'Harry' Velich and Kate Clement

When Harry met Kate

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— When Kate Clement pictured her wedding day, she probably didn't expect that her husband would get to "buy" her. And if she did get bought, she probably would have expected to go for a little bit more than a cuisinart.

Vlastimil "Harry" Velich, following his native Czech customs, shelled out $75, which is a handsome sum in the Czech Republic, to purchase his bride. What's more, Velich had attempted to make the deal for about $16.50, until his relatives pushed him to up the offer.

The purchasing ritual was only one of the surprises that awaited American Kate Clement when she decided to go to the Czech Republic in 1999 to marry Harry for the second time in a year and a half.

Kate and Harry, who now live together in Steamboat Springs, had to travel vast physical and ideological distances to be together. But now, after dealing with periodic visits from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, sleeping in a tent on Rabbit Ears Pass and scraping by in Oak Creek, they have come to own a home and a solid sense of place in Steamboat.

Kate, a Fort Collins native who was traveling through Europe by herself for the summer in 1996, met Harry on a bridge in Cesky Krumlov.

Harry, a stone mason by trade, was making "hay wraps" in Cesky Krumlov to support himself while traveling around with his friends for the summer. Hay wrapping consists of wrapping colored string around strands of people's hair.

Harry, who spoke no English whatsoever when he met the 21-year-old American, attempted to converse with Kate in broken Spanish as he wrapped the string around her long, brown hair. Kate, in turn, used what little Spanish she knew to keep up the conversation, but they soon realized their conversations would be extremely limited.

Then a few days later, Kate and Harry went down to the southern part of the country to Sobeslav, the village where Harry grew up.

Because Kate was leaving from Milan for the states a few days later, Harry accompanied her down to Italy. When she departed, he knew it wouldn't be the last time they saw each other.

A few months later, Harry, short on cash to fly to America, sold his car. The small brown 1974 "Skoda" sold for about 21,000 crowns, or about $700 based on the exchange rate at the time. The plane ticket, which cost about $800, put Harry back even more.

When he arrived in Colorado, Harry stayed with Kate in her Boulder apartment while she went to classes at the University of Colorado.

He learned English by watching television, mostly documentaries, he said. The rest he learned through conversation. His English, however, progressed slowly Harry sometimes sprinkles Czech words into conversations and conjugates most of his verbs in the present tense. Yet, for a person who has never taken an English class, Harry's language skills leave little to be desired. After three and a half months of living with Kate, Harry returned to the Czech Republic.

Meanwhile, Kate did her best to learn Czech, visiting Harry four months later in Sobeslav, where she spent the summer with Harry's family.

"I did know a little Czech, but he didn't know any English," Kate said.

One more visit to the states the next year clinched it for Harry. Although the couple knew they would be subject to scrutiny and, as it turned out, poverty, the bond was strong enough to overcome the obstacles.

The two had their first wedding at Colorado National Monument, where they eloped when they were both 23. They hiked to the top of a mountain and exchanged rings and vows under Colorado's law that allows couples to marry themselves. The ceremony took place with the signing of papers at the edge of a cliff.

Because Harry and Kate were the only ones to attend the wedding, there are no pictures of them together at the ceremony, only a picture of two flowers and the rings at the edge of the cliff.

The couple spent its three week honeymoon traveling around the Southwest, visiting Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and the Grand Canyon on the trip.

"It's a nice trip," Harry said. "I see lots of different states I never see before."

On the way, the couple picked up an Indian hitchhiker, whom they offered cold beer.

They returned to Boulder with a mixed-breed black dog named Ivy and a mission to find a home.

"We spent the summer looking around for where we wanted to move to and we found Steamboat," Kate said.

Because Harry could not work for the first five months of their marriage, Kate was the sole wage earner.

They camped on Rabbit Ears for about three cold weeks in October and then moved to Oak Creek, feasting on Taco Bell when they had the money.

The couple had to spend about $1,000 on a lawyer to deal with the immigration department and sat through interviews that tested the sincerity of their love.

Meanwhile, Kate looked for jobs without a phone while Harry took Ivy into Steamboat and sat outside waiting for her to get off work.

They got on their feet in Oak Creek, with Harry finding a job as a stone mason.

It wasn't long, however, before the couple had its next adventure.

Despite their elopement, Harry and Kate decided that they ought to have a family ceremony in Harry's native Czech Republic.

In September 1999, the couple took the flight to the motherland, arranging much of the wedding in about a week. Harry's parents had arranged some of the ceremony before they arrived.

After Kate was "purchased," the couple got into separate cars, a blue BMW for Harry and a red Peugot for Kate, and drove to a ruined 15th century castle for their outdoor ceremony.

About 110 people looked on as an ancient bridge became the marriage aisle and a displaced Irishman the master of ceremonies. It was a fairy-tale wedding for the most part, though one slight glitch in the program brought the ceremony to a halt.

"He leaned over to kiss me but it was way too early and everybody started laughing," Kate said.

The party lasted for about 12 hours, with two meals and dancing until 3 in the morning.

For their second honeymoon, the couple return to Cesky Krumlov, the city where they met. They plan to buy a house there someday.

And now Harry and Kate have gained enough equity to purchase one side of a duplex in town and, with Ivy in tow, they have made the transition to being Steamboat locals.

Harry now owns his own masonry company, Velich Masonry, where he uses the skills he learned in trade school and as an apprentice in Europe and further enhanced with Joe Bender Masonry in Steamboat. He still drinks Czech beer, keeping a box full of empty Pilsner bottles in the den.

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