After first arriving in the United States from communist Czechoslovakia, Paul Hajek earned $3.15 an hour washing dishes at a Fred Meyer bakery in Lansing, Mich.
“Actually, I’m glad I did that,” Paul says now, reflecting on the job that helped him learn English – and simultaneously encouraged him to go to Michigan State University and earn a degree in physics.
Nearly 20 years later, Paul works for the Galliard Group, helping companies draft business, strategic and financial plans. He moved here last spring from Boise when the consulting firm decided it could use a full-time partner in Spokane.
It helped that his fiancé lives here, too.
“She’s from Cheney,” Paul says. “It was logical that I be the one who decides to come here.”
“We had lots of business with local manufacturing companies, and I was staying in hotels all the time,” Paul says.
He likes Spokane’s size, its easy access to ski resorts, its many lakes and its four seasons. He likes the revitalization he sees downtown.
“Lots of things are changing,” Paul says. “Out of all the places I’ve lived, Spokane is one of the best.”
And Paul has lived in lots of places. He spent his first 19 years in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, before deciding he couldn’t spend his life in a “totalitarian state,” he says.
“I couldn’t travel or read what I wanted. It was like the book ‘1984.’ “
He left Czechoslovakia in 1988, a year before the country became a federal republic. A political refugee, Paul was sponsored by a family in Lansing who helped him get his bearings. He eventually earned a master’s in physics and went to work as a project manager for NASA in the Bay area after stops in Denver, Los Angeles and Pasadena.
He earned an MBA in finance at San Jose State after deciding he “liked working with people more than machines,” he says.
Paul misses the diversity of the Bay area. “In one square mile, there is a lot more diversity as far as people and restaurants than in all of Spokane,” he says. But he doesn’t miss the traffic in the region, where a trip out of the city required at least two hours on a backed-up interstate.
Paul recently joined the Spokane Club to meet people, and he walks to Eastern Washington University’s gymnasium, where he loves to play racquetball.
He remains a “frequent flyer,” traveling every other week to meet with his partners in Boise, he says. “I still have clients there who need face-to-face meetings.”
Choosing real estate
Paul and his fiancé, Dani Gooler, chose an older, two-story home in Cheney near her parents. The couple, who are expecting a baby girl next month, chose the home because it “has a lot of character,” Dani says. “It’s in an established neighborhood with trees, and it’s close to Eastern.”
Paul says he likes the home’s manageable size – 2,000 square feet – and manageable price. “The housing here isn’t expensive,” he says. “It’s not a huge burden on the budget.”
He also likes that Dani’s two children, 6-year-old Hadyn and 14-year-old Eric, can play safely outside, and there’s plenty of space for a garden and his home office.
“I like being in a university town,” he says. “It’s very interesting.”
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