Carroll County IL Biography



Henry Antone and Antonia (Castka) Zelenda

Henry Antone Zelenka

Some men are able to rise in life although pursued by adverse circumstances. When they do, nil the more credit should be accorded to them. A notable instance of one man whose career has been self-directed since he was old enough to know how to work, is that of Henry Antone Zelenka, now one of the leading business men of Savanna. He was born in Brag, Bohemia, December 21, 1846, a son of Henry Zelenka, a colonel in a cavalry regiment in the national army of his country. He was killed in 1849, and his wife, Mary A. Zelenka died in the fall of that same year, their child becoming a ward of the State. His childhood was passed among strangers, and while his foster parents were excellent people they were poor and ln time came to be dependent upon the exertions of the child whom they had adopted. From childhood, industrious and thrifty, Henry Zelenka learned weaving and also to be a stone mason, and worked at both trades alternately according to the season. In this way he provided for the wants of those depeudeut upon him, and in time bought them property, which is now owned by their descendants. Mr. Zelenka did this in appreciation of the kindness shown him, and takes pleasure in the fact that be was thus able to repay those who cared for him in his helplessness.

When he was twenty years old, Henry Zelenka became a member of the Twenty-eighth Infantry, under Major Benedict, of the Bohemian army. He was sent to Italy where his father had met his death many years before, and was there engaged with the Dalmatian army. In August, he was recalled and sent to Austria, where his regiment fought against the Prussian army at Koenig-Gratz, after which they returned to Vienna, where they passed through a cholera epidemic. While the loss of life among the Austrians was not great, the Prussians suffered severely. The loss of life and privations endured were terrible and the soldiers did not have a change of clothing from March to September. After serving three years, Mr. Zelenka received an honorable discharge, with the rank of captain. He had studied music before entering the service and for a time was the bugler of his command. After his discharge, he became a musician with Powers' circus, a German organization, traveling with it for two years through Germany. France and other continental countries. Following this, he returned to his native land and worked two years at his two trades.

In 1873, Mr. Zelenka married Antonia Castka, and in 1874, they became the parents of twin daughters. In 1876, Mr. Zelenka, who had been alternating working at his two trades, brought his family to the United States, locating first at Chicago. Although he spoke no English, be found employment in a flour and feed store on Milwaukee avenue, as a wagon driver, at five dollars per week. As he already owed $110 for passage money, he was hard pressed during the year he worked with this concern, but then received the offer of a place in the shipping department of Peter Schuetler's wagon factory, where he received better wages. Later, he was engaged by a Mr. Mitchell, a hardware merchant of Milwaukee avenue who paid him ten dollars per week. During all this time, Mr. Zelenka had been improving every opportunity to gain a working knowledge of English, and so was able to take a position with the Northwestern Railroad as a machinist. Later still, he went with the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad as boiler washer in the roundhouse, and in 1883, was sent by this road as foreman of their work at Leaf River IL. Remaining there until 1888, he came to Savanna. After coming to this city, he kept a restaurant opposite the railroad station for a year, and then rented the Farmers House, operating another year. During these two years, he was erecting the Exchange Hotel, his present establishment on Chicago avenue, which he has conducted for the past twenty-two years. Since coming here, Mr. Zelenka has proven himself worthy of the confidence and respect of the people of Savanna, who have proven their faith in him by electing him to several offices, including that of alderman, to which he has been re-elected many times, finally resigning after a service which extended over about seventeen years. He has repeatedly been a delegate to the Upper Mississippi River Improvement Association, and in 1909 was appointed by the government at Washington a member of the Deep Waterway Commission. He is a man of strong mentality and strong purjmse. and being able to speak fluently many languages and dialects of central Europe, has been of great service upon many occasions, entering into all public work with a hopeful enthusiasm that never admits defeat. He is what is known as a "Rooseveltian" type of man and his acquaintances have often remarked his resemblance to that energetic leader among men. His integrity is unquestioned and his high moral character is well known. He Is one of the class of men whose descendants will he among the best citizens of any country where they are found. The class of immigrants to which he belongs bring with them a desire to be a part of the great nation with which they have cast their fortunes and their zeal is to be counted upon when the country has need of support or defence.

In 1882 Mr. Zelenka and his wife became the parents of a son, Joseph J., now a foreman in the mechanical engineering department of the Western Electric Company at Hawthorne, Ill. He was graduated from the Illinois University as a mechanical and electrical engineer. The daughters, Victoria and Mary, are married, the first to Walter Roache, a railroad conductor, in 1892. Mr. and Mrs. Roache have the following children: Richard. Helen and Dorothy. Mary married Albert DuFrane and their children are: Michael, Nellie and Marguerite. Mr. DuFrane is also a railroad conductor.

The faithful wife and mother, Mrs. Henry Zelenka, passed from this life August 10, 1900. after a long and painful illness as she was a sufferer from cancer of the liver. She was a woman of fine Christian character, and while her death was not a surprise, her loss was deeply felt not only by her family, but by a wide circle of warm personal friends as well. Mr. Zelenka was married in 1912 to Mrs. Mary Gill of Chicago. She has four children: Joseph Gill, who is a member of the Chicago Fire Department; Mrs. Katie Kedl, who now resides in Wauzeka, Wis.; Otto and a daughter, who are staying with Mr. and Mrs. Zelenka.

Mr. Zelenka is a captain in the Uniform Ranks of the Knights of Pythias and also belongs to the Maccabees, the Bohemian Society of Chicago, the C. S. V. S. and of the Knights and Ladles of Security. His services on the National River & Harbor Commission cannot he too strongly commended and he is now in his third term. The fact that he speaks seven languages has made his efforts in behalf of public advancment all the more efficient, and his standing is unquestioned, while his reputation is a national one.

Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Carroll County Chicago: Munsell Publishing Co 1913

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