“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. https://clarksonoperahouse.org/
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).
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. https://www.mzv.cz/consulate.newyork/en/useful_links/czechs_in_america/index.html
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.
(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.
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.”
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.
One of the wooden axes used by the drill teams is on display in the Clarkson Museum, along with other MWA/WOW memorabilia.
“[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.
There is also a WOW marker in the Schuyler Cemetery for the grave of Frank Čech (1842-1907).
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 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Order_of_United_Workmen#Buildings
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) – http://www.czechccu.org/wp-CCUlife/
History of the National ČSPS/CSA Fraternal Life – https://csalife.com/Default.asp?loc=his
History of the ZCBJ/Western Fraternal Life – http://www.wflains.org/about-western/recent-news/2019/03/look-back-national-conventions/
History of WOW radio/TV – http://www.wowradioonline.net/history/
Hix, Lisa. 2016. When Secret Societies Sold Insurance. Zocalo Public Square. https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/03/22/secret-societies-sold-life-insurance/chronicles/who-we-were/
Obituary of Nettie Aksamit, one of the teachers in Clarkson’s Bohemian School – https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/109562140/nettie-anna-aksamit
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. https://www.unl.edu/czechheritage/czechs-nebraska
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