Peony Park, known for its ballroom, its swimming pool, and it’s amusement park is embedded in the memories of many in Omaha. The bands, its fight against desegregation, and dozens of events tell pieces of its story. Another piece is Jerry Malec, park owner and mechanic for the air mail service.
Jerry Malec was born in 1891 in Austria or Bohemia or Moravia or the Czech Republic or Czechoslovakia depending on what record you are looking at. But the subject of European border changes is getting a bit far afield. Suffice to say, the Malec’s were among a large central European population in Omaha. Malec and his family immigrated to the United States in 1904. His father died in 1910, leaving his widow Agnes and several children, and was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Omaha.
Agnes Malec was well provided for. The 1910 census has her living with five children, including two adult sons and one who was 17 and working. Additionally Jerry worked in Plum Creek township in Butler County as a farm laborer. When World War I approached, at least three sons, including Jerry, attempted to get draft exemptions for having to care for their mother. The three also had filed paperwork for naturalization but were not currently citizens. Jerry did wind up in the army where he served in the signal corps with the 44th Aero Squadron (Omaha Bee, June 13, 1920).
In 1916 Joe Malec, on behalf of himself and his three brothers, bought 10 acres of pasture land and a general store. Such were the beginnings of Peony Park, a major landmark in Omaha until 1994. By 1919 the Malec’s ran a garage. Joe may have been the face of the new venture, but he had help. An Omaha Bee advertisement lists the Malec Brothers as a seller of Kokomo tires. The 1920 describes Jerry as an automechanic. However in 1920, he also served as a mechanic at the Aksarben Airfield. A 1921 Omaha Bee Article has him going to Kansas City to assist with an aerial display at a convention for the American Legion.
It’s difficult to pin down exactly when Jerry Malec quit the air mail service or why. It could be that the new Peony Park venture came to dominate his time. It could be that he left when the airport moved to Fort Crook in 1924 or when the line was contracted out in 1927. What is clear is that the 1930 census declares that Malec is the secretary for Peony Park, and by his death in 1937 Jerry Malec was the President of Peony Park, Inc. He died after fighting an unspecified illness for more than a year (Omaha World Herald). He went to Rochester, Minnesota in an attempt to fight the disease, but doctors would not operate and he succumbed.
Malec left behind many legacies…the legacy of the park which became synonymous with Omaha music and entertainment, the legacy of a family’s immigration to and success in the United States, the legacy of a soldier in the signal corps in World War I. We should not forget that he was also part of the legacy of the Post Office’s Air Mail Service.