60 years and millions of miles: The Srameks live the American Dream
KOHALA COAST — Bo and Hevka Sramek of North Kohala will observe their 60th wedding anniversary Friday. The story of how they got here is really a tale of two lives: the early years spent living under the shroud of communism, and the second half living the American Dream.
In keeping with their natural grace and infectious zest for life, the two are throwing a party for all of their friends in honor of their anniversary.
“It will be a celebration that we made it 60 years,” said Bo, “and that we’re still here alive and kicking,” Hevka added.
Continuing each other’s sentences happens frequently with this symbiotic couple. Their love and respect for one another is admirable, and even more appreciated after learning where they have come from and what they have weathered together.
As young people, the Srameks survived World War II only to then experience life under communism rule in their native Czechoslovakia.
Bo was studying at the Academy of Sciences at the Research Institute of Mathematic Machines under renowned professor Antonio Svoboda, who defected to the United States when Hitler was in charge and worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He returned to Czechoslovakia to follow a dream — to use his knowledge to build a computer industry in his country.
And he did. Svoboda and his dream team of three, including Bo, built the first computer in Eastern Europe. By architecture, the computer they built was extremely unique and each member of the team represented one aspect of the design. But as a prior defector, Svoboda was under government scrutiny and thus by association, so was the team.
As a unified group, the decision was made to defect. It was a decision made not by choice, but of necessity.
“If we would have stayed and Bo’s teacher defected, there would be a big prosecution for the people close to him,” Hevka said. “Bo was very close to him; he was becoming like a relative to us and he was Bo’s professor for his PhD.”
In 1964, Czechoslovakia residents couldn’t move freely from town to town, nor could they easily get jobs. Everything had to go through the government. The country was also surrounded by a high voltage fence to prevent people from leaving.
“Now, we live in a country where there’s talk about building a fence to prevent people from coming in,” Bo said. “Before, we lived in a country with a high voltage fence to keep people from leaving.”
Bo was just 31 years old when they left; Hevka 28.
Covertly, they parted with their families and friends, not knowing if they would ever see them again. A few people knew; Hevka was able to tell her mother and sisters goodbye, but Bo’s parents knew nothing.
“They couldn’t know,” he said.
After six months living on $100 a month in a hideaway Rome apartment, the Srameks boarded a ship and sailed to America. They came into the U.S. stateless, renouncing their Czeck citizenship at the U.S. Embassy and requesting political asylum.
Back in Czechoslovakia, they were indicted for treason.
“When you leave, you are then considered a spy,” Hevka said.
In their new country, the Srameks seized on every opportunity available. They started their new life in Arizona before moving to California, where Bo had been invited to start a new computer company. They lived in Irvine, Calif. for the next 27 years.
In 1979, Bo switched from computer science to medical electronics and founded a company called BoMed Medical Manufacturing Limited. Hevka was the company president and Bo an independent consultant. The company’s product was a cardiac output monitor that he invented, and he traveled more than 1.5 million miles to every country in the world extensively selling to international distributors. She accompanied him on most trips and the two remain close friends with many of their distributors still today.
With Bo and Hevka as its two major stockholders, BoMed went public in 1983. But a hostile takeover in 1992 ended their involvement in the company.
Undeterred, Bo started another company, Hemo Sapiens, Inc., and got a second PhD in biomechanics.
In 1989, the Srameks were officially pardoned and allowed to return home, and Bo was able to reunite with his parents. Hevka’s mother had died 10 years prior.
As far back as their second year in the U.S., they visited Hawaii. They first used a package deal to the islands that included plane tickets and a hotel in Honolulu for a few hundred dollars. But what Bo remembers with a chuckle, is that at that time you could fly to another island for $5. So they island hopped and decided the Big Island was their favorite.
They visited the island at least once a year until permanently moving here in 2012.
“After the first trip, we decided this was the place to live,” Hevka said. “We decided we eventually wanted to end up here,” Bo added.
They built their final home along the Kohala Coast, designing it as a place where they can live out the rest of their years. Every day is a joy — whether hosting frequent visitors from the old country, gardening or playing tennis or golf with friends. At 83, Bo still works a little and they visit Prague every summer.
For a long and happy life and marriage, Hevka’s advice is to “Live every day and be optimistic, because there will be ups and downs but problems only make you strong.”
She also says married people should be good friends and both must work on the marriage throughout the years. Bo agrees.
One of the couple’s many friends, Roger Behrendt, said, “Each time my wife, Debi, and I spend time with Bo and Hevka, we feel emotionally lifted. They make us feel welcome, they exude energy, they engage us with thoughtful consideration and they blanket us with kindness.”
Chris Bame of Minneapolis and the Big Island, also has highest praise for his good friends and hanai parents.
“My wife, Marna, and I have truly been blessed to become part of the lives of two Americans who are the perfect example of what the American Dream is all about,” he said.
“America is still a country where you can start a second time and succeed. We are very grateful for the freedom and opportunities this country has given us,” Hevka said. “God bless America.”