Sympathy for the (Red) Devil

devil 2

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

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 at least until the mid-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 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 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

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 | 14 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


With the flu season approaching, I thought it would be worth telling the story of an unusually virulent disease that marched into our town nearly 100 years ago – the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. (An epidemic is the widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community; if it spreads to a really large area, say several continents or worldwide, it’s called a pandemic).

We’ve had epidemics of contagious diseases in Clarkson before and since – scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles, mumps, and the continuing annual visits of the flu viruses.  But none was as devastating as the Spanish Influenza pandemic, which killed 20-40 million people worldwide (more than the number killed in World War I), as many as 7,500 Nebraskans, and quite a few people in the Clarkson area.  More people died of the Spanish Flu in a single year than in four years of the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) that swept the globe from 1347 to 1351.

Victims of the Spanish flu exhibited the usual flu symptoms of fever, nausea, aches and diarrhea. However, the symptoms were often extreme, and for some in a day or two were accompanied by nasal hemorrhages, signaling the development of a severe secondary infection – pneumonia. Dark spots would appear on the cheeks and patients would turn blue, suffocating from a lack of oxygen as lungs filled with a frothy, bloody substance.  Onset of the serious symptoms was often very rapid – many incidents of people dropping in the streets were recorded.


The other unusual thing about the Spanish flu was the age of the people it killed.  The highest mortalities in most influenza epidemics occur among the very young and the very old.  In the case of the Spanish flu pandemic, an unusually large number of young, healthy adults also died – the very people who are supposed to have the highest survival rate.  Their lack of immunity had particularly dire consequences in 1918, the fourth year of The Great War.  Many thousands of young men were facing each other in the trenches or closely quartered in military training camps around the world (one of the largest was Camp Funston/Fort Riley in Kansas).  In addition, millions of civilians in Europe and elsewhere were malnourished because of the hardships of war.  All of these people were especially vulnerable to a contagious disease.


Death rates by age from epidemic diseases from 1911-1917 and in 1918.  Notice the high death rate among 20- and 30-year olds in 1918.  Source: Taubenberger and Morens (2006).

[Incidentally, the Spanish Flu did not originate in Spain.  Because the disease broke out in wartime, information on the seriousness of the disease was censored in the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany in order to keep public morale high.  Neutral Spain published stories about the seriousness of the epidemic in their country, and for their honesty they were awarded the name “Spanish Flu” for all time.  In fact, it is still not known where the global contagion originated, but one of the leading contenders is a much closer locale… Kansas.]


Soldiers being treated for Spanish flu in a hospital ward in Camp Funston, Kansas

Like most contagious diseases, the Spanish flu thrived and spread where humans are densely crowded together – in military camps, large cities, tenements, subways, schools, etc.  Naturally it was big problem for New York and Chicago.  But did the pandemic find our quiet little village and the surrounding pastoral scenery, dotted with widely separated family farms?  You bet!  The last time I was in town I spent a couple of hours in the library, poring over their microfilm collection of old issues of The Colfax County Press and The Clarkson Herald Consolidated (CCP), to ascertain the course of the disease in Colfax County.  In the last three months of 1918, the paper devoted a lot of ink to informing their readers about the ravages of the Spanish flu epidemic in the area.

The first report of the disease in the CCP was a brief note in the October 3, 1918 issue that Robert Coufal of Schuyler had died of Spanish flu while serving at the Great Lakes Training School (the U.S. Navy’s boot camp in Illinois).  Otherwise, life went on as usual – the greatest concern in the pages of the Press was the status of our young men training and going overseas to fight in the Great War.

Then, a week later, the seriousness of the hometown pandemic was becoming clear.  The October 10, 1918 CCP had 7 stories on the front page, including: “Clarkson Declares War on the Spanish Flu,” “Failing to Report on Flu Subjects to a Fine,” “Fourth Colfax County Boy Victim of Flu,” “First Victim of Spanish Influenza Dead at Howells,” and “Influenza Claims Another Colfax County Soldier Boy.”  Here are a few excerpts from these stories.

Clarkson Declares War on the Spanish Flu – City authorities have requested the populace to discourage all unnecessary public meetings to prevent the spread of influenza.  Shows, dances, churches, and all public gatherings will be eliminated from now on until Monday, October 21.  The Clarkson schools close tomorrow and will continue closed until the revocation of the restriction.  Although there are only two or three cases reported in town, precautions are taken afore hand and it is expected that the malady will be under control in a very few days… Schuyler and Howells are reported to have also joined the insurgent ranks and their inhabitants are doing all in their power to prevent the spread of the epidemic.

A Proclamation by the Chairman of the Village Board of Clarkson, F.W. Noh, closed all places where people congregate for 12 days, beginning October 11, 1918 at 6 PM and lasting until Monday, October 21 until 7 PM.  This included churches, picture shows, dance halls, city hall band practices, and the public library.  Soft drink parlors (remember, this was during Prohibition) were allowed to stay open if they insisted that people leave as soon as they had been served.

Failing to Report on Flu Subjects to a Fine – Dr. F.J. Kalal, member of the Board of Health, is in receipt of a communication from the State Department of Health, which in part reads as follows: … While it is not compulsory that people call a physician, still if no physician is employed, it is the duty of the family to report the disease to the local board of health, and anyone failing to report is to be prosecuted, and upon conviction, fined not less than fifteen nor more than one hundred dollars.

Fourth Colfax County Boy Victim of Flu – John McClary is the fourth boy from Colfax County to lay down his life for his country through that German ally Spanish flu.  McClary died at Great Lakes, Ill, October 5.

First Victim of Spanish Influenza Dead at Howells – Mrs. Henry Schlautmann passed away at the family home north of Howells early Saturday morning, having been ill but a few days with influenza… [Her marriage] was blessed by nine children… The deceased is also mourned by seven sisters…

Howells Village Chairman Hrabak issued a proclamation this week whereby he declares all places where people congregate in numbers to be closed until Saturday, October 12.  The order includes picture shows, churches, Sunday schools, city hall band practices, and all other places where people collect in buildings.  In closing the schools, the Board of Health wants the parents to keep the children at home and in their own yard during this week; however, boys large enough to shuck corn or to do manual labor may use this week to good advantage.

Influenza Claims Another Colfax County Soldier Boy – Mr. and Mrs. Anton Stepanek, farming the Frank Bazata farm place northeast of Howells, received a telegram from Camp Funston, Kansas which conveyed the sad news of the death of their son, Frank, aged 24, who died from Spanish influenza.

The next week’s issue of the CCP (October 17, 1918) announced the deaths from Spanish flu of six Colfax County people– Charles Floyd Sucha (in Camp Custer, Michigan), Milo Horak (in Camp Joseph E. Johnston, Florida), William Engel (of Richland), Walter Ernst (of Shell Creek, who died at Fort Sheridan, Illinois), Martin Heavican, Jr. (at Camp Funston, Kansas), and Miss Emily Luxa (in Omaha).  All were young adults when they were stricken by the flu, quickly developed pneumonia, and died.  In addition, Mrs. Mary Tomes of Clarkson died while staying with her children in Boulder, Colorado; her children were unable to accompany her body back home for the funeral because they were all laid up with the Spanish flu.

Although no new cases of flu were reported in Clarkson, public meeting places were closed for another week, until October 28, because many new cases were being reported from the rural districts.  By Monday, October 23, the state board of health had an order quarantining the entire state of Nebraska for Spanish influenza.  Because of the large numbers of deaths, and the refusal of people to go to bed soon enough and attempting to get out of bed too soon, the board ordered that “all gatherings of people be dispensed with, within doors and without, that the schools of the state be closed, and that, so far as practicable, the children be kept at home… until November 2, 1918 or further notice.

The State of Nebraska had been shut down.

And children began skipping rope to this morbid little verse:


At this point, a discussion began about whether the teachers should receive pay during the time that the schools were closed for the quarantine – “Since the closing of the schools on account of the influenza epidemic, confusion has arisen among the teachers as to their salary.  Some are of the opinion that since they hold themselves in readiness they should receive their full salary.  The following extract from state law is self-explanatory:  When the school board closes the schools teachers can draw their salaries, but when they are closed by the state board of health the teachers cannot get pay, unless the board desires to do so.  It is up to the school board.  This does not affect contracts which may be enforced regardless of the closing of the school.” [Although legally the school board was not required to pay the teachers for the days lost to the school closings, ultimately the Clarkson school board decided to allow the local teachers their pay for half the idle period, with an effort made to make up the lost time with longer hours, extra sessions on Saturday, and shorter vacation periods.]

In the coming days, more Spanish flu deaths were reported: 27-year-old Emil Bartos at Camp Funston, Kansas, 26-year-old Jerry Knapp at his home in the Wilson precinct, 20-year-old Rudolph Kmoch of Neligh, and Rudolph Pabian, who had just moved from Clarkson to Prague, NE.  Mrs. Frank Vanicek traveled to Camps Dodge and Funston to see her sons Frank and Charles, both of whom were ill with Spanish influenza (both eventually recovered).  Most heartbreaking was the death of Frank Kacin Jr. of Clarkson.  When Frank received the news that his brother Joseph Kacin had died on the battlefield in France, he hurried on foot through snow to his parents’ farm home to inform them.  Frank contracted the flu which developed into pneumonia.  He died a few days later, leaving behind a young wife and two small children.


By late November, 1918, the epidemic appeared to be waning.  Although flu cases continued to be reported, the CCP allowed itself a little gallows humor when it announced “If the flu doesn’t get us by that time, the next issue of The Press will be published a day earlier owing to the fact that Thanksgiving Day comes on Thursday.”  Also, the Clarkson Hook and Ladder Co. planned to have their 21st Annual Thanksgiving ball on the eve of Thursday, November 28… “The Jirovec orchestra has been engaged to furnish music for the occasion.  Do not let the flu scare keep you away.

In month of December, the CCP reported the deaths of Ed Wolff of Monterey, 28-year-old Joseph Kasik of Leigh, 33-year-old Emil Dudek of Neligh, Henry Kolm of Schuyler, and Olga (Mrs. Jerry) Pacas of rural Clarkson, all from the Spanish flu complicated by pneumonia.  Nonetheless, the CCP concluded on December 19 that the epidemic was subsiding.  “One of the most encouraging items we are publishing this week is that the influenza rage at Clarkson is on the verge of a total wipe out.  Owing to the strict restrictions taken by city authorities in quarantining the flu patients, the plague has been greatly subdued and we hope it is a matter of only a few days when the epidemic will be done away with altogether.  It is reported at this writing that there are only six cases in town and those are only of a mild form.

On December 26, 1918, The Press reported that “The influenza scourge in Clarkson has vanished.  Tuesday it was reported that the illness was checked altogether, but later a new case was turned in, the afflicted family residing in the extreme south part of town.  This is the only case in town, and the authorities are of the opinion that there is no danger of having the epidemic return in serious form.  Lately it was stated by a neighboring paper that Clarkson had more flu cases than any other town of its size in the state which statement is an utter falsehood.  Anything that was ever given out relative to the flu situation in this city was always based in an authentic foundation.  A misrepresentation of facts by the ambitious editor if anything is suicidal to the community and a very frail incentive for seeking trade.

The threat of Spanish flu was not quite over, but in fact the incidence of flu-related mortality in Clarkson seemed to follow the same pattern as the rest of the world – there was a sharp spike in deaths in late October and November 1918 which tapered off by Christmas:


Area people were still dying from the Spanish flu, complicated by pneumonia. In early January, 1919 Carl Reinnecius, 21, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. William Reinnecius, living northwest of Leigh, died after a brief illness with Spanish influenza. On January 9, 1919, it was reported that Dr. H.D. Myers placed the following homes under quarantine, the families being afflicted with influenza: Louis Vrtatko, Louis Vondruska, Anton Kucera and Lada Prazak. These all lived in the northward section and that section has not yet had a visitation of the disease. The January 23, 1919 issue of the CCP reported that 35-year-old Anton Kander of the Haymow locality (12 miles northeast of Clarkson) died of Spanish flu/pneumonia, leaving behind a grief-stricken wife and four small children.  A young wife, Mrs. Aaron Henry, died in her Leigh home.  And Charles Drabe, a pioneer of Stanton County and once a wealthy land owner of that county, was found dead in a house which he occupied alone in the east part of town. It was believed that he died of complications of influenza, from which he suffered some weeks earlier.

But for the most part, life began to return to normal – articles in the Press focused on celebrations for our returning victorious servicemen; disbanding of the home guards and other war-related activities; land, crop, and livestock sales; the proposal to erect a new grain elevator in Clarkson; and the prosecution of moonshiners and bootleggers… “Two Schuyler anti-prohibitionists faced the obdurate Judge Wells charged with imbibing too much flu medicine of a preventative nature.  His Honor, knowing the exigencies of the epidemic, was inclined to be lenient.  But a whiff of the tainted rye reached His Honor during arguments which bore the label ‘Not Bottled in Bond.’  The joy of the wet disciples was turned to prohibition sorrow by the Judge’s sad remarks, ‘Ten and costs!’ … Seven Schuyler and Colfax County lads drank the dregs of prohibition Saturday evening last and paid the price thereof.  For months there has been a steady flow of ‘Old Taylor,’ ‘Crow Clarks,’ and ‘Yellowstone’ into Colfax County in such quantities and to such an extent that the city and county authorities decided on a cleanup.   Alias John Doe drew the modest penalty of $111.85 before Judge Fiala Monday morning for selling one pint of this fiery craze producer and man-killer for $6, according to the tale of John McCready who turned states evidence.  The concoction sold him had a kick unknown in the days of old, when All. K. Haul was king, as he knew no more after one draught of his priceless flask.  From reports, this new satanic beverage has all the powers of TNT and would place dynamite on the discarded pile.  Two drew fines of $32.50 for being slightly under the weather and two who were up as second offenders were given the choice of 35 days or squealing.” (Colfax County Press, January 23, 1919).

Our Town has been visited by epidemics and even pandemics since then, e.g., the Asian flu in 1957-58 (2 million dead globally) and the Hong Kong flu in 1968-69 (1 million dead). You remember polio, don’t you? But none has had so grievous an effect as the Spanish flu.  In 2009, a swine flu virus similar to the Spanish flu emerged in North America.  This time, public health officials were knowledgeable and ready – a variety of measures (vaccinations, travel limitations, improved treatment of sick patients), stopped the pandemic before it fully developed, and estimated deaths worldwide were less than 15,000.  Similarly, an outbreak of avian flu in 2015 was halted by quick action.  Modern medicine and public health interventions have put a lid on contagions that could be as devastating as the one we experienced a century ago.  Thus far.

1918_influenza_poster    1200px-1918_flu_outbreak2

So, have you had your annual flu shot yet?  Don’t wait too long, or you may be singing the blues:


Reconstructed Spanish Influenza virus


Much of the general information and pictures were taken from the Wikipedia articles related to the 1918, 2009, and 2015 influenza pandemics.  Also, see

Taubenberger, J.K. and David M. Morens 2006.  1918 Influenza: The Mother of All Pandemics.  Reviews in Biomedicine 17:69-79.

Watkins, K.  2015.  It Came Across the Plains: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Rural Nebraska.  University of Nebraska Medical Center Theses & Dissertations, Paper 42.  99 p. (This interesting paper summarizes the effects of the Spanish flu in Nebraska, and describes the experience of five small- to mid-sized Nebraska cities, including Wayne)

Posted in 1910s | 2 Comments

Not Too Big to Fail

The Rise and Fall of the Clarkson State Bank

This week’s story concerns a major institution in the Village of Clarkson that flourished and died long before most of us were born – the Clarkson State Bank, one of the six banks in the Folda banking empire.

The Clarkson State Bank was already operating in 1886, a year before our Village was incorporated.  A business directory from November 22, 1887 featured an ad for the Clarkson State Bank, authorized capital of $60,000.  The institution did a “General Banking Business,” attending promptly to collections, negotiating farm loans, and buying and selling real estate.  The officers were F. McGiverin (President), Levi Miller (Vice-President), and I.H. Vail (Cashier).


This first bank closed in 1889 and was re-organized in December 1890 by the Folda banking family. When the Clarkson State Bank moved across the street to a new brick building in 1901, the original bank building remained on in place for many years, housing the Clarkson Enterprise newspaper, the manufacture of the Buko Oil Cans, a real estate office, gas station, Tommy Chudomelka’s veterinary business, Ray’s Drive Inn and ultimately the Purple Palace Drive Inn.  (The building has since been moved, but reportedly still stands somewhere in Clarkson.)


Purple Palace Drive Inn, Clarkson Nebraska, opened in 1955 as Ray’s Drive Inn

The Clarkson State Bank occupied its new brick building on main street from 1901 until it closed its doors in 1933.  Then the building was the site of the Clarkson Bank until 1952, when it moved to the recently acquired and remodeled Farmers State Bank building.


Clarkson State Bank after 1901.  Photo courtesy of Maas et al. (2014)

The new owners of the Clarkson State Bank, the Foldas, were among the earliest immigrants to Colfax County (Rosicky 1929).  The head of the frank-foldafamily, Martin Folda, immigrated to Manitowoc County, Wisconsin in 1854, with his wife Marie and their children Frank, Joseph, and Frances.   Their eldest son John had been conscripted into military service; after being wounded in battle, John was allowed to go home for a while and then escaped in 1860 and followed his parents to Wisconsin.  Martin’s son Frank was a shoemaker by trade, but he showed his business acumen by establishing a general merchandise store in Manitowoc.  In 1868 Frank Folda set out for Schuyler with his wife, arriving when the town had only two houses; he built the third. Frank established a general merchandise store in Schuyler and, through his command of both Czech and English, was able to assist the newly arriving Czech immigrants.  He returned to Wisconsin for the other members of the family and in 1869 his parents and brothers followed him to the prairies of Nebraska.  Frank remained in Schuyler, where he built his business, purchased land, dealt in cattle and grain, and in 1887 established the first Folda bank, the Banking House of F. Folda.  At the time of his death, Frank Folda owned over 4,000 acres of land west of Schuyler, 600 head of cattle and 50 horses, and an island in the gulf of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Martin (1812-1896) and his other two sons, John and Joseph, were lifelong farmers; they settled north of Schuyler, in the Maple Creek area near Heun.  Martin and John and their wives were pious Catholics who donated 5 acres of their land for the construction of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church and are buried in the church cemetery.   John (1836-1895) had seven sons, all of whom left the farm to follow their Uncle Frank’s lead and became bankers.  Frank Folda and his nephews Lambert, Longin, Emil, Adolph, Rainold, Jaroslav and John established a banking empire that encompassed 6 banks in Colfax and Butler counties.


Lambert Folda, was a druggist until 1887, when with his uncle and Joseph Smatlan he established the bank in Howells, where he was active until his death in 1910.  Longin first assisted his uncle Frank, and then took a position in the First National Bank of Schuyler, while remaining active in the Folda banks. In 1897 he bought the Clarkson State Bank, built a home in Clarkson, and in 1911 moved to Corpus Christi, TX.  Adolph Folda was born in Manitowoc County in 1869 and died in 1914. He was cashier of the Colfax County Bank of Howells at the time of his death.  Rainold Folda was assistant cashier of the Clarkson State Bank at the time of his death in 1906. Jaroslav Folda became cashier and manager of the Banking House of F. Folda in Schuyler and vice-president of the Bank of Rogers.  John Folda became managing vice-president of the Colfax County Bank of Howells.

Finally, Emil Folda, who rose to become president of the Clarkson State Bank, was born in Manitowoc County, WI in 1866. While still a toddler, he came to Nebraska with his family, lived in a sod house and experienced the many hardships and deprivations of the earliest settlers.  In his memoirs, Emil noted that when he came to Nebraska with his parents in 1869 there were only three farms in the twelve miles between Schuyler and his parent’s homestead in Section 12 of Midland Precinct, near Heun.  There were no bridges, no roads and no horses, only oxen with which to travel to the nearest trading point 40 miles away, at West Point in Cuming County.  Most of the settlers made coffee of roasted grain, and sugar was scarce. Emil Folda wrote of sometimes frightening interactions with the Indians who camped nearby, and wild game (buffalo, elk, antelope and deer) that were shot for food or had to be driven off so they would not eat the crops in the field.  His father shot a Canada goose (goose is a true delicacy to the Czechs), but went to Schuyler to trade it for an even rarer commodity, sugar.  Emil remembered the early prairie fires that swept everything out of sight unless well protected, and the great snow storms that followed and swirled over the smooth, burned-out lands.  In autumn they bought a cow in West Point, but because they had no barn the cow was tied to the east side of the house near the door for the winter.  One night a blizzard blew up, and the sod house was drifted in and covered completely by snow; they opened the door and made a hole in the snow where the cow’s head was so that she could have air.  No one ventured out of the house for three days.  Creek channels were filled level with snow in the winter, and people drove right over the packed snow, sometimes 25 feet above the water.

As a boy, Emil Folda worked very hard, especially after his mother’s death in 1879 when at age 12 he became chief housekeeper and cook.  He had little opportunity for education (his formal country school education stopped at the 6th grade), and he was glad to escape the drudgery of farm work when he went to work at his uncle’s store in Schuyler at age 21.  Emil’s memoirs list all the many menial and important, part-time and full-time jobs that he took on during his life.  His daughter Olga Folda Stepanek   summarized his most notable accomplishments: at age 23 Emil joined his brother Longin in the banking business in Linwood; he became president of the Linwood Bank; in 1911 Emil became cashier of the Clarkson State Bank and soon after was named president of the Clarkson State Bank, Colfax County Bank (in Howells), and the Pilger State Bank; he was a member of the State of Nebraska Guarantee Fund Commission from 1923-1926 and active in Clarkson’s civic, social, political, and charitable clubs.  Soon after he was appointed Cashier of the Clarkson State Bank in 1911, Emil and his family moved to Clarkson. In 1912 they moved into the house recently vacated by Emil’s brother Longin Folda (now Annie’s Bed &Breakfast).


Emil Folda home, Clarkson, Nebraska, 1926

Under the Folda’s leadership, the Clarkson State Bank grew in size and influence.  In the days before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) guaranteed deposits, one indication of the safety of putting money in a particular bank was its size.  Lots of depositors and cash signified stability – these assets cushioned the effects of a few bad loans or other investments.  The Clarkson State Bank and the other Folda Banks proudly published the growth of their assets in each edition of Clarkson’s weekly newspaper, the Colfax County Press:

Clarkson State Bank (1889) – F. McGiverin, President; Levi Miller, Vice President; I.H. Vail, Cashier.
Authorized capital – $60,000.

Clarkson State Bank (1908) – Capital – $20,000.00  L.F. Folda, President; Longin Folda, cashier.

Clarkson State Bank (1911) – Capital – $30,000.  Longin Folda, President; Emil Folda, Cashier.

Clarkson State Bank (1915) – Capital – $20,000.00; surplus and undivided profits – $15,000.00.  Longin Folda, President; J.M. Mundil, Vice-President; Emil Folda, cashier; Fred Jelinek, assistant cashier; Joseph Mundil, assistant cashier.

By August 16, 1920, the five Folda Banks boasted the following assets –  Banking House of F. Folda, Schuyler, Deposits $1,025,776.48; Colfax County Bank, Howells, total deposits $919,167.77; Clarkson State Bank, Clarkson, total deposits $577,749.37; Farmers & Merchants Bank, Linwood, total deposits $302,240.19; Bank of Rogers, Rogers, total deposits $146,036.65. For all five banks—Total Loans and bonds $2,461,649.69; Total deposits $2,806,432.46.

On May 5, 1921, the Colfax County Press reported that the condensed statements from reports of the five Folda Banks was: Banking House of F. Folda, Schuyler; Colfax County Bank, Howells; Clarkson State Bank; Farmers and Merchants Bank, Linwood; Bank of Rogers, Total deposits, $2,519,043.06 and Total Loans, Discounts, Bonds $2,341,468.83.


I haven’t tracked down financial data for the Folda banks after 1921, but it is possible that 1920 was the high water mark for these banks, as well as many others in Nebraska.  As I have written before, the Great Depression, which more or less began in 1929 for much of the country, actually began almost 10 years earlier in the agricultural Midwest.

Crop prices, that had been high during WWI, plunged beginning in 1920, and after a brief uptick from 1923-25, continued downward until 1932.  Farm income, which had averaged $1,610 per year during WWI, dropped to $245 per year during the 1920s (Olson 1966).  The value of all farm property in Nebraska dropped 33% from 1920 to 1930, and the value of land and buildings decreased more than 48 percent.  Farmers who had taken on large debts during the war in order to buy land and increase production were finding it increasingly difficult to pay off their loans.  Farms began to fail, followed by the small town banks that financed them.

Particularly hard hit were the state banks with assets tied up in real estate and crop mortgages, the payments for which were becoming difficult to collect (Olson 1966).  Sales of farm land brought less money than the original mortgage, and foreclosures awarded the banks with land rather than the cash they needed.  Nearly 100 banks were forced to close their doors in 1924, 23 in 1926, 19 in 1927, 400 in 1928, and 106 in 1929, when the rest of the Nation’s banks began to fail for other reasons.

In some ways, the banks that failed in the 1920s were the lucky ones.  In 1911, the Nebraska legislature had created a state-based insurance program to protect depositors, the Bank Guaranty Fund.  All state banks in Nebraska were required to pay a fee (1/20th of 1% of the bank’s deposits); in return, depositors would be reimbursed from the fund in the event that the bank failed.  Emil Folda was appointed a member of the Guaranty Fund Commission which oversaw the disposition of failed banks and the reimbursement of their depositors.  In 1926 he was given 22 bad banks to administer; he moved to Omaha for 3 months to be closer to the banks he was looking after, and worked until 11 PM every night and on Sundays.  Unfortunately, the large number of Nebraska state banks that failed in the 1920s eventually drove the Bank Guaranty Fund into insolvency, and the legislature repealed the law in 1930.


Interior of the Clarkson State Bank ca 1901


Interior of the Clarkson State Bank ca 1915

The years of financial growth and prosperity were also marked with tragedies – the deaths of Emil’s first wife, Emilie and then his only son, Albin.  Emilie Pesek Folda died of pneumonia in 1904, leaving her husband with two young children, Albin and Laura.  Fourteen years later Albin Folda, cashier at the Clarkson State Bank, entered military service on April 27, 1918. On June 4, 1918, he sailed for France, and reached the trenches by the middle of August.  While going over the top on October 21st, Corporal Folda was struck in the head by a shell fragment, and was killed almost instantly.  The Armistice was declared soon after; Emil Folda’s telegram to his son expressing joy over the end of the Great War crossed paths with the War Department’s telegram expressing consolations over the loss of his son.

Emil was deeply troubled by Albin’s death, and the inability of organized religions to prevent or mollify the horrors of the Great War.  In 1920 he wrote: “My religion is no religion.  While I live – I live in clover, and when I die I die all over.  I am over fifty four years old and I have not been able to believe all that is preached to us in many churches, the Sunday school I think is alright for the children if there is not too much of the unreasonable stuff poked into the children, it is perhaps well to let them know what the people have believed in before us etc. and then let them use their own judgment in the matter.  I am afraid that we may even now be plunged into a war caused by too much religions such as the Catholic, I am opposed to any one who thinks that I must believe as he does in something that they have no proof what ever, and all the religion is nothing but guess work to my notion, and if I would support any it would be such as the universal Brotherhood-Unitarian or such other progressive movement to promote knowledge and brotherhood the same time and not keep them in the dark and in the same old tracts – just to keep them together, knowledge and science first for me every time, and if you feel that you have to go to some church then go to the one most up to date and where you can gain some knowledge, and if you want to go to church just to hear music the Catholic church will perhaps do as they have rich music and that is all I can say about it, except that the priests are perhaps the most educated as a rule of all the preachers or ministers, as they have or had to spend 12 years before they could become priests in education.  Ever since I was a boy I always have thought why don’t they preach in the churches something that you would get some good out of it in way of betterment for your self, say talk on how to take care of your body, how to live, what to do and what not to do, then tell us about the latest inventions and what is going on in the world generally, and what we are to do to better our selves and others generally.  Love thy neighbor as they self did not go in the World War.  The church may do some good for the weak and perhaps it deserves some credit, but just… go somewhere… waste of time.” (from the memoirs of Emil Folda, transcribed as written by his grandson, John Kucera).  His rejection of the faith of his parents and first wife Emilie was likely influenced by his second wife, Antonie Sadilek, the daughter of a well-known Freethinker from Wilber.

Emil Folda threw himself into his work and travel.  He traveled over the United States and to Europe.  He worked hard to keep his banks on sound financial footing as the agricultural depression of the 1920s deepened and turned into the Great Depression of the 1930s.  In the end, his efforts failed.  Both of Clarkson’s banks were victims of the Depression, and neither the Nebraska’s Bank Guaranty Fund nor any Federal insurance was available to save them and their depositors.  Frightened depositors rushed to the banks to withdraw their cash, which the banks no longer had. In March, 1933 Nebraska Governor Bryan announced that banks would declare a 3-day holiday.  That activity, as well as others initiated by the new Roosevelt Administration, stopped the panic and allowed everyone to cool off.  However, while economic activity slowly recovered over much of the Nation during the course of the 1930s, the farmers and merchants in the Midwest were not so lucky.  Nebraska had entered a 10-year period of drought which continued to stifle prosperity for the rest of “The Dirty Thirties.” The heat and drought of those years severely reduced crop yields, and what little grain and livestock was produced was sold at depressed prices.

On December 6, 1933, Clarkson’s Farmers State Bank closed its doors permanently.  Soon after, Folda’s Clarkson State Bank did the same.  On August 6, 1934 the newly organized Clarkson Bank (Emil Petr, President) opened its doors to the public and commenced doing business in the same building where the former Clarkson State Bank had operated.  Many people lost their farms and their savings when Clarkson’s banks failed, and Emil Folda was powerless to stop the suffering.  Indeed, people wondered how much of a role he had (inadvertently) played in the disaster by making bad loans and bad investments.

The failure of the Clarkson State Bank and other banks in the “House of Folda” left Emil Folda a broken man – ruined financially and in the eyes of some of his fellow citizens.  The stress was too much for him – he was found dead of a heart attack on October 30, 1935, at age 69.  The man whose religion was “no religion” was laid to rest with his immigrant ancestors in the cemetery at Holy Trinity Catholic Church at Heun, the beloved Rev. Francis Oborny officiating.  His widow, Antonie Sadilek Folda, daughter of a notorious Freethinker, continued to live in Clarkson until her death in 1960.  She was looked after for many years by her friend Mary Filipi, the wife of Clarkson’s Presbyterian minister.  Antonie Folda is buried in the Clarkson Cemetery.

A large gravestone in the David City cemetery marks the passage of three members of the Folda family, all who passed from this life before their time.


Although the institution is gone, the sturdy building which housed the Clarkson State Bank from 1901 to 1933 still stands on the north end of main street in Our Village.




Thanks to Adam Cerv, Cashier at today’s FDIC-insured Clarkson Bank.  Adam lives in the former Folda house (now Annie’s B&B) and provided a wealth of information, including the memoirs of Emil Folda and his daughter Olga Stepanek.  Thanks also to the Rev. Anthony J. Pluhacek, onetime pastor of Holy Trinity Church at Heun, who compiled detailed records of the Folda Family.


Capek, T. 1920. The Czechs and Slovaks in American Banking.  Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, NY.

Maas, M.L., J. Krzycki, J. Brezina, and R. Waters.  2014.  Images of America – Colfax County.  Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC.

Olson, J.C. 1966.  History of Nebraska.  Second Edition.  University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.

Rosicky, R. 1929.  A History of Czechs (Bohemians) in Nebraska.  National Printing Co., Omaha Nebraska.

Stepanek, O. 1988.  The Foldas in Clarkson, Nebraska.  Memoirs of Olga Folda Stepanek.

Posted in 1890s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s | 20 Comments

The Sunshine Players of 1954

Recently, Avis Heithoff e-mailed around an interesting photo of a large group of actors on Clarkson’s Opera House stage.  It shows the assembled cast of a play (or apparently, a series of unrelated skits) performed on November 12, 1954 under the title of The Sunshine Players.  About all I know about the play is written on the caption below – it was a community fundraiser that was organized by a traveling company who provided scripts and costumes.  All the locals needed to provide were the actors and the audience.


I couldn’t make out many details of the photograph, so I rushed over to Our Clarkson Museum to look at the original, nicely displayed with nearly the entire cast identified.  The photo is posted above in its entirety, and I’ve split it into 3 pieces so that you can get a clearer look at the enthusiastic actors.  The handwritten numbers refer to the list of performers below – someone has a very good memory, because only 3 people are not identified. (Ele Loseke, one of the Yankee Doodle Dandies, took a look at the picture and suggested that #23 was Carolyn Papousek.  Ele said they had only a couple of days to learn their parts, and she and her fellow chorus girls danced and sang “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” in their Red, White, and Blue costumes.)





Most of the names will be familiar to longtime Clarksonians, with the possible exception of Eldon Freudenburg and his wife.  Eldon and his father, R.H. Freudenburg, had taken over management of the Clarkson Bank on May 20, 1952.

Clarkson had a large numbers of resident dramatic groups over the years; many of the plays were performed in Czech in Our Village’s early days.  The Opera House was a great venue for these live performances.  You can see more pictures of The Sunshine Players and later comedy plays staged by Gary Weibye at this post: 

Oh, and one more thing.  Another picture in the Museum shows the same group photo, except that it is cropped in a way as to reveal one of the front-row audience members. Bonus points if you can identify the blonde-haired drama patron below.


I can report to you that the Clarkson Museum as more amazing than ever, both in the collection of historical materials related to our area, and in the clever and artistic way that the materials are displayed.  If you haven’t been there in a year or two, pay a visit – it has changed.  As always, I salute the curators and donors – wandering around inside gave me a renewed appreciation of the cultural richness of our community and lots of ideas for new stories.

For those of you who don’t live in Nebraska,  in 2016 it is still green and agriculturally rich.


They have had a good, hot summer in the Clarkson area, with nice, even rains.  The harvest will be abundant this year, but of course, the price paid per bushel will be correspondingly low.


Enjoy the last days of summer….


Posted in 1950s | 2 Comments

Beer Joints, Breweries, and a Recipe

Back to our Village’s beer history, but first a few definitions.  One of my smartest readers noted that I was throwing around the terms saloon, tavern, and bar loosely, and she wondered whether there were differences among them?  After doing some digging, the answer is “almost none.”  They all refer to a public drinking establishment (public house or pub).  Tavern is probably the oldest word – at a time when society was more rigidly divided into classes, a tavern was a common place where people would drink together, where men could drink alongside the people for whom they worked.  In the mid-1800s the term saloon began to appear, based on the French word salon, which meant a large room or hall, often in a hotel.  In the Old West, saloon came to mean a large room for drinking, card-playing, billiards, pool, and cowboys.  Bar, of course, refers to the solid piece of furniture you lean on when knocking back a cold one, but the term has been expanded to include the whole building.

Tomes and Suchy interior

Clarkson had all of these – saloons, taverns, and bars.  But what the early Czech immigrants were probably really looking for was a hospoda or hostinec.  Back in the Old Country, these public inns provided a quiet place to spend the day, playing cards, listening to music, conversing with your comrades and enjoying a meal of pub food washed down with the local brew. It is still common in Czechia to see patrons of a hospoda sit at a table for hours over a beer or two, quietly solving the problems of the world, undisturbed by the wait staff.  Our ancestors brought this pleasant habit with them, and it was slow to die out.  When I was young, you could walk into any tavern in Clarkson and see old men whiling away the hours, playing cards and enjoying a smoke (cigar, cigarette, or Pfeife) and 25-cent beers.  Tavern owners didn’t make much money from these customers, smoking up their place and spending the day lingering over a beer or two, but they probably didn’t have to break up many fist fights either.

Slama Saloon 1910

Clarkson was a rougher place in its earliest days – on the edge of civilization where cowboys still mixed with homesteaders.  One of the first saloons in town, the Roether & Becker Billiard Hall and Saloon, had to deal with rowdies from the John A. Wisherd Ranch.  Jon Trzcinski, scion of the Oklahoma Branch of the Roether Family, told of a cowboy from the Wisherd ranch riding into the saloon on horseback when a young Joe Roether (Jon’s grandfather) was tending bar. Neither the cowboy nor the horse could be coaxed into leaving until Joe’s father, John Roether, showed up, took the reins, and led the horse out the door.  (It might have taken considerable courage on John Roether’s part to grab the horse clattering around inside his saloon – John had once been kicked by a horse, which had left his neck permanently crooked and his head bent to one side).

Randy Vavrina shared a story told to him by his grandmother, Marie Slama Vavrina. Marie and her sister Libbie were little and were up on the second floor of the Slama Saloon on a late Saturday afternoon, when a burly bunch of cowboys from the ranch came to town. They rode their horses into the tavern and began shooting their guns into the ceiling as they rode in. Apparently they were excited to have a cold beer but the little girls cowering upstairs were terrified. There may still be bullet holes in the metal ceiling tiles.

The Clarkson Diamond Jubilee book noted the citizens’ reactions to this lawless activity in 1897:

With the location of the Wisherd Ranch also known as the Bilby Ranch north of Clarkson, our village was the scene of “Wild West” activities especially during pay day of the ranch hands from that ranch. These men would ride into town on horseback, gunshots would be heard, as they rode up and down the streets.  While this was going on, the citizens would take cover in the buildings on the street.  The saloon keepers would have their day and activity would increase. The ranch hands would stream into town in large numbers and although money would be spent in the saloon, the keepers would have their anxious moments.  This finally led to a petition on behalf of the citizens of Clarkson and presented to the Board of Trustees petitioning them to “furnish better protection from the rough hired hands from the ranch and asking saloon keepers to refrain from selling alcoholic beverages to them.”

Everyone loves a cold beer (and lemonade and ice cream), but how did they keep these treats cold in the days before refrigeration (Clarkson first got electricity in 1908)?  With home-made ice. Paul Filipi, who at the tender age of 98 has a longer memory than anyone in our fair village, remembers how ice was made in Clarkson:

“I vividly remember the ice houses in my youth, i.e. the 1920’s.  They consisted of a round hole in the ground about 10 ft. in diameter and maybe 12 ft. deep. It was covered by shed that included a door for access and a beam across the top to which was attached a block and tackle. This allowed attachment to an ice hook for handling the blocks of ice.

I know of 3 in Clarkson: one in back of the Gloser ice cream and candy parlor, another across the street in back of the back of the building just north of the empty lot and a third in back of the Slama building.

Businesses that sold ice cream and beer needed them. I remember going and getting a block of ice to make ice cream. Some farmers had their own ice house. The late Lester Kabes’ parents had one.

In Clarkson the ice was not used for ice boxes (refrigerators) as most houses had caves (cellars) to preserve food. In Omaha they had ice wagons that delivered ice regularly to homes with ice boxes; ice was harvested from Carter Lake. 

To get the ice, Raymond’s Creek, a creek coming in from the North West (tributary to the Maple Creek), was dammed with a 10-ft-high concrete structure that diverted water into a large pond. The lake was crescent-shaped and as I remember it was about 100 yards wide and maybe 500 yards long or more. This was the place where the Odvarka Brothers built the dance halls. Even after refrigeration became popular in the 1930’s it was still used as a swimming hole and fish pond. In winter when the ice was thick enough to harvest, men would saw blocks of ice and used horses to transport the ice. Later I remember skating on the pond. I understand the pond has been filled in and nothing remains but memories.”

Reinsdorff Dray 1887

A dray service transported the ice from the pond to the ice houses and barrels of beer from the railroad station to the taverns.  On December 27, 1887, Rudolph Reinsdorff was awarded the right to operate dray services from the depot to the town, for which he was assessed a fee of $20 per year. Beginning in 1898, a drayage was run by Adolph Filipi; in 1928 he sold the business to James Krofta, who continued to operate the service until the railroad tracks were taken out in the early 1960s.

I thought about trying to list all of the saloons, taverns, beer joints and bars in Clarkson since its earliest days, but quickly realized that there have been so many that it is an impossible task.  So here, for the record, is as close as I can come- a partial list of beer joints in town in its first 129 years:

1887 – Joseph Cibulka & Co’s Pool, Beer, and Billiard Hall; John Roether & Joseph Becker’s Billiard Hall and Saloon; and Anton Zabka’s Clarkson Beer, Pool, and Billiard Hall.

Zabka 1887 ad sepia    Cibulka 1887 ad sepia

(You can read more about the Roether & Becker Saloon in an earlier posting: )

Roether & Becker 1887 ad sepia

On September 29, 1887 all saloons in Clarkson were instructed to be closed on Sundays and also after 11 PM on weekdays.  On November 19, 1887 Anton Zabka acquired the first license to sell liquor (cost of a liquor license was $575); Joseph Becker received his liquor license on December 12, 1887.

1890 – Joseph Fajman opened a saloon, bringing the total to 4 saloons for a village of fewer than 300 souls.

1908 – The business directory lists saloons owned by John Bos, Joseph Slama, John F. Swoboda , and Emil Tomes/Emil H. Slama.

5 cent token 1    5 cent token 2    5 cent token 3

1913 – Luxa and Hamsa saloon.

1915 – Five saloons owned by Frank Bos, Joseph Cibulka, Joseph R. and Vaclav Krofta, Joseph Slama, and John F. Swoboda in a town whose population had reached 825.

1935 – In January, Emil Uher bought the Henry Knapp Saloon, and with the assistance of his wife conducted business to the time of his death in 1945.  After his death, his wife took over until she sold it in 1954 to Louis F. Vlach.

1946 – Louis J. Tomes opened the Silver Bar.  (One of the earliest buildings in Clarkson, in later years, it housed taverns operated by William Uher, Lumir J. Novotny, V.O. Berger, and Joe A. Urbanovsky)

1948 – In February, William Uher bought out the Louis J. Tomes Tavern.

1952 – On May 1, Frank E. Svik assumed ownership of the former Frank Mihelich tavern.

1954 – In February, Marie Uher Zrust sold her tavern to Louis and Mildred Vlach. From the February 24, 1954 issue of the Colfax County Press:  Mrs. Zrust, the former Mrs. Uher and her late husband Emil Uher, moved to Clarkson nineteen years ago, when they took over the tavern formerly operated by the late Henry Knapp. The Uher¹s always ran a clean-cut tavern without any major law infractions. Mr. Uher passed away in death in 1933(?) and since then his widow, now Mrs. Zrust, operated same. Mr. and Mrs. Zrust are as yet undecided as to their future plans. 

1955 – In September, Louis Vlach sold “Louie’s Tavern” to Reuben and Lillian Uecker.  They took possession on November 1, 1955 and made extensive improvement to the front and interior of the building (the Brass Rail) over the years.

1956 – On May 1, Frank L. Bukacek took over the former Joseph Jirsak Tavern.

1958 – On May 1, Mr. and Mrs. Bert Addleman purchased the Frank Svik tavern.

1959 – In May, Reuben and Lillian Uecker purchased the building in which they operated their tavern, renamed it The Brass Rail, and remodeled the bar inside and put on a brick front.

1961 – The Diamond Jubliee Book lists 3 taverns: Brass Rail (Reuben Uecker), Joe’s Tavern (Joe A. Urbanovsky), and Bert’s Place (Bert Addleman).  Between 1946 and 1961, the building occupied by Bert’s place also housed taverns operated by Walter F. Hahn, William H. Toomey, Joseph M. Houfek, Rudolph Plisek, Frank Mihelich, and Frank E. Svik.

1964 – On November 1, the Ueckers sold The Brass Rail to Valentine (Spitz) and Helen Belohrad, who operated it for nearly 13 years.

Late 1960s – There were 5 bars going full blast in our town of fewer than 1,000.  They were operated by Spitz Belohrad (The Brass Rail), Rudy Studnicka (Rudy’s?), Frank Bukacek (?), and Harold Neuhaus (Lone Star).  Can anyone fill in the blanks in my memory?  As someone said, if you remember the Sixties, you weren’t there.

Early 1970s – Harold Neuhaus sold the Lone Star to Lois Beiermann.

Also, there was a Stockman’s Bar – who owned that? I’m hoping the younger generation can sort this out.

Late 1970s – Lone Star Bar operated by Linda and Ed Blaha.

1977 – In June, the Belohrads sold The Brass Rail to Dave and Mary Kay Herout.

1986 – Taverns still operating in Clarkson included The Brass Rail, Friday’s Lounge, and Stockman’s Bar.

1987 – Keith Brabec took over operation of the Brass Rail.

2015 – Harry’s Brass Rail is sold to Richard Mundil and on November 21 reopened as Pine Street Pub and Pizza.  The 56-year reign of the Brass Rail, Clarkson’s most modern and, in recent years, only beer joint, has ended.  The King is dead – long live the King!

ADDENDUM:  After posting this list, I got several additions/corrections from readers (and I hope that I get more).  I’ve just received the following list of bars and their owners from about 1960 to the present time, a period during which I was mostly in absentia:

Brass Rail – Reuben and Lillian Uecker, Valentine and Helen Belohrad, Dave and Mary Kay Herout, Bill Drees, Rich Mundil, Keith Brabec, and Rich Mundil.

Rudy’s Bar (next to the Press Office) – Lumir and Eleanor Novotny (Novotny’s Bar), Joe and Jane Urbanovsky (Joe’s Bar), Rudy and Bertha Studnicka (Rudy’s Bar), Ray and Wilma Stara (Stara’s Bar?), and Don, Jeff, and Greta Chleboun (Chleboun’s Bar/Stockman’s Bar?).

Lone Star Bar (by Karel’s Store) – Frank and Sylvia Bukacek, Harold and Lilian Neuhaus, Ron Ondracek, Lois Beiermann, and Linda and Ed Blaha.

K&E Cafe (now Rob Brabec’s True Value Hardware storehouse) – cafe owned by Joe W. Kucera and Jim Evans.  They sold the building to Frank Bukacek, who continued to run the cafe and opened a bar in the back of the building briefly in the early 1960s (remember the parachute hanging from the ceiling?)

Pheasant Bar – Bert Addleman (Bert’s Place), Delbert and Virginia Nelson, Shirley and Lester Probst, John and Bette Carley, Carroll Vacha, Lois Beiermann, Frank and Elsie Jirsak, Jan Jirsak, Karen and Dean Lapour, Rich Mundil, and Keith Brabec (?)

There you have it – as I always say, corrections are welcomed, especially if they are factual. It’s a long and bewildering list of names, but it demonstrates that a community of Czech and German blue collar workers can support a significant beer-based economy.


Tomes and Suchy Saloon

So, we know where it was served – where did all the beer come from?  The Storz brewery in Omaha supplied beer to at least two of the early taverns – the Slama saloon and the Tomes and Suchy (Tomes and Slama?) saloon (notice the words “Česky Hostinec” on the window, which would have lured homesick immigrants).   Presumably the barrels and bottles of Storz beer were loaded onto railroad cars at a siding next to the brewery, transported to Clarkson on the Fremont, Elk Horn, and Missouri Valley Railroad, and offloaded at the Clarkson railroad depot by Reinsdorff or one of the other draymen.

Metz Beer

Around the turn of the 20th Century Omaha had three major breweries:  Metz, Krug, and Storz.  The Metz Bros. Brewing Company was established in Omaha in 1859, at 1717 S 3rd Street (close to the Missouri River and the train tracks).  The Metz Brewery, that was said to have “no equal in the country” closed because of Prohibition and never re-opened.


Metz Beer label         Metz Beer can    Krug Luxus
Krug Park steinThe Fred Krug Brewery was also founded in 1859, and had an initial output of 1.5 barrels per day.  By 1880 it was brewing 25,000 barrels of beer per year, and in 1894 it moved its operations to a large building at 29th and Vinton in South Omaha.  Krug brewed beer under several labels (Fred Krug, Cabinet, and Luxus), supported an amateur baseball team, and established Krug Park, an amusement park in the Benson neighborhood.  The Krug Brewery suspended operations during Prohibition (1920-1933) and three years later was sold to Falstaff Brewing of St. Louis.  Falstaff Beer was brewed at that South Omaha location until 1987. (In the 1960s, Falstaff was the third largest brewer in the U.S.)

Storz Brewing Company


The Storz Brewing Company opened in 1863 at 1807 N 16th St in Omaha, and didn’t cease operations until 1972.  They brewed 150,000 barrels of beer per year, and in 1960 produced one-third of all the beer sold in Nebraska.  Their product was sold under a variety of names, but Storz Triumph was their flagship label. Some of you ladies may remember that in the 1950s the company manufactured “Storz-ette” beer, which came in an 8-ounce can that had an orchid on the label and a tagline that read “calorie controlled”; they were sold as four-can packages called “Princess Packs.” The original brewery was closed in 1972, but in 2013 was opened again to sell a line of craft beers.

Storz Triumph bottle     storzette-calorie-controlled-pd-242-17-f  Storz Triumph open can


Storz Gold Crest

Storz Gold Crest beer label


Although notJetter keys counted as a major brewery, the Jetter Brewery in South Omaha made a lot of suds. Established in 1887 by Balthas Jetter, its flagship brand was Gold Top, a beer that “always snaps and sparkles, that never leaves a bad effect, that is a good beverage and a better tonic, that is Gold Top.” With a peak capacity of 100,000 barrels annually, the Jetter Brewery quenched the thirst of thousands of immigrants working in the South Omaha stockyards and packing plants, but it didn’t survive Prohibition and the death of its founder).

Liquor Store

Fremont poster          Fremont Pilsener

But you didn’t have to go as far as Omaha to buy a good beer.  In the late 19th century there were small breweries in many Nebraska towns (much as in the early 21st century).  Sorting out the names and owners is as tortuous as the list of Clarkson’s taverns, but there were breweries in Fremont (Fremont Brewing Co., 1891-1934), Columbus (1866-1954; All-American and Pawnee beer), and West Point (West Point Brewing Co. 1868-1917).  The West Point Brewery made an alluring church key (can opener) of a reclining woman to advertise its Social Beer – let’s hope there were no “social diseases” associated with the consumption of Social Beer.

Social Beer Opener - West Point

Closer to home, Schuyler had at least two breweries.  Martin Jetter was the proprietor of the Schuyler Brewery, which was erected around 1870 by Mr. Fritz Lammert: The brewery was housed in a building 16×50 feet in size, 2 stories high.  Employing 3 men, the Schuyler Brewery had a capacity of as much as 15 barrels per day and produced 1,000 barrels of beer annually. Jetter was born in Germany on January 19, 1845, came to America in 1865, worked two years in a brewery at Dunkirk, N. Y., then about a year in Burlington, Iowa, and from there to Omaha, Neb., and worked in same business until 1875, when he bought the above brewery in company with Max Lenz. They continued in company a year, when Martin Jetter bought the whole interest and renamed it the Martin Jetter Brewery. He married Miss Barbara Seyfried, a native of Germany and had three children–John M., Fred W., and Lena C.  Jetter operated the brewery from 1875 to 1884.

Another Schuyler brewery (possibly the same one) was operated by the Platz family for 20 years.  The brewery went under the names Platz & Kurth Brewery (188?-1888), F. William Platz Brewery (1888-1900), William Platz Brewery (1900-1902), and Paul P. Platz Brewery (1902-1904).  One of the owners, F. William Platz, was the father of Lena Platz.  Lena Platz came to Clarkson to teach and coach women’s basketball, and married Anton Odvarka, Jr., the longtime publisher of the Colfax County Press.

1910-11 CHS Girls Basketball Team

I have not found any information that locates Schuyler’s brewery, but I have to wonder if it stood on Brewery Hill, the first, small hill north of town, before you get to Fuller’s Hill.  When I was a boy my dad told me the hill got that name because it was the site of… a brewery.

But even closer to home, of course, is homebrew.  Many people made their own beer, certainly during Prohibition (yes, it was legal) but also at other times as a cheaper and more convenient alternative to commercial beers.  We didn’t make beer at home, but I imagine it was a simple procedure – buy a 1-gallon can of malt syrup (Blue Ribbon was sold with or without hop extract), mix it with the appropriate volume of fresh well water, stir in some bread yeast, and let the mixture ferment for a week or two in a large earthenware crock covered with cheesecloth (to keep the flies, gnats, and curious boys out – no artificial ingredients, please).  Bottle it up and store it in your root cellar next to the potatoes.   I remember seeing cans of Blue Ribbon malt syrup on the shelves of Otrodovsky’s grocery store in Schuyler in the 1950s.

blueribbon200  MaltExtract   Malt with hops

Has all this talk of beer on a hot August day made you thirsty?  Do you ever wonder what the beer tasted like that you see in these pictures?  Beer is made from only 4 ingredients (water, malt, hops, and yeast) – if you can find a recipe, is it possible to make that beer again?  And, even if you have the original recipe, are the original ingredients and brewing technologies still available?

Old Beer

After pondering these questions over many sleepless nights, I consulted a knowledgeable brewmaster, George Bluvas.  George is the son of Edith Kudrna Welch and the grandson of Adolph and Blanche Kudrna of Clarkson.  Since 1999 he has been the Director of Brewing Operations at Water Street Brewery in Milwaukee.  Braumeister Bluvas confirmed my fears:

“One of the really drastic changes is the way we’ve selectively bred/engineered barley.  It is not even the same barley as 20 years ago, drastically different in fact.  Same with hops, as our science progresses, some of the little things that today are considered not good are what contributed to nuances to make beers  (of the past) different.  We understand chemistry better and are trying to get brewing efficiency up; these things may have not been as important in days gone by.  

The Hamms brewery has been defunct for a few decades; it is now produced by Miller, here in Milwaukee.  Unfortunately it too is not exactly the same beer as before, probably close, but cooking beer on different equipment with different ingredients can only get so close.  Luckily there is a renewed interest in “retro” beer and Miller has been producing a bunch like Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz. Although some say they are the “original” recipes they just can’t (or don’t want to) recreate what technology has gone beyond.  When Miller acquired Leinenkugel’s in Wisconsin, all the old timers complained that they wrecked the beer.  What they did is clean the place up, and the “dirty” that gave Leinie’s a unique taste was gone.   Add the fact that most of these beers are brewed slightly “heavier” with a bit more strength…that means they taste more like “beer” than the watery light/lite beers that are too dominant today. “

So, over the last 100 years the ingredients (barley, hops, and probably even the water) have changed, and the brewing techniques and equipment have been altered.   Further, the way the beer is handled (age, bottles vs. steel/aluminum cans, aluminum vs. wooden kegs, control of storage temperatures from brewery to drinking glass) has evolved, and little things like that make a big difference to the connoisseur of beer.

However, Mankind’s Quest for Knowledge is not to be denied!  Determined to drink the beer that I see in these old photos, I found a recipe for Pre-Prohibition ale that probably comes as close as you can get.  It uses a light-colored malt extract, supplemented with corn sugar (to give it the clean, crisp finish that the Old World pilsners had). The hops flavor comes from a variety called Cluster, an old, landrace strain which once comprised more than 80 percent of the hops used in the U.S. but now is almost extinct.  You would have to have a Time Machine in order to take my glass of beer back to 1890 for a truly scientific, side-by-side comparison, but I’m pretty sure that this is exactly what you would find.  I have made it several times now (the last time for a Catholic charity dinner) and it is very popular.  My Pre-Prohibition Ale is a bit more “substantial” than today’s mass market beers, and it has a nice, old-timey flavor and aroma.  If you brew, I’d be happy to send you the recipe so that you can whip up a batch, pour a sparkling bottle of it into a heavy glass mug, and imagine you are standing next to the bar in the Slama saloon, having a leisurely beer with Great Grandpa.  Or, if you don’t brew, stop over at my house for a taste – I still have a few bottles left.

And now… it’s time for a beer.  Na zdraví!


Clarkson’s Diamond Jubilee book (1961) and Centennial book (1986)

Prohibition in Omaha:

List of old breweries in Nebraska:

Andreas’ History of the State of Nebraska – Colfax County:

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