Jim and Ann Mrazek make no secret of the reasons why they support The Fund for American Studies – specifically its international programs. “A common thread in my wife’s and my upbringings was a great appreciation for our families’ history and moral values. While we were both several generations removed from the old homelands, we were very conscious of our Eastern European heritage – mine being Czech and Ann’s being Hungarian,” said Mr. Mrazek. “It was instilled in us early on to be dedicated to and proud of our country, but also nurture a view toward a better world for all.”
Mr. Mrazek is a New York City native and his wife, Ann, is from New Jersey. The couple met at Cornell University in New York and are now approaching their 50th wedding anniversary. They have two children, Kimberly and Christopher, as well as five grandchildren. From their earliest days, the Mrazek family has had a strong interest in and ties to the international community.
“After receiving an MBA and working domestically for four years for a multinational corporation, I was provided the opportunity to go ‘international’ and to live and work overseas,” said Mr. Mrazek. “It was a giant step, leaving family, friends and the security of home for the risks and challenges of managing overseas subsidiaries. We left in 1968 with our two children, Kimberly and Christopher, for a ‘hardship’ posting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we began our long association with Latin America. We resided there for three years, then spent three years in Caracas, Venezuela and finally had another three year posting in Sao Paolo, Brazil.”
The Mrazeks describe returning to the United States after their international work as a mixed blessing. While their children would be able to attend high school in the United States and prepare for college, and Mrs. Mrazek could take on career opportunities unavailable overseas, the whole family missed the excitement and challenges they had experienced overseas.
When the Mrazeks learned about TFAS, they saw an immediate fit for their charitable efforts. “Our interest in TFAS grew with our exposure to the AIPES program at Charles University in Prague. This addressed our desire to help young people from the Czech Republic and Hungary to embrace the ideas of a free society,” said Mr. Mrazek.
In 2007 TFAS President Roger Ream approached the Mrazeks with a new idea. At the time, TFAS was forming the Institute for Leadership in the Americas (ILA), and the Mrazeks had a longstanding interest in Latin America from their time overseas. “Our time in Latin America, during which we took every opportunity to travel widely, opened our eyes to ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ that prevails in these very different cultures. There was no simple solution to address their economic desires to succeed through free markets, express contrary views and break down social barriers. There was a crying need to provide economic, political and social freedom,” said Mr. Mrazek.
In ILA, the Mrazeks found an outlet for their desire to make a difference in Latin America. “This was a real eye opener based on the caliber of students, the participation and appreciation they expressed and the enthusiasm with which they left the program to make a difference in their own countries,” said Mr. Mrazek. “For us, it was also a means of payback for the wonderful experiences we all had living, exploring and working hard in these lands of opportunity.”
According to Mr. Mrazek, the mission of TFAS is essential to the future of the world.
The ability to educate and train future leaders around the world to be proponents for free enterprise and an open society is a most satisfying and commendable undertaking,” said Mr. Mrazek. “That is what motivated us to establish a scholarship to further support the growing efforts of TFAS.”
The Mrazeks’ generous endowed scholarship will ensure that generations of future leaders in Latin America are able to learn those very principles.