The Business of Clarkson is Business

By the turn of the 20th Century, Clarkson was an energetic, bustling community on the prairies of Eastern Nebraska.  Incorporated in 1887 on a branch line of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, the settlement already had a general merchandise store, hotel and post office (all three housed in the same building), blacksmith shop, two saloons, a dance hall, a bank, a lumber and grain dealership, and a population of 300.  The village grew rapidly to serve the surrounding farms and ranches, and within a year had added a bakery, a couple more saloons/pool halls, furniture store, livery/stable, butcher shop, building contractor, a dray service, and an ice dealer.  One hundred buildings – homes and businesses, had been erected.

Our village weathered a 4-year-long national Depression (the Panic of 1893), and continued to grow.  1905 was a banner year for Clarkson – it saw its first automobile (shipped by railroad to the dentist, Dr. F.B. Schulz), the construction 25 new houses, the installation of a telephone system, and the construction of a public waterworks and 64,000-gallon water tower.  In 1908, the prospering village voted to construct a power plant whose steam would operate the pumps for the waterworks and a generator to provide electricity.  On December 23, 1908, the power plant was fired up, and villagers could purchase electricity for 10 cents a kilowatt-hour (it now sells for about 9 cents per kWh in Nebraska).  With a population of 475 we were bursting at the seams.  The business lineup looked like this:

Clarkson Business in 1908 Business Name/Proprietor
Bank Clarkson State Bank – L.F. Folda, President
Bank Farmers State Bank – F.J. Petr, President
Barber Adolf Fiala
Blacksmith Frank Koči
Commercial Club Josef Kriac, President
Construction/Carpentry Vaclav J., Frank, and Jim Chleboun
Dentist Dr. Frank B. Schultz
Furniture Adolph Bukaček
Furniture Frank J. Miller
General Merchandise Anton J. Karel and Phil Suchy
General Merchandise Wesley Moore and Frank Stodola
General Merchandise Julius Wacha
Grain Mill Clarkson Milling and Grain – Ed Polcin, Manager
Hardware Josef Filipi and Anton Indra
Hardware Frank Wolf and Anton Vais
Harness Making Frank Červ
Harness Making Frank Hejtmanek
Hotel Fred W. Noh
House Mover John Pospichal
Jeweler Frank Beneš
Jeweler Thomas Freet
Livery Jeremiah Sindelar
Lumber and Grain Crowell Lumber and Grain – Fred Sixta, Manager
Lumber/Grain/Coal/Livestock Nye Schneider Fowler Co. – Anton Vlach, Manager
Meats John Bukaček
Meats Anton Chundelak
Medical Doctor George H. Allen and Silas G. Allen
Millinery Mary Bukaček
Newspaper Clarkson Herald – Harry Phelps, Publisher
Newspaper Domaci Noviny – Anton Odvarka, Publisher
Nursery Joseph Hanel
Real Estate Joseph Mundil
Restaurant Joseph F. Jirovec
Restaurant Rudolph Mundil
Saloon John Bos
Saloon Joseph Slama
Saloon John F. Swoboda
Saloon Emil Tomes and Emil Slama
Shoemaker Leonard Prokop
Shoe Store John Markytan
Tailor Frank Humlicek
Train Depot/Telegraph Charles Kamensky, Agent

Forty two listed businesses, not including uncounted numbers of seamstresses, “shade tree” mechanics, typists, teachers and preachers, farmers and stockmen.  I’ve been looking at a marvelous photograph of one of these businesses, an interior shot of the Julius Wacha General Merchandise Store.  It is displayed in the Clarkson Historical Museum and has been published in Images of America – Colfax County by Mary Maas, Jim Krzycki, Judy Brezina, and Ruth Waters (2014).  The photograph is not dated, but if the identifications of the people in it are correct, my guess is it was taken between 1908 and 1911, in a building that burned in 1912.

Julius Wacha General Merchandise Store

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Let’s take a slow walk through Julius Wacha’s General Merchandise Store ca. 1908 and see what stories emerge from this old photograph.

As we enter the store, with its solid wooden floor, we are greeted by a wooden bushel basket of apples and another basket behind it with farm fresh eggs.  Small American flags decorate the center aisle.  Also in the center aisle are the only brand names that are visible in the picture – an advertisement for Woodward’s Fine Chocolates and a pair of cuspidors named Irene.  [One has to wonder who Irene was, to inspire someone to put her name on a spittoon].

Julius Wacha General Merchandise Store 1

Woodward Candy FactoryWoodward’s Fine Chocolates were a product of John E. Woodward & Co. (“The Candy Men”) of Council Bluffs, Iowa – a candy manufacturing giant in the early 20th century.  Their factory at 211 West Broadway in Council Bluffs occupied an entire city block.  Woodward’s specialized in butterscotch and stick candy, but at their large factory they also produced chocolates, pails of mixed cream candies, Princess fudge, iced batons, sun-roasted peanuts, jaw breakers, suckers, and plug licorice.  Sweets that, according to their advertising, were “good for the baby, good for Grandma, good for all.”


Julius Wacha General Merchandise Store 2

On the left side of the store was the fabric, dry goods, and millinery department, presided over by Miss Emma Čada.  Emma was born on May 19, 1892 on a farm southeast of Clarkson and was a graduate of Colfax County rural school District 28 and Mrs. Van Housen’s Sewing School.  She moved to Clarkson around 1911 and was employed as a clerk in Julius Wacha’s store.  On December 30, 1915, Emma Čada married Louis Roether in Fremont.  The Roethers had one daughter, Mrs. Almarine (Johnny) Mastny.  Emma Čada Roether enjoyed a long life; she passed away on September 24, 1990 at the tender age of 98.

The shelves behind Miss Emma display numerous bolts of fabric and spools of yarn.  Cardboard boxes likely stored shirts, blouses, underwear, handkerchiefs, fine leather and white cotton gloves, and other ready-made apparel.  The glass cases in front of her probably displayed spools of thread, buttons and other small items.  Atop the case is what looks like a very fancy clock.  Above her head can be seen an unfolded umbrella hanging upside down, one of many large incandescent bulbs that lighted the store, and a series of fabric squares (curtains?) hanging from the decorative tin ceiling.

Julius Wacha General Merchandise Store 3

The center of the photograph features the store owner himself, Julius Wacha.  Born on a farm south of Heun on February 16, 1877, Julius became a Jack of All Trades.  In his early life he was a farm hand in the Heun area and moved to Schuyler to work in his brother Thomas’ general store.  In 1907 he came to Clarkson and opened a general store in the former Rozmarin building, but it was destroyed by fire in 1912.  For a time he carried on his business in another building, then in 1914 he purchased at auction the old CSPS/ZCBJ hall for $3,500.  In addition to operating a general merchandise store in that building, Julius Wacha was a corporal in the Clarkson Home Guards during WWI, substituted as a rural mail carrier, supervised and policed the municipal light plant, served as secretary of the fire department, managed the local Standard Oil supply station, and, after his retirement, traveled with Frank Richtig to county fairs and other demonstrations of his wondrous knives (Frank was not much of a talker, so Julius gave the speeches while Frank put the knives through their paces).    Julius died suddenly in 1952 in the home of his brother Blazej, and is buried in the Schuyler Cemetery.

Stacked up in the background we can see 50-lb. white cotton bags of flour.  Locavores would be pleased – the flour most likely came from locally grown hard winter wheat, milled at the Clarkson Milling and Grain Co. a few blocks away, and brought over by a local drayman.  At a time when most people baked their own home-made bread and pastries, those sacks of flour were cycled through the store quickly.  Along the back wall are boxes of shoes. Hanging from the ceiling is what looks like a collection of flags, including one with a British Union Jack (possibly Australia), Portugal, Scotland, and possibly Rumania.  A skylight cut in the ornate tin ceiling supplemented the electrical lights.  The two unidentified boys on the right side of the picture probably worked in the store – the shorter boy has dark sleeve coverings so that he could work with food or pen and ink without soiling his shirt sleeves.  If you have really good eyes (or a magnifying glass), you can see the top of the larger commercial coffee grinder behind the taller boy’s right shoulder.  The coffee grinder has a large wheel with ornate, curved spokes, and behind the wheel is a conical hopper into which the vender poured the roasted coffee beans.

Julius Wacha General Merchandise Store 4

On the right side of the store is the grocery section, presided over by a young man (Edward Makousky) and a boy (Filbert Wacha, the son of Julius Wacha).  Ed Makousky (sometimes spelled Makovsky) was another versatile businessman.  Born on August 1, 1893, he would have been in his late teens in this photo. Ed’s immigrant parents endured an unusual amount of hardship in the New World, but they prevailed and were able to save enough money to purchase the Kopac building and set up their two sons, Joseph B. and Edward R., in the men’s clothing business.  Ed Makousky apparently learned the merchandise trade from Julius Wacha, and in 1915 Ed and his brother Joe acquired a clothing store from Emil Pokorny and Frank Schulz; the One Price Clothing Company was renamed the Makousky Brothers Clothing Store.  In February of 1942 the Makousky Bros. divested themselves of their clothing business and leased the downstairs of their building to Joe Swoboda, who operated the City Meat Market and Locker Plant.  Ed Makousky occasionally appeared in the pages of the Colfax County Press.  Here are some interesting items:

Edward R MakouskyNovember 25, 1920 – J. M. Zrust, Richard Karel, Ed. Makousky and Leonard Rozmarin were at Humphrey last Sunday participating in a shooting match. They succeeded in bringing home several turkeys, geese and ducks and of course, Richard was the “high” man.

June 24, 1920 – During the past few months there has been much discussion among some of the citizens as to the possibility of ghosts in Stanton County in the neighborhood of about 10 or 12 miles from Clarkson.  Last Friday night 4 autos loaded with some of our young warriors with sufficient ammunition and a lot of courage went out to the mystery place to see the visitant of the spirit world. The visits of the spook have caused considerable discomfort to the residents of the community, especially to the tenants occupying the ghostly farm.  Our boys went out to see all there is to be seen, but the ungracious spook some way or another happened to know about their visit and failed to show up. The expedition as known to us consisted of the following: Jos. Mundil, Emil H. Slama, Joe Jonas, John Jonas, James Stransky, Ed Makovsky, Frank Kubik, Ben Jonas, John Knapp, Ed Vitek, Jerry Zak and Richard Karel.

Emma Zak MakouskyMoviegoers may remember that Ed Makousky and his father-in-law Petr Zak managed the Opera House for more than 40 years, and in 1930, they brought talking movies to Clarkson. Ed was the projectionist and his wife Emma Zak Makousky sold tickets. I think he and his wife were still running the theater when the last picture show was screened in the early 1960s.  Edward Makousky died on May 23, 1966 and Emma died in October 1973.

Lastly, a tender memory of Ed from my sister-in-law: “I believe it was in the 1950’s when Jirsaks owned a bar up from Joe Rez’s store. Ed Makousky was an employee of his and our neighbor. On his way home from work he would stop by our house to deliver Rocky Mountain Oyster sandwiches whenever the occasion occurred. At the time our family enjoyed them very much–unique in flavor but tasty. It wasn’t until after I learned what they were that I stopped eating them. But, thank you Ed, for thinking of us.

The young lad on the right side of the photo, crouching behind the candy case with a guilty look on his face, was Filbert Wacha, the son of Julius.  Fil Wacha grew up to become another multi-talented man – musician, bookkeeper, Notary Public, mail carrier and postal employee…

Born on July 5, 1900, Filbert was the oldest of 5 children.  Presumably he spent a lot of his childhood in his father’s store, and by the age of 17 he was already developing a reputation as a drummer with a variety of musical groups, including the highly regarded Jirovec Orchestra.Fibert Wacha_0002

Colfax County Press, June 6, 1918 –  Filbert Wacha was in Schuyler Monday and Tuesday assisting the Schuyler orchestra during the engagement of the Ludvik theatrical company. Filbert is gaining fame as an expert drummer.

By the age of 20, he had been promoted to Assistant Manager and bookkeeper of the Fajman Motor Company. Colfax County Press, November 18, 1920 – In recognizance of the efficient service rendered his superiors, the owners of Fajman Motor Co., have shown their appreciation to their employee, F. J. Wacha, who has been their bookkeeper for a number of years by promoting him to the position of assistant manager and bookkeeper. Filbert is a faithful employee and worthy of every advancement given him.

And in 1922 he was appointed a notary public. Colfax County Press, April 20, 1922 – Our friend, Filbert J. Wacha, received a commission from Governor McKelvie, appointing him notary public. From now on, Filbert’s official signàture will have a meaning above the ordinary.

Fil became a rural mail carrier near Leigh, and then moved to Schuyler to work in the post office.  Filbert Wacha’s first wife [Klotilda (Tillie) Karel Wacha] died at age 45 on April 14, 1947; in 1952 he married Clara Tichacek.  Filbert Wacha died on June 7, 1988.

Above Ed and Fil are two long lines of men’s and women’s hats, suspended from clips attached to rods that spanned much of the length of the store.  Obviously, hats were a big business in those days.  I won’t attempt to guess at the styles of ladies hats, but among the men’s head coverings I can identify boaters (white straw hats), panamas, and fedoras.  It’s worth noting that if you weren’t satisfied with Julius Wacha’s selection you could walk down the street to see the hats on display at Mary Bukaček’s millinery store.  That’s far cry from our present day, when men wear baseball caps or cowboy hats and women don’t seem to wear hats at all.

Ed and Fil are surrounded by food.  Behind them are boxes, cans, bottles, and jars of preserved food.  I can’t make out any of the labels, except for a row of cans of sauerkraut – a staple in the diets of the local Czechs and Germans. In the glass cases in front can be seen wieners and other sausages, and most likely a selection of Woodward’s fine candies, and cigars and other tobacco products. There are two scales atop the glass cases for weighing the unpackaged food items.  I think I see small cans of Prince Albert and Red Man tobacco on the shelf behind the two young men, and perhaps larger cans of tobacco stacked on the floor between the two spittoons, next to lard buckets. Old Timers will remember that pipe smoking was a very common habit among the immigrant men in those days – my grandfather always enjoyed a pipeful of Prince Albert after supper. (Among some of the denizens of our village, the Czech word for a smoking pipe “dýmka” was conflated with the German word “Pfeife” to yield “Pfeifka”).

Quite a store, wasn’t it?  Walmart has nothing on Julius Wacha’s General Merchandise Store.

So, is a picture worth a thousand words?  Sure – the description of this photo ran to 2,656 words, over two and a half times the content of the average picture.  Okay, the story was a little gassy, perhaps. But as Barry Goldwater said when he made a campaign stop in our village – “Extremism in the promotion of Clarkson is no vice; moderation in pursuit of its history is no virtue.”

Posted in 1890s, 1910s | 11 Comments

Let Us Now Praise Famous Clarksonians – Milo Blecha

Let us now praise famous men, our ancestors of generations past. – Sirach 44:1

I recently spent a few days in a small French village that, like ours, has probably never had more than 1,000 citizens.  Over the centuries the people of Eguisheim have gone about their business (in this case, viniculture), living and letting live.  It is a quiet, lovely, pastoral town, unremarkable but for a significant claim to fame – one of their favorite sons, Bruno of Eguisheim, became Pope Leo IX, a man of considerable influence in his time and who was named a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church.  Nearly a thousand years have passed since Pope Leo IX’s death, but his town still celebrates his memory with statues and festivals.

As near as I can tell, our village has no once or future Popes (yet), but we have had our share of ambitious men and women who have achieved fame in the outside world.  I have mentioned some of them in the past – Frank Richtig (knife maker), Frank Powolny (Hollywood studio photographer), Frank Folda (head of a banking empire), and Frank Schulz (professional baseball player), to name a few.  And there are many others, some not even named Frank!

Milo Blecha CHS Superintendent b

This week I’ll take up the interesting life of Milo Blecha, a local farm boy who went from humble beginnings to great wartime adventure and a career as an influential educator.  He lived in the Clarkson area for over 30 years, from 1921 until the mid-1950s, and you can still find people in town who remember him with fondness and respect.

Milo Kasal Blecha was born on December 6, 1921 to Joseph and Rose Kasal Blecha, the 4th of six children:  Libbie (1913-1980), Joseph (1916-1962), Frank (1918-1993), Milo (1921-2013), Lambert (1923-2004), and Helen.  Milo’s father Joseph attended the University of Nebraska; he and his sister Fannie were members of the Komensky Club in 1909. In the 1920s Joseph was instrumental in promoting the Colfax County Livestock Show and Agricultural Exhibit in Schuyler (later the Colfax County Fair in Leigh).

yrbk.1909.292 joseph blecha

Milo Blecha grew up on the family farm at the bottom of the hill west of the Clarkson cemetery and, like his siblings, walked to school.  It is said that all the Blechas were good athletes; Milo’s older brother Frank was a member of the 1936 and 1937 CHS basketball teams that competed well in the Class B state tournament.

frank blecha 1936 CHS

After high school graduation in 1940, Milo enrolled at nearby Wayne State Teachers College.  His last year at Wayne State was interrupted by World War II.  Milo volunteered to serve as a B-17 pilot, arrived in England in December 1943, and in the remaining months of the war flew more than 35 missions over Europe.

Blecha bomber crew

Blecha crew, 710th Bombardment Squadron based at Rattlesden Airfield, Suffolk on October 25, 1944

Standing: Lt Milo K. Blecha, Lt George R. Barnes, F/O Eugene F. Billington

Kneeling: Sgt John T. Murray, Cpl William H. Gaylord, Cpl Quincy A. Edwards, Cpl Larman D. Johnson, Cpl Billy J. McCarty, and Cpl Joseph A. Mildjian

B-17 bombing

B-17 dropping bombs over Europe.

We’ve all seen the war movies of bombers flying over their targets, being attacked relentlessly by enemy fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft flak.  It was hazardous duty.  In the course of the war Blecha’s 447th Bombardment Group flew 257 missions out of Rattlesden air field and lost 97 planes.  The average life expectancy of a B-17 bomber crew was about 15 missions; Milo Blecha’s crews managed to complete 35 missions.

B-17 Crash

Christmas Eve, 1944 – a B-17 falls out of formation, plummeting to earth with its left wing on fire.  Only two members of the crew survived.  Source:

In addition to the obvious dangers of enemy attack, there were less well known hazards:

“Men went aloft in bulky flying suits that poorly insulated them from temperatures that could fall to 50 below zero at cruising altitudes.  Fliers frequently suffered from frostbite or went woozy or even passed out from hypoxia when moisture froze in the tubes of their oxygen masks or when airsickness or fear caused them to vomit into their mouthpieces.  Crews often returned with uniforms befouled from long missions that precluded any chance to urinate or defecate.  Fear was the aircrew’s companion from the moment of takeoff.  The difficulty of flying off hundreds of aircraft within minutes of one another, then assembling them in the sky into their huge formations – high, middle, and low squadrons of up to sixteen planes each, endless streams of fully laden bombers laboriously circling upward for nearly three quarters of an hour to operational altitude – resulted in frequent mid-air collisions even before the big convoys headed across the channel.  Accidents claimed nearly as many airmen’s lives (approximately thirty-six thousand) as did combat (approximately forty-nine thousand).“  (Kennedy 2001)

The skill required to get your airplane off the ground with a full load of fuel and bombs cannot be overestimated.  For example, in one story I heard third- or fourth-hand, Milo’s B-17 was the last of three overloaded planes trying to take off from Rattlesden air field for a bombing mission.  They watched as the first two bombers were unable to gain sufficient altitude and crashed on takeoff.  When it was his turn, Blecha gunned the engines of his plane and got off the ground safely, to the cheers of his crew.



Royal Air Force Station (RAF) Rattlesden, Suffolk, England – home base of the 447th Bombardment Group, U.S. 8th Army Air Corps




Service in a bomber crew was a terrifying and often deadly experience, the kind of shared experience that binds a crew together for a lifetime.  Although Milo was reluctant to relive his wartime experiences, he participated in the periodic reunions of his crews in London.

After completing his tour of duty in Europe Milo returned home from the war to marry his sweetheart and finish his education.   While training to be a pilot at Moorhead State Teachers College (MSTC) in Minnesota he had met the love of his life, Evelyn Montgomery, at the Crystal Ballroom in nearby Fargo, ND.



Evelyn BlechaAn excellent basketball player and class valedictorian, Evelyn was studying to be a nurse at MSTC.  After their meeting she wrote to him every day.  He left Europe for home on June 30, 1945 and they were married on July 19, 1945.  Their marriage lasted 68 years.  Evelyn Blecha completed her degree and practiced nursing briefly before taking on a full-time role as homemaker, wife, and mother.  She can be seen assisting with a blood drive in the Clarkson City Hall/basketball gym in this photo:

After the war Milo returned to Wayne State to finish his studies, and with a teaching degree in hand, he returned to his home town to teach Industrial Arts and coach basketball at Clarkson High School.

Prior to the completion of the new high school, CHS basketball was played in the City Hall.  If you’ve been inside the City Hall, you know that it is a small space, with scarcely enough room for a basketball court, let alone fans.  The crowd sat around the floor on a single line of benches. One of their biggest fans, Mrs. Mary Filipi, wife of Clarkson’s Presbyterian minister, would arrive around 5 o’clock for a 7 PM game.  (You can see the basketball hoop and benches in the blood drive photo above).

Cakl Blecha PavelDick Moore, who played on the excellent 1952 and 1953 teams, remembers playing in the City Hall.  “The visiting school was on the east side upstairs and Clarkson was on the west side.  We would dress in the old high school and run down to the city hall to play our game.  The visiting team would go into the kitchen and dress and go back there at half time.  The last few years a shower was put in for the visiting team and Clarkson would go up to the old high school and shower.  At half time Clarkson went down in the furnace room, which was not too big. There were steps going down and the only heat for upstairs was from the register above the furnace.  About 8 foot square and sometimes got pretty hot.  [The City Hall was once the building that housed Clarkson’s coal-fired power plant, and the basement where the players congregated was the old coal storage bin.]  Once coach Milo Blecha was chewing someone out and, to emphasize his point, took the basketball and bounced it hard off the floor.  It ricocheted upwards like a rocket and wedged itself in the rafters.  That took care of his speech.  Everyone started laughing and we went up to start the second half.  When we got in the new gym it could seat about 1000 people.  Maybe the city hall would sit around 50 or 75 people.”

Roland Loseke of Leigh HS remembers playing at Clarkson’s City Hall during the Blecha Era.  He recalls that at halftime they’d open a door in the floor and the teams would climb down for their coach’s instructions and pep talk.  Loseke heard a lot of yelling from Clarkson’s coach.

[Think about this scene for a moment.  At halftime, a door in the floor opens up and the poor players descend into a heated room to have their faults and errors pointed out to them, to be “read the Riot Act.”  The door to the Underworld closes, and from below their feet, basketball fans could feel the heat and hear murmurings and muffled shouting.  Am I the only one reminded of a scene from Dante’s Inferno?]

Evidently the yelling paid off.  His teams were disciplined, and they won the Mid-State Conference title three times.  The 1953 CHS basketball team compiled a 26-1 record, the only loss being to Chappell in the final round of the Class C State Tournament.


Coach Milo Blecha’s 1953 squad included Alden Bos, Dale Jindra, Dale Reznicek, Jerry Thalken, Dean Houfek, Joe Houfek, Dick Moore, Bob Moore, and Glenn Swoboda.  Louis Pavel was Assistant Coach and Gene Cinfel was Student Manager.

The Class of 1954 dedicated their yearbook to Milo K. Blecha, the superintendent of Clarkson schools and high school coach for the previous eight years.  They wrote “During his tenure as superintendent, a new $265,000 high school building was constructed, the grade school renovated, and a hot lunch program adopted for pupils.  His teams won the Mid-State Conference title three times and the Red Devils were runnerup in the state tournament in 1953…  He has been attending graduate school at the University of Nebraska during summers and will begin a year of residency at the university this summer to complete work for his doctorate.  After that he plans to return to work in public schools.”

Milo Blecha CHS

Milo Blecha didn’t return to Clarkson after completing his Doctorate of Education from the University of Nebraska.  Dr. Blecha next went on to teach at Butler University in Indianapolis and then moved to the University of Arizona in Tucson where he taught science education for 27 years and served as Head of the Department of Elementary Education for 22 years. He received many awards and citations for the work in his field and served as Senior Author of a national best-selling series of elementary and junior high science textbooks.

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In 1983 Milo and Evelyn Blecha retired to Sonoita, AZ where he enjoyed gardening, fishing, traveling, golfing and especially enjoyed having time to spend in nature as he watched the changing weather patterns of the Southwest, the sunsets and the always present wildlife which included tangling with a few rattlesnakes.  He was active in a number of civic and volunteer organizations. His children wrote that Milo’s first love was always his family and his greatest accomplishment was being a wonderful husband and father.

Those of you who are familiar with the Czech language know that the word “blecha” means “flea.”  Milo K. Blecha, who risked his life serving his country in WWII, then went on to become an inspiring coach, educator, and published science writer, certainly outgrew his surname.

There were those who ruled in their kingdoms,
and made a name for themselves by their valor;
those who gave counsel because they were intelligent;
those who spoke in prophetic oracles;
those who led the people by their counsels
and by their knowledge of the people’s lore;
they were wise in their words of instruction.
  – Sirach 44:3-4

Acknowledgements:  I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Milo Blecha, so I am indebted to Dick Moore, Roly and Ele Loseke, Robert Prazak, and Jerome Jaroska for their memories of him.  The Blecha Family genealogy can be found at  The photos associated with Blecha’s experiences as a B-17 pilot were taken from the comprehensive website of the 447th Bomb Group Association  –  Descriptions of the experiences of B-17 bomber crews were taken from David Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Freedom from Fear”  (Kennedy 2001).

Evelyn Blecha obituary –

Milo Blecha obituary –

Posted in 1940s, 1950s | 12 Comments

Are We the Widest?

After seeing the photo of Clarkson’s main street (Pine Street) in a recent post, Olenka Stepanek Folda commented on how WIDE the street is, both now and in her childhood memories.

Clarkson area_08

My initial response to her was that I recall reading an article many years ago about Clarkson’s wide main street, and the story offered the suggestion that we had the widest main street in the state of Nebraska or the United States or the world or something.  Memory fails at that point, and anyway I’m not sure that the article was backed up by actual data.  But think about it – how many towns have you driven through where you can angle park not only on both sides of the street, but also in the middle, and still have room to drive a tractor through?  Not many, I’d say.

I’ve always wondered if that claim is true, and figured that in this age of drones, spy satellites, GPS, Google Map/Earth, etc., it shouldn’t be so hard to determine who really IS the widest.  A quick search of the internet came to this blog:

This blogster set up the following criteria for determining who has the widest main street: (1) the street must be the most important street in the community, (2) measurements are taken from building front to building front, and (3) the street must feel like a single unified space or zone.

Based on these criteria, No. 1 is… (drum roll, please)… Canal Street in New Orleans! It comes in at a whopping 170 feet wide.  I have been there, and I can testify to Canal Street’s exceeding width – it takes me several light changes to get across.

Also on his list is Iowa Avenue in Onawa, Iowa (around 152 feet) and Grand Avenue in Plains, Kansas at a bit over 155 feet.  In fact, Onawa, IA brags about having the widest main street in America, sometimes in the face of actual measurements:

How does Our Town stack up against these overachievers?  Perhaps some enterprising citizen can go out over the lunch hour with a tape and actually measure the storefront-to-storefront distance.  From my remote location I can only make an estimate by measuring the photo of Clarkson on Google Maps with a plastic ruler and doing a little algebra.  It looks like Clarkson’s main street is around 117 feet wide – a mere shadow of the giants in our neighboring Iowa and Kansas.

But 117 feet is nothing to sneeze at.  It would take Clarkson’s fastest sprinter nearly 4 seconds to get across, and its best long jumper would need more than 6 jumps to get all the way.  Our best discus thrower (98 feet, 9 inches) couldn’t throw it across the street, and our best shot putter would have to pick up that 12-lb cannonball and throw it 4 times before he got from the Press Office to the Clarkson Bank.  You could land the Space Shuttle (78-foot wingspan) easily on our main street without scraping the chrome off the wingtips.  The Titanic (92.5 feet wide) could sail through our town without striking and being sunk by the Pine Street Pub.  It would take 39 dozen kolaches laid end to end to span the distance between the Clarkson Bakery and the Clarkson Beauty Shop (probably considerably more if the kolaches were made in Wilber).  If you were an ant, crossing main street would be equivalent to circling the outside of a Toman’s sausage a dizzying 351 times! It would take the average adult snail 9.9 hours to crawl from Cottontail Vintage to the M&M Market.

Makes a man proud, doesn’t it?

Now that we’ve settled that question for the ages, is it true that Lincoln’s O Street is the longest straight main street in the world?

Posted in The 21st Century | 8 Comments

Tea Service in the Saloon

I made a trip to the Village in August and had the opportunity to look around town and country for a couple of days.  Things looked pretty much undisturbed – the festivities of their annual Czech Days celebration had blown over, and the citizens had gone back to watching the skies for rain.

Clarkson area_08

The most noticeable change since my last visit was the conversion of the old Slama Saloon from the dull, unpainted concrete color that it has been since 1909 into a gleaming white beacon at 255 Pine Street (or main street, as most of us outside of the U.S. Postal Service know it).

Cottontail Vint_3

Being a grumpy old conservationist, I was of course put off by the change.  Readers may recall that I once related the history of that building – and spoke admiringly of the original Slama Saloon, a friendly hospoda where a careworn fellow could slake his thirst and chew on a hand-rolled, 5-cent cigar in the cool darkness.  For over a hundred years it was altered only a little on the outside, and the much-modified interior had been restored to its original appearance around 1980.

But progress is not to be denied.  On the scene arrived Bunny Smith, Manager of Cottontail Vintage LLC, purveyor of antiques and vintage goods.  She has cleaned and brightened up the empty building, stocked it with loads of vintage stuff… and painted the outside white.

Cottontail Vint_1

Cottontail Vint_2

Next time you’re in town, stop in and give the place a look.  Or contact Bunny for an appointment (402-750-3113; ).  You can see the restored walls, floor and ceiling, and browse through her pretty little shop.  It is a very nice establishment, and a welcome addition to Our Town.

So, that sturdy concrete building on Main Street has certainly gentrified over the last century.  It began as a post-frontier saloon, catering to rough cowboys and European peasant immigrants, and smelling of stale beer, sweat, and cigar smoke. Years later it became a grocery, Clarkson’s first modern self-serve supermarket. In the 1980s, totally abandoning its drunken roots, it housed a floral shop – a place of flower pots instead of spittoons.  And now it has morphed into a bright and welcoming antique shop, with a fresh coat of paint inside and out, and with a selection of antique furniture, old books, and delicate, flowery teacups.

Who sez we ain’t couth?!?!

Change is inevitable, and the Cottontail Vintage antique store is good change.  But it’s also nice to think that some things have not changed over the years.  To me, the countryside around town looks much the same as it did 50 years ago and more.

Where can you find skies as clear and blue as these?

Dry Cr Cemetery_09

Who has greener, lusher fields?

Heun Cemetery_30Clarkson area_11

What is more eye-catching than roadside wildflowers and clumps of tall cottonwoods on a sunny day?

Clarkson area_13

Clarkson area_06

Heun Cemetery_21

In your imagination, listen for the buzz of insects and smell the prairie vegetation on a warm summer day, and you will be transported back to the same world your ancestors knew.  The world of the Slama Saloon and the antiques that are now displayed there.

Posted in Businesses | 10 Comments

Sympathy for the (Red) Devil

devil 2

Proud Clarkson High School alumnus Robert Prazak had an important historical question about our school:

After completely enjoying our 60th class reunion (class of ‘57) I was back here in Bella Vista reading all the letters my classmates had written telling about their life since the last reunion. Lo and behold, reading Mavis Dvorak’s letter (I am going to use the last names of my classmates as I knew them 60 years ago) as she was lamenting the loss of our beloved mascot, the Red Devil. I knew nothing of this and so I am going to ask you Carnac, the all-knowing and all-seeing (Mr. Cada)…  Do you have any information on this? You have always helped me before when I had questions pertaining to Clarkson so I am going to ask you again. Is the Red Devil dead?  When did this change and why did it change? As Mavis said in her letter, “I will always be a Red Devil.”

Carnac The Magnificent?   Drum roll, please.  Double Trouble

It is time now to welcome that Visitor from the East… The all-knowing, all-telling, all-showing, all-omniscient, the famous seer, sage, and sooth-sayer, and former Fruit of the Loom underwear model … Carnac…                            The Magnificent!  In his divine and mystical way, he has ascertained the answer to Mr. Prazak’s question…



Carnac says that the last days of the Clarkson Red Devils were during the 2012/2013 school year, when Clarkson High School and neighboring Leigh High School began merging their sports programs.  Neither the Clarkson Red Devils (in red and white) nor the Leigh Panthers (in blue and white) wanted to switch to the other’s mascot, so they compromised by naming the consolidated teams the Clarkson-Leigh “Patriots” (red, blue, and white/gray).  With so many boys and girls sports, and so many organizations, the transition was complicated.  If you really want to get into the weeds, here is one explanation:

Carnac poster

But a more difficult question is… when did Clarkson High School first become the Red Devils?  It wasn’t always so.  Older residents of The Village may remember that we used to be called the Cardinals. The Cardinals (presumably also colored red) lasted until the early 1940s.  Then, to the dismay of some, the CHS students became Devils.  The exact year of that transition is lost in the mists of time or buried in yellowed school records.   Even Carnac the Magnificent was befuddled by the question!

So I headed for a more reliable source of mystical and arcane knowledge –  the Clarkson Public Library.  We know from the collection of yearbooks in the library that CHS students were called Red Devils at least as early as 1954.  (I’m told that 1953 was the first year that annuals were published).  What follows is a picture of the 1954 yearbook, and all the subsequent yearbooks in the library’s collection that feature a devil on the cover or somewhere inside.

CHS Yearbook_01 1954  CHS Yearbook_04 1955

CHS Yearbook_05 1956  CHS Yearbook_07 1958

CHS Yearbook_08 1960  CHS Yearbook_09 1962

The Clarkson Red Devil has changed his appearance significantly over the years.  In 1954 he was a cutesy, impish character.  But by 1956 he had morphed into an evil, nasty-looking reprobate.  This lasted until 1962, when the annual staff began softening his image again.

CHS Yearbook_10 1965  CHS Yearbook_11 1966

By 1972, the Red Devil mascot had once again turned from impish to evil, and by 1973 he was a truly frightening image adorning a sinister black book.  (Perhaps some enterprising sociology grad student could determine the deep meaning of these changes).

CHS Yearbook_12 1972  CHS Yearbook_13 1973

Clarkson’s Red Devil may have gone underground at that point, because a quick search of the library’s collection revealed no images of him in the yearbooks after 1973.

Of course, not everyone in town thought that having the Red Devil as the school mascot was such a good idea.  The Christian clergy, for example.  Every Catholic priest in the vicinity (notably the Reverends Kubesh, Pluhacek, and Nabity) strongly and vocally objected to the idea of Clarkson’s youth playing under the banner of the Devil.  The school board understood their objections, but was troubled by the significant cost of transitioning to a new mascot – money that could be spent on educational resources.

Similarly, we students could see their point, but I guess we just didn’t think it was that big a deal.  No one in my acquaintance was turned into a devil worshipper by their involvement in the athletic program.  In fact, players and fans alike all prayed to our Christian God for a good, successful, injury-free game.  The Catholic players as a group often went to church before a game to pray.

So Clarkson High School adopted the Red Devil mascot in the early to mid-1940s; based on comments to this post, the Class of 1944 was already using it.  The Red Devil was finally exorcised after a run of 70 years, not by the pleas of pious Christians, but by the necessity of providing a better education to our young people through school consolidation.  Long live the Clarkson-Leigh Patriots!

Christopher Konicek

P.S.  I know it hurts, but for you unwavering, never-say-die Red Devils, it’s not too late to sign on to the Program.

Baseball cap


Posted in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, The 21st Century | 18 Comments

Party Like It’s 1957!

I didn’t make it to Czech Days this year – circumstances compelled me to make my annual visit to The Village in August instead of the last full weekend of June.  But I heard that it was a good time for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that the Clarkson High School Class of 1957 used the occasion to hold their 60-year class reunion. Reports are that they descended upon the town like locusts, helping make strudl, cruising through business places sharing old memories, corralling kolaches, picnicking at the park, and in general just enjoying themselves.

Word of their weekend-long celebration came to me in an email from Robert Prazak, a periodic contributor to this blog.  Robert sent the text below and Eleanor Sousek Loseke provided the evidentiary photos.


Now for some rambling comments on the day of our class reunion and events leading up to it. Eleanor Sousek, and Edith Kudrna, who were two of our cheerleaders back then and still are now, were hyping us up for the big event by sending out lots of emails telling us all of the great things that were going to happen and getting us primed.  (I am going to use the last names of my classmates as I knew them 60 years ago).  Arlys Dolesh with the help of Edith Novotny, Sue Maly, and Dean Korte (sorry if I missed someone, but the memory is one of the first things to go) had lined up a great cookout and organized other activities for us and our families. (Thank you guys).

That Saturday morning was to start at about 9:00 at the Clarkson Bakery with coffee and good old Czech Kolache, but the place was packed. Finally we found room for Edith and Inez Kudrna, Edith Novotny and spouse, Dean Korte, and my wife and me. Good old stories started to flow even at that time of the morning. Most of them started with “Remember When?”  I was going to Toman’s Meat Market for hot dogs for the cookout, so that was our next stop. Going in I saw this husky fella that looked like Joe Toman behind the counter and then realized I hadn’t been in there for 60 years and this fella had to be Joe’s son or grandson. Upstairs above the Meat Market was where my old friend and classmate, Joe Makousky, had lived, and I asked Mr. Toman if I could go up the stairs as I had done almost every day for the 13 years of my school life. Unfortunately for me the door was locked, but I could still peer up the stairs. My mind kicked in remembering that almost every day I would trudge up the long stairs getting Joe to play catch, walk to school, go bike riding or whatever; and now he was gone without ever getting to say goodbye. (more on that later)

We were to meet the Tomasek boys (Don, Mike and Ritchie–I still consider them boys, but some kid would say we are all old men) for a good pork, dumplings, sauerkraut, and rolls dinner at the Presbyterian Church. We arrived quite early so I was going to use the men’s restroom, and luckily locked the door, as soon after someone started rattling the door. I opened the door and who should be on the other side but Eleanor Sousek. I said what the hay are you doing using the men’s bathroom and evidently the womens’ was busy so she came over to the other side. We laughed and hugged and she said she was sure that no men were in the church yet. It turns out she had been helping the church ladies cook and that she had been helping make strudel the day before at the Opera House. Way to go girl.

Sitting in the park between the church and the Opera House I thought that these places should never change. To me they are the backbone of the community and represent what Clarkson is all about. The school was again good enough to offer their facilities for the all-school reunion and the park was a perfect place for our cookout. The only thing that could have made this event even better is if all the classmates who live in the area who are physically able would have attended. I had one classmate and friend that I had never seen in 60 years who died and I never got to say goodbye, and it hurts.

Robert Prazak

Well said, Robert.  And you GO, Class of 1957!  You are setting the pace for the rest of us.

Standing: Dennis Podany, Eleanor Sousek Loseke, Wayne Bos, Carol Kucera, Don Tomasek, Bob Prazak, Dean Korte, Don Reznicek

Seated: Edith Novotny Nepper, Regina Houfek, Arlys Dolesh Wehrer, Sue Hovenden Maly, Edith Kudrna Welch, Mavis Dvorak Stears


Posted in 1950s, Celebrations, The 21st Century | 3 Comments

Merry Christmas from Your Clarkson Merchants

As the days get shorter, and the chill winter winds begin to blow, we bring our recreation indoors – dancing, bowling, card playing, soup suppers, television, and movies.  And we begin our preparations for Christmas.

The Christmas Season was a special time in Clarkson.  Soon after Thanksgiving the city workers strung colored lights from light pole to light pole across main street (one of the widest small town main streets you will ever see); the glowing lights added a cheery cast to the long, cold December nights.  The merchants began wrapping Christmas presents in colorful paper torn from long spools (that replaced the rolls of brown paper that were used to rest of the year).  Ignoring the 6:00 PM siren, stores stayed open longer in the days leading up to Christmas, and holiday music was broadcast over loudspeakers in the street. Santa Claus often paid a visit to town on a December Saturday; after processing down main street he took his honored seat in the Lions Club and handed the children mesh bags of nuts and hard candies while listening to their Christmas wishes.

Many years ago, when Sunday was still considered a day of rest and a time for family activities, our family often spent Sunday night at the movies.  We’d jump in the car and head for the Sky Theater in Schuyler or Opera House in Clarkson to see the latest films (that had been released in the larger cities and promoted in the Hollywood fan magazines months earlier).


Posters for the current movie and coming attractions at Clarkson’s Opera House were tacked up on the inside walls.  If you walked up the inside steps to the ticket window and looked back toward the street, you would see hanging on the inside wall above the front doors a poster for the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie “Dial M for Murder.”  It hung there for years; dozens of movies were shown in the Opera House after that thriller, but the poster was never replaced.  It might still be there, for all I know.

At the top of the steps to the right was the ticket window, and to the left a concession stand where you could buy soft drinks, popcorn, Hershey bars, Milky Way and Baby Ruth candy bars, Necco wafers, rolls of Life Savers… all the necessities for a rewarding cinematic experience.  Fortified with snack food, you stepped through the swinging double doors into the Opera House and stumbled through the darkness, searching for an empty, burgundy-colored, cushioned seat.  Or climbed up the stairs to sit with the other kids on the wooden bleachers in the balcony.

czech-days-p_20080628_06a  clarkson-museum_20110619_25a

And if you went to the movies in Clarkson during the Christmas Season of 1938, you would have seen the images from a series of colorful 2X2 glass slides projected on the screen while waiting for the newsreels to begin rolling.  Pictures of coming movie attractions interspersed with Christmas greetings from your local Clarkson merchants.

trade-winds-movie-1938   i-met-my-love-again-movie-1938

Here is a sampling of the local advertisements you would have seen [Thanks to Jim Severa, who donated the glass slides to the Clarkson Museum].


Charles J. Novotny bought an existing furniture and undertaking business from Adolph Bukacek in 1928.  In 1940, Novotny discontinued the furniture department and continued the mortuary business until 1960, selling out to the Miller Funeral Home.  He continued selling electrical appliances, supplies, and service for many years thereafter. (Charlie Novotny was highly regarded in my family.  Electricity had come to our farm in the early 1940s courtesy of FDR’s Rural Electrification Administration, but because of wartime shortages, electrical appliances were in short supply and there was a long waiting list for such items as refrigerators.  When my brother was born in 1944, Charlie Novotny moved my parents to the top of the list so that they could buy a refrigerator to store milk for the baby.)


The Clarkson Bank was organized in 1934, soon after the collapse of the Clarkson State Bank and the Farmers State Bank. It quickly became the biggest bank in town, and remains so to this day.  Emil Petr was President from 1934 until he retired in 1946.


Try to find free air for your re-treaded tires and water for your radiator and battery at a filling station these days, eh?


A drug store has been on the Clarkson scene since the 1890s, operated by a series of proprietors: J.B. Mathauser, R.G. McKibben, Mr. Bobisud, J. R. Koza, James L. Stransky, Richard Wlna, Cyril Wanek, La Verne Bryan, and last, but not least, Dale and Eldora Gentzler.  I don’t know about the “gay colors” of the clothing dyes, but who can forget Gentzlers’ wide selection of comic books in the front and soda fountain soft drinks in the back?  (I’ve heard you can still buy that emerald green soda pop “Green River” in Chicago.)


The Farmers Union Co-Operative Supply Co. was established in 1918.  The Noh and Vlach Lumber Yards were incorporated into the business, and in 1919 a huge, white grain elevator with a capacity of 40,000 bushels was constructed.  A 50-ton scale was installed in 1947 and a modern grain dryer installed in 1950.  The Farmers Union Co-Op acquired Clarkson Lumber Co. in 1958.


For many years Frank Ferenc was the proprietor of a butcher shop downtown and a slaughterhouse on the east side, conveniently located on the hemp- and nettle-infested, slippery banks of the green, greasy Maple Creek.  The abandoned slaughterhouse buildings stood for many years after Ferenc’s business closed down, and they briefly housed a notorious post-WWII nightclub – The Bloody Bucket.


In 1905 F.J. Miller Sr. opened his business in Clarkson, selling furniture and jewelry in conjunction with undertaking.  He moved the store in 1909 and again in 1929.  In 1932 his son Frank J. Miller, Jr. joined the business and in 1961 his grandson Frank J. Miller III became a partner in the furniture, jewelry, and undertaking business, operating Miller Funeral home for many years.

F.J. Miller & Son advertised some elegant and practical Christmas gift suggestions in their Colfax County Press ad of the day – Elgin and Bulova wrist watches, cigarette lighters and cases, cedar chests, Samson card tables and luggage, and Philco radios.


Walter F. Hahn and his wife Pearl owned and operated a local tavern, Hahn’s Place, from 1927-1947.  Subsequently he worked as a bookkeeper at Farmers Union until a few months before his death in 1964.



On August 28, 1930 Joseph Holoubek purchased six lots from Frank Musil and erected a beautiful, landscaped filling station.  Holoubek operated the service station until February 20, 1947 when he sold the business to Louis Kmoch.


Frank Humlicek arrived in Clarkson in 1898 and converted the Opocensky harness shop into a clothes tailoring business.  In 1913 Robert F. Novotny arrived in Clarkson and went to work for Humlicek in the tailor trade.  They entered into a partnership on January 1, 1925 and in 1928 the men added a dry cleaning business.  In 1932 hat blocking equipment was installed.  Tailored wool suits were sold for $23.75 and up. Novotny bought out Frank Humlicek’s interest in 1948, and with his wife Emilie continued the business under the name Clarkson Cleaners and Tailors.  Owing to the heavy amount of dry cleaning, Robert Novotny was forced to discontinue his art of tailoring new suits, which he had learned in Vienna.


Clarkson had a large number of lumber yards over the years.  One of them, the Nye-Schneider Co., was purchased by the Joyce Lumber Company on April 4, 1929.  Louis J. Evert was put in charge of the lumber yard.  In 1955 Mr. Evert resigned and was replaced by Leo Sixta.  In 1956 Leo Sixta bought out Joyce Lumber Co. and stated a new business under the name of Clarkson Lumber Co.


J.R.Vitek purchased a share of an existing hardware store in 1909 and operated it as Wolf and Vitek.  In 1922 Adolph Vitek purchased Frank Wolf’s share of the store, and operated J. R. Vitek and Bros. hardware store well into the 1950s.  Before his death in 1959, J.R. Vitek had served Clarkson as Mayor (10 years), member of the Village Board (22 years), member of the School Board (4 years), and fire chief(20 years).


A.J. Karel and Sons opened a general store in Clarkson in 1902.  A modern brick building was built in 1912 that still stands on main street and still proudly advertises the store.  Groceries were sold in the south side of the store, dry goods in the north, shoes and clothing occupied the rear of the building.  Over the years, A.J. Karel and Sons operated a cream station, a shoe repair shop, and a coffee and peanut roasting machine.


In 1915 brothers Joe B. and Edward Makousky purchased a clothing store from Emil Pokorny and Frank Schulz.  In February of 1942 the Makousky Bros. divested themselves of their clothing business and leased the downstairs of their building to Joe Swoboda, who operated the City Meat Market and Locker Plant.




Rudy F. Rosicky started his Nutrena feed and produce business in 1925, and in 1934 added a chick hatchery.  Rosicky sold the business in 1958 to long-time employee Milo Faiman, who continued to operate it with his brother-in-law Hubert Selhorst.


Delicious baked goods at affordable prices!  In 1941 the Skoda Bakery advertised their Saturday specials:  Butterfly buns – 15₵/dozen, raised doughnuts – 12₵/dozen, cinnamon rolls – 12₵/dozen, and Douglas Chocolate Candy – 15₵/pound.



In January, 1935 Emil Uher bought the Henry Knapp Saloon, and with the assistance of his wife Marie operated Uher’s Place to the time of his death in 1945.  His wife continued to run the tavern until she sold it in 1954 to Louis F. Vlach.


V.A. Chleboun was in the building construction business in Clarkson from at least the time of the First World War.  He built houses and farm buildings in the Clarkson area; below is a picture of a home that he built in town.  Often the building materials were sold by Farmers Union and the construction carried out by Chleboun’s construction company.


Not many of these businesses are still around, but there are still plenty of merchants and tradesmen who make their living in Our Little Village.  Now, as in 1938, it’s a good idea to shop locally.  Buying your goods and services from the people you live with promotes interdependence, and that fosters a sense of community and civility.  This Christmas give your local merchants the business.

I hope these pretty pictures bring back some happy memories for you.  May you enjoy the blessings of this Holy Season.  I bid you a Merry Christmas (Veselé Vánoce), a Happy New Year (Šťastný Nový Rok), and goodbye.

Glenn Čada

Posted in 1930s | 5 Comments