Clement (left) with a co-worker

Clement Rybar was born on February 6, 1915 in Slovakia to Jonas Rybar and Alena Kriz.  Jonas owned a substantial farm, and even though he and Alena had seven children to help, they still needed to hire extra workers to get all of the work done.  Clement went to school until about the six grade, enough to learn to read and write, and then quit.  He helped his father on the farm for a number of years before serving in the Slovak army for four years.  When he was eventually released, he began working as a mechanic, a skill he had learned in the army, in the town of Bratislava, which was much bigger than the village he had grown up near.

He worked long hours, his favorite past time being a walk in the city’s many parks on Sunday, his one day off.  It was on just such a walk that he spotted a lovely young woman and went over to introduce himself.  Her name was Renata Strnad, and the two of them began meeting regularly each Sunday after that to walk together.  One Sunday, Clement gathered up the courage to take her hand and ask her to marry him.  She said yes, and after a short engagement, they married.

Clement originally stated that the two of them never had any children and that Renata died of cancer after nine years of marriage.  Later, however, Clement admitted that he had lied.  Renata is apparently alive and well and still living in Slovakia with their four children.  He does not say why the two divorced or why he is estranged from all of them and becomes agitated when asked about this chapter in his life.

In 1969, he apparently decided to immigrate to America because he couldn’t stand the Communist government in Czechoslovakia any longer.  He admired Tito in Yugoslavia because he allowed a certain amount of freedom under Communism, namely that people could come and go, but, says Clement, all the other Slavic countries were too much under the control of Moscow and did not “enjoy that luxury.”

Thus, Clement somehow escaped and ended up in Cleveland, Ohio, where he found a job in a restaurant.  He then when on to get a job in a clothes factory and worked there for about three years before getting a job as a milling operator.  He enjoyed dancing, reading and music and spending time with a large group of friends.  He can speak Slovakian, Serbian, Russian and Polish and claims to have traveled to every country in Europe over the years.

Clement says that sometime in the 1970’s he married another woman, Nancy Klimich, whom he met in Cleveland through friends, but says that she died in a car accident after only a few years of them being together.  Clement says he really grieved for her, especially as, right at about that same time, he had an accident at work which resulted in him losing two fingers.  After he eventually recovered, he was fired because he could no longer adequately perform his job.  Not wanting to give up working, he started his own remodeling business and actually became quite successful at it.

Meanwhile, Clement says he was very lonely and craved a wife.  “I’m no Robinson Crusoe,” he said.  “I don’t like to be alone.  I like to be with people; I crave companionship.”  Not being able to find anyone in Ohio, he started taking out “inter-country personal ads” to try to find a wife and says he went to Yugoslavia over twenty times to meet potential women.  Unfortunately, they all turned out to be impoverished, homeless or worse.  Besides this desire for companionship, however, Clement says he was anxious to find someone to marry so that he could leave his assets to a new wife instead of everything going to his first wife, whom he assumed was still living somewhere in Slovakia.  He resolved at the time that if he couldn’t find anyone to leave his money to, he would give it all to the Red Cross rather than have his first wife and his children “snatch it up.”

Clement’s situation changed, however, in 1989 with the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia.  After that, Clement says that the Czech government began sending out propaganda to all the ex-pats, inviting them to come back to Czechoslovakia and start over.  It was enough to convince Clement, and he sold everything he owned here and moved back to Czechoslovakia.  There he invested the equivalent of 120,000 US dollars in a building company that promised to build him a brand new house on a large tract of land.  Clement waited for over six years for work to begin on his house.  Finally, fed up and desperate, he took them to court.  Shortly after the case began, however, he says he was attacked by two men while walking down the street.  He was beaten and put on a plane bound for Chicago.  He has no proof, but he is convinced the attack was somehow connected to the building company that he was attempting to sue and is sure that these same people have meanwhile confiscated his property and money.

After landing at O’Hare, agitated, beaten, and distraught, he was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with depression and “abnormal behavior.”  Clement says he “went a little wild” because no one could understand what he was saying.  He was eventually transferred to a nursing home, which he says he hated because it was dirty and all of the residents were old and sick.  Clement demanded that they allow him to go back to Ohio, saying that he had many friends there who would “take him in.”  The administrator of that nursing home reports that he was able to contact some of these people, though some were already deceased.  The ones that he did manage to find, however, were either too ill themselves to care for Clement or simply unwilling to take him in.  Finally, unable to deal with Clement’s demands and horrible mood swings, the nursing home sent him back to the hospital.  The hospital discharge staff then sent him to another nursing home with a high number of Czech residents and staff in hopes that Clement would be happier.

Clement does indeed seem to be happier now and is making a very smooth transition to his current facility.  He has, for the most part, given up the notion of going back to live in Ohio, but tells the same story over and over of how he was cheated and robbed in Czechoslovakia to anyone who will listen.   He is now asking the staff to contact the Czech Daily Herald to come and interview him about what happened to him in the hopes that someone out there in the Czech community will be able to help him get his money back.

Meanwhile, he enjoys the food and activities at the home and especially enjoys being around the other residents.  He is almost never to be found in his room and is always out doing something.    Clement appears to be alert and aware, but it is impossible to determine how much of his story is fact or fiction.  The administrator of the previous nursing home also reports that not only did he spend many months trying to contact Clement’s friends in Ohio, but he likewise attempted to investigate the mysterious building company in Czechoslovakia, the companies Clement worked for in Ohio, his first wife and children in Slovakia, and any remains of his second wife’s family.  Oddly, he was not able to trace any part of Clement’s supposed history.

Except for the distress he seems to experience when telling his same story over and over, Clement seems to be happy and content.

(Originally written: April 1996)