Former Czech model finds happiness, inspiration at Glenmere mansion

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    CHESTER-Radka Mandel wanted to come to America. She had an exciting modeling career in her native Czech Republic, which took her all around Europe. Still, she wanted more. In 1992 Radka was offered a babysitting job in the United States. "I was still modeling in Europe and on top of the world over there, but I decided to come and I started from scratch," she said. "I came with one suitcase, ended up at JFK. I guess I was very adventurous." "I just knew this was it, that I wanted to stay here," she said. "I just loved it here. I decided I would never stay illegally." Then, as fate would have it, Radka won the green card lottery. She had a degree in economics in the Czech Republic and had studied travel and catering. So, after her babysitting stint, she began working for a Czech travel agency. Next she went into photography, opening a fashion studio on 25th Street in Manhattan. There she met her future husband, Richard Mandel, a once "confirmed bachelor" who lived in the magnificent 32-room, 30,000-square-foot Glenmere mansion in Chester. Glenmere is a testament to Radka's flair for design. She finds the practice of using interior decorators a bit strange. In her native country, she said, women automatically design their own surroundings. The mansion is furnished with interesting pieces. A bed from the William J. Jenack auction house in Sugar Loaf now sits in the bedroom once used by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The house was built in 1911 in the style of an Italian villa. In the 1930s it became the Glenmere Hotel. Richard Mandel, an original owner of Chelsea Piers Complex in New York City, bought the house from the county 20 years ago and made extensive restorations. The Mandels rent the house for weddings, corporate events, and anniversary parties. There are already some 36 weddings booked for 2005 at Glenmere. The base price is $3,000 for five hours for 100 people. Local businesses, such as the Landmark Inn of Warwick, cater Glenmere events. Radka's most recent project is Mucha Art, which adapts Art Nouveau designs to scarves, prints, jewelry, and stained glass [see sidebar, next page]. Radka was only a baby when the Soviet troops marched into Prague in 1968. The fall of communism, which she refers to as "the revolution," came in 1989. One good thing to come out of the Soviet system was her education. "I got the education and it was great and it was free," she said. Yet there were scarcities not imagined in the U.S. Certain fruits were available only once a year at holiday times. "A lot of people take things for granted here," she said. "I'm not saying everything is perfect here, but I can compare it with something else. I saw oranges once a year, it was at Christmas. Bananas, forget about it, they were just for Saint Nicholas, December 6." The worst part of the Soviet system for Radka was the coercion. Learning the Russian language was mandatory — she didn't mind the language, just the forced part. She said it was funny how Russian things were encouraged in Czechoslovakia, unless it involved some She greatly admires Gorbachev for his role in ending the Soviet era. But her birth country is now becoming too Americanized, she said. Yet, she's not all that concerned about her old home. "I want to be involved in what's happening here," she said. And there's a lot happening. Radka's pre-teen daughters love horses and soccer, and her four-year-old son rides a motorcycle, just like the "real" cycle Dad keeps parked in the living room. Glenmere's third floor is dedicated to Harry Potter, complete with potions and old trunks and other things out of childhood imaginations. "I knew this is where I wanted to be the first time I went to the States," she said. Information on Glenmere can be found at