Kysuca, Kysuca...the cold spring of Kysuca

A well known nostalgic anthem of the Kysuce people suggests that the Kysuce region located in the northern part of Slovakia is typical for its harsh climate where the springs and rivers have always been cold ... and life was very hard, even extremely hard. In the period from 1899 to 1913, almost 2.5 million people emigrated from Slovakia, most of them coming just from the area of northern Slovakia. The number represented at least a half of the Slovak population in total. People were emigrating for different reasons ranging from absolute misery to national oppression (Hungarian oppression in schools, offices and even in churches).

The difficult situation of the late 19th and the early 20th century stroke the fianceés Štefan Černan and Anna Lučanová from Vysoká nad Kysucou. Except for some fields Stefan Černan owned a water saw. Agriculture in Kysuce was not very efficient, because it was a region where "grain was sowed and stone was cropped". Water saws then lost their former economic effect and importance (in Čadca, a steam engine saw was assembled), therefore the young, hardworking, enterprising and courageous Štefan Černan, not seeing the possibility of further existence and life in Kysuce, decided to seek a future for himself and his family abroad,, in the country of a thousand possibilities "- in America, in the United States.

The people living in harsh conditions are said to be stronger, tenacious and wise individuals, which fully applies also to the natives of the Kysuce region.

Young Stefan Cernan left Kysuce and headed for America in 1900, where he settled down in Chicago. He began, almost like all Slovak emigrants to work in coal mines. Soon, in 1903 his young, 22-year-old fiancée Anna joined him and married him the same year. The couple invested their modest saving into purchasing of a small house on Hoyne Avenue in the south of Chicago. In 1904 (April 16), their first son, George Andrew Cernan, was born. Their second son Steve was named after his father, while their surname changed from Černan to Cernan (pronounced as Sernan).

Work in the mines as well as the polluted air in Chicago had a huge impact on Stephan´s health. Suffering from lung problems he looked for an escape from the situation. In 1930 he found a refuge in new environment of the north, in the state of Wisconsin, village of Antigo surrounded by dense forests, where he established a small 32-hectare cattle ranch. It was like a return to his native environment and to the way of life of the Kysuce region : plowing, sowing, harvesting hay and straw, breeding cattle, milking cows, making butter ... and cutting timber, that was what he loved.

Although Štefan Černan was a short man (150 cm, 55 kg), he was extremely diligent, persistent, tenacious, hardworking, ambitious and honest. He believed in what he had set his heart to and he usually achieved it. However, he was a little conservative. He did not like novelties (machinery, electricity) until he was convinced of their advantages. Even in America, he did not lose the love for the motherland, to Kysuce and to Slovakia. He was constantly forwarding all of these values to his children and grandchildren, especially to Eugene who was born in Chicago, Illinois, March 14, 1934.

It was at the end of the Great Depression, when a new hungry child was not too welcome. In 1935, when Eugene was scarcely one year old, his grandparents from mother´s side died, which had a significant impact on him.

Eugene-Gene was a very lively child who always wanted to spend time with his father in his workroom. Eugen´s father Andrew Cernan worked in the factory for metal products enameling based in Kansas. At the time of Eugene's youth the production went bankrupt and his father was made redundant. Soon afterwards, his parents were made to sell their house and rent a flat at the Twenty-third Avenue near Bellwood. As Andrew was a smart man, he was doing everything with the utmost perfection, while he taught his son to do the same. He learnt much in the metal industry; he had a workroom with a number of tools, machines and components thus becoming a master of many crafts.

Eugene’s gandparents´ farm in Antigo was 350 km far from Chicago, which was not very far away within the context of the American continent. The young Cernans together with their children used to visit grandparents quite often, especially during the seasonal field work, when every helping hand was welcome. Everyone including Gene helped, while Gene worked especially with horses. The work brought its reward in form of home grown products such as vegetables, potatoes, poultry, pork meat, and even high-quality veal.

Although young Eugene enjoyed helping his grandfather with the harvesting of hay, grain and other jobs, his interest and admiration was gradually more shifting towards the machines and technologies in the ranch, in particular he was attracted by an old miracle - a car placed in the shed.

Eugene was later interested in heroic battles of pilots on the naval aircraft carriers. He was impressed by the images of Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Midway, Guadalcanal and fascinated by the job of fighter aeroplanes pilots. He was only eight, but he felt the desire to become a pilot for maritime aircraft carrier. It was a radical decision for life but the young Eugene never changed it.

Eugene started attending the Roosevelt Elementary School in Bellwood at the age of 7. He always achieved excellent results and therefore he attended the seventh and eighth grade of primary school in Mc Kinley School in Bellwood. In 1948, he changed for the middle school level Provisio High School in Mayvood where he also achieved excellent results. He was awarded the place of the 14th best student from the total of 762 students of the whole school.

After finishing high school in 1952, Eugene´s father wanted him to graduate the best university specializing in the field of technologies. However, it was not easy in America that time as the studies required a great deal of money. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was considered the best university, was too expensive and thus unaffordable for the family. In his efforts to prepare a path leading to the desired goal - to become a pilot and to fulfil the wishes of his father, Eugene enrolled at the Purdue University in Lafayette. The town of Lafayette with the population of about 44,000 inhabitants is located in the town of Lafayette, State Indiana.

By passing the entrance examination with excellent results, Gene met the requirements for gaining a full scholarship. He subscribed to the study program of NROTC (Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps) - Marine Corps for training reserve officers specializing in electrical engineering. After four years of successful study he was moved as a member and holder of the academic degree of bachelor in the rank of a lieutenant. The students of Purdue University were obliged to spend one summer in Navy service on an army naval ship. Gene was serving on Roanoke, however he was missing what he loved the most - planes.

After World War II, science and technology moved higher on the spiral of human knowledge. Air Force came to a new point of quality. A testing pilot Jack Yeager first crossed the threshold of sound by reaching supersonic speed and thus opening the way for supersonic aircrafts. Wernher von Braun published the study called Space Flight together with the program for international scientific research (space flights, an international program for scientific research.)

Young Eugene Andrew Cernan was interested, fascinated and deeply impressed by all of these revolutionary novelties as they provided new perspectives and possibilities for his future. He could dream in a wider context. Until that time he had perceived the sky as the ultimate limit and suddenly he started realizing that thera are no limits in the universe. The Purdue University was the place of studies for the students such as Neil Armstrong, Roger Chaffee, Gus Grissom who all became astronauts in the following years.

After graduating Purdue University with excellent academic results and on the ground of good references and recommendations, Eugene could become a candidate for the position of a commanding officer in the unit NROTC. He did not know this time whether he had a real chance to be admitted to the aviation school and to become a pilot after all.

Having taken a brief aviation course, he started on single engine planes in January 1957. After 30 hours of flying practice in Whiting Field, Eugene started flying T-28 fighter jets in formation; he trained in navigation over land days and nights. After completing 100 hours of practice, Eugene was moved to Bason Field, which clearly determined him to become a real pilot. This was the moment when he could feel the relief. Since this moment flying became his job and his greatest enjoyment. He served on several aircraft carriers such as Saipan, USS Ranger, Shangri-La and others.

As the fate wanted, Eugene was once waiting at the lnternational Airport in Los Angeles at the checkout. Suddenly, a beautiful slim blonde Barbara appeared in front of him and charmed him at first sight. Great love of the day began to get its specific contours. In fact, who could resist a slim tall, blue-eyed Navy lieutenant and an active pilot! Not even Barbara could resist. When their love lasted almost two years, Eugene proposed her in March 1961.

On 20th February 1962 both of them watched the flight of John Glenn on television - the first American to orbit the Earth in a rocket. Both of them are enthusiastic. Barbara says:”You would not want to do such a thing? "Gene answers: “Hell, of course, I would like that for sure," Gene felt a new dream was born deep in himself – the dream of becoming an astronaut.

After studying aeronautical engineering at Monterey Eugene was finally placed on the list of 400 candidates for astronaut career in summer 1963 and later on, NASA nominated him among the last 14 pilots, future astronauts.