Card Parties

Tarok Hand

It’s a cold winter Sunday, and I’ve been thinking about how we spent such days back in the middle of the 20th Century.  Sunday being a day of rest, we were seriously admonished to spend time with our families and to avoid servile labor (save for feeding the livestock, milking cows, and picking eggs).  Every Sunday began with Mass at our country church, Holy Trinity Catholic Church at Heun.  We would get home late morning and walk into the house, greeted by the aroma of the roasting duck that Mother had put into the oven before we left for church.  There was time for a quick glance at the funny papers and Magazine of the Midlands in the Omaha World Herald before diving into a great meal of duck, dumplings and sauerkraut, rice cooked with gizzards, jello salad, and homemade horn rolls slathered with homemade butter (or duck lard from the bottom of the roaster).  A really cold and snowy afternoon might be spent sleeping off the meal and watching a little football.  If the weather was better, we might venture out to hunt pheasants and rabbits or do a little clay pigeon shooting with friends.  Perhaps we would go for a Sunday drive in the country and, seeing evidence that someone was home, might drop in unannounced for a visit.  In the evening, we would watch Ed Sullivan and Bonanza on our Sylvania b&w TV or jump in the car to see a morally worthy movie at the Sky Theater in Schuyler or at the Clarkson Opera House.  Some Sunday nights, especially in the winter, were spent at card parties in the basement of the Heun church.

Heun a

Card parties were a popular social activity, especially in the days before everyone had a television in their parlor.  They helped people stay in touch and build community.  Card parties were fading by my time (I only remember a couple of them), but I get the impression that there were several during the winter, perhaps once a month.   Large numbers of people would assemble at the designated location (Heun Hall or, later, the Heun Church basement), bringing their card tables, and split up into groups of four to play various card games.  The long dining tables were folded up and removed, and the card tables and folding chairs were set up around the room.

Heun Church_20080627_9_6

Men and women played separately – I don’t remember coed tables.  Usually the men played traditional Czech and German card games – taroks, solo, and darda.  Everyone spoke English as their primary language by then, but while playing taroks the men commonly spoke Czech (with colorful phrases and exclamations).  Women played bunco, canasta, taroks, and pinocle (for those who never learned the intricacies of taroks).


Taroks (or more properly, Taroky) was a widely played card game in Central Europe, and it is part of the larger family of tarot card games that have been played all over Europe since at least the 15th Century.  Variations of taroks are played in Austria (tarocks), Hungary, Slovenia, Silesia/Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and in the United States wherever at least four Czechs live in the same town.  The game requires 4 players and a deck of 54 colorful cards.  You cannot overstate the popularity of taroks among the Czechs – when I was young, it was played at most family gatherings, and in every tavern you would find a booth occupied by tarok players.


You say you don’t know how to play taroks?  Don’t ask me to teach you – it is far too complicated for my poor brain.  But don’t despair – you can find generic rules online

Better yet, many years ago, one of the Heun parishioners, Robert Brichaček, decided to codify “The Heun Tarok Rules” for posterity.  He wrote them up, and his friend Ken Čada proofed, revised, and distributed them.  As a public service, I make them available to you.  Click on this link and educate yourself: Heun Taroky



So the next time you find yourself at a Heun card party, you’d better brush up on the best, nay, the ONLY way to play the game… Our Way.  Of course, you can buy tarok cards wherever fine products are sold.  You might still be able to get yourself a deck for $1.49 at the Ben Franklin Store in Schuyler.  (Seriously, the Ben Franklin Store is gone, but you can still buy a tarok deck from the Colfax County Press in Clarkson for $2.50.)

Children were not allowed to play with adults unless a spot needed to be filled in the women’s bunco table.  We kids played Crazy 8’s, Old Maid, Fish, Slap Jack, and that most Catholic of games – Bingo.  In one of the closets in the church basement was a shoebox with well-worn bingo cards and a coffee can full of hard corn kernels that we used to mark the letter-number combinations that had been called.  But mostly we were bored, trapped in the basement on a winter’s night without television until the adults were done playing cards and chatting.

During the course of the evening the foursomes split up and recombined at different tables, so that everyone had a chance to socialize with all the attendees.  At the end of the evening 4 winners were announced; men’s high scorer, men’s low scorer, women’s high scorer, and women’s low scorer.  I don’t think there was a cash prize – the winners probably got a cake or a jar of pickles.  The whole thing was over by 9:30 or 10 PM so that the children could get to bed at a decent hour.

Heun ladies

Before everyone went home, however, the evening was capped by a light lunch.  The ladies served chicken salad or spam/minced ham salad sandwiches made with carefully trimmed white bread, deviled eggs, cakes, pies, plates of kolaches, and peanut bars (small cakes rolled in crushed peanuts).  The delicious food was washed down by scalding hot Butternut coffee, served up with plenty of sugar and fresh cream (it seems like few people drank black coffee in those days).  The “church basement” coffee that the Heun ladies made was not like anything I’ve had since.  Rather than being made in a large percolator, the coffee grounds were mixed with a raw egg, and the slurry was added directly to a pot of boiling water and boiled for a few minutes.  The resulting coffee was cloudy, but very smooth and mild in flavor – no bitterness or acidity.  I guess the coffee grounds settled out gradually after the pot was removed from the stove; I don’t think that the coffee was filtered but it’s possible that they ran it through a paper filter from a cream separator before serving it.

[We must credit the Swedes for this smooth coffee – in the Northern U.S. it is called Swedish Egg Coffee or Swedish Lutheran Coffee, and can still be found at church stands at the Minnesota State Fair.]  Here is a recipe for Church Basement Coffee: Church Basement Coffee

You should try it – it is delicious.

I’m not sure how common card parties were elsewhere.  In Clarkson, they may have been sponsored by the VFW.  Here are the few references to card parties that I was able to glean from the online files of the Colfax County Press:

December 14, 1922 – The M.C.W.A. social club, an auxiliary of the SS. Peter and Paul church (Howells) gave another card party at the Royal theatre. A fair crowd was present and the evening was merrily spent by all. Dr. and Mrs. A.J. Hebenstriet must have trained themselves especially for the occasion as they succeeded in carrying off both first prizes in card playing. Miss Soenberg, one of our teachers, and Jos. Stangel favored with the boobies.

Also December 14, 1922 – The Kensington ladies entertained their husbands and a number of lady friends at a card party in the room over the Kratochvil restaurant last evening. Five-hundred was the favorite diversion. The men’s prizes were won by Wm. A. Svoboda, first, and W.A. Karel, second. The ladies prizes went to Mrs. Frank Vidlak, first and Mrs. Frank G. Wolf, second. Those present were Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Hahn, Mr. and Mrs. W.F. Hahn, Mr. and Mrs. Jos. F. Jirovec, Mr. and Mrs. F.J. Vidlak, Mr. and Mrs. Ad. Dudek, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Cekal, Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Kocum, Mr. and Mrs. Wm. A. Karel, Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Karel, Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Fajman, Mr. and Mrs. F.C. Kratochvil, Mr. and Mrs. Wm. A. Svoboda, Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Wolf, Misses Mary Bartak and Emma Storek.

January 25, 1923 – Mrs. Frank J. Vidlak entertained the Kensington ladies and their husbands at a card party. Those present were: Mr. and Mrs. A.J. Fajman, Mr. and Mrs. F.J. Miller, Mr. and Mrs. J.F. Jirovec, Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Fajman, Mr. and Mrs. E.J. Cekal, Mr. and Mrs. Wm. A. Svoboda, Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Karel, Mr. and Mrs. Wm A. Karel, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Hahn, Mr. and Mrs. John P. Schaffer, Mr. and Mrs. William Schultz, Mr. and Mrs. F.C. Kratochvil, Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Kocum, Mr. and Mrs. A.J. O’Brien. Mrs. Jos. J. Karnik was present as a guest. Wm. Svoboda won first men’s prize, while the booby went to John F. Schaffer. Ladies’ prize was won by Mrs. Walter Hahn and the booby by Mrs. W. A. Karel. An intermission in card playing was allowed for a feast.

Also January 25, 1923 – A card party given by the Ladies’ Altar society at the St. John’s Catholic Church in Howells was attended by a large number of people. After a couple of hours of card playing a dainty lunch was served by the ladies. Following this there was a dance which lasted until midnight, the music being supplied by the Sindelar orchestra.

January 8, 1931 – Clarkson friends of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Trojan tendered them a surprise party at their home. Three tables of “tarok” were played, prizes going to Mrs. Trojan and Joe Cakl and low prizes to Mrs. Wesley Moore and Anton Kremlacek. A lunch was provided by the visitors.
In the party were Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hobza, Mr. and Mrs. Moore, Mr. and Mrs. Cakl, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Maliha, Misses Emma Maliha and Katie Kopietz, Mrs. Mary Callely of Atkinson, and Mrs. Archie Dillion and daughter, Mary Ann of Stanton.

April 12, 1931 – A delegation of Clarkson club women consisting of Mrs. F.W. Noh, Mrs. Frank Vnuk, Mrs. L.J. Evert, Mrs. Adolph Kudrna, Mrs. J.R. Vitek, and Mrs. W.F. Hahn were at Leigh attending a public card party given by the Woman’s Club of that city. The guests speak of a royal entertainment which also included a fine lunch.

Many thanks to Robert Brichaček, Ken Čada, Ron Čada, Larry Čada, and Don Novotny, card players par excellence, for their knowledge of taroks and memories of the Heun card parties.

Stay warm, pick a good partner, and remember that A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed…

A Friend in Need by CM Coolidge


Posted in 1950s, 1960s | 7 Comments

The Little Swing Band

“It’s the Music that Makes the Dance”

A recent issue of the Colfax County Press reprinted a February 9, 1939 story about the tribulations of a local dance band, The Little Swing Band:

Little Swing Band CCP 2-9-39 1Little Swing Band CCP 2-9-39 2

The story tells of one of the hazards of playing in a dance band in those days – getting home from a date, often very late at night, in inclement weather conditions. Fog, thunderstorms, snow and ice. In those days, dances might last until 1 AM, and by the time the musicians finished talking to the crowd, packing up their instruments, and perhaps having a drink or two, they were looking at a late arrival home. Two of my uncles, Chuck and Bob Polodna, played in bands for many years, and I always marveled at their ability to make it home from some distant ballroom in bad weather and wake up the next morning to carry out their more-than-full-time day jobs as farmers.

Not much has been written about the Little Swing Band. I couldn’t find any reference to them in either Clarkson’s Diamond Jubilee book (1961) or the Centennial book (1986). Ed Prazak was in charge of bookings for the band, but I’m guessing that the leader was Joseph F. Jirovec, a trumpeter and leader of many bands for many years. Joe Jirovec was a fine musician who began playing in the 1890s and by 1903 was organizing and leading his own bands. His bands and orchestras included such notable local musicians as Bill and Clyde Karel, Charlie and Anna Novotny, John Poledna, and Leo Zelenda. But the Jirovec “music machine” is a long story for another time.

First Jirovec City Band
The Clarkson Band under the direction of Peter Zak (early 1900’s). Top row, L to R: Alois Cerv, John Havel, Theodore Kubik, Joseph Havel, William Roether, John Urbanek, and Louis Severa. Middle row, L to R: Joe Zelenda, Joseph Mundil, Petr Zak, Joseph Jirovec, Leo Zelenda, and William Karel. Bottom row, L to R: Ed Rozmarin, Joseph Severa, and Clyde Karel.

Franklin Schulz played saxophone in the Little Swing Band. Not long after this incident, in late 1939, Schulz sold his beloved saxophone and used the money to travel to West Virginia to try out for a professional baseball team. Franklin Schulz was well on his way to pitching in the major leagues when the war intervened and he became a bomber pilot. He was killed in action in the Pacific. ( )

Although he was not part of the snow-bound band that night, another excellent Clarkson musician, Norman Sodomka, Sr. played trumpet in the Little Swing Band (and a lot of other well-known dance bands). Over the years, he played with Duffy Belohrad, Dick Wickman, Joe Fiala, and others.  Norm was drafted into the army in 1942 and was assigned to a tank destroyer combat unit until his musical skills were discovered and he was transferred to an army band.  While there, he played with the legendary jazz cornetist “Wild Bill” Davison.

I never heard the Little Swing Band play, and I’m not aware of any recordings. But I can say with confidence that they must have been fine musicians – they played for the wedding dance of two of my favorite people – my Mom and Dad.

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I don’t know how long The Little Swing Band entertained music lovers in the area, but they were still playing in 1942. In March, 1941  the band included John Poledna, Arthur Fayman, Joseph F. Jirovec, and Joseph Suchan, Jr.  The August 6, 1942 issue of the Howells Journal advertised a “Wedding Dance honoring Doran Christ and Lola Mae Ruzicka, Tuesday, August 11. Music by Little Swing Band.” I am guessing that this was one of their last gigs; by 1943, the 59-year-old Joseph Jirovec had taken the job of state secretary of the Farmers Union and moved to Omaha.

Posted in 1930s | 13 Comments

Goulash I Have Known

Our Village endured a wintry blast this weekend; temperatures dropped down to the single digits and the wind chill index was below zero, all over 5 inches of fresh, crunchy snow.  The kind of weather that gets you thinking about piping hot soup and heartwarming stews.  Like goulash.

Gulyas Photo

Goulash is a savory, meaty stew that used to be popular back home (and still is in the Czech Republic).  Its origins can be traced back to 9th century Hungary, where shepherds made a stew from beef, onions, and paprika.  (The Hungarian word gulyás means cow herder, and it came to refer to the stew that they ate on their trail drives from the steppes of Eastern Hungary to the markets in Europe).  The Hungarian cowboys spread their dish throughout Central and Southern Europe, where other ingredients began to be added – garlic, caraway seed, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, parsley root, celery, cabbage, bay leaf, thyme, marjoram, vinegar, etc.  Sometimes boiled potatoes were added as a thickener.  And when the dish spread to Clarkson, ketchup and crushed ginger snap cookies were added for flavoring and thickening.

Goulash is very popular in the Czech Republic – nearly every Czech restaurant and pub we visited had it on their menu.  Their versions are more savory and less sweet than ours – often they added chopped pickles or vinegar to the pork/beef/onion/paprika mixture.  Here’s what Wikipedia says about the Czech take on goulash:  In the Czech and Slovak Republic, goulash (guláš) is usually made with beef, although pork varieties exist, and served with bread dumplings (in Czech hovězí guláš s knedlíkem, in Slovak hovädzí guláš s knedľou), in Slovakia more typically with bread. In pubs it is often garnished with slices of fresh onion, and is typically accompanied by beer.  Beer can be also added to the stew in the process of cooking. Seasonal varieties of goulash include venison or wild boar goulashes.  Another popular variant of guláš is segedínský guláš (Szeged goulash), with sauerkraut. In Czech and Slovak slang, the word guláš means “mishmash.”


Szeged (Székely) Goulash served in a Prague pub with Czech knedliky.

I don’t think goulash is eaten in Clarkson as frequently as it used to be.  The Stop Inn Café used to serve gallons of it, but many of the people I questioned haven’t eaten it in years.  Similarly, many women remember their mothers and grandmothers making it, but no longer had their recipes.  (Often, their mothers didn’t use recipes, but cooked from memory, preparing the dish according to their family’s tastes or based on what they found in the refrigerator that day).

It’s probably just as well.  In some ways, goulash is the antithesis of what is considered to be a healthy diet these days – a dish comprised mainly of red meat, seasoned with plenty of salt, sugar, and ginger snaps.  Vegetables (onions and peppers) are used only sparingly in many recipes, thrown in for flavoring rather than as the basis for the dish.  And if there is an accompaniment to the dish, it is commonly white bread, boiled white potatoes, noodles, or bread dumplings – loads of simple carbohydrates that make doctors and dieticians nervous.

Nonetheless, goulash is a delicious treat, and one that I heartily recommend when the cold winds blow.  I have collected a handful of recipes from Clarkson and the wider world beyond our village and have posted them below.  The compilation includes recipes from excellent cooks I have known, three examples of the “Lost Recipe” from Clarkson’s Stop Inn Market and Cafe,  some variations made by our neighbors in nearby towns, and the version made by the Bohemian Cafe in Omaha.  Just click on the link below to read and print the recipes.

Goulash Recipes from Clarkson and the World

If you can afford to buy beef or pork these days, I invite you to give one of the recipes a try and let me know what you think.  More important, if you have a favorite recipe for goulash that you don’t see here, from your mother or grandmother perhaps, send it to me before the end of January and I’ll add it to the collection.

Jó étvágyat!   Dobrou chuť!  Bon appétit!

Glenn Čada

Posted in 1890s, 1950s, 1960s | 18 Comments

Every Czech a Musician

Every Czech is born, not with a silver spoon in his mouth, but with a violin under his pillow. – Czech proverb

Bohemians (Czechs) as a whole are extremely fond of dramatic performances…  A very large percentage are good musicians, so that wherever even a small group lives, they are sure to have a very good band. – Ruzena Rosicka

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As I enjoyed Clarkson’s Czech Days festivities this year, I was again reminded of the importance of music to us.  Whether you were in a bar, a church dinner, the Opera House, or walking around Main Street, there was a background soundtrack of old Bohemian waltzes and polkas.

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Angie Kriz and her sidemen entertain the residents of Colonial Manor, 2015

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Ron Schulzkumpf (tuba), Eddie Fisher (drums), and Angie Kriz (accordion and vocals)

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Ron and Eddie accompany Sue and Rob Brabec at Harry’s Brass Rail, 2015

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Clarkson Czech Days Parade, 2015

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Clarkson Opera House during the Czech Days Festival

It all got me to thinking about the many Clarkson area bands and orchestras that have entertained us over the last century or more.  Winding back the clock, images and sounds come to mind…   memories of The Solid 8:

Solid Eight 2

Duffy Belohrad and Al Grebnick:

Duffy Belohrad 1944Al Grebnick 1959

My Uncle’s Chuck’s Harmony Polka Band (1961):

Chuck's Band Aug 61

Chuck’s Band Aug 61

Math Sladky’s KLMS Polka Band out of Lincoln:

Prague National Hall

Prague National Hall

The Clarkson Czech Band:

Clarkson Czech Band

The Jirovec Orchestra:

Jirovec Orchestra

Jirovec Orchestra caption

The Krofta Orchestra:

Krofta Orchestra 1917

Krofta Orchestra 1917 2

And various manifestations over the decades of The Clarkson Band:

Czech Days 018 Clarkson Band 2012

Centennial 25

My beautiful picture

Clarkson Dance Band ca 1898

Our Town’s 4th of July Celebration in 1893 had a lot of brass…

Clarkson 1893 1-2

Perhaps the oldest photo of an organized band in Clarkson was taken in the early 1890’s.  A fun-loving band that was associated with the Roether and Becker saloon/dance hall was the subject of an earlier posting of mine –

Roether and Becker Band caption 2

Roether and Becker Band caption

Many of the musicians in this proto-polka band have since been identified, but the name of the band, if it had one, has been lost in time.

I have given short shrift to Czech music and Bohemian/German musicians in this Clarkson history blog, only because it is such a big subject.  There have been many organized bands over the 125+ years of Clarkson’s existence, and many more talented individual musicians who were not associated with a particular band, but just showed up at weddings, barn dances, bars, and festivals for the joy of making music.

Chuck on Drums

Chuck on Drums

In the coming months I plan to profile as many bands as I can find information about.  I hope to post stories about the Jirovec Orchestra, Duffy Belohrad, the Frank Studnicka Band, the Solid 8, the Little Swing Band, and the Clarkson Czech Bands, at least.  Time will tell whether there is enough information to document the Bohemian Ladies Brass Band, the Cech Orchestra, Joe Fiala’s Blue Coats, the Pla-Mor Band, Emil Brdicko, Frank Kucera, Dr. Srb’s Orchestra, and the Stastny Orchestra, for example.

This is where you come in.  Look through your scrapbooks, search your memory banks – if you have pictures and anecdotes about any of these bands (or other local bands I may be missing), please pass them on to me and I will work them into our stories.  Thanks!


Posted in Celebrations, The 21st Century | 6 Comments

The Life Lesson of Štrůdl-Making

apple strudel with ice cream_large

A couple of months ago I posted a story about the painstaking and delicious art of making apple štrůdl, as practiced by the ladies who prepare this dessert for the annual Clarkson Czech Days festival.  I tried my best to describe the process, through pictures and text.  Since then, a better tutorial has appeared, in the form of two YouTube videos by one of our own citizen-cooks.

My old pal Darrell Podany alerted me to the fact that his aunt, Betty Dolezal, had demonstrated štrůdl-making at the annual Dolezal Family Reunion this year in Stanton.  Many of you recall that Betty and her late husband Paul Dolezal ran the Stop Inn Café in Clarkson from 1972-1993.  Betty made the štrůdls that were served at the Stop Inn during Czech Days in those years, and a lot of other delicious food as well.  Here’s how she does štrůdls:

Because of the length of the demonstration, it has been split into two parts.  Both parts have Betty’s recipe under the “Show More” tab.

Not only is this a charming, well-made, and informative video, it illustrates an important responsibility that those of us “of a certain age” have – the duty to teach, to pass on life lessons to the younger generation.  Whether they want to hear them or not.

I was blessed to have a number of uncles who were masters of tale-telling.  They sat around during family picnics and reunions, discussing crops, ballgames, work, weather, neighbors, world events, etc., generally related with humor and with their own unique story-telling styles.  Listening to them talk among themselves rewarded me with both funny stories and useful life lessons; I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  Similarly, you could walk into most stores along Main Street and be treated to the philosophies of the proprietors and their customers, all told with individual styles that were finely honed over years of practice.  (I’m thinking especially of Fayman Hardware, Roether and Brabec Hardware, and the feed stores.)  Maybe they didn’t even know that they were telling Our Story.

Few have expressed the value of tale-telling better than Sr. Joan Chittister in her remarkable book The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully (2010; BlueBridge Books).   I have reproduced her brief meditation below.





Posted in The 21st Century | 3 Comments

Save the Nebraska Prairies!

When our immigrant ancestors arrived on the scene beginning in the 1870s they were greeted by a very different landscape than we see today.  One imagines rolling hills covered by unbroken expanses of mixed grasses, in places taller than a man, dotted with occasional broadleaf plants and prairie flowers.  No roads and few trails, treeless except for the borders of creeks.  Undulating in the wind, the grasses gave the appearance of a “sea of grass,” a metaphor that was used often by early visitors.


“Cumulus Clouds over Yellow Prairie2” by Wing-Chi Poon. 

Native prairies are beautiful ecosystems, filled with an amazing variety of grasses, flowering plants, and animals that change with the seasons.  Hardly dull and uniform, one small parcel of tall grass prairie near Lincoln has been found to support 291 species of native plants. Native prairies once covered vast areas of the central U.S., but to a great extent we now know the prairies of Eastern Nebraska only through black and white photographs.  They have disappeared, victims of our agricultural ambitions that fed the world and made good lives for so many of our ancestors.  Of the estimated 221,375 square miles of tallgrass prairie that the settlers found in the Great Plains, over 95 percent is now gone (Johnsgard 2007).


Do you ever wish that you could see what the original prairies looked like, and experience them with all your senses?  See the wind blowing through the tall grass, dotted with colorful native flowers?  Smell the aroma of the prairie after a spring rain?  Hear the sounds of birds and insects?  In short, to hear, see, smell, and touch the world that our ancestors experienced?

There are a few places where you can still do that, thanks to the efforts of some energetic and far-sighted Nebraskans; people who have devoted their time to recreating/restoring our native prairies.  There may be many such efforts; I will mention two that are close to home.

The Prairie Plains Resources Institute (PPRI; was established in Aurora, Nebraska in 1980.  Bill and Jan Whitney got the effort started, and over the years they have been supported by an army of volunteers, employees, and donors.  By recent count, the good people at PPRI have helped restore and maintain over 10,000 acres of prairie at 189 sites across the state.  “Prairie restoration is the process of recreating a prairie where one once existed but is now gone. Taking the word restore literally, it would result in completely rebuilding the prairie plant and animal community with all the species that a particular site used to have. Definitions can vary, but PPRI defines prairie restoration broadly, including everything from planting a new prairie where the former prairie had been broken and farmed, to improving a degraded prairie, that is, one that was never plowed but lost many plant species due to prior land management practices.”


Equally important, PPRI plays a critical role in education –  They conduct day camps in the summer and naturalist programs year-round to acquaint our young people with the beauty and complexity of the prairie communities. Some 36 of their restoration sites in 20 Nebraska counties are publically accessible, for anyone interested in getting a “close-up, hands-on experience of the Nebraska landscape… As an educational land trust, their goal is to relate all aspects of their program to education and service to people – teaching about place, land stewardship, restoration and sustainable development.”

One of the publically accessible prairies that PPRI manages is only 7 miles straight south of Clarkson, the Frank L and Lillian Pokorny Memorial Preserve.  Acquired in 2003, the Frank L. and Lillian Pokorny Memorial Preserve offers access to the beautiful prairie landscape of northeast Nebraska. The property includes a 20-acre virgin prairie and a 20-acre high-diversity prairie restoration.


Yes, you read it right – the Pokorny Preserve includes that rarest of rare animals – virgin prairie, whose soil was never broken by the plow.  Take a look at it next time you’re out for a Sunday drive; it is 7 miles south of Hwy 91 and 2.5 miles west of Hwy 15.

Closer to home, another Pokorny has been a major force in re-connecting us with our prairie roots, and you don’t even have to drive out of town to see the fruits of his efforts.  Wes Pokorny is a Kindergarten teacher at the Clarkson Public Schools.  Wes was looking for an opportunity to create an outdoor classroom for his students, a place where he could teach them about the environment and just let them run around, explore, and be kids. Happily, he found that place in a 4-acre parcel of land immediately southwest of the school.  Wes put together funds from government grants and local families (Hamerniks and Viteks) and worked with local horticultural legend Harlan Hamernik to develop the site and plant grasses and flowers.  They began by planting an acre of wildflowers in the spring of 2014, and followed up in 2015 with tree plantings (he would like each of his Kindergarten classes to plant trees on the site).  Wooden structures at the entrance to the site were made by the high school shop class.   They have named the site Harlan’s Hill, in honor of the late Harlan Hamernik, who was concerned that children should have recreational opportunities beyond a “plastic playground.”

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A video of the initial appearance of Harlan’s Hill (Phase I development) can be seen here:

I first heard about Harlan’s Hill from a video segment that someone sent to me from Nebraska Educational Television’s long-running television show, the Backyard Farmer –

Harlan Hill_20150626_23 Harlan Hill_20150626_22

Wes Pokorny and his volunteers have already seen results of their labors; plants are growing and flowers are blooming.  Here is what Harlan’s Hill looked like in the summer of 2015:

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Harlan Hill_20150626_35a Harlan Hill_20150626_33a

Are you wondering if the 21st Century techno-kids are able to connect with Mother Nature?  Take a look at Kindergarten Recess on Harlan’s Hill –

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Harlan Hill_20150626_13

It’s not all wildflowers and bees; the prairies have a unique beauty and, for Kindergarteners, allure in the winter season as well –

Harlan’s Hill is not a true native prairie restoration, as PPRI does it; the brome grass is harvested for hay every year, and the wildflowers that bloom in such profusion at the entrance to the property are probably unusually dense.  Nonetheless, Harlan’s Hill is a beautiful prairie preserve, no matter the season, and a great place to learn about and re-connect with nature.  So get out of your recliner and go up there for a stroll.

For his efforts, Wes Pokorny was recently given the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum Educator Award:


The award was presented for outstanding contributions toward advancing the knowledge and appreciation of plants among their students. 

“This may be the first time this award has gone to a kindergarten teacher,” said NSA Executive Director in giving the award, “but with the enthusiasm Pokorny brings to his indoor and outdoor classrooms, we think his teaching and legacy will extend far into the future.” 

Pokorny’s kindergarteners know how to germinate seeds, climb trees and identify birds. Though they learn a lot about nature and plants, the learning extends into math and reading as well. Wes has created multiple outdoor classrooms—a vegetable and cut flower space adjacent to his classroom and Harlan’s Hill, a natural outdoor classroom which he improved through NSA’s Sustainable Schoolyard Program.  He tweets his student’s outdoor interactions to get parents and the whole community involved. 

“Pokorny’s use of outdoor learning can serve as a wonderful model for other schools and teachers wanting to get their students excited and knowledgeable about the natural world,” Hoyt said. 

For more information about the award winners, reception or the statewide network of public landscapes modeling and promoting “sustainable landscapes for healthy homes and communities,” call 402-472-2971 or visit

My hat is off to Bill and Jan Whitney and Wes Pokorny and all their supporters who work so hard to make our prairie heritage available to us and our children.  They offer us a priceless reminder of both our past and our future.


Johnsgard, P.A.  2007.  A Guide to the Tallgrass Prairies of Eastern Nebraska and Adjacent States. Papers in Ornithology, Paper 39.

Posted in The 21st Century | 4 Comments

Field Manual CD15: Assembly of the Mark IV Apple Strudel

One of the most popular desserts in Central Europe has to be strudel, or, as the Czechs spell it, štrůdl.  It first appeared in Vienna at the beginning of the 18th Century, and quickly became popular throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany.  Hence, its German name (which means “eddy” or “whirlpool”) and its popularity among the dessert-loving Czechs.

Štrůdl has one form (a pastry consisting of a filling rolled in several concentric layers of very thin phyllo dough) and many flavors – the fillings may be cheese, cream, sour cherries, sweet cherries, nuts, apricots, plums, poppy seeds, and raisins.  Some štrůdls are filled with meat, spinach, cabbage, pumpkin, sauerkraut, even turnips.  But the most beloved flavor worldwide, and the one featured in the Czech dinners each year during Clarkson’s Czech Days, is the venerable Apple Štrůdl.

The ingredients in an apple štrůdl are commonplace and easy to prepare – chopped apples, cinnamon, raisins, sometimes chopped nuts or coconut, plenty of butter and sugar.  But assembling one is a daunting task, not for the faint-hearted.  Turning the fist-sized lump of pastry dough into a paper-thin, translucent sheet, and then rolling it up around the crisp apple chunks without tearing a hole in it, requires real skill.  It takes a brave cook to make a štrůdl alone; commonly štrůdls are made as a team effort, ideally with one’s mother.

I was fortunate to watch one of these team efforts at Czech Days this year, when women and girls assembled at St. John Neumann Catholic School to make some 120 štrůdls for the Sunday dinners.  It was an efficient, assembly line process that would have made Henry Ford proud.  In one room, crisp apples were peeled, cored, and sliced into chunks.  In another room, large batches of egg and butter-rich pastry dough were mixed and kneaded.  And in the final, assembly room, the whole thing came together – the apple pieces were mixed with raisins, shredded coconut, and spices and rolled up into štrůdls, ready for the oven.  Here is how it works…

Baskets of crisp apples are washed, peeled, cored, and sliced.

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The egg dough is mixed up in large batches in the school kitchen

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and cut into fist-sized pieces.

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Here comes the hard part – rolling the dough out on a floured tea towel, spreading it into a sheet so uniform and thin that you can read your palm through it.

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The perfect, rectangular sheet is slathered with melted butter in preparation for the filling.

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Meanwhile, novices measure and mix the spices and sugar.

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Spices and sugar are sprinkled on the phyllo dough.

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Next the apples are added and spread out evenly.

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More sugar, cinnamon and bread crumbs are added…

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The corners are turned in…

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And, with the aid of the tea towel for support, the štrůdl is rolled up.

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Every step of the process is a team effort.

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These raw štrůdls are refrigerated and later baked to golden perfection in convection ovens at the high school.

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And of course, no great culinary creation would be complete without a man to serve it (and take credit for it).  These two gentlemen were cutting whole štrůdls into individual servings for this year’s Sunday Czech Dinner at St. John Neumann Grade School.  Each of the 120 štrůdls is sliced into 10-12 individual pieces. These stalwart gents are to be admired for their willpower; I sampled the štrůdls both at the Sunday dinner at the school and (to be fair) at the Presbyterian Church on Saturday – they were delicious!

Štrůdl-making looks easy, no?  For those of you who are ready to try it at home, here is the official recipe:

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In closing, I leave you with the old Czech proverb (which should be self-evident from the photos above):

Bez práce nejsou štrůdl.
Without work, there is no strudel.


After I posted this story, my old pal Darrell Podany alerted me to the fact that his aunt, Betty Dolezal, had demonstrated štrůdl-making at the annual Dolezal Family Reunion in August this year in Stanton.  Many of you recall that Betty and her late husband Paul Dolezal ran the Stop Inn Café in Clarkson from 1972-1993.  Betty made the štrůdls that were served at the Stop Inn during Czech Days in those years, and a lot of other delicious food as well.  Here’s how she does štrůdls:

Because of the length of the demonstration, it has been split into two parts.  Both parts have Betty’s recipe under the “Show More” tab.  Thanks to the Dolezal Clan!

Posted in Celebrations, The 21st Century | 11 Comments