Pandemic 2020

Friends, are you getting tired of hearing about COVID-19, our latest coronavirus mutation that is spreading terror and despair around the world?  Are you wondering if, having personally survived previous pandemics [e.g., the Asian flu in 1957-58 (2 million dead globally), the Hong Kong flu in 1968-69 (1 million dead), SARS in 2002-2004 (762 dead), the 2009 H1N1 flu (575,400), HIV/AIDS (32 million and counting), Ebola (>>11,000), MERS (862 and counting)], this might be… The One?  Are you thinking that you should flee your glamorous, fast-paced life in the Big City and wait out the storm in a quiet, isolated rural town – where not even a virus can find you?  Are you worried that this pandemic might cut into attendance at Clarkson’s Czech Days 2020?

To take your mind off the current unpleasantness, you might be interested in reading about how Our Town fared during the legendary Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, which may have killed as many as 100 million people.  A few years ago I posted a story about how the Spanish Flu affected the citizens of Clarkson and surrounding areas.  You can read it here:

The story features many of the things we are hearing about today – the immediate need for clinical testing and reporting, quarantines, school closings, and the banning of public gatherings at dances, movie theaters, and churches.  Good practices now as then.

Until this thing blows over, mind how you go.  Behave yourselves (or at least, wash your hands well afterwards), catch up on your reading, and stay healthy.  I’ll see you on the other side.


Posted in 1910s, The 21st Century | 14 Comments

Christmas Traditions in Bohemia

Dear Czech Mates, are you ready for Christmas?  In keeping with the old traditions, do you put up a Christmas tree and wait for Santa Claus to bring presents to good little girls and boys?  On Christmas Eve, do you sing a few verses of Good King Wenceslas (to honor our sainted Bohemian king) and turn in early for a good night’s sleep, with visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads?  Do you wake up early on Christmas morning to open your presents, and then settle down for a sumptuous Christmas dinner, one of the year’s Great Feasts?

If so, then you are doing it all wrong!  You may be justifiably proud of your Czech heritage and trying to carry on some of the old traditions, but your ancestors would hardly recognize the odd rituals that you practice to celebrate the Feast of Christmas.

1 Emil_Czech_Christmas

Let’s start with the Christmas tree.  We all know that decorating Christmas trees is an old tradition handed down from our German neighbors.   One historian believes that the first Christmas tree in Bohemia was displayed in Prague in 1812.  The fashion spread through the cities and more slowly into the countryside by the late 1800s.

The problem was that for some this new fashion was one more example of German hegemony over our suppressed and disappearing Czech culture.  “National revivalists fought hard to keep the Christmas tree from spreading among the native population, because they correctly pointed to the fact that it was a German custom and that it has no connection to Czech traditions.

2 Vrkoc

Czech nationalists (the same people who brought you the Sokols and Beseda dancing) promoted a similar, truly Czech alternative – the “Vrkoč“ – a flower pot filled with earth into which various twigs and sticks were hung with dried fruit and pastries, placed on a table.

I, for one, am happy that the Christmas tree won out.

Waiting for Santa Claus to bring you presents while you sleep?  You’d wait a long time in 19th century Bohemia.  In the Czech lands, presents are exchanged and opened on Christmas Eve rather than on the Christmas Day. And children are told that the gifts are brought not by Santa, but by the Baby Jesus – Ježíšek.

The closest our ancestors came to Santa Claus was on December 5, the Eve of the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, when a fellow dressed up as St. Nick passes through town accompanied by an angel and a devil.  On that day Svatý Mikuláš (St. Nicholas) calls the children to account, determining whether they’ve been naughty or nice.  If nice, the angel gives them candy.  If naughty, the devil rewards his “comrades” with potatoes or coal or threats with a willow switch.

3 St Nicholas

Planning to enjoy a traditional Christmas meal of roast beef, roast turkey, or roast goose?  Nice try.  As I pointed out a couple of years ago, a bona fide Bohemian will fast all day on Christmas Eve, then make a nice meal out of the carp that has been swimming around in his bathtub for a week.

The fried carp delicacy will be accompanied by a hearty dollop of potato salad.  It is hoped that the whole experience will be so ecstatic that the diner will see a vision of a Golden Pig (Zlaté Prasátko) on the wall.  This is considered to be a very good omen, although I haven’t been able to figure out why.

Golden Pig aside, if you really want to go whole hog in recreating an authentic Bohemian Christmas, here is a long list of Czech Christmas traditions and superstitions:

And lastly, let’s not forget about Christmas music.  The Czechs are a musical people; as the old proverb says “Every Czech is born, not with a silver spoon in his mouth, but with a violin under his pillow.”  And Christmas is a beautifully musical time of the year.  We all know the song Good King Wenceslas that honors the saintly generosity of a 10th century Bohemian king who braved the snow and cold to give alms to needy peasants.  Of course our ancestors sang that one, right?  Sorry – the first lyrics were written in 1853 by an Englishman, who set them to an old Finnish melody.  Our ancestors in Bohemia probably never heard it.

4 Biscuit_tins_VA_2486-001

Don’t despair – there are two beautiful musical works that were especially dear to our ancestors and are still hugely popular in Czechia today – Jan Jakub Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass (Česká Mše Vánoční) and the simple carol Narodil se Kristus Pán (Christ the Lord was Born).  And many of us know the latter song, learned when we were children in Clarkson.

J J Ryba was a Czech teacher and a prolific composer of classical music.  He wrote music for 6 Roman Catholic Masses in Latin but only one in the Czech language, in 1796 –  Česká Mše Vánoční.

5 Ceska Mse

Ryba’s Česká Mše Vánoční is often called Hej, mistře! (Hey, Master!) because in the opening Kyrie a young shepherd wakes up his master with the words “Hey Master, get up quickly!” and they both wonder at the unusual events in nature surrounding the Nativity of Jesus.

6 Lapidarium

Here is a charming version of the Kyrie performed at an art gallery in Prague, in which the shepherd and his annoyed master marvel at the strange heavenly light and wondrous music coming from afar:

A better recording of the Kyrie can be heard here:

Because Ryba’s Christmas Mass was written in the vernacular rather than in Latin, it was not commonly included as part of the Church liturgy.  However, its pastoral, folk character has made it popular with the Czech people since the beginning.  These days, singers get together during the Christmas Season to perform the work in an event known as “Rybovka.”  Amateur singers who have learned the music are invited to join the performances, and professional soloists and instrumentalists lead the way.  According to Radio Prague, “Live concerts of Ryba’s Mass are immensely popular at Christmas time and are sold out weeks in advance. A 2014 performance at the Rudolfinum concert hall by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra was broadcast to 30 cinemas around the Czech Republic. According to the organizers the idea was that nobody should have to travel more than 30 km to see the concert live. Moreover, in a gesture of goodwill some of the seats were offered free of charge to orphanages and old peoples’ homes.”

Also up there at the top of the Hit Parade is an even older, folk tune, the beautiful carol Narodil se Kristus Pán (Christ the Lord Was Born):

7 Christmas tree

Narodil is a very old song – it is certain that Bohemians were singing it in the late 15th century, and some music historians place its origins in the 13th century.  It is still commonly sung after Catholic Masses during the Christmas season, but a melody this old and lovely has been reworked and sung by other Christian faiths and nationalities over the centuries.  In Latin it goes under the title En Virgo Parit Filium, and the Germans have appropriated the melody in their hymn Freu dich Erd und Sternenzelt:

There are many versions of Narodil online, but I especially like one that was sung by a choir of young people and their audience after their school’s 23rd performance of Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass.  Students from the VOŠP (College of Education), SOŠP (Polytechnic High School), and Gymnázium  ( performed a Rybovka at the Church U Salvátora in the Old Town of Prague on December 21, 2018, and afterwards all joined in to sing Narodil.

8 Rybovka

Everyone knew the words – even those hanging from the cheap seats in the balcony – and they sang with enthusiasm and joy.  If you don’t listen to any other music in this post, listen to this one:

9 Rybovka

(Incidentally, this school will be performing Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass again on December 20, 2019 at the same church.  There is still time to get over there.)

10 Poster

There are a number of performances of “Rybovky” in Czechia every year, and it seems to be a tradition that everyone is invited to close the concert by singing Narodil se Kristus Pán.

11 Rybovka

Here is another beautiful video of Ryba’s Mass and Narodil that were performed at the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord in Vinohrady (Prague) in 2016.  Narodil begins at about the 53-minute mark:

Perhaps you’d like to sing along with this enthusiastic crowd?  Print out this crib sheet with the Czech words along with an English translation:

Alternatively, if your Czech isn’t as good as it could be, you can sing the Narodil melody at home with English lyrics – a carol called Let Our Gladness Have No End:

Give it a try – it couldn’t hurt you, and it will connect you to centuries of your ancestors.

12 Nativity


We will be singing this song at our St. John Neumann Church in Knoxville, Tennessee this Advent.  For all our fellow choir members, it is just another pretty Christmas carol.  But for my wife and me, both of Bohemian descent, it will be a special moment.

Whatever you choose to sing, whatever your Christmas traditions, we wish you and yours a very Happy and Blessed Christmas!

Glenn and Phyllis Čada

Posted in 1890s, Celebrations, The 21st Century | 16 Comments

Make Clarkson Great Again

I was feeling patriotic the other day, so I went rummaging through the piano bench looking for some patriotic songs to sing around the house.  I came across an old, yellowed book that once belonged to a young Allan Roether – The Flag & How to Respect It & Patriotic Songs.

Patriotic Songbook

It was printed in Fremont, and presented to the teachers and students of the Clarkson area public schools by a number of Clarkson merchants.  There is no publication date, but based on the names of the businesses the book was distributed between 1925 and 1932 (probably closer to the earlier date).

Clarkson Merchants

It’s an interesting little booklet.  In addition to the customary lineup of patriotic songs – America, The Star-Spangled Banner, Hail Columbia, Battle Hymn of the Republic, The Battle Cry of Freedom, Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean – it has a page devoted to being “Loyal to Your Home Town as well as Loyal to Your Flag.”  Illustrated with a cartoon about the advantages of keeping money in the local economy and out of the hands of big businesses (with their catalogs), the booklet notes in large, bold font that “loyalty to your business friends and neighbors will directly add to the value of your own personal interests.”

Booster Cartoon 1

Tucked in with the book was a marvelous photo of a booster parade that took place on Clarkson’s main street on July 4, 1912.

Clarkson Booster Parade 1912

In 1912 our town was not yet 30 years old, but large trees already lining the street provided blessed shade on a hot summer’s day.  It would be more than 20 years before the streets were paved, but it appears that concrete sidewalks fronted the stores to keep shoppers’ feet out of the mud and manure.  This was a transition period between horse-drawn wagons and buggies and the horseless carriage, both of which can be seen in abundance on main street that day.  The line of flag-draped motorcars was led by the Jirovec Band, perhaps the best collection of musicians in a town that had many fine players and bands.  Among the marching musicians were Jim Budin (baritone horn) and Bill Karel (trombone), and A.J. Karel is standing in the lead car. The location of the Clarkson Opera House was still an empty lot in the upper left corner (it would be built in 1913), and in the background the bell tower of the original wood-framed New Zion Presbyterian Church can be made out (it would be replaced by the present brick structure in 1922).

Clarkson was on its way up in 1912.  True, we didn’t yet have paved streets (1938) or a sewer system (1927), but we had electricity (1908), running water (1905) and telephones (1905).  The masons were busy replacing wooden buildings; that year, brick buildings were constructed to house the businesses of A.J. Karel, the Odvarka Brothers, Dr. Allen, V.L. Prazak, A.C. Fajman, and Joseph Filipi. A railroad on the north side of town connected us easily to the outside world, allowing all manner of goods to be shipped in and our agricultural and manufacturing products to be shipped out.

We were connected to the outside world, but to a significant degree our village was self-sufficient, in the manner described in the cartoon above.  We had an operating flour mill with a “service-while-you-wait” component.  When farmers needed flour for their homemade bread and kolaches, they would bring a gunny sack of their wheat to the mill and it would be ground for them while they waited. They took the pure white flour home to their wives in one flour sack and the undesirable wheat bran home for their livestock in another.  A century ago a visitor to the small village of Clarkson could buy hats in a milliner’s store, shoes from a shoemaker or a shoe store, have custom suits made by skilled tailors, bring his cattle to a slaughterhouse on the east side of town, and buy meats from meat market and fresh and canned food from a number of grocery and general merchandise stores.  He could walk into a single business (J.V. Janeček) and buy a harness for his horse or have his automobile painted. We boasted of multiple banks, barbers, and car dealerships, manufacturing (e.g., Buko Oilers and the Never Break Pole Co. as two examples), hotels, restaurants, and plenty of taverns.  A century ago, plans were being made to construct a modern brick high school, a skilled portrait photographer from Vienna was taking up residence in town, and Joseph Gloser had opened his restaurant and bakery in the building that would later become Tillie Gloser’s ice cream parlor and confectionary.  And as the Old Timers say, we made our own entertainment – theatrical productions in both Czech and English, church festivals, harvest festivals, card parties, book and sewing clubs, band concerts, and countless wedding and barn dances.  All this in a village of 750 souls – smaller than it is today.

It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?  By 1912, the immigrants to the Clarkson area had learned to “reap the bountiful harvest” of the Great Plains. Grain prices were high, and there was a global market for our food that would grow throughout the decade.  Between 1910 and 1918 the price of corn tripled and wheat more than doubled.  With huge domestic and overseas markets and rising prices, the wealth of many Clarkson-area farmers was limited only by how much wheat they could thresh and how much corn they could pick by hand. But those good times were sorely tested in the 1920s, when nationalism, trade barriers, and tariffs would close off many of Clarkson’s markets, contributing to a depression that caused a lot of misery and belt-tightening.  We’ve learned from that.  That couldn’t happen again, could it?

Main Street is much quieter in Clarkson these days, as is most of rural America.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service states the issue succinctly: “American agriculture and rural life underwent a tremendous transformation in the 20th century. Early 20th century agriculture was labor intensive, and it took place on many small, diversified farms in rural areas where more than half the U.S. population lived. Agricultural production in the 21st century, on the other hand, is concentrated on a smaller number of large, specialized farms in rural areas where less than a fourth of the U.S. population lives.


Jason Lusk, Distinguished Professor and Head of the Agricultural Economics Department at Purdue University, points out that “In 1900, just under 40 percent of the total US population lived on farms, and 60 percent lived in rural areas. Today, the respective figures are only about 1 percent and 20 percent.  The United States had between six and seven million farms from 1910 to 1940.  A sharp decline in the number of farms occurred from the 1940s to the 1980s. At the same time, the average farm size more than doubled, from about 150 acres to around 450 acres.”

Real Prices from Lusk

Lusk notes that farm productivity increased greatly in the course of the 20th Century, but the real (indexed) prices that farmers receive for their crops have dropped substantially since the First World War.  Further, the percentage of farm household income that actually comes from farming has declined from 40-50% between 1960-1975 to less than 20% in most years since 2000.  (It calls to mind the old joke about the farmer who won a $1,000,000 lottery.  When asked what he was going to do now, he replied “Well, I guess I’ll keep farming until the money runs out.”)  These days, many members of the community work elsewhere, shop elsewhere, and get their entertainment elsewhere.

Times change, and Clarkson can’t go back to the way it was in the early 20th Century.  In an era of Amazon Prime, Walmart and Costco, a return to the vibrant, diverse, local commercial activity of a century ago is too much to hope for.   Those of us who grew up there then and remember a bustling main street that was open for business every day except Sunday (and on Saturday nights) will bemoan the loss.  As Montaigne put it, “… whoever saw old age that did not applaud the past and condemn the present?”

Of course, change brings opportunity in 2019, just as it did 100 years ago.  More years ago than I care to count we studied Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in Mr. Weibye’s English Class at Clarkson High School.  We learned from Cassius that “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”  It will be up to younger people with energy and imagination to find the best way forward.

Posted in 1910s, 1920s, Businesses, The 21st Century | 9 Comments

Happy Labor Day

In observance of Labor Day, I went down into The Vault and collected some old photographs of working men and women from the Clarkson and Heun areas.  Many of the pictures come from the earliest days of mechanized agriculture, when physical labor, sweat and muscle, were still at a premium.  The photos are a reminder of how hard our ancestors worked to make a good life for themselves and their families.  Their labors offered us the chance of an easier life.

Seamus Heaney, the great Irish poet and Nobel Laureate, reflected on this theme in his well-known poem, Digging.  Heaney was raised on a small farm, and in the poem he expresses his admiration for his father’s and grandfather’s physical labors and skills and, perhaps with a little regret, the realization that his own work lies elsewhere.


Between my finger and my thumb 
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun. 

Under my window, a clean rasping sound 
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: 
My father, digging. I look down 

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds 
Bends low, comes up twenty years away 
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills 
Where he was digging. 

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft 
Against the inside knee was levered firmly. 
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep 
To scatter new potatoes that we picked, 
Loving their cool hardness in our hands. 

By God, the old man could handle a spade. 
Just like his old man. 

My grandfather cut more turf in a day 
Than any other man on Toner’s bog. 
Once I carried him milk in a bottle 
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up 
To drink it, then fell to right away 
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods 
Over his shoulder, going down and down 
For the good turf. Digging. 

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap 
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge 
Through living roots awaken in my head. 
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them. 

Between my finger and my thumb 
The squat pen rests. 
I’ll dig with it.

–    Seamus Heaney

Enjoy the photos.  I wish you a happy and relaxing Labor Day.  I will be saying a prayer of gratitude for the opportunities that my ancestors’ labors gave me.  And a prayer for the workers and families left behind: those looking for work, those sidelined by illness or disability, and all those suffering the hardship of unemployment or underemployment. May they all have the opportunity to live fully and to experience the satisfaction of contributing to a just world.

64-19 Emil, Joseph J and Stanley Sobota on hay sweep

Emil Sobota on a hay sweep, Joseph J. and Stanley Sobota on the haystack

F9-12 Wood Cutting Crew 1

Wood cutting crew

Charles and Bobby

Charles Polodna and his youngest child Bobby taking down a cottonwood tree

District 21 1957

Colfax County School District No. 21 (Midland Precinct) ca. 1957 – Richard Vlach, teacher

Front row: Ron Novotny, Linda Vondra, Jon Dvorak, Sharon Figgner, Duane Stoklasa, Linda Stoklasa, Glenn Čada

Back row: Rolland Dvorak, Bob Herling, Doris Dvorak, Ron Čada, Theresa Dvorak, Norman Dvorak, Betty Herling, Ron Lapour, Janet Novotny, and Kenneth Čada

Threshing at Anton E Brichacek's 1916 46B

Threshing at Anton E. Brichacek’s farm, August 1916

134-16 Lunch time for silage choppers

Lunch time in the “Dry Years” for men chopping cornstalks for silage.  If rainfall was too low or came at the wrong time, few filled ears of corn would be produced.  Farmers could still salvage a crop by using the green stalks and leaves as forage or silage for their livestock.

Clarkson Museum_20160906_096

Ladies hat shop in Clarkson

Clarkson Museum_20150628_09

A sewer system was constructed in Clarkson in 1927 to replace individual cesspools.  The job of laying 26,000 feet of  pipes was awarded to the Charles Robeck Co. of Omaha at a cost of $26,788.19.

Clarkson Museum_20150628_08

Construction of Clarkson’s sewer system took place between June and November 1927.  The work suffered one fatality – a cave-in near the Emil Folda residence caused the death of one of the workers,  L. Lopez.  As no relatives could be found, Mr. Lopez was buried in the Czech National Cemetery.

harvesting sorghum 2 oct 71 big

Jerome Čada harvesting grain sorghum, October 2, 1971.  Dad didn’t like combining sorghum – ideally, the sorghum grains would be very dry when harvesting, which meant that the stalks shattered into a fine dust that rivaled itching powder.

Emilie Cada

Emilie Čada picking eggs

11D Emil and Joseph B Sobota steam rig

Emil Sobota, Sr. in front of wheel and Joseph B. Sobota on steam engine

#10 Jim Janecek, George Shafer, and Anton Radhaus - threshing time 1915

Threshing time, 1915 – Jim Janecek, George Shafer, and Anton Radhaus

Mrs Teply 1958

Colfax County School District No. 21 ca. 1958 – Alice Teply, teacher

A-31 Emil J Sobota farmyard 1933

Crews preparing to pick corn by hand at the Emil J Sobota farm in 1933.  Corn huskers walked alongside the short side of the wagon, husking the dry ear of corn using a corn hook attached to their hand with a leather strap, and snapping the ear off the stalk.  Then they would toss the ear of corn in the direction of the tall side of the wagon (bang board) where it would bounce off and fall into the wagon.

61-25 Richard and Jack Rupprecht 1946

Richard and Jack Rupprecht in front of a pile of hand-picked corn – 1946

56-13 Picking corn James Svec 1954

Modern corn picker at the James P. Svec farm – 1954

The Nebraska Boy - 1315-lb hog at Fremont 41a

The Nebraska Boy, a 1315-pound hog shown at Fremont inside his chicken wire pen

159-28 Veterans Conservation Corps planting trees at Heun 1942

Veteran Conservation Corps (VCC) crew that planted the windbreak on the north side of Heun Church in 1942.  The VCC was a part of the Civilian Conservation Corps that was focused on finding work for older men – e.g., veterans of WWI.  1942 was the last year of these two New Deal Programs, after which men found employment in Africa, Europe, and the Pacific.


Threshing 1b

Men threshing grain, one of whom is Edwin Čada

117-4 Josefa Kmoch, Josef Kmoch, Katerina Strudl, and Bertha Figgner

Josefa Strudl Kmoch (1857-1937) holding Josef (1911-1954), Katerina Fiala Strudl (1838-1918), and Bertha Strudl Figgner (Mrs. Joseph Figgner)

73-28 School District 37 in Colfax County

Colfax County School District No. 37 ca. 1912 – Mildred Lhotak, teacher.  This school, which should have been nicknamed Kaspar School, was situated in Section 28, Lincoln Precinct, 4 miles south and 2 miles east of Howells.

Front row:  Randolph Sebek, Adolph Pavel (or Lambert Kaspar?), Magdalene Kaspar, Klara Dvorak, Bertha Strudl, Ella Kaspar, Lula Kaspar, Bohumila Kaspar, Mary Pavel.

Mildred row: Jim Dostal, Rudy Kaspar, William Hajek, Louis (or Frank) Strudl, Ed Pavel, Tillie Dvorak Hronek, Helen Kaspar Fichtl, Anna Uhlik, Mary Kaspar, Anna Pavel, Mildred Lhotak.

Back Row: Rudolph Prusa, Ed Dostal, Marie Strudl, Lille Kaspar, Rose Pavel,  _?_ Simanek (or Novotny).


Dad and Horses

Jerome Čada with work horses

73-10 Sindelar Koza Zoubek

Bohumil F. Sindelar with ax, standing on woodpile.  Also in the photo, Mrs. F.K Sindelar, Rose Sindelar Koza, Christine Sindelar Zoubek, Charles Sindelar, and F.K. Sindelar (9th from left)

46B Emil Sobota moving Pollard house 1917

Emil Sobota Sr. moving a house for Pollards – September 1917

#9 George Shafer and Henry Janda

George Shafer and Henry Janda

Farm 1 12-24-74

Posted in 1890s | 22 Comments

Clarkson’s Benevolent Societies – ČSPS, ZČBJ, ČSDPJ et al.

“In union there is strength. Humankind has discovered this fact long ago and since the days when guilds of medieval times came into being, societies, clubs and lodges have multiplied and prospered. This proves that organization meets a real social and economic need and Czechs are no exception to the rule. Indeed, organizations are more numerous among them than probably most nationalities.“ – Rose Rosicky (1929)

A journey through the history of Clarkson turns up a long list of clubs, lodges, and societies that were known by a bewildering “alphabet soup” of acronyms and initialisms.  For example, who can recite the full names of the following organizations – ČSPS, ZČBJ, KD, JČD, AOUW, WOW, MWA, AL, and VFW?  All were popular social, benevolent, or semi-secret organizations in our Village, and most have disappeared over the years.  Dust off your Czech accent – for those who are keeping score, here’s my partial list of early fraternal societies in Clarkson:

ČSPS – Česko-Slovenský Podporující Spolek (Czech-Slovak Protective Society)

ZČBJ – Západní Česko-Bratrská Jednota (Western Bohemian Fraternal Association; now called Western Fraternal Life), Západní Svornost Lodge No. 28

ČSDPJ – Česko Slovanska Dělníka Podporující Jednota (Czech-Slavonian Workman Benevolent Association), Lodge No. 32 (established in South Omaha in 1898 and merged with ZČBJ in 1929)

KD – Katolický Dělník (Catholic Workman), Svata Josefa (Saint Joseph) Lodge No. 40/80

KJS – Katolická Jednota Sokol (Catholic Sokol Union), Club No. 54

JČD – Jednota Českých Dám (Union of Czech Women), Eliška Přemyslovna (Elizabeth of Bohemia) Lodge No. 58

ČŘKJŽ – Česká Římsko Katolická Jednota Žen (Czech Roman Catholic Union of Women), Lodge No. 68

AOUW – Ancient Order of United Workmen, Jan Zizka Lodge No. 295

WOW – Woodmen of the World

MWA – Modern Woodmen of America, Camp No. 1574

AL – American Legion

VFW – Veterans of Foreign Wars

From its earliest days, Clarkson was the site of many clubs, České lóžem (Czech men’s lodges) and dámska lóžem (ladies’ lodges).  Many of our village’s organizations were primarily social groups, like card-playing clubs and gun clubs.  The files of the Colfax County Press reveal stories about area social clubs that have come and gone – to name a few: the Platte Valley Corn Club, Mozart Club, Willing Workers Clothing Club, Kensington Ladies Club (possibly a quilting/sewing club), the Sunshine Club, and my personal favorite, Canadian Club…

Other organizations had both a social and societal benefit, for example, the Lions Club and a great many home extension clubs.  The American Legion and the VFW helped veterans of the many wars of the 20th century by providing a place for comrades to talk about their experiences, smoke, drink, and play cards while serving their community and addressing veterans’ needs on the larger, national stage.  The popular home extension clubs (e.g., the Busy Bees Extension Club) taught women valuable home economics lessons – techniques for safe home canning and other food preservation, sewing, flower gardening, etc.   The Clarkson Women’s Club, a member of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), is “dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service.” Children were taught a variety of skills in the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Brownies, Cub Scouts, and Electric Clubs.

In this chapter we’ll take a look at the histories of what have been termed benevolent, mutual benefit, or fraternal benefit societies – organizations that provided affordable insurance, education, cultural events, and other benefits to the newly arrived immigrants.  These benevolent societies were popular in the first 50 years or so of Clarkson’s history, and then slowly faded as the need for them was supplanted by acculturation into American society and the growth of government social welfare programs.

Often the early immigrants arrived in this strange New World with very little money.  They had no government safety nets and initially few nearby friends or relatives to help them get their start.  In the cities they took dangerous jobs in factories and slaughterhouses.  In the fields, isolated immigrant homesteaders battled droughts, floods, prairie fires, epidemic diseases, and hazardous farm equipment and livestock.  It was all too common for a young man to be killed in an accident, leaving behind a large, impoverished family.  There was a great need for organizations to pay for the victim’s funeral expenses and ensure the welfare of his widow and children.  Starting in the mid-19th Century, as the tide of immigration increased, a number of benevolent societies were formed to address their needs.

ČSPS – Česko-Slovenský Podporující Spolek (Czech-Slovak Protective Society)

The first of the mutual/fraternal benefit societies to be formed in the United States (and the first one to arrive in Clarkson) was the ČSPS – Česko-Slovenský Podporující Spolek (Czech-Slovak Protective Society).  The ČSPS was organized in St. Louis, Missouri on March 4, 1854, when 29 Czech immigrant men met in the back room of Jacob Motl’s tavern. They felt a need for mutual support in times of sickness and for a way to provide for widows and children. They also wanted some suitable social activity and a gathering place to discuss their problems. These men formed a mutual benefit society to gain security and to make sure that if one of them died, the funeral would be paid for by the society, and the immediate needs of the widow and children would be addressed.  The ČSPS, organized by and for Czech immigrants, became a model for many other fraternal benefit societies in America organized in later years.  By 1861, the Society had 96 members, 23 of whom volunteered to defend the Union in the Civil War.  Although not a “secret society” per se, the ČSPS had elaborate rituals involving an altar, secret door knocks, and passwords.  For example, beginning in 1857, members had to take the following oath (based on a Freemason’s model):

“I swear to God that I will love everyone, as my brother, in our Czech society; I swear that I shall observe our constitution as the most sacred commandment; I swear that, not even a word, would slip off my tongue about the deliberations of our brotherhood; I swear, that I have taken this oath, freely, without being forced, and with a healthy mind, and that I would ask for the most severe punishment from God, if I would violate my oath. Amen.”

A ČSPS lodge was organized in Clarkson on May 21, 1888 (Clarkson Diamond Jubilee Book, 1961).  At its inception there were 19 members and 9 officers.  The Board of Trustees was composed of Josef Filipi, Karel Svoboda, and John Mastny.  The lodge decided to hold meetings on the first Sunday of the month in the afternoon.  Since the ČSPS lodge did not own a hall, meetings were held in business establishments owned by various members.  The ČSPS lodge was instrumental in the organization of the Bohemian Slovanic Cemetery (Česko-Slovensko Hřbitov, now called the Clarkson National Cemetery), established on October 7, 1888.

CSPS Hall in Clarkson built 1891

In 1891 construction began on a ČSPS hall measuring 24’ X 30’.  The building was used for meetings of the ČSPS and other organizations until 1914, and stood near Pine Street for many years thereafter.  The first meeting in the new hall was held on January 3, 1892.

CSPS Lodge 1891-1897

ČSPS Hall in Clarkson, Nebraska, built in 1891

Among the fraternal benefits instituted by the ČSPS in Clarkson was the establishment of a Bohemian School.  For centuries the Austrian overlords in Vienna had tried to extinguish the Czech language and culture, and the new immigrants were determined to preserve it in America.  The Bohemian School was financed by the ČSPS and by parents of children who attended; it was taught in the hall on Sundays.  (At that time the law allowed one hour of foreign language to be taught at the public schools in towns which were predominantly of one language, such as the Czech language in Clarkson.)   Anton Odvarka was the first teacher.  Beginning in 1898 Miss Nettie Aksamit taught in the Clarkson grade school and Bohemian School, after receiving her degree from Peru State Normal and Doane College.  Stella Folda and Fred Jelinek also taught at the Bohemian School.

Czech School - Anton Odvarka

Later on the Bohemian Lodges in Clarkson, namely the ZČBJ, Jednota Českých Dám (JČD),  Ancient Order of United Workmen (AOUW), and Woodmen of the World (WOW), recognized the demand for the Bohemian School and hired Anton Odvarka as the teacher, with the assistance of Miss Louise Dušatko, until the year 1916.  During the year 1917 Josef A. Kučera taught during his vacation from school in Dubuque, Iowa.  The Bohemian School was discontinued in 1918 with the entrance of the U.S. into World War I.  At the end of the war, the Bohemian School was again reopened and Rev. B.A. Filipi became a teacher, with sessions during school vacation.  This continued until the year 1926, at which time Mrs. Anna Koza took over.  Later teachers were Mrs. Blanche Pospichal and Mrs. Louise Zelenda.

Czech School - Koza

Czech School - Louis Zelenda

The ČSPS prospered in the United States until the beginning of the 1890s, when the growth stopped and in some lodges the numbers of members began to decline. This was because large, competing English-language fraternal orders were springing up that featured necessary improvements to the business model such as varying payments based on age.  For example, from its inception, members of the ČSPS paid dues which varied depending solely on the number of deaths claimed per month.  All members paid the same dues – neither age nor health was a factor, and there was no reserve. Although this was standard practice for fraternal benefit societies in the beginning, some members believed that changes needed to be made to ensure the financial soundness of the ČSPS.  Also, the ČSPS did not admit women to full membership; rather, they came in as associate members, as wives of their husbands, and their insurance was limited to $250.00, with no sick benefits. Finally, the ČSPS at first was distinctly anticlerical (anti-Catholic) and consequently popular among Freethinkers, and for many years it did not entirely renounce that position.

In 1897, Jan Rosicky, the renowned Omaha publisher who was a great champion of Czech culture in America, drafted four resolutions for modernization and presented them to the ČSPS Convention. The resolutions were for (1) premiums/dues to be determined by age, (2) admission of women as fully-insured members, (3) establishment of a reserve fund, and (4) a medical examination of all applicants.  The hard-headed ČSPS delegates to the 1897 convention rejected all of these resolutions.

In response, another fraternal benefit society, the Západní Česko-Bratrská Jednota (ZČBJ) was formed and by the end of 1897, boasted 49 charter lodges and 1,269 charter members.  In Clarkson, the entire ČSPS lodge transferred their membership to the ZČBJ and became charter members on November 11, 1897.  Clarkson’s Západní Svornost Lodge No. 28 was a strong one; the Diamond Jubilee book names the 40 male members and 16 wives in 1897.

Although the ČSPS disappeared from Clarkson in 1897, the organization continued to grow elsewhere and exists today as CSA Fraternal Life.  On January 1, 1933, it merged with a number of other Czech fraternal societies: the Society of Taborites, Bohemian-Slavonic Fraternal Benefit Union, the Bohemian-Slavonic Union, and the Bohemian American Foresters, and changed its name to the Czechoslovak Society of America while maintaining the original 1854 charter.  In 1977 the Unity of Czech Ladies and Men was absorbed into the CSA.  According to its current constitution, membership is open to “Any person of good character and who subscribes to the purpose for which the Society is organized and meets all requirements for membership established by the Society.” The CSA had 52,000 members in the late 1960s, 50,000 in 1979 and 30,000 in 1990. Consistent with its original intent, CSA Fraternal Life engages in charitable activities, including aid for the Bohemian Home for the Aged; a school for retarded children, the Chicago Lung Association, American Red Cross, Heart Research Foundation, Cancer Research Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, firemen’s and police benevolent associations, and other humanitarian projects.


ZČBJ – Západní Česko-Bratrská Jednota (Western Bohemian Fraternal Association)

As we have seen, the Západní Česko-Bratrská Jednota (ZČBJ) spun off from the ČSPS when the original organization rejected all four of Rosicky’s resolutions for a more inclusive society with stronger financial footings.  (In fact, the ČSPS later had second thoughts and accepted the conditions at its next convention).

The ZČBJ was founded in Omaha, at a convention called for that purpose and held February 9-11, 1897. Fifteen Nebraska lodges belonging to the Bohemian Slavonian Benevolent Society participated, seven from Minnesota, one from North Dakota, six from Iowa and two from Wisconsin, while five sent letters agreeing with the object of the convention. At this convention the ZČBJ was founded on a basis similar to the large English-language fraternal orders.  The ZČBJ quickly became the largest Czech fraternal union in Nebraska, mainly because it admitted women on equal terms with men and was entirely impartial in the matter of religion.

The popularity of the ZČBJ led to the establishment of numerous lodges in the area:

Butler County: Havliček Borovsky No. 66, Abie; Čecho-Moravan No. 68, Brainard; Brno No. 43, Bruno; Dobroslav No. 12, David City; Dwight No. 158, Dwight; Ratolest Mladočechu No. 31, Linwood.

Colfax County: Zapadni Svornost No. 28, Clarkson; Svoboda No. 60, Howells; Blanik No. 93, Schuyler.

Saunders County: Plzen No. 9, Morse Bluff; Moravska Orlice No. 21, Morse Bluff; Vladislav I No. 29, Prague; Prazske Vlastenky No. 137, Prague; Lidumil No. 87, Weston.

Clarkson’s ZČBJ initially occupied the former ČSPS hall, but began to outgrow it with the increase in membership.  Further, there was a need for a bigger building for social activities – dances, concerts, talent shows, dramatic plays, etc., so it was decided that an Opera House would be built. With the cooperation of the Clarkson Commercial Club and other civic organizations, the ZČBJ proceeded to buy two lots for the construction of the opera house.  On Memorial Day of 1914 a public auction was held for the sale of the old ČSPS hall; the building was sold to Julius Wacha at a price of $3,350.  Construction of the Opera House commenced in 1915, and in September 1915 the cornerstone was laid.

Opera House Cornerstone

Opera House 1915a


On January 9, 1916 the ZČBJ held their first meeting in their new home.  Now more than a century old, the Opera House has been restored and continues to be the site of countless social, cultural, and even sporting events.


Clarkson Opera House Interior

Czech Days_20120616_11


The ZČBJ may have reached its high water mark at about the time of the construction of its Opera House. Nationally, membership declined in the years following WWI, owing to wartime deaths and the influenza pandemic of 1918-19.   In 1921 the U.S. government passed the Emergency Quota Act, a restrictive immigration law that brought immigration from Eastern and Central Europe to a near stand-still.  To shore up membership in the ZČBJ, beginning in 1919, juveniles were allowed to become insured members.  At the sixth National Convention in Omaha, NE in 1922, membership requirements were further loosened. Originally, only persons of Czech or Slovak birth, or the children of those were eligible. They broadened the membership to include spouses (regardless of national origin) of those eligible to be members, as well as children.  Also in 1922 the first English-speaking ZČBJ lodges were authorized in anticipation of the future when the English language would predominate among the descendants of Czech immigrants.  At the 1947 National Convention, the delegates eliminated the requirement of a Czech background and any American could apply for insurance.  In 1971, recognizing that new members were joining for the insurance and fraternalism rather than cultural identity, the organization’s name was changed to Western Fraternal Life Association.

KD – Katolický Dělník (Catholic Workman)

The Katolický Dělník (KD, Catholic Workman) was organized in New Prague, MN in 1891. (This was at a time with the ČSPS did not admit Roman Catholics, and the more inclusive ZČBJ had not yet been founded). Like the ČSPS and ZČBJ, the purpose of the KD was to protect families when death took the head of the household. It later expanded to extend insurance benefits to all family members. In addition, activities of the society were intended to promote service to the Catholic Church, the United States, and the local community.  The first KD lodge in Nebraska was formed at Holy Trinity Catholic Church – Heun, Ssv. Petra a Pavla No. 6, on June 1, 1894.

The Catholic Workman (KD) Lodge Sv. Josefa No. 40/80 was formed in Clarkson in June 1903.  Charter members were John Stonaček, Vaclav Jirovec, Karel Dupsky, Fred Dohnalek, Frank Červ, Adolph Mrsny, James M. Podany, John Červ, Frank Abraham, and Frank Podany.  By the mid-1980s the local lodge boasted 375 members.  Clarkson’s St. Joseph Lodge had a beautiful banner that was carried at religious events, e.g., church festivals, processions, and the funerals of KD members.  The figure of St. Joseph was embroidered in the fabric, except for his face, hands, and feet which were a paper picture (later it was replaced by a picture photcopied on cloth).

Czech Days_20190628_085

Czech Days_20190628_089

Czech Days_20190628_090 Czech Days_20190628_092

Like the other benevolent societies, the national KD began losing membership over the years.  The society merged with the Western Bohemian Catholic Union (Západní Česko Katolický Jednota) in 1930 and with the Catholic Union of Daughters of Columbus (Katolický Jednoty Dcer Kolumbovy) in 1937. In 2004, the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association (Prva Katolicka Slovenska Zenska Jednota) acquired the assets of the Catholic Workman.

The Sokols – the Telocvicna Jednota Sokol Society and the Katolická Jednota Sokol (Catholic Sokol Union, KJS Club No. 54)

The Sokols were a major organization in both the Czech lands and the United States.  Founded in Bohemia in 1862, the Sokols aimed to improve themselves through physical fitness and moral and intellectual training – A Sound Mind in a Sound Body.  I’ve written about our local Sokol clubs before:

The secular Telocvicna Jednota Sokol Society was organized at the Opera House in 1891 and operated out of the Clarkson Sokol Hall (later the Lions Club building) on main street.  The club had as many as 140 adult and juvenile members, and they hosted a large regional gymnastic tournament in 1931. The Roman Catholic version, the Catholic Sokol Union (KJS) had 427 members in Nebraska in 1929.

The Sokols are gone from Clarkson, but active clubs remain in other Nebraska communities (Omaha, Crete, and Wilber) and elsewhere in the United States.


Jednota Českých Dám (JČD)

The Union (or Unity) of Czech Women (Jednota Českych Dam or JČD) was a fraternal insurance organization originally directed toward women. The JČD was founded in Cleveland, Ohio in 1870 to meet the insurance and social needs of Czech women, who were usually excluded from membership in other male-dominated fraternal organizations.  Although initially centered in Cleveland, the JČD developed lodges throughout the United States.  The structure of the lodges was patterned after the Č.S.P.S., and like the Č.S.P.S., the JČD was philosophically supportive of Freethinkers.  By 1918, the organization had 144 lodges and 23,000 members nationwide.

Clarkson’s Elizabeth of Bohemia Lodge No. 58 was organized on December 15, 1892, and 21 exuberant charter members were initiated on January 21, 1893.  The JČD Lodge No. 58 grew to 240 members and at one time was the second largest in the State of Nebraska.  Beginning in the year 1932 men and children were accepted as members, and the name Unity of Czech Ladies and Men was adopted in the year 1946.  The membership in 1961 was 48 men, women, and children.

Unity of Czech Ladies


JCD 2  JCD 3  JCD 1

(The words at the top of the badges –  “Průvodkyné” means Guide and “Předsedka” means Chairwoman)

Clarkson’s JČD sponsored the annual Gypsy Dances in the Clarkson Opera House, which attracted many people and many famous orchestras.   A Gypsy King was crowned at these affairs.

Česká Římsko Katolická Jednota Žen (ČŘKJŽ)

The Czech Roman Catholic Union of Women was established in Cleveland in 1879, and its first convention was held in 1880. From the recordings of the earliest convention, it was agreed that a death benefit of $100 be established, and the members would pay 25 cents upon the death of a member. It was later decided to raise the benefit from $100 to $150, and gradually raising it at each convention. From the beginning the financial arrangements of the Union, as of hundreds of similar organizations, were totally inadequate. Any change toward a full solvency of the organization was difficult since the Bohemian members always opposed increasing the rates. In 1934, a distinct improvement of the Union’s finances was made, with rates being adjusted by competent actuaries.  During the first year of the Union’s existence, lodges were organized for girls and young women, and these lodges were called “Panensky Spolky”. This group flourished until 1928 when a majority of these members were absorbed into the newly organized juvenile division, or into the regular women’s lodges where they purchased the regular adult insurance.  In 1938 the name was changed to the Czech Catholic Union (CCU).  The CCU still exists, still strongly based in Cleveland.  It continues to issue insurance plans and annuities and publish its newsletter “Posel.”  Clarkson’s ČŘKJŽ Lodge No. 67/128 was in existence in 1929.

AOUW – Ancient Order of United Workmen, Jan Žižka Lodge No. 295

The Ancient Order of United Workmen considered itself the oldest of the great fraternal, beneficiary orders in the United States (but see the history of the ČSPS above).  AOUW was founded at Meadville, Pennsylvania on October 27, 1868 by John Jordon Upchurch, a Freemason.  Its constitution provided that (1) only white male persons should be eligible to membership; (2) that this provision should never be altered, amended, or expunged; and (3) that when the total membership should amount to one thousand, an insurance office should be established and policies issued securing at the death of a member not less than $500 to be paid to his lawful heirs.

The AOUW grew quickly – by 1895 its total membership was in excess of 318,000 in the United States and nearly 32,000 in Canada, distributed among 6,000 lodges.

The AOUW used rituals and emblems that were influenced by Freemasonry. Its objects, covered by its watchwords, ”Charity, Hope, and Protection,” were illustrated in its ceremonies of initiation. As in Masonic and other secret societies, it had three degrees.  The All-Seeing Eye, the Holy Bible, anchor, and the square and compasses were among its more frequently displayed emblems.  Membership was originally restricted to whites, but this was rescinded at some point. Also, the religious aspects of the Order’s ritual were removed in 1932.

I have found very little about the workings of the AOUW In Clarkson, except that it had its own Lodge No. 275 that was subordinate to the Grand Lodge of the AOUW of Nebraska.  Clarkson’s Lodge had issued a certificate of insurance to John Barteš on August 14, 1894, signed by Master Workman John Koza and Recorder J.B. Mathauser.  After Barteš’ death, his widow, Frantiska Barteš, was forced to sue the AOUW in Colfax County Court for the $2,000 she felt was owed to her by her husband’s insurance certificate.  Two of the ribbons sported by member of the Jan Žižka Lodge No. 295 survive in the Clarkson Museum.

AOUW 1    AOUW 2


Modern Woodmen of America (MWA)/Woodmen of the World, Camp No. 1574

The mutual benefit society that left the most artifacts in Clarkson was the Modern Woodmen of America (later known as Woodmen of the World).  Modern Woodmen of America was founded in Iowa in 1883 by Joseph Cullen Root, after hearing a sermon about “pioneer woodsmen clearing away the forest to provide for their families.”  Root made fitness a requirement to join his order, recruiting rural young men from the “healthiest states” (which meant those outside industrial New England).  In the MWA, he fused Christian philosophy and pioneer values with ancient agricultural rites (Hix 2016).  After a dispute with other MWA leaders, Root moved to Omaha in 1890 and founded a nearly identical society – Woodmen of the World.  Today, both organizations still exist as insurance programs, but they have lost most of the “fraternal antics” (elaborate initiation rituals, secret oaths, drill teams with axes) that characterized their early years.

In the early 1920s the Woodmen of the World insurance executives began investigating the new invention of “radio” as a means of augmenting their conventional print advertising.  A license for radio station WAOW (later WOW) was issued to the Society on November 27, 1922.  Broadcasting equipment and a studio were installed in the 19-story Woodmen of the World Building, located at 14th & Farnum, which at the time was the tallest building between Chicago and the West Coast.  By 1940, WOW radio was operating at 5,000 watts of power, had a staff of 65, and its own orchestra.  In 1949, Woodmen of the World began television broadcasts; WOW-TV Channel 6 was the first television station in Nebraska.  It provided a showcase for a young Johnny Carson and his daily TV show, Squirrel’s Nest.  The radio and TV stations are no longer associated with the Woodmen of the World.

Camp No. 1574 of the Modern Woodmen of America was organized in Clarkson on January 16, 1892.  Membership grew from 25 in that year to 82 members in 1961.  The following men served as secretaries for the MWA Camp:  V.J. Chleboun 1900; J.D. Wolf 1901; David Hefti 1902; Joseph Mlnarik 1902-1909; J.D. Wolf 1909-1912; Joseph Mlnarik 1912-1915; William H. Roether 1915-1917; John P. Roether 1917-1928; R.R. Rosicky 1928.  John P. Roether was appointed secretary by the head office, and served as secretary and banker for the local camp from 1928 until his death in 1965.

Lisa Hix (2016) provided an excellent description of the MWA/WOW and the shenanigans that accompanied the initiation rituals and meetings of this “secret society.”  She wrote “…the Woodmen of the World order and its progenitor and competitor, the Modern Woodmen of America, made life insurance approachable and fun by packaging it in the familiar fraternal-order culture of the day. The two Woodmen societies succeeded in selling fraternal insurance where others failed, thanks to their innovations, which included offering distinct tombstones, flaunting ax-twirling pageantry, and holding clandestine rituals that involved slapstick pranks and mechanical goat rides.

“Before the days of TV, radio, or fantasy football, fraternal lodges offered plays, rituals, and camaraderie and allowed men to let loose, which kept members coming back for more. The clout of being an insider and the endless pursuit of mystical, esoteric knowledge ensured that men would make their insurance payments for decades to come. The payouts were between $1,000 and $2,000, a lot of money at the time.”

Opera House_20190630_07-001

The secret rituals of Clarkson’s MWA/WOW Camp are forgotten. All that remains are  a collection of decorative ribbons, a box containing white and black marbles (for “blackballing” candidates for membership), and a door to the meeting room on the upper floor of the Opera House with a peephole through which visitors may be inspected and passwords uttered.

“Wielding aluminum-headed axes, members of Modern Woodmen lodges formed marching units known as the Foresters that performed precision drill routines in military-like uniforms. Eventually, there were roughly 10,000 drill teams nationwide… The fraternal beneficiary societies made signing up for insurance seem glamorous.” (Hix 2016)

There are a number of photographs of Foresters drill teams from Clarkson.


Clarkson Museum_20190629_17

WOW Lodge 234 1

One of the wooden axes used by the drill teams is on display in the Clarkson Museum, along with other MWA/WOW memorabilia.

WOW Lodge 234 3

Clarkson Museum_20190629_19  Clarkson Museum_20190629_23a

Clarkson Museum_20190629_18-001

“[After the MWA/WOW split, one of Root’s] innovations was to provide free tombstones—Root believed passionately that no member of his order should be buried in an unmarked grave. So for 10 years, the Woodmen gave its members grave markers in the shape of tree stumps, inspired by the Victorian Rustic movement.  (For another two decades, the members put down $100 apiece to reserve theirs.)  At a Woodman’s funeral, his personalized tombstone would be revealed in an elaborate ritual. The 4- or 5-foot-tall tree stump would be marked with the motto “Dum Tacet Clamet” (“Though Silent, He Speaks”) and rest on a stack of logs, each log symbolizing one of the deceased’s children. The local stone carver, who might alter the pattern, would add embellishments reflecting the Woodman’s personality, such as axes and doves.” (Hix 2016)  The costly program was abandoned in the late 1920s.

Two WOW tombstones can be seen in the Clarkson National Cemetery.  The graves of Vincenc Kučera (1869-1906) and Josef Polansky (1860-1915) are at the crest of the hill, close to the war memorial/speakers stand.

Clarkson Cemete_20190629_1  Clarkson Cemete_20190629_5

Clarkson Cemete_20190629_3

There is also a WOW marker in the Schuyler Cemetery for the grave of Frank Čech (1842-1907).

WoW Gravestone in Schuyler 2

This has been a long story, but it teaches an important lesson.  From the beginning the citizens of our Village took care of each other and had more than their share of social life.  The first settlers to the area were isolated and doubtless were lonely and homesick.  But they quickly overcame it.  The fraternal benefit organizations that thrived in Clarkson were only part of our ancestors’ rich social fabric that also included many clubs, religious congregations, music ensembles, drama groups, amateur sports teams, and other entertainments.  Gregarious Czechs didn’t have to “bowl alone” (Putnam 2000).

To return to the thoughts of Rose Rosicky (1929): “The benevolent or rather fraternal insurance orders do not pay high sick benefits or insurance, but they are directed by people who draw moderate salaries (compared to large English-language orders) and have been a great boon to many who could not otherwise afford life insurance. They serve a twofold purpose–material help in time of need and a means for social gatherings, so dear to Czechs. Indeed, the social part of it is very important to people from a foreign country, for they naturally have a sentiment for their native land and like to meet with others of their kind. The gymnastic, dramatic and singing societies supply needs of a social character and no community of any size is without at least one.”


Ancient Order of United Workmen –

Capek, Thomas. 1920.  The Cechs (Bohemians) in America: A Study of Their National, Cultural, Political, Social, Economic, and Religious Life. Cornell University Library. 448 p.

Clarkson Centennial Book – 1886-1986.  Book printed in 1987.  Walsworth Publishing Company, Marcelline, MO.

Clarkson Diamond Jubilee – 1886-1961.  Book published in 1961 by Ludi Printing Company, Wahoo, NE.

History of the Česká Římsko Katolická Jednota Žen (ČŘKJŽ)   –

History of the National ČSPS/CSA Fraternal Life  –

History of the ZCBJ/Western Fraternal Life –

History of WOW radio/TV –

Hix, Lisa. 2016. When Secret Societies Sold Insurance.  Zocalo Public Square.

Obituary of Nettie Aksamit, one of the teachers in Clarkson’s Bohemian School –

Putnam, Robert D. 2000.  Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.  Simon and Schuster, New York.  (Putnam draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We’re even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues.)

Rechcigl, Miloslav.  2017.  Beyond the Sea of Beer:  History of Immigration of Bohemians and Czechs to the New World and their Contributions.  AuthorHouse. 918 p.

Rosicky, Rose. 1929.  A History of Czechs (Bohemians) in Nebraska.  Czech Historical Society of Nebraska, National Printing Co., Omaha, NE.

Stevens, Albert C. 1899.  The Cyclopedia of Fraternities.  A Compilation of Existing Authentic Information and the Results of Original Investigation as to the Origin, Derivation, Founders, Development, Aims, Emblems, Character, and Personnel of More Than Six Hundred Secret Societies in the United States. 486 p.

Posted in 1890s | 19 Comments


Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire. – Gustav Mahler

I’ve recently returned from the 57th Annual Clarkson Czech Festival.  Fifty seven times, on the last full weekend of June, our village has showcased its Czech heritage and Czech traditions to the world.  When “Czech Days” began in 1963, celebrating our traditions was as easy as falling off a log.  A great majority of the people in town and the surrounding area were of Czech (and especially Bohemian) ancestry.  Many of the Old Timers still spoke Czech fluently, and for a few it was their preferred language.  Per the old saying “Whoever is Czech is a musician,” there were still a lot of amateur and semi-professional musicians around who played accordions, drums, brass and reed instruments, and sang the old Bohemian songs from memory.  There were so many musicians, in fact, that the festival organizers risked hurting their feelings if they didn’t manage to schedule all the local bands. In 1963 most local women were accustomed to making Czech food, and many people knew how to play our signature card game, taroks.  In a town of fewer than 1,000 people, five taverns, several with beer gardens and music, were open to slake the thirst of our guests.  In short, to stage an authentic, three-day ethnic festival, all we had to do was… act naturally.

Time marches on.  And this rich cultural heritage, embodied in our local traditions, is fading.  Outsiders (“strangers”) have moved into town, are employed in larger, nearby cities, and only come back in the evening to sleep.  Almost no one speaks the Czech language, and most people don’t have a taste for, let alone know how to prepare, Czech dishes.  There are fewer amateur musicians, and few of these have any interest in playing the old songs that our grandparents loved.  We have joined the 21st Century, and for better or worse are leaving behind the 19th Century traditions of our immigrant ancestors.

Of course, this trend of assimilation/homogenization is no worse than among any other traditional ethnic cultures that embrace American materialism, TV, Facebook, and Twitter, but Clarkson still likes to promote itself as a proud lump in the “Melting Pot” we call the United States.  “…the process of assimilation cannot be stopped. There is no point saying if it is a positive or negative process. Definitely it is a natural process which is difficult to fight against.  New generations of Czechs who had more opportunities in education, choice of occupation and in mobility had to leave their communities to meet these opportunities and eventually acquired the American value system.” Bíróczi (2003).

Should we declare victory and go home?  Or would the great Czech-born composer Gustav Mahler still find some fire amidst the ashes?  What does it even mean to be one of our hyphenated ethnic groups, a Czech-American?

In 2003, David Bíróczi, a student at the University of West Bohemia in Plzen, wrote a thesis titled “Czechs in America – The Maintenance of Czech Identity in Contemporary America.”  He sought to determine the extent to which Czech-Americans maintain a Czech identity in contemporary America by surveying 290 Czech Americans across the U.S.  The majority of respondents, young and old, felt that there are shared characteristics among Americans of Czech origin.  In order of frequency, they listed these characteristics as:

1)     Love for Czech traditional food

2)     Love for music and dance

3)     Good work ethic

4)     Close family ties

5)     Frugality

6)     Pride in their heritage

7)     Physical characteristics

8)     Love for beer

9)     Honesty

10)   Sense of humor

11)   Awareness of the importance of good education

12)   Czech language.

Accordingly, a typical American of Czech descent is someone who works hard, loves his family, is not foolish about spending money, is honest, is proud of his heritage, wants to be well-educated, likes good food with good beer, loves music and dancing, and is happy.  Unsurprisingly, these self-descriptions are all positive characteristics.  (We can leave the small number of negative attributes for another time.)  The question is, how many of these 12 characteristics were still in evidence at the 2019 Clarkson Czech Festival?

1) Love for Czech traditional food and  3) Good work ethic

As always, the Czech dinners served by the New Zion Presbyterian Church on Saturday and the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church on Sunday were delicious and well-attended.  Members of these congregations worked very hard to prepare and serve traditional foods: roast pork, dumplings, sauerkraut, corn/beans, horn rolls, and apple strudel.  Any cook can tell you that the assembling, baking, and serving of the strudels alone is a significant effort that often involves several generations of women  working together (4 – Close family ties).

The generous slices of strudel top off big meals, served at great prices (5 – Frugality).

Czech Days_20190629_006


The Clarkson Bakery sold untold dozens of koláče all weekend from their stand in front of the Opera House.  A great many visitors drove or flew home from the festival with packages of these sweet treats.

Czech Days_20190630_048-001

2) Love for music and dance

Although there are far fewer Czech musicians in town than in the past, you didn’t have to go far to hear talented accordionists in 2019.  They serenaded the crowd at the Czech dinner on Sunday….


They played for the revelers at the Pine Street Pub….

Czech Days_20190630_035

And they entertained music lovers and polka dancers from the stage of the beautifully restored Opera House…

Czech Days_20190629_011Czech Days_20190629_012

2) Love for dance and 6) Pride in their heritage

I’ve written before about Czech dancing, especially the complicated routines of the beseda, which hearken back to 19th Century Bohemia.

Invented around 1863, the beseda form of dancing quickly became very popular in Bohemia and Moravia, and it crossed over to America with the first immigrants. But by the mid-20th century it seems to have been forgotten, at least in the Clarkson area.  The organizers of Clarkson’s first Czech Festival in 1963 realized its importance, and they went to considerable effort to learn the dance and then to teach it to the children.  Their efforts were not in vain – in 2019 the Children’s Beseda Dancers performed three times during the Festival, and the adult Czech Dancers twice.  Perhaps more than anything, the transmission of the Czechs’ love of dancing to the next generation has come to symbolize the preservation of our traditions.

Czech Days_20190629_009

8) Love for beer – what can I say?  In the early days there were five taverns operating during the festival, several with outdoor beer gardens, and there were so many beer-drinking partiers that it was hard to get into them.  Now there is one bar left in town, and it was pretty quiet.  But the beer garden that encloses a large section of main street was doing a good business.

10) Sense of humor – Spend 10 minutes around the Clarkson High School Class of 1957 and you’ll hear enough laughter to last you for a week.  Like many of the “mature” graduates of CHS, they have their class reunions every year during the Czech Festival, during which time they cruise around town like teenagers.

Czech Days_20190629_033-001

All over town you see people greeting old friends, recounting old stories and laughing.  It’s this last element that holds the appeal of the Clarkson Czech Festival for me – seeing old friends and neighbors, making new friends.  I was thrilled to see three of my teachers – Mrs. Alice Teply (4th and 5th grade), Mrs. Edith Nepper (6th and 7th grade), and Dr. Don Reznicek (9th grade).  They were as fine a trio of teachers as anyone could ask for, and they encouraged a lifelong love of learning in me.  (11 – Awareness of the importance of good education)

Bíróczi (2003) pointed out that the many Czech festivals in the U.S. help people of Czech origin to realize and be proud of their heritage. The festivals help to preserve the Czech culture for the future and introduce it to other Americans, who can this way learn about our habits and traditions. He believed that this understanding of different cultures makes people more tolerant of each other.  And that ain’t bad.

The 58th annual Clarkson Czech Festival will be on June 26, 27, and 28, 2020.  Uvítáme vás!

Bíróczi, David 2003.   Czechs in America.  The Maintenance of Czech Identity in Contemporary America.  Diploma Work, English Department, University of West Bohemia in Plzeň.

Posted in 1890s | 7 Comments

Sova (The Owl)

Tengmalm's_owl_(Aegolius_funereus) A few years ago I acquired an interesting recording of Czech songs on a CD titled “Czech Stylings – The Mark Vyhlidal Trio with Alfred Novacek on Vocals” (2003).   It’s a very nice collection of songs performed by fine musicians – Mark Vyhlidal (accordion, drums, piano, and trombone), Joe Havlovic (drums and button accordion), Kevin Koopman (bass), and the smooth baritone voice of Alfred Novaček (formerly of Dwight, Nebraska).

The CD features many of the well-known classics – the I Love to Dance Polka, the Blacksmith Waltz, and the reliably laxative Prune Song Waltz (which you will recognize as the theme song of radio commercials for the late, lamented Bohemian Café – “Dumplings and kraut today, At the Bohemian Cafe, Cold beer that’s sparkling, Plenty of parking, See you at lunch today.  OKAY!” ).  But the last, and in my mind the best, song on the CD is the Owl Polka.  It a typically bouncy polka whose lyrics about young romance in the Bohemian woods are periodically punctuated by the singer hooting like an owl.  And in live performance, the audience is often encouraged to hoot along -here’s a good example of that, recorded during an accordion jam at Czech Days in Wilber, Nebaska:

Alfred Novacek and Brad Husak

Brad Husak and Alfred Novaček  

How many of you know this song?  Despite a long lifetime of listening to, singing, and playing Bohemian music, this was a new one for me.  How could I have missed such a fun song?  It turns out that it hasn’t been around Nebraska for all that long.  Recently Alfred Novaček explained his connection to the Owl Polka in the David City newspaper.     

How the Owl Polka (Hu Hu) got to America

ALFRED NOVAČEK for The David City Banner-Press – March 28, 2018

In Nebraska I had been asked a few times how the Owl Polka got to the United States, so here goes the story.

In 1966, I accompanied my mother Mary Hamsa Novaček, to Czechoslovakia to visit our relatives. There on a Saturday evening, my second cousin invited me to accompany him to a dance in a country hall. It reminded me of the Loma Dance Hall, only a little larger. The dance was an annual benefit fund raiser for the village fire department.

The hall was jam packed, the band was playing, and the people were dancing and mingling. The band struck up the Owl Polka and the people really got into the singing and at the end of the song, everyone sounded off with a “Hu a Hu.” They must have played it three or four times.

When I got to Prague, Czech Republic, I went to a music store looking for the sheet music for the song. Although I didn’t read music, I told the clerk what I wanted and he gave me about four versions.

When I returned to Nebraska, I gave the music to my cousin, Don Hamsa, who was a master musician and composer. He sent his version to Amy Poličky in Dwight, who used it in her band, The Poličky Orchestra. She asked me to do the vocal and it “took off” from there.

Then the late Dr. Vladimir Kučera, Professor of Czech language at UNL, had me sing it on his Czech Spectacular Programs at the Czech Festival in Nebraska.

Later, John Lavičky, vice commander of the Dwight American Legion Post 110, christened it as the Nebraska Czech National anthem.

Tengmalm's Owl 1

So, if The Owl Polka is the Nebraska Czech National Anthem, we’d better get around to learning it, no?  It might take some time because the song is always sung in Czech.  For background, here is the way Novaček translated the song in the newspaper story:

The owl lives in the tree in the forest, in his nest.

Although the wind blows, he stays there.

Many visitors and lovers come to the forest.

He watches and listens to the lovers, but does not say a thing,

only Hu-a-Hu-a-Hu.

I’m guessing that Alfred was translating the verse at the beginning of the song that sets the stage for the refrain.  The Czech words for the refrain, which is repeated several times in the song, are shown below, along with my own fractured translation:

Owl Polka – Czech Refrain:

Proč ta sová tolík houkála

hu – a – hu – a – hu

Na mné se tak dívne koukála

hu – a – hu – a – hu

Ta ná tebe ma las

Ko néco vy až né povím

Přoto včera tolík houkála

hu – a – hu – a – hu


Owl Polka Refrain – English Translation:

Why did the owl hoot?

hoo – a – hoo – a – hoo

She looked at me so gently

hoo – a – hoo – a – hoo

You are the one

I say to you

Yet yesterday, so many hooted

hoo – a – hoo – a – hoo

(I’d appreciate anyone with a working knowledge of Czech to improve my translation)

Long-Eared Owl

Not surprisingly, this merry song is popular even outside of the Dwight/Abie/Bruno Corridor.  In 1998, The Owl Polka was issued on a Smithsonian Folkways Recordings album called “Deep Polka: Dance Music from the Midwest.”  In the liner notes, the musicologist Richard March noted that “This tune is a good example of the way Czech polka traditions in America have tended to emphasize fairly elaborate arrangements. The widespread availability of sheet music for band arrangements of Czech folk music from the Vitak-Elsnic publishing company of Chicago helped to establish a tradition of using introductory passages before the main melody and bridges between the parts of the tune. The onomatopoetic singing of the owl’s hoot is appealing. Performed by Clete Bellin (piano, vocals), John Widow (trumpet), Joe Jerabek (tuba), Mike Hager (trumpet), Diana Schroeder (accordion), Bill Jerabek (drums, vocal, harmony).“

Of course! Therein lies the appeal – the onomatopoetic singing of the owl’s hoot!  (You English majors know that an onomatopoeia is a word that actually looks like the sound it makes, and we can almost hear those sounds as we read. For example: slam, splash, bam, babble, warble, gurgle, mumble, belch… and HOO.)

The Clete Bellin Orchestra’s version that the Smithsonian chose to anthologize can be heard at   There are many fun renditions of this polka on YouTube; another good one was recorded by the Czech Melody Masters from Austin, Texas on their album “Czech, Please!” –  – it has a distinctive “Tex-Mex” style to the harmonies.

But for my money, the best recordings feature Alfred Novaček himself singing the song that he brought to us from the Old County.

Alfred Novacek and Czech Ambassador

Alfred Novaček and the Czech Ambassador, Petr Gondalovic. Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Journal Star.

Maybe if we’re lucky, and we say our prayers at night, the Jacob Vyhlidal Trio will play The Owl Polka at Clarkson’s Czech Days this year.  It would be a hoot.

Czech tawny owl

Posted in 1890s | 9 Comments

More Country Schools

There has been recent interest in a story that I posted several years ago called “The Memoirs of a Country School Teacher.”

The story was a homage to the fine teachers that I had from Grade K-8 in a sturdy, brick schoolhouse in the middle of Colfax County, Nebraska – District 21, the home of the Cedar Hill Bees!  Many of you had similar experiences and fond (and not so fond) memories.  A handful of you were teachers at these schools.


The  “one-room country schools” that were so important to many of us are essentially gone forever.  In order to capture the memories that we students and teachers have of this lost world, I set up another blog site that focuses on this educational institution:

District 21 Classroom

As I noted in the introductory section, there are a lot of us out there with all sorts of memories about school days – academic subjects, recess, schoolhouses and outhouses, sports and games, Christmas plays and school picnics.  Because my country school experience is limited to a single building, I am hoping that others who attended or taught in these schools will broaden the perspective by contributing stories and photos.  So get out your Red Chief tablet and a well-sharpened No. 2 lead pencil and write a story that I can post.  Or, if your tablets are now iPads or personal computers, e-mail your stories to me.  There are a number of sections, each devoted to a particular topic (academics, music and dramatic activities, recess/games, utilities, etc.).  There is a page for posting photographs.  If you were a teacher in one of these schools, there is a page for you to add your memories. Finally, if you have writer’s block, turn to the page with Test Questions. There you will find some questions about country school life that may jog your memory.





You don’t have to write an essay – there is a section called “Short Memories” for your contributions.  Just a paragraph or two on some topic might jog someone else’s memories.  If you have anything to share, please send your materials to me and I will find a way to work them into this “collective memory.”

Happy reading!

Glenn Čada


Posted in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s | 3 Comments

The Stop Inn Café – Where the Elite Meet to Eat

Every town needs a restaurant or two, a place that serves warm, prepared food – where “the elite meet to eat.”  In Clarkson, that function has often been assumed by the taverns, which provided hamburgers, pizzas, and other pub grub to their hungry patrons.  But for nearly a century, a building in the middle of main street served off and on as our café.  Most of us knew it as the Stop Inn Café (aka the Stop Inn Market and Café or just plain Stop Inn).  It was a great place for a mid-afternoon coffee break and to meet your fellows for lunch over a bowl of chicken noodle soup or goulash, cheeseburger and fries, or the day’s roast pork, dumplings, and kraut special.  On the way out, we could pick up a milk shake (paper straws only, please), a cold Popsicle, candy from the well-stocked glass case, or a package of Toman’s wieners or sliced bologna to take home for supper.

I’ve combed through the deep files of The Vault, and have been able to put together some names, dates, photographs, and recipes to remind us of what a good place it was.  There have been a lot of owners and a lot of details, and as always, I welcome any corrections.

The site occupied by the now-shuttered Stop Inn Café was originally the location of a wooden building that housed one of Clarkson’s first restaurants, established in 1889.  (It wasn’t THE first  restaurant – that honor goes to Gross & Menn, proprietors of a bakery and restaurant that in 1887 advertised “pies, cakes, hot coffee, lunch, oysters, sardines, fancy groceries, fruits, candies, nuts, fine cigars and tobaccos.”)  On October 31, 1889 Frank Bašta purchased land from the Pioneer Townsite Company and put up a wooden frame building that was used as a restaurant.  On July 7, 1903, R.P. Bašta purchased the building and leased it to Rudolph Mundil for a restaurant.  Operation of the restaurant was transferred to R.P. Bašta between June 1, 1905 and May 29, 1906, and by August 16, 1907 Frank Bašta was running the business again.  In July 1907 the restaurant was acquired by Joseph Jírovec, who later sold out to Adolph Tomeš.

The present structure that still stands in Downtown Clarkson came into existence in October 1912, when Dr. Silas G. Allen, the village physician, arranged for the construction of a 25’ X 60’ brick building.  (The original wooden building was moved into the unpaved, grassy street where it continued to function, and later was moved across from the Opera House and eventually dismantled).  The new building was occupied by the Saunders and Kubik Restaurant (Frank Kubik and Hiram W. Saunders) from 1912-1918 or 1920.

Kubik Confectionary Store 1916-1918 2

From the looks of the place, it was a pretty fashionable dining establishment.   Electric lighting and ceiling fans, glass-topped metal tables and metal café chairs served to make the customers comfortable.  Potted palms gave it an exotic, upscale look.  Along the back wall was a lunch counter with individual stools, and on the counter can be seen salt and pepper shakers, bottles of ketchup, and a large stainless coffee tureen.  The shelves on the left of the photo hold canned food products, boxes of cigars, tins of Prince Albert tobacco, and, on the top shelf next to the mirror, what look like bottles of whiskey.

The front of the café featured more metal stools in front of a white marble soda fountain countertop.  Sparkling clean glassware and a white-shirted, bow-tied soda jerk, all brightly lit by the windows facing out onto main street.  Behind the counter, a rich, dark wood frame surrounded a large mirror – just the thing to watch yourself enjoying a strawberry soda or a chocolate phosphate.  Glass cases filled with exotic candies, and atop the counter a polished metal scale to weigh your purchases.  Warmed by hot water radiators in the winter and cooled by gentle fans in the summer, the Saunders and Kubik Restaurant was an inviting oasis for dusty farmers, hurried businessmen, and kids with dimes burning holes in their pockets.

Kubik Confectionary Store 1916-1918

Kubik Restuarant

Clarkson prides itself on its overwhelmingly Czech heritage.  Since Day One a very high percentage of its residents have had Czech and/or German ancestors (90% +?).  So it is interesting to note that for a brief period in 1920 the café was operated by 4 Japanese restaurateurs/hoteliers.  On March 18, 1920 the Clarkson Hotel and Café opened its doors for business.  Roy Osaka was the proprietor and was assisted by head chef Eddi Tshuchuja, with R. Saiki and Jim Haya as his assistant cooks.  Roy Osaka (born about 1888 in Japan) had made his way to Colorado and married a local woman, Lea; they had one son Stanley Osaka (born about 1916 in Colorado).  In the 1920 Census the family was living in Gordon Township of Sheridan County, Nebraska.

The May 20, 1920 edition of the CCP reported that “The Clarkson Hotel and Cafe in the former Kubik Restaurant Building is announcing that they are now serving meals and lunches, hot or cold, served at all hours of the day, from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Dance nights until 12 p.m.  Furnished rooms for lodging at popular prices. Clean and comfy beds. Hot and cold water.  Meals are first class and prepared by an experienced chef.  Farmers are especially asked to stop in for dinner or lunch when they are in town. We also serve Sunday dinners.”  It was also noted that Mrs. Roy Osaka and son had arrived in Clarkson from their former home in Merriman, Nebr., to join her husband, who is conducting the Clarkson Hotel and Cafe.

Osaka’s joint must have been pretty spiffy.  The Press reported glowingly on the venue as a location for the annual Junior-Senior banquet:

“On Saturday, May 8, at the Clarkson Cafe, the juniors tendered a delightful reception to the class of 1920. The Junior-Senior banquet announcements came Thursday in the form of dainty invitations in the juniors’ colors of green and white.

Seven-thirty found the seniors escorted by the juniors leaving the high school building for the Clarkson cafe. The Clarkson Cafe had been converted into a beautiful banquet hall. The seniors’ colors of brown and gold were beautifully festooned above the tables, which looked fit for a king. Beautiful bouquets of golden daisies graced the tables. The place cards were hand printed in the seniors’ colors. Dainty nut cups in the shape of daffodils rested beside each cover. Delightful Victrola selections were furnished.
The Menu consisted of fruit cocktail, veal birds, mashed potatoes, creamed peas, vegetable salad, wafers ice cream, cake and coffee.

 Jerry Polansky, president of the junior class acted as toastmaster and was most happy to introduce the speakers who appeared on the program. Each speaker responded to a toast from a word of the senior class motto: “Tonight We Launch, Where Shall We Anchor.” Speakers were Libbie Houfek, Bertha Hudec, Rudolph Rosicky, Henry Rosicky, Olga Lodl, Rudolf Tomes and Prof. Prokop.

During the Junior-Senior class banquet at the Clarkson Cafe, we forgot to make mention that the center of the room was graced with Victrola, and here Miss Novotny and Olga Indra rendered several musical selections on the violin and piano in a very pleasing manner.  Elizabeth Polansky read some of the news of the day which would have to be settled by the Peace Congress.”

Sadly, sukiyaki and kolaches were not a winning combination in Clarkson, because Osaka’s tenure in Clarkson lasted less than a year.  In September of 1920 Mr. Osaka and his assistants sold out to Etta Richardson and left town.

Hang on – here is where things start happening quickly.  Around May 5, 1921 Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Richardson turned the business over to a Mr. Kroeger of Wayne.  Early in 1922 the Clarkson Café and Hotel was taken over by James Krofta and Frank Hubaček.  Soon after, Krofta sold his share to his partner Hubaček.   After two weeks Frank Hubaček sold half his interest in the business to Adolph Nebola .  At that point, the CCP reported that “the boys are enjoying good business and intend to establish themselves permanently.  Not long after, Adolph Nebola sold his interest to Andrew Necas.  The CCP reported that “Mr. Nebola disliked the business after trying it out for a month” and “Mrs. Necas will look after the kitchen while her husband will keep on at his painting trade, helping out after working hours.”  In July 1922 Andrew Necas and Frank Hubaček closed up shop.   Then, in September, 1922 a Mrs. R.B. Brewer began managing the Clarkson Café, only to sell out to a William M. Green on October 5, 1922. As reported in the Press, “Mrs. R.B. Brewer, the lady who undertook the task of managing the Clarkson cafe several weeks ago, decided to quit and returned to her home at Plattsmouth. The place is now looking again for a new proprietor. Mrs. Brewer’s early departure is due to the fact that her daughter who assisted her in the management of the enterprise joined the ranks of benedicts. The young lady’s marriage occurred at Stanton on Monday of this week, her companion being a young man from Plattsmouth. This prompted Mrs. Brewer on account of her age to close the cafe and return to her former home at Plattsmouth.

That flurry of activity (the business changed hands six times in 1922) may have been the end of a café in that building for a good while.  Barta and Barta operated a meat market in the building between May 14, 1925 and November 22, 1928.  On that date Bohumil Beran, who was a butcher in Clarkson for 36 years, bought out their interest and with the help of Joe Kutin went into the butcher business.

I’ve seen two undated photos of the Beran Meat Market.  The first one below was clearly shot in what became the Stop Inn Café – the layout and metal ceiling are the same, and on the right side you can see the stairway that led to the rooms on the second floor.

Beran Stop Inn 1

Bohumil Beran in Beran’s Meat Market

It may not be clear from this online image, but the original is a very high resolution photo that I’ve been able to blow up to make out considerable details.  From left to right, I can see an electric motor (probably to operate a meat slicer for bologna, hams, and summer sausages).  Moving to the right on the counter is a cellophane tape dispenser, a large white food scale, empty 1-qt. milk bottles, and in front of Mr. Beran, a couple of big, round lidded glass jars, one of which holds dill pickles.  In the left background is a wooden refrigerated meat case with glass windows, another meat scale, and two big rolls of brown, waxed freezer paper for wrapping fresh meat and sausage.  On the floor in front of Bohumil Beran is a wire display holding loaves of bread.

It took me a while to figure out what the two white rectangular items are on the counter between the milk bottles and the dill pickles.  They are displayed for a powdered drink called Julep-Aid.  Julep-Aid was a “hot weather” drink sold at least into the 1940s.  Available in a variety of flavors, it appears to have been a Kool-Aid type of drink.  In this photo, a package of Julep-Aid sold for 5 cents, “A Cent a Glass.”  (Another soft drink, Jiffy Julep, was sold in concentrated liquid form in the 1920s-1940s.  Jiffy Julep came in five flavors – Lime, Mint, Orange, Loganberry, and Fruit Punch and, you will recall, was manufactured by the makers of Jiffy-Jell, a short-lived competitor of Jell-O.)

On the right side of the picture are shelves of canned goods to supplement your meat and bread sandwiches.  In an enlarged photo I can easily make out boxes of Everyday Soda Crackers (made by the Johnson Biscuit Co. of Sioux City, Iowa), Kellogg’s Cornflakes (11 cents), Kellogg’s Rice Krispies (12 cents), Kellogg’s All Bran (23 cents), and cans of Campbell’s Soup (10 cents), sweet peas (15 cents), sweet corn (10 and 15 cents), Frank’s Sauerkraut (10 cents), bottles of vinegar, honey, ketchup, mustard, and molasses, and cans of lard, salmon, and sardines.  There are many more small items on the back shelves that I cannot discern, but in all it was a very neat and complete grocery.

Below is another photograph of the Beran Meat Market, published in the 2014 photo book “Colfax County” (M.L. Mass, J. Krzycki, J. Brezina, and R. Waters; Arcadia Publishing).  I can’t tell if this was in the same building as the previous photo – things are arranged a lot differently, and the back wall looks different.  Perhaps Mr. Beran was conducting his business in another building.

Beran Meat Market 2

Bohumil Beran operated his meat market in this building for many years, and on July 23, 1942 he expanded it to include the Victory Bar.  Then, on May 1, 1946, Joe and Edward Švik purchased Beran’s business, remodeled it extensively, and changed the name to the Stop Inn Market and Café.  Taking over the Victory Bar was a natural, as the three Švik brothers (Joe, Edward, and Frank) were all returning from victories of their own – in World War II.  Joe had entered the U.S. Navy on July 14, 1942 and served in the Pacific Theater (Guam and the Philippines) for 41 months before being discharged on November 29, 1945.  Edward was drafted into the U.S. Army before the war, on February 17, 1941, and served 53 months in Europe (Normandy, Northern France, the Battle of the Bulge and the Ardennes, and the Rhineland).  Frank entered the U.S. Army on March 11, 1943 and also served in the European Theater of Operations (Ardennes, Battle of the Bulge, Rhineland) before being discharged on December 7, 1945.

Joe C Svik       Edward J Svik    Frank E Svik

          Joe C. Švik                                        Edward J. Švik                        Frank E. Švik

The Švik Bros. operated the Stop Inn for 10 years, Frank coming back to Clarkson and joining his two brothers in 1948. They served complete meals, beer, soft drinks, a small line of groceries, and a full line of fresh and luncheon meats.  Their wives were full time employees, and as the business grew additional help was hired.

Clarkson Museum_20160906_114

I was too young to remember the Stop Inn when the Švik Brothers ran it, so all I can offer is this blurred photograph from the Clarkson Museum and Ed’s recipe for goulash that was likely served to hungry customers.

Ed Švik’s Goulash

¼  lb lean pork [bite size]

1 ¼  lbs stewing beef  [bite size]


  7 cups water

  1 tsp chili powder

  1 tsp parsley flakes

  1 ½ tsp salt

  ¼ tsp paprika

  1 tsp celery salt

  1 Tbl chopped celery

  ¼ cup chopped onion

  1/8 tsp black pepper

Boil meat with seasonings and vegetables until tender.   While the above is cooking, place two tablespoons grease in skillet on medium heat.  Blend 6 tablespoons flour, brown and add 1 ½ cups of water gradually.  Add to meat mixture.  Dissolve 8 gingersnaps in ½ cup of water and add to the meat mixture.

Then add:

2 cups catsup

1 Tbl brown sugar

2 Tbl vinegar

½ cup water

½ can red kidney beans [optional]

Best when allowed to set 3 to 4 hours.  If too thick add a little water.

After 10 years the Šviks moved on to other occupations and sold the Stop Inn to Albin “Beanie” Petriček and his wife Lillian on May 1, 1956.  Beanie and Lillian and their two children farmed near Howells until they moved to Clarkson in 1956 to operate the café.   Many of us can remember Petriček’s Stop Inn – a friendly place, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and a great to stop for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie, a bowl of soup with oyster crackers, or an ice cream cone.

Petricek's Cafe

Those of us who were teenagers during this era may remember the celebrations that took place at the café after high school football and basketball games.  The fans, pep club, and cheerleaders would assemble inside the Stop Inn, filling the place to the brim.  After getting cleaned up in the CHS shower room or returning to town on the bus, the team came downtown for the celebration.  The crowd inside the café would part to create a narrow corridor for the players to pass through individually, and as they walked to the back they were greeted with clapping, cheering, and the loud singing of “When the Devils Come Marching In.”  After their triumphal entry the young men collected at the back of the café where they enjoyed Cokes, snacks, and generally acting like teenage boys.  (I’m told that Clarkson’s athletic supporters actually began this fun tradition when the Sviks ran the café; grilled cheese sandwiches were served after Friday games…  remember meatless Fridays?).

A couple of people I questioned about this story remembered the pies that Vlasta Čada used to bake.  Apparently she was famous for her “Mile-High” meringue toppings, and among the most popular variations was her Sour Cream Raisin pie.  The flavor sounds a bit odd these days, but I imagine that it was a common, popular pie among Old Timers going way back.  Among the earliest pioneers, at least, fresh fruits were a rarity.  Fresh peaches appeared for a brief time each year, oranges and other tropical fruits were special treats enjoyed at Christmas time, and other orchard fruits were seasonal.  But, as in the Old Country, you could always find barrels of raisins in grocery stores in Clarkson, and every farmer had plenty of sour cream on demand.  It would be an easy pie for pioneer women to whip up.  I suspect that many of the fans of Vlasta’s sour cream raisin pie enjoyed it for nostalgic reasons – recalling their grandmother’s and mother’s pies.

The recipe for Rozinka Koláč se Zakysanou Smetanou (Raisin Pie with Sour Cream) seems to have been dropped from the more recent Clarkson cookbooks, but here is one from an older edition that you can try:

Raisin - Sour Cream Pie

Notice that the pie recipe ends with “cover with meringue.”  This is a critically important step, not to be taken lightly.  For you hapless bachelors who don’t know how to make a respectable meringue, here is a proven recipe.

Phyllis' Meringue Recipe

Don’t try to make a “Mile-High Meringue” on your first try.  Set your sights lower – half a mile high is enough until you’ve gone through dozens of pies.  If you happen to live in an arid climate, this will make a creditable pie topping that will last long enough to show off to your neighbors for a day or two.  If you live in a humid climate like Tennessee, you can practically watch the light, fluffy meringue absorb moisture from the air and sink into a pancake before your very eyes.  In that case, you may want to confine your dessert choice to coffee and “sinkers” – fresh, homemade fried doughnuts (which Beanie made in the café every day).

Lillian and Beanie operated the Stop Inn Café from 1956 until Beanie died in May, 1965.  Lillian continued to run the café until May 1, 1967, at which time she sold the business to Mr. and Mrs. Lumir Nadrchal.  In November 1968 they sold the café to Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Nadrchal, Sr., who conducted the business until they sold it to Paul and Betty Doležal on November 15, 1972.

As with previous incarnations of the business, goulash must have been a favored dish at the café because I have found not one, but TWO recipes for Stop Inn goulash in the Dolezal era.  The first comes from Bernadine Gall Humliček, who worked there as a cook in the 1980s.  The second recipe is named after the owner, Paul Doležal, and submitted by his wife Betty (who also knows a thing or two about making štrudl).  The recipes are pretty similar, in that they both feature a healthy dose of ginger snaps – a goulash additive (adulterant?) that seems to be favored by Clarkson Czechs.  I’ll leave it up to some venturesome soul with a strong stomach and a good supply of antacids to make both recipes and tell me which is more representative.  Better yet, make Ed Švik’s recipe for goulash as well and let us know which one of the three takes the crown.  As there are as many goulashes in Clarkson as there are cooks, we may never be able to name a winner.

Taste of Clarkson_0002

Paul and Betty Doležal operated the Stop Inn Café for nearly two decades. They were always crazy busy preparing and serving food during the annual Czech Days celebration, and their relatives often pitched in to bus tables and wash the dishes.  I had left town by the time the Doležals took over, and I only remember one visit to their establishment.  I had dropped into the Gambles store to visit with my father-in-law, Marcel Brabec, and he suggested that we walk over to the café for a cup of coffee.  It was as I remembered it from years earlier – quiet, comfortable, cool, with friendly owners and customers.  Good coffee.  The Doležals closed their café in 1993.

Pam Worley Stop Inn

I was under the impression that the Dolezals were the last operators of the cafe, but since posting this story I’ve been informed that it was kept going at least until the early part of the 21st Century by Pam Worley and David and Mary Kucera.  And one of my correspondents even provided visual evidence in the form of a hot pink Koozie.  Pam Worley Stamer writes “I purchased the cafe from Paul and Betty in 1993, and shortly after, experienced my first year of Czech Days food preparation! A few family friends and employees gathered together on a Sunday and we baked cookie sheet after cookie sheet of kolache and strudel! We would continue the tradition of pork and dumplings with kraut, 3 days a week, including homemade pies and cinnamon rolls! Yes, even the goulash was a staple! We had no idea how fast these would sell out! Prior to opening the doors after the purchase, we remained closed for a week to give the place a new coat of paint and some revamping and freshening up! It was a great 5 years, simple times that are few and far between now!

David  and Marnie Burgess were the last ones to run the Stop Inn Café,  until around 2007.  If anyone has particular dates and stories for the post-1993 establishments, I’ll be happy to revise the post.

It is good to hear that the Stop Inn Café lasted for well over a hundred years in its various incarnations.  But unless something has changed in recent months this fine dining establishment is no longer serving hungry patrons.   The Orange Crush sign that still fronts the century-old building on Clarkson’s main street is in good shape, awaiting another entrepreneur with culinary talents and a greasy spoon.

Stop Inn 2014


This story was assembled from the online files of the Colfax County Press (CCP), the invaluable Diamond Jubilee history (1961) and Clarkson Centennial (1986) books, and photographs in the Clarkson Museum.  To Duane and Brenda Novotny, Darrell Podany, Theresa Flynn, Bernice Čada, Leon Sobeslavsky, Denise Hockamier, Donna Adams, Adam Cerv, and Dick Moore – Thanks for the Memories!


Posted in Businesses | 27 Comments

Our Friend the Stinging Nettle

Recently I spent some time picking my way through the homestead of one of my ancestors who immigrated to Eastern Nebraska in the 1870s.  Happily, the present owners, also descendants of the original settlers, have chosen to preserve from cultivation the few acres that once held the original buildings.  The house and farm buildings were demolished long ago, and as a result the property has returned to a state something like what our immigrant ancestors encountered – a mixture of tall prairie grasses dotted with occasional wildflowers.  I high-stepped my way through thick stands of big bluestem, little bluestem, common milkweed, Virginia wildrye, meadow brome grass, and western wheatgrass.  The tough, interwoven roots of wheatgrass and bluestem grass formed the sod from which our ancestors’ first homes were made.  It must have been back-breaking work to cut that sod with a spade or turn it with a crude plow.

novotny homeste_20180622_04

Ringing the small preserved area were trees and shrubs common to Eastern Nebraska – sumac, box elder maple, silver maple, and cottonwood.  An unnamed little tributary creek runs along the south side of the homestead, and as I made my way toward it I nearly stumbled into a large, waist-high patch of what I recognized (in the nick of time) as stinging nettles.  Those of you of the Czech persuasion know it as kopřivy.

nettle patch

The stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) can commonly be found along streams and wet areas in North America.  It prefers wet soil, especially if the soil is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, as from animal waste.  Thus, the presence of nettles is often an indicator of sites that once had barns and other buildings.  The stinging nettle gets its name because its leaves and stems sport many hollow stinging hairs, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamines and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation upon contact (“contact urticaria”).

nettle 1

nettle 2

My most memorable encounter with stinging nettles happened when I was a young lad.  I and my friends Joseph and Mary had gone exploring the meadows and creeks at their farm.  It was a hot summer day, and Joseph and I stripped off our shirts as we forayed through the grass and climbed down to the creek, unknowingly crashing our way through a patch of tall nettles.  (Mary modestly kept her shirt on, and thus escaped the all-torso exposure that we boys received.)  It didn’t take long before we were seized by stinging, burning, and itching.  Worse than chiggers, not as bad as poison ivy.  We were miserable – scratching furiously, we headed for the house, where Joseph’s mother put us in the bathtub and daubed the red spots with a baking soda paste.  It helped a little.  We probably got a coating of calamine lotion after that.  In a few hours the misery was over, and since then I have learned to recognize nettles and give them a wide berth.

Oddly enough, this fearsome plant has a lot of beneficial uses.  It is the exclusive food of several species of butterflies and moths, was used as a textile fiber and a traditional medicine.  Some years ago I learned that the Czechs in the Old Country fed raw nettle leaves to ducks and geese without ill effect, and (sacrebleu!) it is even cooked and eaten by the Czechs themselves!  It turns out that cooking or steaming the plant even briefly destroys the noxious chemicals.  And, if you are adventurous, it is said that young leaves can be eaten raw before they develop their defensive chemicals.

A quick search of the internet reveals that Nettle Soup is the most common culinary creation using this poisonous plant.  The Czechs (who will eat almost anything) have eaten nettle soup for generations, but it is also enjoyed by the French (who also will eat almost anything).  Czechs also use nettles with other herbs for savory pies and Easter stuffing.  But wait!  You can also relish stinging nettles as an ingredient in pesto, lasagna, gnocchi, ravioli, nettle-mushroom pie, sautéed, stir-fried, tea, chips, and as a pizza topping.  As I see it, the variety of meals you could create from that patch of stinging nettles is limited only by your imagination… and pain tolerance.

You can enjoy nettles mixed with spinach, and served with eggs and boiled potatoes:

nettles and potatoes

Or a plateful of savory millet-nettle fritters:

nettle-millet fritters


Hungry yet?  Next Easter, you might want to try a traditional Czech dish, popular in South Bohemia – baked Easter stuffing made with semolina, eggs, boiled lamb lungs, tongue, heart, and liver, and, of course, a handful of fresh spring nettles.


Vegan, you say?  In that case, you may want to have a little fun, and test your nettle mettle, by entering the World Nettle Eating Championship held annually at the Bottle Inn in Dorset, England.  Competitors from all over the world have one hour to eat as many raw nettles as they can, and the winners are determined by the number of 2-foot-long leafless stems sitting in front of them at the end of the Happy Hour.  Like Clarkson’s Kolache Eating Contest, you have to keep them down or face disqualification; the parking lots are monitored.   Just so you know what you’re up against, the 2018 Champion (with the appropriate name of Phil Thorne) broke his own previous record by consuming 104 feet of raw stinging nettles.

world nettle eating championship

Let me know if you want to practice – I can point you to a good supply.  Bon appetit!

Posted in 1890s, The 21st Century | 1 Comment