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'Accidental Hero' play honors veterans

WORTHINGTON -- The War Memorial Auditorium -- better known as Memorial Auditorium these days -- commemorated World War I heroes when it was built in 1931.

"Gifted to future generations in the hope that those lives lost would not be forgotten," said George Wycoff during the 1931 dedication.

Auditorium manager Margaret Vosburgh said the building was rededicated to all war veterans, for the second time, after renovations were completed this year.

As Veterans Day rolls around this year, the Friends of the Auditorium organization, in an effort to again honor veterans, is hosting "The Accidental Hero" -- a one-man play written and performed by Minnesota resident Patrick Dewane.

"We want them (veterans) to be able to talk to one another and with the community," Vosburgh explained. "Hopefully after the play, they'll walk away feeling like the heroes that they are."

Aptly named, the play is the story of Dewane's grandfather, Matt Konop, a man of Czech descent, who sneaked into and liberated locals from a small town in Czechoslovakia. It was the same town where Konop's mother grew up.

"What happened to him was something so incredible and beyond anything I could ever imagine," Dewane said. "He grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, speaking only Czech until he was 6. He was always embarrassed about his Czech background because he was made fun of by the Irish and German kids, so he saw his background as something he needed to overcome."

Konop's profound experience during the war changed him. A heritage about which he used to be embarrassed became something about which he was obsessed.

"His souvenirs from World War II permeated through his house as much as his cigarette smoke did, yet he never wanted to talk about it," Dewane noted.

Dewane, who has been involved in plays since his high school years, said he knew he had to translate his grandfather's writings into a play. Friends who had heard snippets of the letter from him were amazed at the coincidences.

"One day I heard the voice saying 'What are you waiting for?" he explained about how he finally started his work on "The Accidental Hero." "We honor veterans by saying thank you, but what else can we do?"

While working on the script, his uncle approached him with a movie camera his grandfather had during his service in the war. With clips he digitized from the camera, Dewane's play includes rare footage from WWII.

Dewane has performed nationwide, including 40 locations throughout Minnesota. He is hoping to perform in the Czech Republic, where he has been invited to showcase "The Accidental Hero."

Sponsored by Freedom Veterans Memorial Park, the play is scheduled for 3 p.m. Nov. 6.

Free admission is only for veterans. Box office manager Janene Winters advised veterans and others interested to call for advance tickets. Call the auditorium ticket office, 376-9101, for pricing and more information. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.