Ladislav Haňka (1920-2018)

SVU founding member
b. July 31, 1920 in Mnětice, Czechoslovakia
d. March 26, 2018, Kalamazoo, Michigan

Dr. Haňka grew up on state-owned horse breeding station in Nemošice not far away from the place of his birth. He attended secondary school in Pardubice, graduated, and started studying agriculture in Prague. His higher education was interrupted, however, as universities were closed during the German occupation; during that time, he worked in large agricultural establishments and taught in a boarding school for future farmers. After the war he studied agricultural engineering in Prague and in Denmark and was active in student organizations. After graduation he worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and put to good use his knowledge of the new technique of artificial breeding in cattle that he studied in Denmark. In 1948 he married Eva Neugebauer and they settled in Prague but not for long. In September 1950 they escaped to Germany crossing the forbidden zone in Šumava Mountains. They did not stay long in the refugee camp though, as they moved to Frankuft/M where they worked for International Refugee Organization (IRO) for almost a year, until they obtained an immigration visa to USA. They crossed the stormy Atlantic by boat, landed in New York on November 24, 1951 and settled in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Ladislav worked then at a large cattle-breeding farm thus again putting to work what he learned in Denmark. After about a year and a half, seeing the need for an advanced degree he accepted a position on a similar farm at Iowa State College in Ames and began to study again. It was at this time that he was contacted and informed about efforts to form an organization that in time became SVU. He was enthusiastic about the project, cooperated fully and thus became a member right at the beginning. The Haňkas lived in Ames until 1958 but Ladislav did not quite stay with agriculture and became more interested in science. In 1958 he received PhD in microbiology and accepted a position with Upjohn pharmaceutical company in Kalamazoo, MI. There he worked first on antibiotics and a few years later he joined the company’s cancer research department. During his career at Upjohn he pursued some successful research projects and was also quite active in organizing cancer research on international level. He took part in a number of meetings and symposia as a speaker and organizer. In 1986 he retired, and it was only after his retirement that he received recognition for a drug he worked on and had a patent for – Vidaza used now to treat myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of leukemia. It was marketed by Pharmion, now Celgene Co. The Haňkas, both members of SVU attended a number of conventions of SVU, spoke and did their part. They also quite often drove to Chicago to join the Czech community’s events there and after the Velvet Revolution made many trips to their native republic. Michigan was a good place for Ladislav to settle though because he was an avid fisherman and hunter and found a lot of opportunity for both in this new home.

Ladislav is survived by his wife Eva, son Ladislav and daughter Jana, their spouses and two grandsons.

Read more about Ladislav Hanka in Kalamazoo Gazette