Eva says that her business is very successful and gets better each year. Even though a person was hired to do advertising and marketing, Eva believes (as we do) that word-of-mouth from those who have made use of the socks is the best advertising of all. She gave us a pair of “Happy Feet” socks that we are anxious to try out because we walk a lot for exercise.
We asked Eva if she ever returned to Czechoslovakia. She replied that indeed she has. Her first trip back there was in the 1975-1976 time period which was understandably “scary,” but she wanted to retain ties with her family. She visits Slovakia at least every other year. Her parents passed in the early 1990s, but she is very close to her brother and they talk on the phone every week. Eva told us that she always has a good time when she returns. In response to a question about the European Union, she said that she believed that it has been an overall positive force for good.
We were very sorry to learn that Eva’s second husband Karl passed in the Spring of 2016. Yet Eva has wonderful memories of their life together and tries to focus on them instead of the sorrow of his passing. She loves her home, their four children and four grandchildren.
For us, Eva is an excellent example of someone who immigrated to the United States and both appreciated the opportunities that it had to offer, and made the most of them while giving back to her community and to those all around her. As for the future, she smiled as she told us that she has loved being an entrepreneur but it just might be time to consider selling “My Happy Feet” and moving on into full retirement. From our brief but telling time with Eva, we are very optimistic that more wonderful things await her.