CART And The $10,000 Spaghetti Dinner – Monsignor Balty Janacek

CART And The $10,000 Spaghetti Dinner
By Monette Benoit

Copyright 2007 by Monette Benoit, All Rights Reserved.

The CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation) community and all court reporters lost a devoted friend on April 30th, 2007. My life and our profession were improved by this gentleman.

I had been CARTing San Antonio’s St. Francis Di Paola Deaf Mass for many years. One Sunday morning before a mass, privately a new priest introduced himself, spelling his name B-a-l-t-y. He waited to shake my hand, then walked to the altar, and introduced himself to the Deaf community, “I’m the new priest and will learn sign.” We welcomed him with deaf applause.

Balty was proud of his Czech background. He had a deep love of cultures and languages. He often spoke Spanish while I realtimed – writing verbatim text projected to a large screen on the altar from my steno machine. I’d sigh; he’d smile and then translate.

As we became friends, I learned Balty was ordained in 1950. Serving multiple roles he was devoted to causes close to his heart. Balty remained involved with Native Americans and tirelessly worked to mediate retrieval of their remains, bones, from the University of Texas at San Antonio, UTSA. I am not surprised that he donated his body to UTSA.

Balty was parochial vicar at San Fernando Cathedral (where Davy Crockett is buried). Since 1967, he was director of four 18th-century Old Spanish Missions for the Archdiocese (the active parishes of Concepcion, San Jose, San Juan, and Espada Missions). Balty established the San Antonio Mission National Historical Park and a historic cooperative agreement with the National Park Service, which the NPS is working to model around the United States.

His picture was in our newspaper so often that I’d phone Balty teasing him that he was my “Where’s Waldo?” Balty was absolutely devoted to his extended family, organizing Schulenburg, Texas, reunions with nieces and nephews. I extended multiple holiday invitations, but he’d say, “I want to spend time with the girls (nuns). I’ve known many for 50 years; they’re good cooks. Can you understand?”

Later when he handed me his business card, I saw his title Monsignor Janacek. He shrugged, “Balty – really.” Balty was the “jolly” man who arrived with his peace sign.

One Sunday, Balty asked my husband and me to lunch. He asked me what I needed to CART for the Deaf. (CART is communication access realtime translation. I used my equipment writing to a large screen with instant translation for the Deaf mass.) My husband did not hesitate, “Her equipment is seven years older since she began to volunteer. She has wear and tear on her equipment.”

I blinked, immediately swallowing warm Black Eyed Pea cornbread. Balty smiled, “How much would it cost for the church to purchase new equipment? Monette, could you use our equipment?”

Balty and my husband wrote numbers on paper napkins as I watched. Then Balty turned to me, “How about $10,000? Would that work, Monette? What do you need? The Christopher Columbus Society is having their spaghetti dinner. I’ll ask them.” Lunch was wonderful, and we never ventured back to the topic as we laughed and enjoyed our time together that sunny day.

Church members were accustomed to me rushing up aisles 15 minutes before our Deaf mass. To prep equipment, I darted around people praying, families posing for pictures after baptisms and other church events. Parents and parishioners prevented small children from playing with my equipment, understanding my frantic movements each Sunday.

Soon Balty called, “They agreed!” This event is famous. Politicians and judges arrive to shake hands. Spaghetti is homemade and all you can eat. I attended and was thanked by lines of volunteers serving family recipes. Balty waved at me as I stood in line. Then, he sat at our long table as we ate our spaghetti. He was busy laughing and listening and enjoying the event.

Balty purchased all my hardware and court reporting software. I prepared paperwork; he cut checks. We were a good team, and Deaf were thrilled everyone supported their community.

I have wonderful memories of Balty. I fondly remember when Balty casually commented that women should have rights to become priests. (His predecessor preferred Latin masses and fasting.)

I paused before stroking “those” words. Parishioners paused, too – looking to my large screen, narrowing their eyes. My hands poised above my steno keyboard, Balty looked at me and slowly nodded.

As I realtimed his words, Balty paused, too. After a long silence, people coughed, looked to one another, and then looked up to my (large) screen at the (large) all upper cap text. Then, small groups stood and ever so slowly side-stepped to the center aisle. They gave him one slow final look before each quietly and politely exiting the church that morning.

Later I teased Balty, “Well, you won’t be seeing the front of their faces any time soon. Before you arrived, standing room only – now – wide open spaces.” He smiled, eyes soft.

I phoned Balty when remarkable events occurred. I was honored how he shared his life – on and off the record. I became protective of Balty as he detailed his world, expanding mine.

In 2000, I moved away from San Antonio. (I returned 2002.) The National Court Reporters Association’s, NCRA, 2001 mid-year was in San Antonio, so when I flew in, I went to my room and immediately called Balty, “I’m up the road.” Balty instantly recognized my voice, “Monette, hi; I’ll hurry this wedding rehearsal and be right there!”

The hotel lobby had open seating. He ordered “two glasses of your finest wine.” He raised his glass and began singing to me. Balty had a deep melodic voice; he sang in Spanish. (He did not lower his voice; crystal wine glass held high, he sang.) Stunned, I watched others watch me before I relaxed, listening. When Balty finished, he raised his glass higher and toasted me.

I whispered, “I don’t understand what you just sang. It sounded beautiful.”

Balty laughed, “Monette, I sang a love song to you.” I blinked hard. Balty smiled, “I sang this song to thank you for all you’ve done. I sang so you will always remember this moment.”

As we dined, court reporters trolled and stopped to chat at our table. (Balty wore a solid black shirt. I watched Balty remove his white collar the moment he entered the hotel. I teased him about being off-duty.) Bill Weber was incoming NCRA president. His board of directors had driven into the Hill Country to film a movie for his induction. I proudly introduced directors, many wearing country overalls, to “the man who raised $10,000 with spaghetti to purchase CART equipment.” Every court reporter thanked him. Oh, how Balty laughed and smiled. His eyes twinkled, and he enjoyed every moment.

Hours later, court reporters stood at the elevators waving good-bye to my friend.

Balty waved – waiting for me to get into an elevator. I waved – waiting for him to leave. And we met more people at those elevators. He and I waited for the other to turn; neither wanted the evening to end. We spent hours at the elevators talking, laughing and having great fun as I introduced Balty to many friends. Court reporters still comment on that moment when they see me.

When diagnosed with leukemia, Balty was optimistic. I’d phone his private cell phone; he’d answer, “Hi, Moe-net!” I could hear Spanish in the background, and he was frequently in a southside clinic “waiting to be seen.” Once I joked that he’d spent more than 50 years visiting hospitals – perhaps he could get an appointment. Softly Balty said, “Monette, I’m with my people; this is where I want to be.”

I encouraged Balty to record his memoirs. I wanted one tape for the church and another detailed version for his family, describing historic, momentous events he transformed. I teased him that he should have a glass of red wine and sit and talk. I knew his family would want these tapes.

We kept in touch as Balty rounded the last corner of his life. I would phone his cell phone, and we would laugh and listen to the other. I always had his name on my to-call list. Each Monday, I put his name on my list.

His last Sunday, April 30, 2007, I had phone in hand dialing his number that afternoon when I was distracted to a family moment. I put the phone down. I knew I would find the time to phone him. His name remained on my list.

I did not know that Balty recently left his archdiocese apartment. Alone, he checked into hospice. I did not know he had few visitors. That Sunday he “snuck out to a Mexican restaurant with family; nuns looked the other way.” He watched Spurs basketball on TV – they won.

Monsignor Balthasar Janacek died that night at 80 years of age. I learned from his family, “When the nurse checked on him at 3 a.m., he was cold, talking in Czech. A little while later he was speaking in English to his mother. He said, ‘Mom, I don’t think I am going to make it.’”

Balty’s card remains in my wallet. I haven’t been able remove it. I now live with mindful regrets that I’ll never be able to write his name on another call list. Oh, he was proud of CART providers and captioners, our skills, how we help people. Balty was our biggest fan.

I want you to know this about Balty. He was special to so many people for so long. And I believe that Balty Janacek is greeting his family, friends, and strangers with a peace sign, kind words, laughter, and beautiful song.

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