Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Heisman disappointment

I feel a personal connection to this year's two anniversaries of the Heisman trophy--the award presented to the season's best collegiate football player. Fifty years ago, I was a young, first-year, professor at the U. S. Naval Academy. One of my students was a midshipman named Roger Staubach, the recipient of the 1963 Heisman for his heroics as Navy's quarterback. Twenty-five years ago, a fellow wearing America's brightest orange of my alma mater, Oklahoma State University, became the most prolific and exciting running back in the history of football. His name is Barry Sanders. What did the two have in common, besides their excellence on the field and this year celebrating--respectively--their gold and silver anniversaries? Both are classy, humble individuals who let their accomplishments speak for them.

Last night, we watched a young man of a different sort make his acceptance speech. Jameis Winston had, until recently, lived under the cloud of having been accused of rape. After stalling for months, the authorities announced a few days ago that they did not have sufficient evidence to indict him. However, the alleged victim's family has announced that it will continue to press for a different resolution; Winston's problems have not ended. I've watched the Heisman presentations for many years. Each time, I've seen the winner shake the hands of the competitors over whom he has been chosen and praise them in his acceptance speech. Not Winston. Perhaps as a product of his generation, he was only about "me, me, me." A far cry from role models such as Roger Staubach and Barry Sanders.

So, if I'd had a vote for the 2013 Heisman, for whom would I have voted? In first place, Andre Williams; in second place, Keenan Reynolds. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Oklahoma State University Cowboys--So Proud!!

What a week this has been for Oklahoma State athletics! On Tuesday, our top-ten men's basketball team ripped through #11-ranked Memphis by 21 points--putting up 101 points against them. On Friday, our nationally-ranked Cowgirls' basketball squad demolished the University of Southern California by 31 points.

Then came last night. We faced the third-ranked Baylor Bears, with the #1 offense and #10 defense in the country, the top candidate for the Heisman Trophy at quarterback, and ambitions to win the national championship. We ripped them for 49 points and allowed their offense--one which had averaged 61 points per game--a measly 17 points. What a team effort, and what a great job of coaching! If it hadn't been for that horrible day in Morgantown, West Virginia, when our Cowboys went to sleep (and left the fabulous QB Clint Chelf sitting on the bench) and lost our only game of the year, we would be sitting on top of the national rankings today.

Beat OU!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Helping to commemorate 75th anniversary of Krystallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass"

I feel honored to have been asked to speak about my book and my experiences as one of Europe's "hidden children" at the commemoration of that horrible event known as "Krystallnacht," or "Night of Broken Glass." The following is the announcement of the event--an invitation to all readers to come and join us.

ANNAPOLIS — On Sunday, Nov. 10, at 10:30 a.m., Congregation Kneseth Israel presents an author lecture and book signing by Charles Heller to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Author Charles Heller, will share his riveting adventure and moving recollection of a loving family nearly destroyed by the Nazis. The book, "Prague: My Long Journey Home," is a personal account of a long journey of persecution, struggle and survival in Nazi and Communist controlled Czechoslovakia, and eventual escape from tyranny to freedom in America. A bagel brunch will accompany the event. The cost of the event is $8.

Charles O. Heller’s career has consisted of phases as: engineer, educator, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, management consultant, and author. Today, he is President of Annapolis Capital Group, a management consulting and investment firm. He is the author of two memoirs: "Prague: My Long Journey Home" (2011) and "Name-Droppings: Close Encounters with the Famous and Near-Famous" (2013). He is writing two additional memoirs. Heller is married, has one son and three grandchildren, and resides in Annapolis with his wife Susan. He played Division-I college basketball, as well as club soccer and volleyball; today, he is an avid golfer, skier, boater, hiker, and writer. He is a member of the Annapolis Yacht Club, The Country Club at Woodmore, the CEO Investment Club, Maryland Writers’ Association, Authors Guild, Rotary Club of Annapolis (Paul Harris Fellow), and Omicron Delta Kappa (leadership honor society).

Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), was a series of attacks against Jews in Germany and Austria. On Nov. 9–10, 1938 thousands of Jewish homes, shops, schools and synagogues were ransacked and destroyed, leaving the streets covered in pieces of smashed windows—the origin of the name “Night of Broken Glass.” The year 2013 marks the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.





Thursday, October 3, 2013

Charles Ota Heller: "Name-droppings: Close Encounters with the Famous ...

Charles Ota Heller: "Name-droppings: Close Encounters with the Famous ...: I'm happy to announce that my newest book is now available, both as a soft-cover (list: $11.99) and an e-book ($2.99), directly from t...

"Name-droppings: Close Encounters with the Famous and Near-Famous" is out!

I'm happy to announce that my newest book is now available, both as a soft-cover (list: $11.99) and an e-book ($2.99), directly from the publisher, Abbott, or It’s a short read (128 pages), and I hope you will spend an evening or two reading it and enjoying it. You’ll find it a departure from my first book, Prague: My Long Journey Home. The famous and near-famous whose names I drop in the book are (in alphabetical order):

Bill Clinton (and Monica Lewinsky)
Michael Dingman
Larry Doby
Clint Eastwood
Andy Enfield
Jay Geils (and Jack Geils)
Henry Iba
Don Klosterman
Viktor Kožený
Helen O’Connell
Carroll Rosenbloom
Wernher Von Braun
Earl Weaver
Philip Van Horn Weems
Dr. Ruth Westheimer

The following is Abbott Press’ “teaser” about the book:

Captured in this short, yet unique, memoir are Charles Ota Heller’s myriad encounters with celebrities from various walks of life—business, politics, sports, entertainment, science.  How did Clint Eastwood spend his Thursday evenings? What caused one of America’s greatest basketball coaches to scream the “n-word” at the author? How did Heller become an early witness to the Clinton-Lewinsky affair? Why did jazz singer Helen O’Connell proposition the young, innocent Charlie Heller? What led the author to insult the leader of America’s space program? How did Heller and a TV star/sex therapist develop immediate rapport? How did the author and the leader of the J. Geils Band become friends? These are some of the interesting vignettes told by Charles Ota Heller, a former CEO entrepreneur, educator, venture capitalist, athlete, and engineer who came to America as an immigrant from Czechoslovakia at the age of thirteen and who now looks back at a life of chasing the proverbial American Dream and the famous and near-famous he met along the way.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lies and more lies in Sports Illustrated

I have been a subscriber and loyal reader of Sports Illustrated since its first year of publication, many years ago. This, despite the fact that I've long resented the magazine's bias against my alma mater, Oklahoma State University. I've written SI many letters to the editors about this bias--some of which they have published. My latest was sent as recently as three weeks ago, immediately after the publication of SI's annual college football preview issue. Although all pre-season polls had OSU ranked either #12 or #13 in the nation and all had us as favorites to win the Big 12 conference, SI chose to omit OSU from the top 25 entirely, and listed four Big 12 teams in the top 25 ranking, ahead of the Cowboys. I was shocked and angry.

But, all that was before the latest--and most incredible--blast against my school. In a five-part expose which began last week, SI accuses our football program of a variety of sins: paying players, tutors taking tests for players, co-eds providing sex to recruits. In gathering their "facts," the writers (one of whom is a huge fan of our rival, University of Oklahoma, and has written a number of anti-OSU stories throughout his career) interviewed a number of former players, most of whom were dismissed from the university or the team for a variety of reasons--and now hold grudges. One example: Herschel Simms, a running back who was thrown out for having stolen money from a teammate. Now, this criminal is one of Sports Illustrated's witnesses against us. ESPN, which has taken up the cause of getting to the bottom of this story, has interviewed a number of clean ex-players from OSU. All of them--such exemplars as Tatum Bell and Brandon Weedon--without exception, deny the stories and say that none of these abuses took place. Now, even some of the men SI quoted are denying that they ever made the accusations.

There is no question that big-time college football is not pure. There is simply too much money in the sport for it to remain clean. It needs reform. And one could also ask: why did OSU admit some of these bad apples whom they eventually dismissed? Every day, we read newspaper stories about college football players around the country in trouble with the law. But, Sports Illustrated should be ashamed for allowing its reporters to print lies about a single university, instead of attempting to right the wrongs with the sport in general. Shame on them!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mixed feelings about Solheim Cup

Over the weekend, the European team destroyed the U. S. squad in the Solheim Cup. In the past, there had never been any doubt about my rooting interests -- I pulled for the American team. This time, it was a bit difficult. For one thing, Europe's captain was Liselotte Neumann. Lotte had always been my favorite player on the LPGA Tour -- only partly because her last name is the same as my mother's maiden name and because Lotte refused to have it Americanized to "new-man," even after moving to the U.S. She has always insisted on the proper pronounciation -- "noy-man."

But, that's only a small part of the reson for my mixed rooting interests in 2013. A larger part was the fact that two of Europe's players were former Oklahoma State University Cowgirls. Both are named Caroline -- one Hedwall and the other Masson. I've been predicting for some time that the former will soon be one of the world's top players. Hedwall's performance over the weekend bears me out. Today's papers carry the news about her incredible feat:

Caroline Hedwall, a ferocious Swede playing in only her second Solheim Cup, doesn’t know what it’s like to lose. The only player in the [history of] the competition to win all five matches, Hedwall became the first player to win five points.
“I’m just shaking,” said Hedwall after making a 4-foot birdie putt on the last hole to defeat Michelle Wie and assure the Europeans of taking the Cup. Hedwall called it the best moment of her life.


Monday, July 8, 2013

An incredible, previously untold, story of World War II

I just finished reading Patrick O'Donnell's THEY DARED RETURN, and I feel obliged to tell everyone about the book. It is an amazing story of five Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who joined the U.S. Armed Forces and volunteered for incredibly dangerous work, even while their families were being rounded up for death camps. After intensive OSS (predecessor of the CIA) training, the men jumped behind enemy lines in the late stages of the war and wreaked havoc on the Nazis. Most inconceivably, joined by deserters from the Wehrmacht, the Jews co-opted the Germans into surrendering strategic Austrian strongholds, thus shortening the war and probably saving hundreds of lives.

What is disturbing to me is that -- although I lived through World War II as one of Europe's "hidden children" and did extensive research on the war for my memoir -- I had never before heard this amazing story. Hollywood should be all over it, and more books, with additional insights into the personalities and lives of the men, should be written. The most heroic of these men, Fred Mayer, is deserving of the Medal of Honor, and a statue of all these Jewish soldier-heroes should be erected in our nation's capital.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Readers helping authors

Penny Sansevieri (, an expert on book marketing, sent out a message to readers, advising them how they can assist authors. As the author of PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME, and one whose next book--a short one, titled NAME-DROPPINGS--will be coming out this summer, I'm copying Penny's suggestions in the hope that my readers will be willing to assist me. Thanks so much -- readers and Penny!

Okay readers, listen up. This one is for you. Being an author isn't easy, in fact it's a pretty tough job. We write our books for you and, in return, we'd love a little help now and again.

Most of my articles are around marketing, social media, and advising authors on what they can do. Often I am sure that authors read these pieces and feel like they need a nap. Yes, there's a lot to be done, but you shouldn't go it alone. Your readers can be your best ally to help you market and readers, listen up: it's not easy being an author in a world where everyone can get published.

Often readers do want to help, but aren't really sure what to do. Also, there's a bit of a mystique around authors. Many readers think, "Well, the book has been published, they probably don't need my help." But this couldn't be further from the truth. Authors (especially those who are starting out) do need our help. Here are a few things you can do to help support your favorite author and for authors, don't hesitate to post this list somewhere on your website. If you need help (and who doesn't) you need to ask for it.

* Review the book: I've been doing an experiment with a book that I published anonymously. I included an email address for readers to write to share their thoughts on the book and I was shocked at all of the emails I got. Most of them complimentary (whew) and many of them asking when I'd write another book (something every author wants to hear). I would write them, thank them and ask them if they had the time, would they consider reviewing it on Amazon. This has netted me over fifty reader reviews. Authentic opinions about the book, written by a reader. Fantastic, yes? Readers are some of the best resources for reviews. If you are an author, ask for a review. You might even include a note at the end of the book to your readers inviting them to review it and telling them why. I'm surprised that many readers don't do this, it's not because they're lazy but because they wonder if their opinion matters. Guess what? It does! Like a book? Please review it. Even if you don't like it review it, too. Most authors welcome feedback if it's constructive. Always be positive.

* Video reviews: If you're ready to take this a step further, why not offer a video review? Amazon lets you do this and I know, as an author, I would be thrilled if someone reviewed my book on video! If you do this, send the video clip via Dropbox or YouSendit and keep the clip to under a minute. Hold up the book and smile!

* Photo sharing: This is another thing that I would love so much. A reader holding up my book, snapping a picture and posting it on social media! This is a fun, visual way to share your love for a book. Even better, snap a picture where you're reading it. Taking a book on vacation? Why not show yourself enjoying the book (cover out!) reclining in a hammock or sitting somewhere sipping espresso (Paris?). If you don't have any travel planned, take a picture anyway. Authors love, love this so much!

* Local bookstores: Though it may seem like every author who is published gets a shot at bookstore shelf space, the truth is that most don't. If you've found a book you love and had to buy it on Amazon because your local store didn't carry it, tell them. Bookstore managers have told me if they get multiple requests for a book they will consider stocking it.

* Reading groups: This is often a tough one for authors to get into. Reading groups are a fantastic way to get the word out about your book but many are tough to reach and often pick their books months in advance. Unlike The Pulpwood Queens which has a website and a strong online presence, most local book clubs don't have that kind of exposure but their regional reach can be fantastic. If you know of a local book club let them know about this book and then put them in touch with the author. It's a quick thing to do and I speak from experience when I say that any author would be very, very grateful to have this kind of a connection.

* Buy the book for a friend: This is pretty basic. If you love the book you just read, buy a copy for a friend. I do this almost every year for Christmas. If I love a book, I gift it. When you gift it, remind the person to review it.

* Social Media: Sharing has become part of our lives. We share good and bad news but when was the last time you shared what you are reading? Here's where that great picture you just took of you reading a book can come in handy. Or even better, hop on over to Goodreads or Library Thing and share your love for this author to the millions listening there.

* Bookmarks: Most authors will get things printed up like bookmarks, postcards, etc. Bookmarks are especially fun because despite the eBook surge, many of us are still reading printed books. Email the author and see if he or she will send you a stack of them that you can share with your local library or bookstore. Leave them at the counter or pop them inside of similar books. Sort of like Amazon's "Other customers also bought" which pairs up similar titles. I know of a few times when this has happened, meaning readers contacting authors and the authors are blown away and grateful. Again, this takes very little effort. Ask for the bookmarks and the next time you're at a bookstore drop them off. Easy and the authors will really appreciate the local exposure.

* Authors on tour: It's not often that authors tour anymore but if you have someone coming to your area why not offer to help them get the word out? Maybe drop off fliers, or if you are so inclined, call your local paper and let them know this author is coming to town and as a reader, you'd love for the paper to do a story on it. Getting a heads up about an author coming to town from a reader can be ten times more effective than even a well-polished pitch. Why? Because the media is serving the local community and if a resident is sharing an idea, they're bound to listen.

* Libraries: Authors can have a tough time getting into libraries so why not buy an extra book and donate it? Then let the author know that you did this so they can let readers know where they can check out the book at a local library. I know most authors would love to have a reader do this. It's impossible to reach everyone and most authors don't have the budget to do a library pitch on top of everything else. Many will submit their books to publications librarians read and hope for the best. Having a local connection is a fantastic way to get a book some local exposure.

When I've offered these tips in a session sometimes someone will pop up and say, "But big named authors don't need this kind of help." That's possibly quite true, but if you're only reading big names you're missing out on a whole crop of wonderful new writers. And, candidly, most authors, no matter how big they are will appreciate the help. The publishing world isn't just shrinking for the little guy, it's shrinking for every author. As a reader, you have a unique opportunity to make a difference and help out an author who has poured his or her heart and soul into a book. As an author, if you need help from your readers ask. Post this article on your website or excerpt pieces of it that you feel best fit your needs. Even better, create your own list. When you ask for help, you might be very pleasantly surprised by the results.



Sunday, June 16, 2013

Holocaust survivors not the only ones dying

It may come as a surprise to people whose families were untouched by the Holocaust or World War II in general that Holocaust survivors and WW-II Allies' veterans are not the only ones leaving this earth as they reach old age. The others--a notorious group--are the perpetrators of death and suffering, who are disappearing from the earth without having been punished for their monstrous deeds. One such example appears in this morning's newspapers:

MINNEAPOLIS - The news that the former commander of a Nazi SS-led military unit has been living in Minneapolis for decades is an especially startling revelation for people who lived through Nazi persecution.
Many such people still live in Minnesota, where 94-year-old Michael Karkoc has lived a quiet life in the decades since he served in the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion. An AP investigation found that Karkoc lied about his military background when immigrating to the United States.

Today, there are still hundreds of murderers like Karkoc. Most people believe that all Nazis who operated death, concentration, slave-labor, and POW camps were Germans. Not so. Like Karkoc, hordes of Nazi sympathizers of other nationalities participated willingly and enthusiastically. It is also a common belief that those perpetrators who escaped justice after the war remained in Europe and melted into the general population. Again, not so. Many found refuge in North and South America. Hundreds found it relatively easy to lie about their backgrounds and to enter the US, where they have led quiet lives and raised families. Some are our neighbors.

One might ask: why prosecute a 94-year-old man like Kukoc? The answer is simple: because it is the right thing to do.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Book tour of Texas for PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME

Last week, I undertook a journey which consisted of presentations, readings, and signings of my memoir, Prague: My Long Journey Home, in various cities and towns in Texas. Arranged by my friend and Oklahoma State University classmate, Dr. Bart Childs (Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M), the tour took us to:

(1)Dallas -- where I spoke to a large group of Czech-Americans at the Sokol Hall. Sokol (Czech for falcon) is an athletic organization with a long history in the Czech Republic. Both my parents were leaders of Sokol in our town of Kojetice, and I began learning gymnastics in Sokol at a very young age. The tradition lives on in Dallas.

(2)West -- the town of West, with 70% of its population of Czech descent, was devastated by an explosion of a fertilizer plant a couple of weeks ago. I was shocked by the damage -- homes, school, nursing home destroyed, with people's only remaining belongings piled on front lawns. The lower photo shows one of the damaged houses, with a Czech flag on the left and "thank you" in Czech to the volunteer firefighters who perished in the explosion.

(3)Temple -- we visited the Czech Heritage Museum and Geneology Center in this major "Czech town." The museum featured many exhibits pertaining to Texas Czechs in the military, from the Civil War through Afghanistan. I spoke to a large crowd in the evening, with a book-signing at the conclusion of my talk.

(4)College Station -- the home of Texas A&M University is also the site of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library. It was my honor and privilege to discuss my book in the Library's auditorium (see top photo) and to sign books in its lobby.

(5)La Grange -- in addition to an infamous ranch/brothel, La Grange is the home of the Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. After touring the Center and its gift shop, I discussed my book with attendees and signed for them.

(6)Houston -- More than ten years ago, Effie and Bill Rosene raised money to build a Baroque-style palace building, one typical of historic structures in Prague. The result is the beautiful Czech Center Museum Houston, a three-story jewel filled with paintings, sculptures, glass, books, furniture, and other items celebrating Czech heritage. Visitors gathered around a group of tables, and I discussed my book with them. I signed many books for the visitors as well as for the Center's bookstore.

There are thousands of Texans of Czech origin, the great majority of them descendants of Moravian farmers who emigrated through Galveston in the late 1800s. I was most impressed by a culture which has maintained and protected its heritage and how Czech traditions and pride have been passed from generation to generation. The Texas book tour was truly memorable.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Story of one of Judita's Czech children

The following is a story written by my friend, Judita Matyasova, a wonderful Czech author. Judita continues to write about the lives of Czech children separated from their families and taken to Denmark in order to be saved from Nazi murderers. I feel honored to have been among the people to whom Judita dedicates this story.
One Face, Many Stories
by Judita Matyášová (Notes) on Monday, April 22, 2013 at 11:23pm
Written by Judita Matyášová
Translated by Ann Steiner (Nemka)

Sometimes I spend months exploring a story and imagining the face of the person in the story. What are the eyes like, what does she look like when she smiles? Finally I see the face in the corner of a passport or a school photo and the story and picture connect for me.

This time, I found the face of Marianna, the mother of one of the children who was saved during the war. Yesterday I found out what her story was. I was aware that in the past it was not easy for women to have a career. Many women had the dream, but very few were able to achieve it and become independent. The norm was that women at that time stayed home as housewives.

Yesterday, the daughter of Marianna spoke to me for the first time about her story. “ My mother was different from the others. She married at the age of thirty-four,which at that time was considered very late. But she was extremely independent and in her twenties she became a master tailor and started her own salon. She had a large apartment near the old town square in Prague with one room serving as a workroom and another used to meet with lady customers. She had five seamstresses working for her and they would make dresses to order. Ladies would show her pictures from French fashion magazines and she and her team would create the dresses. She was very talented and creative and she loved her work.

Marianna was too busy to date but one day she saw an ad in the paper. Max Federer was over forty, a Doctor of Chemistry and looking for a bride. He was offering to meet a lady and so she decided to answer the ad. So Marianna met him at a café wearing a red rose for identification. Her friend came with her and hid nearby to make sure she was safe. The meeting was a success and they married a month later. A year later their daughter Ann was born and was called Nemka by everyone.

Marianna was extremely busy and had to hire extra help to make everything work. Still,it became too much and she and Max decided to close the salon. In the 1936 census, Marianna was listed as a housewife. A few years later, that didn’t matter. The thing that did matter was the letter “J”- Jude - beside their names.

In 1939, Marianna and Max managed to send their daughter Nemka, who was now fourteen, to Denmark for safety. Every week, they were able to send letters to Nemka, but in 1942 Nemka received one last letter. It was a hastily written message. “ We’re going to Terezin, do not worry about us.” No other letters were ever received.

Nemka looked out the window at the peaceful life in Naestved, Denmark, and it seemed so quiet and normal. The only person who understood how she felt was Carl, a friend also from Czechoslovakia. They shared a common bond and then the next seventy years together.

The first time I spoke to Ann Steiner was in January of 2012. She lives in a small town in Ontario, Canada. I wanted to contact her earlier but hesitated. Her husband Carl died half a year before and I thought it was too early to remember the times when they first met. When I did contact her, she was pleased and willing to share her memories of the past. Then she said, “You know, I don’t really know what happened to my parents; I am aware that they didn’t survive.They were in Terezin and may have been sent somewhere in Estonia.”

I ask myself, “ But is it good to know? How much and with how many details?”
I ask her, “Do you really want to know?”
“I think there might be something in the film by Lukas Pribyl, Forgotten Transports to Estonia.

I send Nemka the message that there is a film and also an historical study.

Nemka writes, “ What is on the film? Are my parents there?”

I watch the film and look at the story of the transport of thousands of people. A few days in ghetto Terezin and then on the train to Estonia. Just a common place, nothing special. They get off the train. They are told, ”Older people left, younger people right.” The older ones are by a deep pit. There is continuous shooting and piles and piles of corpses.

There is also an historical study about the transport which is very detailed and factual. It is very difficult for me to read the first page. I think of Marianna, I think of that face. I think of a beautiful mother holding her daughter. It is hard to turn the page. Photos of the piles of bodies: legs,arms. Maybe Marianna is lying there. It is not just some bones and skin; they are people who had names and dreams and destinies.

Now,what to do? Should I send the book and film to Nemka? I struggle over what to do for three days.

“DearNemka”, I start to write but don’t know how to continue. “ Dear Nemka, I read a few pages from the book and I couldn’t read anymore. The film, I couldn’t watch it.’

She writes back, “ I understand, don’t send it.”

A huge relief.

I look at the face of Marianna and I want her story to be remembered.
Marianna with Nemka

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Marcus is smart, as are Markel and Le'Bryan

Great news not only for those of us who are Oklahoma State Cowboys, but also for three guys who made the wise decision to continue to enjoy the best years of their lives. Congratulations!!

Oklahoma State basketball players Smart, Brown and Nash staying another year
STILLWATER, Okla. — Decked in bright orange Oklahoma State University polos, Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash announced in front of a large crowd of OSU students in the atrium of the Student Union that the trio would return to Stillwater next season.

The biggest shocker of the three was easily Smart, who was projected to be a top 5 pick in the NBA Draft by most experts. The freshman point guard from Flower Mound, Texas, who won the Big 12 Conference Player and Freshman of the Year Award, received a resounding response for the OSU faithful on hand — and made sure to address those criticizing his decision to return.

“I am aware of how much money I am giving up (by not going to the NBA). It’s a lot of money, but I feel like I made the right decision,” Smart said. “I feel like making that decision and giving up that much money showed me the true colors of some people in my life and the people close to me. It showed the true colors of how they really think and how they really feel of me. I think I made the right decision and go Pokes.”

News of the trio’s expected return broke late Tuesday night, leaving little suspense for Wednesday’s announcement. Because of that, Brown decided to be a little playful when making his official announcement.

“Man, it’s been a long year. It’s been a great year playing with these guys, been a long journey. I don’t know what to say,” Brown said. “I’ve had the time to talk to my family, talk to my grandma, my uncles and we all came up with the decision that it was time for me to ... keep building on this legacy here at Oklahoma State.”

Oklahoma State’s top three scorers were surrounded by their teammates, who joined them on the stage set up in the middle of the Student Union. It was the idea of the returning players to hold the press conference at the Student Union to share the good news with the OSU fans.

However, the idea for all three players to stay was not a joint decision. According to the players, each made their own minds up — though admitting the knowledge of Smart’s decision to return weighed into the process somewhat.

“I guess you could say it played a little role. We all made decisions on our own and with our families and coaching staff,” Brown said. “We just sat down and really talked about what was best for us. I feel like we all came up with staying one more year would be the best thing to do. Even though we all could have done what we’ve dreamed of, it’ll still be there after next year. We just had to make the decision on our own.”

Smart said he had made up his mind following Monday’s Devon Energy College Basketball Awards banquet in Oklahoma City, where he received his national Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year trophy. At the banquet, he was given some sound advice from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and had the opportunity to talk with National Player of the Year Trey Burke, who had also decided to stay for a second year at Michigan and led them to a spot in the NCAA championship game.

“I’m not saying it works for everybody, but it definitely worked for him. He increased his potential and his stock, but he also increased his self as a player, as a person and maturity-wise,” Smart said. “He told me when he first got to college that he was gone, but then reality kicks in. He enjoyed the college life, enjoyed being a kid and decided to stay.”

Izzo addressed Smart while accepting his Wayman Tidsdale Humanitarian Award, referencing how Burke said how smart his decision to stay at Michigan has prepared him. For OSU coach Travis Ford, he was happy to hear the Spartans coach give his star point guard some food for thought.

“I pulled some money out of my pocket and asked how much I owed,” Ford joked. “But I think Marcus had his mind made up before then, I really believe that, but I think that helped. It helped having someone of his (Izzo’s) reputation, somebody who has been through it before and somebody who Marcus respects, it probably helped solidify how he was feeling.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Holocaust Days of Remembrance

This week marks the annual commemoration of the Days of Remembrance of the six million souls who perished in the Holocaust. Having lost twenty-five members of my own family in the Holocaust, it was my privilege to participate in two events honoring those who were lost.

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to speak to students and faculty at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, as part of its "Holocaust Remembrance Day." It was a wonderful event sponsored by the Asbell Center for Jewish Life. The following day, students read the names of Holocaust victims, taking ten-minute turns, for twelve hours. This beautiful liberal arts college, led by its President, Dr. William Durden, is keeping alive the memory of those lost and teaching young people to reject hate and discrimination in all forms. I am indebted to them for including me in their commemoration.

Today, I had the privilege of attending the National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance in the U. S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington. The ceremonies began with the presentation of the flags of units of the 3rd U.S. Infantry which liberated concentration camps at the end of WWII. After speeches by various dignitaries, the most moving moments came when Holocaust survivors, in pairs and accompanied by Senators and Congressmen, lit memorial candles honoring those who perished. President Obama sent a message which ended with "...let us foster a culture of empathy as we remain vigilant against genocide in our time."

Monday, April 1, 2013

The ex-quarterback and the reluctant owner -- "Name-Droppings," Part 5

In my forthcoming memoirs (second and third in a series), I describe encounters with various famous people. I hope you enjoyed the first four, and I hope you will like this one, too:
            We bought ourselves out from our parent company in 1970 with money raised from family, friends, and a few fools. Now CADCOM was independent, but – as a typical startup – we were far from profitable and thus short on operating capital. While my partners were busy generating business and developing software, I was spending most of my time looking for much-needed money. Banks would not lend to us, and we were too early-stage for venture capital funds. Our best – actually only – bet was to attract “angels” – high-net-worth individuals with an interest in getting in early, and cheaply, on entrepreneurial companies with promise of high returns in the future.

            I tapped not only my own network, but also the networks of my friends and colleagues. I targeted some of the most successful businesspersons in the Baltimore-Washington region and looked for connections which would help me get through their doors. I ran into many dead ends, but often contacts came from surprising sources. One of my major targets was a man named Carroll Rosenbloom, a Baltimore icon who had made a fortune in the clothing business, but who was better known as the owner of the Baltimore Colts of the National Football League.

            “I have a friend who can introduce Charlie to Carroll Rosenbloom,” our friend Jeanne told my wife Sue one day. Jeanne, a tall, beautiful redhead, was in the process of getting out of an unhappy marriage at the time. She told Sue that Don Klosterman, the General Manager of the Colts, whom she had met at the previous year’s Super Bowl, had asked her for a date. Jeanne said that she would accept, provided that Sue and I would be invited along. Of course, we agreed.

            A few days later, Jeanne called and informed us that Klosterman had purchased four tickets to the performance of “Applause!” starring Lauren Bacall, at the Morris Mechanic Theater in Baltimore. We would meet on Friday evening for drinks before the play and then have dinner following the show.

            I did some research on Don before meeting him. Six years older than I, he had been the top passer in the country as a college quarterback. After backing up future Hall of Famer Otto Graham with the Cleveland Browns, Klosterman moved north, where he quarterbacked the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. In 1957, he nearly lost his life in a skiing accident, hitting a tree while trying to avoid an out-of-control skier on a slope at Banff. A damaged spinal cord necessitated eight surgeries. Told that he would never walk again, Don walked with the aid of a cane within a year. In 1970, he came to Baltimore, where he guided the Colts to a Super Bowl win in his first year. In a city which worshipped its football team, he was a superhero when I met him in 1971.

            We had drinks at the theater bar and spent a half hour getting acquainted. When Jeanne reminded Don that the show would begin in ten minutes, he suggested:

            “Let’s order another round and take the drinks with us to our seats.”

            “I don’t think they allow that,” countered Jeanne.

            “Rules are made to be broken,” said Don with a smile, as he instructed the bartender to pour four glasses of wine, “to go.” Each of us was given a plastic glass filled with wine, and we made our way to the theater balcony. Along the way, we were informed by two ushers that we would not be allowed to take the drinks into the theater. Undeterred, Don led the way until we took our seats. Sue, Jeanne, and I set our glasses on the floor, hoping to sip our wine undetected once the lights went out. Don, on the other hand, made a show of breaking the rules and held his glass where it could be seen. Not unexpectedly, an usher came over and informed Don that drinks were not permitted inside the theater and that we needed to hand our glasses over to her and her colleague.

            “Listen,” said Don. “I paid for these seats, and I paid for the drinks. We’re not bothering anybody. Just go away.”

            As soon as the usher departed, the lights went out and the curtain opened. For the next few minutes, we watched and listened as Lauren Bacall, in her husky voice, sang the opening number. Toward the end of her song, the beam of a flashlight strafed our four laps and we heard a loud whisper.

            “Ladies and gentlemen, I am the theater manager. I must ask you to leave here at once.”

            Don began to argue, and the spectators around us complained and requested silence. I stared straight ahead, wishing I could be someplace else. Finally, having concluded that Don would not give up his drink, I leaned across Sue and Jeanne and whispered:

            “Don, let’s get the hell out of here.”

            After a moment of silence, Don stood up and, with drink in hand, made his way up the aisle and out of the theater. The three of us followed, sheepishly carrying our glasses. Out in the lobby, as we sipped our wine, Don acted as though nothing had happened.

            “So, is everybody hungry?” he asked and, without waiting for an answer, he announced: “We’re going to dinner.”

            He limped out the front door and headed toward a taxi parked in the street. When we caught up, the driver stood outside, holding the door and showering Don with praise for having built a great football team for Baltimore. The ladies and I piled into the back seat, and Klosterman sat down in the front passenger seat. When the driver came around and took his seat behind the wheel, Don announced:

            “Cy Bloom’s Place in the Alley.”

            Jeanne, with an incredulous look on her face, whispered: “That’s across the street!”

            The cabbie started the engine, made a U-turn and coasted a few feet down an alley. It marked my first-ever taxi ride of less than a minute. We were in front of the restaurant. Don handed the driver a fifty-dollar bill, thanked him, and told him to be sure to keep rooting for the Colts.

            During dinner, Don promised to introduce me not only to Carroll Rosenbloom, but to a number of “heavy hitters,” including the most famous citizen of the city, the great quarterback, Johnny Unitas. Moreover, Don committed to an investment of his own.

            He was true to his word, almost. He wrote a check in exchange for a small equity interest in our company. He introduced me to several of his friends and acquaintances, some of whom invested in us. But, Don did not manage to get me together with Carroll Rosenbloom. Then, in 1972, the city of Baltimore was hit with a bombshell. In one of the more bizarre sports transactions of the period, Rosenbloom swapped teams with the owner of the Los Angeles Rams. Carroll headed for the west coast, and Don Klosterman went with him – now as general manager of the Rams.

            Don and I stayed in touch, but I stopped pestering him about introducing me to Rosenbloom. Thus, it came as a surprise one day in 1973, when Klosterman called me.

            “I’ve talked to Carroll about CADCOM, and he’s interested. Why don’t you come out and meet with him?” Enthusiastically, I agreed. Don called back a few days later with a date and time for the three of us to meet at the Rams’ practice facility, at the Long Beach State University football stadium.

            I arrived around 2:30, an hour ahead of our scheduled meeting. Wearing a suit and tie, I felt out of place at a football practice, watching sweaty, oversized men smash into tackling sleds, a few normal-sized players running through passing drills, and one little guy kicking field goals. I watched and I waited. And waited. An hour went by, and then another hour – no Don Klosterman, no Carroll Rosenbloom. Finally, just as practice was ending and players were beginning to file toward the dressing room, Don showed up.

            “Charlie, I’m really sorry,” he said. “Carroll was held up in his office, and he won’t be able to come over. But, you can close the deal on the phone, so let’s go call him right now.”

            Naturally, I was disappointed. I could have made the phone call from Annapolis without having to spend the money and taken time from the office. But, I was there and the opportunity existed, so it was time to go into my sales mode. I assumed that the Rams had an office at the stadium and that Don and I would be doing a conference call with Rosenbloom from there. Klosterman led me out on the field and we followed the players into a short tunnel. Then, instead of turning off toward an office which I assumed existed, we walked with the players into the locker room.

            “Strange,” I thought. But, I had been in many dressing rooms as an athlete, and some of them had adjoining coaches’ offices. “That must be where we’re going.”

            Wrong. There was no office. The only adjoining room was a tiled area with several showers, some urinals, and a few enclosed toilets. The dressing room, too small to be comfortable for 50 or 60 huge men, contained only metal lockers, wooden benches, and – on the wall between the showers and dressing area – a single black pay phone. To my horror, Don headed for the phone. He inserted a coin and then I saw him speak into the instrument. Although I was standing next to him, I could not hear a word he said because of the din created by the banter of players undressing and showering and by competing rock and roll music coming out of several radios. Then Don handed me the phone.

            “Carroll’s on the line. Go ahead and tell him what you’re looking for.”

            I picked up the instrument and blurted out a greeting. I could barely hear Rosenbloom, and I wondered how he could possibly make out my voice from the ambient noise. From what I could understand, it was obvious that either Don had not told him anything about CADCOM and our stock offering, or Carroll had forgotten.

            I spent a large percentage of my time as CEO of two software companies raising money. In the process, I had many weird experiences and met a variety of crazy people. But, no fundraising experience could match that of standing outside a shower room in my dark suit, giving my standard investor spiel into a pay phone, while naked black and white giants walked by, often rubbing their enormous butts against me in the narrow aisle between the lockers and the wall.

            The fact that Carroll Rosenbloom never did invest is an anticlimax to this bizarre story of my friendship with an ex-quarterback and the pursuit of an elusive NFL owner.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Honoring Czech Holocaust victims

My native city, Prague, has failed to honor properly those thousands of Czechs who were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Now, to rub salt into the wounds of those of us who lost family and friends, city fathers are considering giving permission to build a shopping center on the site of the place where most of these citizens were herded on their last day of freedom, before being transported to a concentration camp. I have written a short essay in opposition. It has been translated into Czech and published in a Prague magazine. Here is the English version and, for my Czech friends, the Czech version:

It was the morning of April 21, 1942. I was six years old, living on a farm in Kojetice u Prahy. I walked into the kitchen, hungry for breakfast, but I was confronted by a surprising sight. Standing near the door was my great-grandfather, Dĕdeček, dressed in a gray suit – not the normal attire worn on the farm. Standing on the floor next to him was a large brown suitcase. Stranger still was a yellow, six-pointed star sewn onto his jacket, with a word I had not seen before – Jude – at its center. I was confused.

“Where are you going, Dĕdečku?” I asked.

“I have to go away for a little while,” he lied. ”But don’t worry. I’ll see you again soon.”

Along with my mother and our farmer friends, the Tůmas, we climbed aboard a horse-drawn wagon and accompanied Dĕdeček to the Kojetice train station. To this day, my great-grandfather’s last words to Mother echo in my head and touch my soul:

“You take care of Otík (me) and yourself. I’m sure that something will be left here when it’s over and you’ll be able to start all over again.”

The train carried 82-year-old Gustav Neumann to Prague, where he and hundreds of other poor souls assembled near today’s Parkhotel. They spent the night trying to sleep on the cold ground. Early the next morning, they were transported to Terezín. A few months later, Dĕdeček boarded another train. It took him to Treblinka, where he was murdered immediately upon arrival.

A short time later, my grandmother, Otilie Hellerová from Kralupy, was standing in the same place near today’s Parkhotel, awaiting transport to Terezín. From there, she was taken to a Polish camp called Izbica, where the Nazis killed her.

More than twenty other members of our family – Hellers and Neumanns – followed. Always, their last touch of freedom was lost at that gate to hell, near Veletržný palác. Nearly 50,000 Czechoslovaks bid farewell to Prague, and to the lives they had once known, at that entrance to horror.

For me and for many Czechs whose relatives passed through this place, the area near Parkhotel is sacred ground. For us, it is as revered as the monument in Lidice and as hallowed as the graves of heroes in Czech history at the Vyšehrad cemetery. Yet today, it is identified only by a simple plaque, one which is easily overlooked by Czechs and unknown to Prague’s tourists.

Now, we are hearing, even here in America, that a shopping center will be built on this sacred ground and that there will be nothing left to commemorate the thousands of Czech victims of the Holocaust. This would be a shameful, disrespectful act – I might even call it a crime. In my view, regardless of the outcome of the current discussion, a true memorial – one similar to the beautiful and haunting monument to the children of Lidice – should be erected in the area. Only in this way will Czechs express their sorrow and show that they will never forget their less fortunate fellow citizens.
K uctění českých obětí


Bylo ráno 21. dubna 1942. Bylo mi šest a žil jsem na statku
v Kojeticích u Prahy. Měl jsem hlad a vešel jsem do kuchyně,
abych se nasnídal. V tom okamžiku se mi však naskytl
nečekaný pohled. U dveří stál můj pradědeček, kterému
jsme říkali dědeček, v šedém obleku – takové oblečení se
na statku běžně nenosilo. Na zemi stál velký hnědý kufr.
Ještě podivnější byla žlutá šesticípá hvězda, kterou měl přišitou
na saku. Uprostřed bylo napsáno slovo, které jsem
před tím nikdy neviděl – Jude. Byl jsem zmatený.

 „Kam jdeš, dědečku?“ zeptal jsem se.
„Musím na chvíli odjet,“ zalhal. „Ale neboj,
brzy se zase uvidíme.“

Společně s matkou a našimi přáteli z vesnice,
Tůmovými, jsme nasedli do koněm tažené
bryčky a doprovodili dědečka na kojetické
nádraží. Ještě dnes mi v hlavě i v duši zní
poslední slova, která pradědeček řekl mojí

„Postarej se o Otíka (to jsem byl já) a o sebe.
Určitě tu něco zůstane, až bude po všem a vy
budete moct začít znovu.“

Vlak odvezl 82letého Gustava Neumanna
do Prahy, kde se on a další stovky ubohých
duší shromáždily na místě dnešního Parkhotelu.
Strávili tu noc, pokoušeli se usnout
na studené podlaze. Následujícího dne, brzy
ráno, byli transportováni do Terezína. O pár
měsíců později nastoupil dědeček do dalšího
vlaku. Ten ho odvezl do Treblinky, kde byl
ihned po příjezdu zavražděn.
Nedlouho poté stála na stejném místě, u dnešního
Parkhotelu, i moje babička Otilie Hellerová
z Kralup. I ona tu čekala na transport
do Terezína. Odtamtud ji pak odvezli do polského
tábora Izbica, kde ji nacisté zavraždili.

Více než dvacet dalších členů naší rodiny –
Hellerů a Neumannů – postupně následovalo.
Všichni přišli o poslední zbytek svobody
v této bráně do pekla, u Veletržního paláce.
Téměř 50 tisíc Čechoslováků se tady, u toho
vstupu do světa hrůzy, loučilo s Prahou a se
svými dosavadními životy.
Pro mě a pro mnoho Čechů, jejichž příbuzní
prošli tímto místem, je okolí Parkhotelu
posvátnou půdou. Je pro nás stejně pietním
místem jako památník v Lidicích nebo hroby
hrdinů české historie na Vyšehradě. A přece je
dnes na tomto místě pouze prostá pamětní deska,
kterou místní snadno přehlédnou, a turisté,
kteří přijíždějí do Prahy, o ní vůbec nevědí.

Teď se dokonce až k nám, do Ameriky,
doneslo, že na tomto posvátném místě
bude postaveno obchodní centrum a že tu
nezbude nic, co by připomínalo tisíce českých
obětí holocaustu. To by byl hanebný
a neuctivý čin. Snad bych jej mohl nazvat
přímo zločinem. Podle mého názoru, bez
ohledu na výsledek nyní probíhající diskuse,
by tu měl být vybudován skutečný památník
– podobný krásnému a naléhavému
pomníku lidických dětí. Jedině tak mohou
Češi vyjádřit svou lítost a ukázat, že nechtějí
nikdy zapomenout na své méně šťastné

Charles Ota Heller, autor knihy Dlouhá cesta domů
(Mladá fronta, 2011)
Foto: Pavel Kuča

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Upcoming book discussions and signings

Prague: My Long Journey Home
continues to generate a great deal of
interest, and my schedule of book
discussions and signings is filling up.

Here is a list of events coming up in
the near future:

Tuesday, February 26, 1:00 pm:                Heritage Harbour Women's Club,
                                                                        presentation followed by book-signing
                                                                        The Lodge, Heritage Harbour, Annapolis, MD

Thursday, March 28, 7:00 pm                   Anne Arundel Public Library Foundation and
                                                                        guest AA County book clubs
                                                                        presentation followed by book-signing
                                                                        Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits, Annapolis, MD

Sunday, April 7, 6:00 pm                          Dickinson College, Carlyle, PA
                                                                        presentation as part of Days of Remembrance

Friday, April 26, noon                               Peer Learning Partnership
                                                                        presentation to History Buffs, "Friday with Friends"
                                                                        Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold, MD
                                                                        CALT Building, Room 100

TEXAS BOOK TOUR (some events are still tentative):

Wednesday, May 1                                    Ft. Worth or Ennis, TX

Thursday, May 2                                       Czech Museum and Geneology Center, Temple, TX

Friday, May 3                                            Bush Library and Museum, College
                                                                        Station, TX

Saturday, May 4, noon - 4:00 pm              Czech Center Museum Houston                               
                                                                        presentation followed by book-signing
                                                                        Houston, TX

Sunday, May 5                                           Hostyn, TX