THE NEBRASKA CZECHS OF WILBER
By Helen Novak Baer
From the book Czechs and Nebraska
Edited by Vladimir Kucera and Alfred Novacek
In February 1962 four citizens of Wilber, Nebraska, Senator Joe T. Vosoba, Judge Eugene Zajicek, Pastor William Temps, and Walter A. Baer conceived the idea of forming a Wilber Czech organization for the purpose of (1) perpetuating Czech culture and tradition, (2) making Wilber the Czech Capital of Nebraska, (3) providing a tourist attraction by holding an annual Czech Festival, and (4) building a museum for the preservation of Czech literature, culture, and artifacts.
That group of four men was expanded to a committee of seven, adding Josef J. Novak, Ray Houska, and Josef Horacek. This committee then added six women: Mrs. Milo (Arlene Sobotka) Korinek; Mrs. Ed (Rose Svoboda) Prucha; Mrs. Edward (Lulu Nespory) Kohel; Mrs. Emil (Alice Svehlak) Kostka, Mrs. Nelson (Blanche Novak) Searcy; and Mrs. Walter (Helene Novak) Baer.
Each group met separately and discussed plans for organization, a Czech Festival, and general activities. Pastor Temps and Helene Baer consolidated the decision of the two groups and drew up general plans and committees for the First Annual Czech Festival for 3-4/August/1962.
The decision that came from these groups were that the organization was to be called “The Nebraska Czechs,” that any citizen indicated his desire to be a member by signing the official roster, that no membership dues be required, and that Senator Vosoba draw up Articles of Incorporation and By Laws.
On April 7, 1962 these articles and By-Laws were approved at a joint meeting of the thirteen committee members and the organization became “The Nebraska Czechs, Incorporated.”
The Nebraska Czechs, Inc., held its first meeting at the Sokol Hall in Wilber with Senator Vosoba presiding. He summarized the Articles of Incorporation and the By-Laws and explained the purposes of the organization. Officers elected for the year were Joe T. Vosoba, president; Eugene Zajicek, vice-president; Helene Novak Baer, secretary; and Charles Hroch, treasurer Ray Houska, Mary Bartos Menne and Bertha Bednar Pospisil were elected directors.
Governor Frank Morrison, guest speaker, told the meeting that organizations such as the Nebraska Czechs would help benefit tourism in Nebraska and help build the entire country by use of “common sense, understanding, friendship, and appreciation of all people.” Joe Seacrest, Editor of the Lincoln Journal, emphasized the tourist advantages which could come from a Czech museum and other cultural projects. He stressed the proud heritage of the Czech people and the need for preserving this heritage. Dr. Vladimir Kucera spoke to the group in Czech stressing the need for preserving things of Czech culture. Mayor-elect Walter A. Baer spoke of the benefits that this activity would bring to the local level of Wilber.
The evening’s program included a group of local dancers in Czech costumes who danced three Czech folk dances. The nine couples were Mr. and Mrs. Joe T. Vosoba, Mr. and Mrs. Josef Horacek, Mr. and Mrs. Milo Korinek, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Kohel, Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Zajicek Mr. and Mrs. Glen Zajicek, Pastor and Mrs. William Temps, Mrs. George Hynek, Mr. Edward Kohel, Jr., and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Baer. Mr. George Hynek was the accordionist. An outgrowth from these original dances was the interest in reviving the Czech National dance, the Beseda, and other folk dances, all of which became integral features of the following annual Festivals.
Approximately 400 people attended this meeting. Interest in the organization was indicated by representation from Crete, De Witt, Dorchester, Brainard, Fairbury, Dwight, Milligan, Beatrice, and Lincoln. Three hundred four people signed the charter membership roster.
Wilber launched its First Annual Czech Festival in August 1962. It was a success. The organizational planning was so successful that it attracted 20,000 people. This success was possible because of the typical Czech willingness for hard work and a cooperative spirit for a common goal. That cooperation has grown in the five years of this organization until in August 1966 the Fifth Annual Wilber Czech Festival achieved a new high in attendance, 60,000 people in two days.
Through these Festivals, Czech folk songs and music have been revived and become popular. A souvenir program provides for perpetuating Czech handcraft and the Czech arts. A Nebraska Czech seal on each article assures the buyer that each article is made by local Nebraska Czechs. The Nebraska Czech costume, locally made and designed, is worn by many Czechs and non-Czechs alike, adding to the color of the Festival Czech history is portrayed by a pageant written by Judge Stanley Bartos. The pageant is produced each year by local talent and starts with the mythical beginning of the Czech people. A new chapter is added each year to bring the story up to the present day. An extravaganza by local talent and contests stress Czech music and dancing.
The Festival is nonprofit and most of the entertainment is free. It is a family “get-together” type of festival with no carnival-type attraction. Family reunions are very popular and friends who might not have seen each other for years relive their youth together and discuss their family’s contribution to Nebraska’s history.
Wilber was designated the Czech Capital of Nebraska by Governor’s proclamation in 1963. In 1965 a state historical marker was dedicated in Wilber to the Nebraska Czechs for their organization and to their Nebraska ancestry. In addition the Nebraska Czechs of Wilber received a memorial gift from local citizens. Mr. and Mrs. Milo Stastny donated a building in Wilber to be used as a Czech museum and Czech cultural center. The City received land and money from the same donors for a library which is to be a repository and research center of Czech life in the United States.
The enthusiasm which is growing in other Czech towns in Nebraska and in other states for Festivals of their own indicates the need that existed for additional Czech organizations to perpetuate Czech culture and handcrafts and to record historical contributions of the Czech people. One of the great contributions that the Nebraska Czech of Wilber has made is instilling in its youth a pride in its Czech heritage.