Obituary: Zdenka Vera (née Smetak) Jindra

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This summer, family and friends mourned the sudden passing of Zdenka Vera (née Smetak) Jindra, a long-time resident of Floral Park. A first generation Czech-American, young Zdenka was born, on April 26, 1926, and raised in Manhattan’s longtime Czechoslovak neighborhood of Yorkville. Her immigrant family moved several times during the Great Depression, and as the eldest, she often hauled ice or stood on bread lines to help her family make ends meet. When she started kindergarten, unable to speak a word of English, her name was changed to her middle name, Vera, due to the difficulties her teachers encountered in correctly pronouncing her first name. She soon mastered English and several other languages, became an accomplished piano player, and was an habitual attendee in the standing room only-section of Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Opera.

She excelled in mathematics, allowing her to advance her public school education, be skipped grades, and be graduated from the prestigious Julia Richman High School at the age of 16. At this time, while the Second World War was raging, the Marines were fighting their way across the Pacific.

Jindra desired to serve her country and volunteered for federal service. While she sought to serve in the WAC’s (Women’s Army Corps), it was her prodigious talent in mathematics that caused her to be recruited to the Office of Scientific Research and Development. Jindra soon received high-level security clearance and was assigned to the National Research and Development Committee, Division 15, located on the 73rd floor of the Empire State Building in Manhattan – The Manhattan Project.

The Manhattan Project was a top secret research and development project which was responsible for the design and production of the atomic bombs which ended World War II. The project was under the direction of Major General Leslie R. Groves, Jr. of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; theoretical physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Ph.D., was assigned as the scientific director of the project.

In her position, Jindra had the daily opportunity to interact with several of the great physicists, including: Frank F. Oppenheimer, Ph.D. and Karl T. Compton, Ph.D., as well as Nobel laureates Robert A. Millikan, Ph.D. and Enrico Fermi, Ph.D.   

During this time, she was unhurt when a U.S. Army B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building while she and others were on duty, during the morning hours of July 28, 1945.

After the end of the Second World War, Jindra served the unit until it was disbanded on March 31, 1946. Impressed by what he saw when she worked on the project, she was hired to commence service on April 8, 1946, by Harold A. Ley, Sr., president and chief executive officer of Life Extension Institute, Inc., to work with him and his son Harold A. Ley, Jr., for several different companies which Ley owned. Jindra’s mathematics skills again brought her great success, as she rose through the ranks to become bookkeeper, accountant, and one of the first women, in the 1950s, to crack the “glass ceiling” and hold the position of corporate treasurer and corporate comptroller.

Shortly before starting work for Ley, Jindra attended a dance on Feb. 16, 1946, with her parents and sister, at the Foresters of America, a club to which her father belonged. There she met a young Czech immigrant, who was awarded American citizenship upon his honorable discharge from military service, who had just returned from convalescence due to serious wounds he received during combat duty while serving in the Allied Invasion of Europe. That man was Staff Sergeant Leonard (né Ladislav) Jindra. The happy couple was engaged a year later, married on May 9, 1948 at the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church by Pastor Joseph F. Šefel, and celebrated their wedding at the Ceská Národní Budova across 74th Street in Yorkville.

While working on the Manhattan Project, she attended Hunter College, Park Avenue campus at night; finally in June, 1951, she was graduated from Hunter College, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics, with a minor in education, Magna cum Laude, with selection to Phi Beta Kappa.

 She became a perennial student of the arts and was a life-long scholar; she was a frequent visitor to many libraries including the Floral Park Public Library, to local concerts and symphonies, and to art exhibitions across the country.  

On Aug. 22, 1951, the Jindras moved from New York City and purchased their home in Floral Park. In June, 1958, she ended her employment with Ley; three months later, she and her husband welcomed the birth of their son, Dr. Lawrence F. Jindra, and two years later they welcomed the birth of their daughter, Diana F. (née Jindra) Trachtulec. Surviving the almost fatal misdiagnosis of a postpartum hemorrhage by a local physician, she cheated death, survived the massive blood loss, and settled into her role as a devoted and loving wife, mother, and homemaker.  

In May 1992, after a chance mobile screening, Jindra was diagnosed with breast cancer, was treated, and enjoyed many years of cancer-free survival. In August 2006, she was diagnosed with metastatic disease; she stoically persevered against this disease, as a silent warrior without complaint nor request for sympathy.

She succumbed to the side-effects of radiation treatment and passed away on Aug. 5, 2014. A private service of committal was officiated by Minister George Bashian, of the Garden City Community Church, on Aug. 8, 2014, at Dalton Funeral Home in Floral Park, followed by cremation and interment at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Astoria.  

A devoutly private and humble woman, few of her friends, neighbors, or fellow club members were aware they sat next to a woman, who in a previous life routinely interacted with high-level physicists, military brass, and corporate captains of industry and finance. Proud patriot, corporate officer, mathematician, linguist, arts devotée, scholar, and devoted wife and mother, Zdenka Vera Smetak Jindra was one of the great women of the Greatest Generation.

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