SPJST’s roots run deep in the history of the American fraternal benefit system. During the 1880s and 1890s, many Texans of Czech ancestry joined the nationwide fraternal order known as the Cesko-Slovanska Podporujici Spolecnost (C.S.P.S.). The organization is recognized today as the Czechoslovak Society of America (CSA).
In 1897, there were 27 C.S.P.S. lodges in Texas. Founded in 1854 in St. Louis, Missouri, by Czechoslovak immigrants, C.S.P.S was organized to provide security for its widows and children upon their death. C.S.P.S. truly laid the groundwork for a modern fraternal in this country, which served as a model for many other fraternal benefit societies in America organized in later years.
In spite of the rapid growth of C.S.P.S. in Texas, considerable discontent existed among the members from Texas and the Midwest. The primary concern was that C.S.P.S. insurance premium guidelines favored the industrial workers in the eastern part of the United States. Those workers had a much higher mortality rate than the people living in Texas. As such, the premiums were considered to be overly expensive.
Texans Take Decisive Action
Texas C.S.P.S. members I.J. Gallia and J.R. Kubena led the efforts to reform the national C.S.P.S. Shortly after the 1896 C.S.P.S. convention, Texas Czechs met in La Grange, Texas, and set about the task of forming a new fraternal organization. Augustin Haidusek, Frank Cihal, and J.R. Kubena were charged with the responsibility of drafting a constitution.
In March 1897, the constitution was submitted to the Texas C.S.P.S. lodges for their consideration. Seven of the 25 C.S.P.S. lodges approved the constitution and withdrew from the older society.
Official records indicate that SPJST (Slovanska Podporujici Jednota Statu Texas) started operations on July 1, 1897, with 866 members and 25 charter lodges. SPJST received its state charter on August 12, 1897.
SPJST’s first base of operations was located in Fayetteville, Texas. The central figure in administering the affairs of the Society, Secretary J.R. Kubena, had his business located in Fayetteville. Until his death in 1938, Kubena administered the affairs of SPJST out of a single room in his general store.
The Early Years
From the outset, SPJST made a positive difference in the lives of its members, providing them with the security of fraternal life insurance and the value-added benefit of belonging to a progressive social organization. In many families, SPJST became an important part of life.
During SPJST’s first half century, American society and lifestyles changed dramatically. Texas and our nation became progressively more industrialized. Many people including the sons and daughters of our first-generation SPJST members moved away from the farms and into towns and cities. Oftentimes, they took SPJST with them. It was during this period that many of SPJST’s urban lodges were chartered. It was also near the end of this period – in 1952 – that SPJST relocated its Home Office to Temple.
During the latter half of the 20th Century, SPJST continued to provide its members with the security of fraternal life insurance and to reinforce a sense of Czech cultural identity. Lodge members worked diligently to establish SPJST’s reputation as a proactive fraternal organization, sponsoring a wide range of family-oriented activities, including sports teams, dances, picnics, plays, orchestras, and choral and dance groups.
Still Going Strong
For 119 years, SPJST lodges and members have worked hard to establish the Society’s reputation as a proactive, nonsectarian fraternal organization. Recent SPJST statewide initiatives include the November 5, 2009 Fort Hood Memorial dedicated in 2016 and the West Benevolence Fund. In 2015, SPJST members contributed more than 101,000 hours and more than $324,000 to charitable causes and programs helping local communities.
Local lodges sponsor an impressive array of family-oriented activities, including community service projects, recreational events, dances, picnics, and musical and choral groups. SPJST’s youth program provides boys and girls with a wealth of opportunities to achieve personal growth, fun, and scholarships. In 2016, SPJST presented more than $65,000 in scholarships.
In 2016, there are approximately 42,000 SPJST members in 103 lodges throughout Texas. They are taking the best that SPJST has to offer – a tradition of helping people to care for their families – and are extending these values to their communities.