Vrba's Store
The Famous Protivin Store was demolished on
September 8, 2003
"What Do YOU Want to Know?"
Bill Prochaska
scored 2,124 points during his
4 year varsity basketball career at
Rudolphinum High School in Protivin.
He broke the state scoring  record in
1955 with no fanfare.
Click the  photo
or here for more photos, video and an
interview with Bill Prochaska about The
RudoHawk years.

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The "Magical
Summer of '62" in Protivin

The Fast Pitch Softball Team from
the town of a little more that 300
people qualified for the State
Tournament against the "Big Boys"
Vrba's Store
It was a store with more than Wal-Mart

I remember the day very well, September 8, 2003.  The day
Vrba’s Store came down.  We had moved back to Protivin in
August after being gone for over 30 years.

Unlike Prochaska's coming down, I had less understanding
at the time why Vrba’s Store had to be demolished.  It like
Prochaska's was a very important spot of the Protivin of my

When you leave the town you grew up in you expect it to
stay the way it was when you left.  When you "go home" you
really want to "go home".  "Home" to the way it was.  Not to
what it has become.

Protivin like all small towns in the area and around the
country has changed.  Some call it progress, others do not.

Now nearly 9 years after moving back it still hurts to see a
place like Prochaska's or Vrba’s destroyed, and never to
be again.  It’s easier though since you see how badly the
buildings have deteriorated and know the way you’re
current Protivin looks is just as important as to the way it

I hesitate to call any of it progress, because I am not sure it
is.  In a perfect world the Prochaska's, Vrba's, Kalishek's,
Polashek's, Chyle's, and all the rest would have remained
and been able to make the improvements into the future
without damaging the remembrance of the past.

Everything in  places like Protivin, Lawler, Spillville, Fort
Atkinson, Elma, and all the other great small towns would
remain pretty much the same so everyone could come
home to the town they remember or live in that great same
place pretty much the way it was.

That’s not possible.

I recently received an email from Kathy Bouska who was
Kathy Vrba and one of the daughters of Clarence and
Evelyn Vrba who so many of us remember running Vrba’s

Here’s the email:
“Martha Moudry Fencl sent me your wddnews about
Prohaskas Tavern and the softball team of '62.  I enjoyed
the articles.  My folks were Clarence and Evelyn (Moudry)
Vrba who had the Vrba Store in Protivin when I was
growing up in Protivin.  Wish you could have made a video
of the Vrba store going down years ago.  I was still working
so did not get to see that - though I don't know if I really
would want to have been there.  Sad.  My husband (George
Bouska - son of Frank and Pauline) and my sister (Marilyn
Vrba Pecinovsky - husband is Clair) were there and took
some photos.  Keep up the good work/reporting.”

I wish I could have done the same for Vrba’s as well.  We
did not have the web site going at the time and to be
honest it would have been much more difficult to do and
be objective at the time because of the reasons I
mentioned above.

It used to break my heart to “come home” and see the gym
where I spent so much time in the winter gone as well as
the old high school and when Vrba’s went down that
corner, which was a “cornerstone” of the Protivin of my
youth, was almost completely gone.  Only the Bohemian
Savings Bank remains.

Here’s another email from Kathy:
“There used to be a stairway (on the left as we are looking
at the building) with a little porch at the top and a door
going into the building of course.  The front windows were
to the 'front room' / living dining room with a dining table
for company or card games or where we did school work.  
Grandma and Grandpa Vrba (Jim and Stella) liked to play
cards and had friends over for card games.  Grandma Vrba
used to be a school teacher, so she would sometimes
'supervise' our homework.  I can remember her helping me
with math and she would use the word 'ought' for zero (I
think that is what it was) which seemed weird.  She made
me diagram sentences.  A good way to learn grammar - but
not a fun way.  I used to play Canasta with her too.”

“I can remember nails and paint and boxes of groceries
and lots of other stuff in the 'back room' of the store.  
There were also large barrels of vinegar.  Customers
would bring in their jug and we would pump vinegar into it
for them.”

Here’s a story of my own I would like to share:
I remember riding my bike to the store to get a loaf of
bread for my mother.  Usually she would give me 15 cents
which was enough for the bread that usually cost 12 or 13
cents.  That would leave the other 2 or 3 cents for bubble
gum at 2 for 1 cent.  I also remember sometimes not having
any extra for the gum and Clarence, Stella, or Evelyn would
walk me over to the candy display and they would let me
pick something out for free.   I also remember 1 time taking
1 piece of gum and Evelyn saying,
“ that’s not enough take
another one”.

They were that kind of people.

The store had everything.  It was amazing.  Clarence
seemed to know where everything was, too, which is
beyond amazing since the store had things jammed in
there so tightly you could barely maneuver through the

One of the goals of this web site is to be able to do stories
like this about some of the great places in our towns of our
youth.  I would like to do many more not only from Protivin,
but everywhere else in the area.

Please share your stories about Vrba’s or if you have an
idea of another great place or memory from the towns of
the area, please let me know.

Kathy has provided some photos (seen on this page) from
her collection and we hope that others will share what they
have from the past from Vrba’s Store and other great
"They paved paradise to put up a
parking lot",  lyrics from "Big
Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell

In this case they didn't pave it, but
they did turn Vrba's into a parking

Unfortunately though, like
Prochaska's because of
deterioration, Vrba's had to come
down when it did.

The spot where Vrba's Store stood
today.  The land was donated to
the church and is used as a
parking lot.
Prochaska's Tavern

See video of the demolition and
story and photos about Prochaska's
The 1999
Turkey Valley Trojans
Though not expected to do so, The 99
Trojan Team had a great run through
the tournament and made it to state.
Find out more and hear an
interview with pitcher Patrick
Smith from the 99 team
The store was originally operated
by Jim and Stella Vrba and later by
Clarence and Evelyn Vrba a son
Jim would later operate the store
for a few years.  Clarence and
Evelyn had 4 children:  Dennis and
Kathy both graduated from
Rudolphinum HS (see pictures
taken of "the wall" above) which
was literally a hop, skip, and a jump
from their home right across the
street.  Marilyn started in the
school but had to move on to
Turkey Valley when the school
closed in 1968.  The youngest child
Jim went to Holy Trinity
Elementarypictured with the
church below as they stand today
which also was right across the
street from the Vrba home and
On the corner which was a Bank
(above as it stands today) remains
standing today and is used as a
private residence.

The old gym which burned down
was replaced by the Protivin
Community Center above and gets
much use today.

Rudolphinum HS, which closed in
1968 was torn down and today on
the spot stands a monument, wall,
and garden(below)  The garden is
beautifully maintained by Mr. &
Mrs. Ray Lukes of Protivin and
always looks great even in a
drought as the photo shows when
taken when it was about 95 for the
7th day in a row and at least 2
weeks since the last rain.
Click to enlarge photos
Pictured above as the store is
getting demolished
Marilyn Vrba Pecinovsky (in the
checkered top) is watching - as
well as Mike Pecinovsky (orange
shirt- Protivin Street  
Commissioner) and  Pam Vrba who
was married to Jim at the time.,
who ran the store at the end.
Click to enlarge photos
Comments from Travis Vrba
"interesting indeed! I enjoyed reading it, but yes, it was a
sad day. Alotta good memories in that store. I remember
heading down to Milan's Steakhouse every Tuesday night
for them hermit krab races! I currently work at a grocery
store of course lol"

Comments from Bob Howard

"Just had to pass on some remembrances of my time at
Protivin.  I was the first lay teacher employed at
Rudolphinum H. S.  Fr. Skluzacek hired me in the spring of
1961 at Loras College.  I was a social studies major but
when I reported in August, I was informed that I would
teach accounting for awhile as the nun who taught that was
still in Ireland.
I rented a room with Louis and Anna Novak for a modest
amount.  So we started the school year and I was a raw
rookie.  I think Sr. Celinia was the principal and Fr .
Clement Burke  was the Asst. Pastor.
Within the first few weeks, I was invited to play softball with
the Protivin Merchants.  So I became acquainted with
Julius Shileny, Norman Ira, Bernie Kerian,Moe Novotny, Jim
Prochaska, Roger Croell, Jim Balik,and the rest of the

Comments From JoAnn Dostal

"Another great job of reporting on Vrba's Store, these are
all sad times for me to see the  town changing so much in
my lifetime.  We have new businesses, which are very
successful that have begun from a small start: Farmers Mill,
Arts Milling, Fencl Oil, but no grocery store is left.  There
used to be two stores, Vrbas and Kalisheks along with
Kalishek Meat Market which later became Polasheks.  
Congratulations to Paul and his family for carrying on the
tradition of providing the best meats and best service in
N.E. Iowa."

Comments from Bob Caneesta, Los Angeles

Amazing, Simply Amazing!  I stumbled across your website
today by accident and spent over an hour with it.  I grew up
in a small town in Indiana and find how you are preserving
some of the memories invaluable to your area.  I already
feel like I know some of you folks there and have become a
Trojan baseball fan (my favorite sport)  Some of the most
interesting stuff I have ever come across on the internet.  
I'll be back!

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History of the Store
courtesy of Kathy Vrba Bouska

In February of 1930, Jim and Stella
Vrba traded their 80 acre farm for
the Lukes Store. Thus began three
generations of Vrbas running the
iconic general store.  In 1934,
Clarence graduated from
Rudolphinum High and went to the
University of Iowa for a semester.  
Jim was ill and he came home to
help run the store.  He regretted
not finishing college.  I think he
would have made an outstanding
professor, but it was not to be.  
From 1943 to 1945, Clarence was
oversees in WWII, leaving behind
a pregnant Evelyn.  She became an
integral part of the 'store team.'  As
we grew up, we remember Jim
being ill and getting overexcited
just listening to a ball game - not
good for his bad heart.  He died in

Here are a couple of other

Being a Czech community, many of
the customers spoke Czech.  
When they shopped, we kids
would let one of the grownups wait
on them.  One of our jobs in the
store was to bag up potatoes from
a large burlap sack into smaller
paper sack with handles on them.  
There was not much worse than
reaching in to grab some potatoes
and getting a squishy, rotten one.  
Dad was in the store from early in
the morning to late at night
everyday, even opening after
church on Sunday.  Sunday
afternoon was family time - like
maybe fishing during the nice
weather.  If we were home on a
Sunday, someone was bound to be
knocking on the door for
something they needed, like a ring
of bologna or toilet paper - so Dad
would grab the key and unlock the
store for them.  When my college
friends would visit, they loved the
store - it was like a Walmart, but
more unique, with everything from
groceries to work clothes to
giftware to hardware to sewing
notions to ... whatever.
Comments from Jane (Hubka) Ellingson

Love your website!  I also grew up near
Protivin..had experience at Vrba's store
and Prochaska's tavern!!!  I  remember
Prohaska's every Sunday a.m. after
church ..getting a little sack for penny
candy and having Charlie count it out.
the chocolate malts were the best!!!
...also other times my dad would sell pigs
to Lensings buying station and we would
stop at 1 of the taverns for him to have a
beer!  I remember Bernards Tavern,too.  
I went to Holy Trinity school.,and
remember VERY well going to mass as a
little girl with the old chapel veils on
(complete with bobby pins!), Well I
combed my hair in church and after the
nuns saw me< I had to miss lunch and
stand in the basement corner!!!   I guess
I had my calling early because I became
a beautician!! I ran a salon in our home
in Saude for over 20 years....then moved
it to Protivin for almost 15 more!  Yes, it
is an amazing community..You can count
on anybody in a pinch...    The Czech
language was spoken by all  in those
days!   As kids we could pick up certain
words and somehow knew when they
were talking about us!!!!  Small towns
are great!!      Jane Ellingson (Hubka)  
MY parents were Leonard & Gladys