THE VAŠEK AND
ANNA MARIA POLÁK AWARDS
Polák Past Recipients
VAŠEK AND ANNA MARIA POLÁK CHARITABLE FOUNDATION AWARD
Vašek (r.) and Anna Maria (l.) Polák are the inspirations behind this annual award for
freedom. The Vašek and Anna Maria Polák Charitable Foundation sponsors a
lecture each summer at the commencement ceremony in Prague.
ABOUT VAŠEK POLÁK
Vašek Polák, a Czech native, began his career in Prague as owner of a bike repair shop. Polák was one of a group of young Czechs who risked their lives by swimming into the Vltava River to save Charles Bridge from explosives the fleeing Nazis had set to blow at the end of World War II. Polák was shot and lost a lung as a result of this heroic effort.
In 1949, when the Communist secret police came looking for him, Vašek Polák made a daring escape to the countryside in the hope of making it safely to West Germany. Dressed like a farmer, Polák accompanied a farm manager on his tractor who drove him to the Bohemian Forest on the border with West Germany. In the dark of night, and leaving behind a wife and two small children, Polák dashed through the forest and made his way to the West. After spending some time in West Germany, Polák made it to the United States.
He worked first as a Ford repairman, and was then employed by an importer of German cars in New York City. As soon as he received his American citizenship, Polák returned to Germany for four years trying in vain to rescue his family. Any spare money he earned while in Germany was sent to his family, but the Communists intercepted it. Learning that his family would not be let go as long as he kept sending money to Czechoslovakia, Polák returned to the United States.
After a brief stint as a Porsche repairman, Polák moved to California where he opened a one-man repair and used-car shop for European cars. Through hard work and a frugal lifestyle, Vašek Polák saved $50,000 within a year, enabling him to start the first exclusive Porsche dealership in the United States. Later, Polák expanded his dealerships to include other European luxury cars. By the 1990's, Vašek Polák, Inc. had annual gross revenues of over $50 million.
Following the Prague Spring of 1968, Polak was finally reunited with his family, after 19 years apart. With the strain of living in separate worlds, Polák and his wife divorced. In the 1980's, Polák fell in love and married Anna Maria Littlejohn. The couple was married in 1983, but the happiness was short-lived. Anna Maria died of cancer in 1993.
After her death, Polák donated generously to the fight against breast cancer. He made a $1.2 million gift to the Torrance Memorial Hospital in Southern California where the Vašek and Anna Maria Polák Breast Diagnostic Center was established. Since the fall of Communism, Polák was equally generous in his homeland, where he donated equipment and provided teaching and training for Czech medical technicians to detect breast cancer.
In 1995, Polák began supporting The Fund for American Studies by sponsoring the Vašek and Anna Maria Polák Charitable Foundation Lecture at the annual Commencement Ceremony in Prague. Polák attended the ceremony with the Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus in 1995. Sadly in 1997, Polák passed away from injuries suffered in a car accident in Germany.
His foundation continues to support The Fund for American Studies and organizations involved in cancer research. In April 2001, the Vašek Polák Institute, Inc. (a charitable foundation) opened the Polák Family Breast Diagnostic Center at the Charles University Hospital in Prague, where it purchased and installed the latest state of the art medical equipment.