Happy Trinity Sunday! Please Pass the Horn Rolls

In the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, today is the Holy Trinity Sunday.  It is the day set aside to celebrate one of the most profound and mysterious Christian beliefs – that God is three persons in one nature, distinct but inseparable.  And this year, like every year, my mind wanders from the sermon to a much less mysterious celebration from my childhood – the annual Pout festivities at Holy Trinity Catholic Church at Heun.

I’ve written about this celebration at Heun before –  https://clarksonhistory.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/the-team/

so I won’t repeat the details of Heun Pout.  Except to say that people still remember coming from miles around for the good food and the chance to see old friends.  And the normally cool church basement, where the meals were served, became a steamy jungle-like atmosphere after many hours of crowds filing in to be served hot meals – chicken/ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, canned corn, jello salad with fruit cocktail, and boiled coffee.  On the tables were plates of horn rolls, sprinkled with poppy seeds and ready to be slathered with liberal amounts of home-churned butter (help yourself!).

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Pout was great fun for us kids – good food, lots of friends to run around with, games to play.  But our mothers, the dear church ladies, members of the Altar Society and Guild, worked for many days beforehand preparing the food and for long hours that day serving it.  Brother Ron remembers that Trinity Sunday was the only day that our Mother didn’t go to Mass with the rest of us, because she was downstairs from the early hours preparing for the dinner.

Heun ladies

Do you remember going to Heun Pout?  A lot of other churches had them as well, up until the 1960s or so.  St. Mary’s Church at Wilson and St. John Nepomucene in Howells had their pout celebrations.  Ss. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Clarkson had a pout in the basement of the Opera House, but it was later replaced by duck suppers and then soup suppers at Bishop Neumann school.

Probably no church celebrates pout anymore; these days, it would be hard to muster enough manpower (or more properly, womanpower) to carry it out.  But the fond memories linger on.  And if the terrible day comes when our cable TVs all go out, it is an idea worth re-considering.

Happy Trinity Sunday!

Posted in 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s | 2 Comments

Clarkson and the Great War: Part 5 – Our Honored Dead

Memorial Day has always been a special holiday in our town. The last Monday in May had been set aside to honor the soldiers who had died in the service of our country.  Formal services at the Clarkson Cemetery were marked by prayers, speeches, 3-volley rifle salutes by members of veterans organizations, and the sounding of Taps.  Families used the opportunity to make sure that the graves of their beloved dead were well-groomed and adorned with flowers – peonies, irises, lilacs.  Hence, the original name for the holiday – Decoration Day.  The practice continues to this day.

I will not have the privilege of attending the Memorial Day services in Clarkson, but from far away I will wrap up my series on the First World War by calling the roll of our Honored Dead.  The War Memorial in Clarkson lists the names of seven young men from the Clarkson area who gave their lives in World War I.

Emil Bartos  (May 9, 1891 – October 24, 1918)  He served in the American Expeditionary Force as a member of Medical Department Ambulance No. 25.  In the closing days of the war, Emil died from disease (probably the Spanish influenza that was sweeping through military camps and hospitals at that time).  He is buried alongside his parents in the Clarkson Cemetery.

Emil Bartos

WWI Ambulance

Alois (Louis) Cerv  (August 21, 1892 – February 1, 1919)

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Alois Cerv was the youngest of seven children born to Alois and Rozarie Nouzavsky Cerv.  He entered the U.S. Army on July 1, 1918 as a private, earning $33.00 a month.  In France, he served in Company C of the 4th Infantry Regiment, which fought in a number of battles, including the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives.  While on the front lines, Alois was exposed to poison gas (possibly mustard gas) which seriously weakened his lungs.  Although he was alive at the Armistice, he spent 2 months in a hospital suffering from bronchial pneumonia, from which he died on February 1, 1919.  (Of 116,708 American servicemen who died in WWI, 46% were battle deaths, and the remaining 54% died from other causes, mainly diseases including Spanish influenza, pneumonia, and tuberculosis).

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Imagine the grief of his family, as their boy slowly drifted away, far from them in a foreign land.  What follows is a series of letters written by Red Cross nurses and workers who helped care for him in his last days.  We don’t have the letters written (in Czech) by his mother, but the nurses’ words of comfort tell of the difficulty that Rozarie Cerv had in accepting the loss of her youngest.

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Louis Cerv is buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France.

Alois Cerv grave register

Albin Folda (December 19, 1894 – October 21, 1918)

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Corporal Albin Folda, of Clarkson, Nebraska, entered military service on April 27, 1918. He trained at Camp Funston (Fort Riley), Kansas and was assigned to Co. M, 355th Infantry Regiment, 89th Division. 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, he was struck in the head by a shell fragment, and was killed almost instantly. [We often think of WWI as a struggle between men and machine guns – infantrymen climbing out of trenches and battling their way through barbed wire, only to be mowed down by enemy machine guns.  In fact, unbelievable amounts of high explosive shells were expended throughout the war, and artillery bombardments accounted for two-thirds of the battlefield casualties in the First World War.]



Albin was the only son of Emil Folda, a prominent banker in Clarkson.  In those days, news traveled slowly, and Albin’s father and stepmother were not aware of his death for over a month.  Here are some excerpts from Emil Folda’s memoirs that tell of the tragic events that unfolded:

Nov. 11th (1918).  Armistice Day the greatest celebration ever held in the U.S.A. and the whole world – as the World War ended that day – I cabled to Albin but it never reached him as he was not among the living then.

Nov. 25th.  Rec’d two letters from Albin – one dated Oct. 11th & one 16th saying that he will be relieved Oct. 18th, so we were sure he was among the living – but next morning Nov. 26th came a telegram from the War Dept. at Washington that he was killed Oct. 21st.  Hear that Tobiska of Wilber wrote to his folks that Albin was killed.

Dec. 1st. by this time we had 50 letters from friends expressing condolence and later about 100 more came – the news went like wild fire.

Jan. 30th (1919) went to Schuyler to see Chris Haberman of Friend, Nebraska who was the first one we have seen that was with Albin when he was killed, and Mr. Haberman was wounded by the same shell.

… The year was a hard one on me on account of the loss of Albin and at times I felt very discouraged with everything, and had the blues real often.

Corporal Albin Folda is buried in Plot D, Row 45, Grave 5 in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France.  Some years after his death, his parents visited his grave in France.

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And they unfurled the American flag that was used at his funeral for the dedication of Clarkson’s War Memorial in 1926.

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Louis (Alois) Franek (January 27, 1891- August 1, 1918)  was assigned to Company C, 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Division.  The 32nd Division had been involved in many battles in France during much of 1918.  On August 1, 1918 the 127th Regiment and Franek’s 128th Regiment were ordered to take the German defensive position at Bellevue Farms and Hill 230, near the French village of Ourcq (Joint Commission 1920).  These objectives were important enemy defensive positions, and the Germans held on tenaciously with a “cunningly arranged machine gun defense.”  Sometime during that day, Louis Franek was killed in action.

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Private Alois Franek is buried in the Clarkson Cemetery alongside his parents.

Miloslav (Milo) Horak (? – October 14, 1918)  36th Company, 163 Dep. Brig. The eldest son of Joseph and Anna Horak, died of disease (probably Spanish influenza) in a southern camp.

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Joseph Kacin  (June 30, 1892 – October 10, 1918)

Josef (Joseph) Kacin was born in Hryzely, Bohemia and traveled to American with his parents Frantisek (Frank) Kacin and Aloisia (Louisa) Mocha Kacin and 5 siblings. They departed Bremen on May 14th, 1901 on the ship Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse and arrived in New York on May 2st, 1901.

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Joseph Kacin registered for the draft on June 5, 1917.  He was inducted into the U.S. Army and assigned to the 38th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division of the American Expeditionary Force.  Beginning in October 1918, they participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, one of the major battles carried out by the AEF to end the war.

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On October 9 and 10th, the 3rd Division slammed into the Hindenburg Line in an area just south of Cunel, in northeastern, France. The Hindenburg Line was a new German defensive system, characterized by massed steel and concrete, camouflaged blockhouses manned by multiple machine gun crews. Wherever possible, the blockhouses were positioned on the slopes of hills from which they could look down on attacking troops.  They were shielded by razor wire, and backed up by reserve defenders in trenches, mortars and artillery (Meyer 2006).  Plainly stated, Kacin’s advancing 3rd Division encountered a miles-deep killing zone.  Imagine how much courage it would take to leave your protective cover and begin that long, unprotected run toward the enemy defenders, into the sights of German machine guns.  All the training, physical strength, and brains in the world wouldn’t help you if you happened to be in the way of one of the many guns waiting for you.  In the battle to break through the Hindenburg Line, Joseph Kacin was gravely wounded, and died on October 10.


Joseph’s death on the Western Front sparked a second tragedy for the Kacin family.  When word was received in Clarkson that Pvt. Kacin had been killed in action, his brother Frank Jr. set out for his parents’ farm to inform them.  Because of snow, the roads were closed and he was forced to go on foot to the farm, 5 miles north of town.  As a result of his trek, Frank Jr. contracted pneumonia and died one month later, on November 19, 1918.  Years later, a relative wrote that the “double tragedy took much out of the lives of the families and nothing ever was the same.”

Joseph Kacin’s remains were repatriated to his adopted land in 1921, and he is buried alongside his parents and brother Frank in the Clarkson Cemetery.  Here are two subsequent stories from the Colfax County Press:

September 22, 1921 – Frank Kacin, father of Pvt. Jos. Kacin, whose body is now enroute to Clarkson from Hoboken, informs us this noon that the mortal remains are expected to reach here tomorrow afternoon, according to a telegram from the government. As stated by The Press numerous times, the young man lost his life while serving under the American colors in France. He first was interred in the Argonne-American cemetery in France besides his fallen comrades from where he is now being transferred to Clarkson on request of the parents. Joe took active part in warfare on the western battlefront, having participated in several fierce engagements in the Argonne region where he was inflicted with serious gun wounds in the abdomen and died in a base hospital several days after the fatal conflict, on October 10, 1918.
He proved a gallant soldier and did his duty as a hero. His military career was of a high standing but of short duration. In the early months of war he was drafted with thousands of other young men from Bonesteel, South Dakota, where he had been employed at the time of conscription. He was hurried off to camp and after a few weeks of training found himself in the thick of the fighting on the western battlefield. At the time of his death he was twenty-eight years of age, having been born in Bohemia. Besides the bereaved parents he is survived by three brothers, James, Anton and Alois, and four sisters-Mrs. Frank Kafka, Anna, Tillie and Helen. Burial will be made in the Clarkson cemetery on Sunday afternoon, the services to be conducted in military style by the American Legion.

September 28, 1921 – Word was received from the war department at Washington by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kacin of this city that the body of their son, Private Jos. Kacin, who made his last heroic stand on the western battlefield, was on its way here for burial. The message in addition mentioned that the remains of the young man were to arrive in New York by the end of the week, upon arrival here they will be turned over to the American Legion who will have charge of the services. Private Jos. Kacin was one of the six Clarkson boys to have lost his life in actual fighting in France, having died a hero for the cause of his country.

While coming to Clarkson Sunday afternoon to attend the funeral of his brother-in-law, Pvt. Jos. Kacin, Frank Kafka and his family of near Leigh, narrowly escaped fatal injury when their automobile ran off the embankment on the cross road three miles west of Clarkson and came to an abrupt stop by striking a large tree at the foot of the bank.

The circumstances surrounding the accident are to the effect that the road was obstructed by two automobiles, one turning into the road from the north, and the other coming from the east down the decline next to the C.O. Brown farm. Traveling at a fair rate of speed, Mr. Kafka in trying to avert a collision with either one of the cars, turning his machine to the extreme left side of the road and as he could not gain control of his auto in time, the vehicle landed directly on a large tree. The occupants of the car escaped with only minor injury, Mrs. Kafka having sustained several contusions in the face from the broken windshield. The car, however, was quite badly damaged.

One of the very largest attendances ever witnessed at a funeral in Clarkson was seen here Sunday at the burial of Pvt. Jos. Kacin, whose remains were brought here from France. The body was escorted to the resting place by several hundred people including members of the American Legion from Clarkson, Schuyler, Howells, and Leigh, the last two posts being represented only by a small number. The procession was led by the Clarkson band.

Joseph Toman (February 11, 1889 – May 12, 1918). Private,  1st Infantry Regiment. 13th Division.  From the May 23, 1918 issue of the Colfax County Press: The first Clarkson boy to die while in the service of his country was Joseph Toman, who was drowned on the 12th of this month. His mother, Mrs. Mary Toman received word of his death from the War Department in Washington. The cablegram stated that Joseph Toman, private, Company 1, 1st Infantry, was drowned on the 12th instant at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The body was recovered. The deceased is survived by two brothers, one serving in the U.S. army, three sisters and the mother.

Joseph Toman

Private Joseph Toman is buried in the Clarkson Cemetery.

Emil Vitek (May 19, 1895 – July 23, 1918)  Like Albin Folda, he trained at Camp Funston, Kansas before being shipped overseas as a Private in Company C, 4th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division.

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One of his letters to the folks back home (A.J. Karel) has been preserved in the Clarkson Museum.

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Emil Vitek’s outfit endured terrific fighting in the last few months of the war.  The regiment disembarked at Brest, France and was immediately sent to various French training centers to receive combat training from veteran French instructors. German offensive operations cut short this training and the entire 3rd division was transported by rail to the front.  The 4th Infantry was bloodied in the following battles: Aisne, Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Champagne 1918, Ainse/Marne Defensive, Marne Offensive. When the war ended the 4th Infantry had lost 398 Officers and men.

Emil Vitek is buried in Plot A Row 18 Grave 37, Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Fere-en-Tardenois, France.

Vitek Cemetery

There are two men are not listed on the rolls of Clarkson men who died in the Great War, but whose lives were shortened by their service.

Fred Houfek (Febuary 17, 1898 – June 1920).  From the June 19, 1920 issue of the Colfax County Press:  Fred Houfek, veteran of the late war and a young farmer of near Schuyler, took his life Friday by shooting himself. The motive which led to the ending of his life is said to have been failing health since the time of his return from France. He had been gassed while going over the top in the Argonne sector.  He was born in Colfax County, February 17, 1898 and was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Houfek. Besides his parents, he is survived by five brothers and three sisters.

(I cannot find any service records or draft registration for Fred Houfek, but family lore suggests that he had poor eyesight or was blind in one eye.  My guess is that he was rejected for service in the U.S. Army and, like Jaroslav Holas, volunteered to serve in the French Foreign Legion. https://clarksonhistory.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/clarkson-and-the-great-war-part-4-freedom-fighter/ )

Suicides among returned veterans were not uncommon after the Great War.  Many came back maimed or chronically ill and had difficulty picking up their lives again.  Some of the men who came back from the war had no physical injuries, but they couldn’t forget the things they saw and had to do, and they despaired of ever having a happy life again.  Now we call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  In those days, sympathetic coroners often marked the cause of death as “Died of Wounds.”

Frank ZelendaFrom March 5, 1931 Colfax County Press – After suffering for a period of several years, Frank Zelenda, an ex-service man and a former Clarkson boy, made his supreme sacrifice at the Veterans Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he had been a patient for a long time. Word of his demise reached Clarkson relatives. He died at the age of 39 years, 8 months and 8 days.
The deceased was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the 19th day of June, 1891, and when a small boy he came to this community with his parents. The family located on a farm in Stanton County and after losing both of his parents, Frank came to Clarkson and made his home here for many years.
Shortly after America declared war on Germany, Frank joined a group of Clarkson volunteers and entered Uncle Sam’s fighting forces. He left Clarkson on May 3, 1917, with the first contingent of volunteers and remained in service for almost three years.
He returned to Clarkson in the fall of 1919, after having served in the Philippine and Hawaiian Islands. His health had been greatly impaired and he was unable to find relief for his illness.
In 1925, he was admitted to a Veterans hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, where death ended his suffering.
The remains were brought to Clarkson and interment was made in the local cemetery. The rites were conducted from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Zelenda, with services at the New Zion Church conducted by Rev. Filipi.
The deceased is survived by three brothers, Joseph Zelenda of Schuyler, Edward and Leo Zelenda of Clarkson; two sisters, Mrs. Anton Makovsky of Buhl, Idaho, and Mrs. W.H. Roether of Schuyler.

The Great War, The War to End All Wars, was fought a century ago.  Since then, Clarkson has sent many more young men to battlegrounds all over the globe, and many of them didn’t return.  On this Memorial Day, it is good to ponder the words on a war monument in Portland, Maine:

Honor and Grateful Remembrance to the Dead

Equal Honor to Those Who, Daring to Die, Survived

Acknowledgements – Many thanks to Marlene Cerv Sellers for information about Alois Cerv, to Adam Cerv for information about Albin Folda, to Tracy Clark Brown and Anita Kacin for information about Joseph Kacin, and to the Clarkson Museum for their excellent display of memorabilia from our veterans.

References – 

Meyer, G.J.  2006.  A World Undone. The Story of the Great War 1914 to 1918.  Bantam Dell, Random House, Inc.  New York, NY.  777 p.

Joint War History Commission of Michigan and Wisconsin.  1920.  The 32nd Division in the World War 1917-1919.

Posted in 1910s, 1920s | 8 Comments

A Bridge over Troubled Waters

I’ve been away a while, and have not had an opportunity to work up any stories from Our Town.  But I came across this compelling photograph in the Clarkson Museum, and I am hoping someone can shed some light on it.

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Can you guess the subject of this unlabeled photo?  I am almost certain I know what it is, and I also have a pretty good hunch where it happened.

I’ve enlarged the images of the men in the photo, in case someone can identify them. Notice that the three on the left are wearing identical overalls.

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Don’t waste any time sending in your answer!  The first person to identify the photo will win a delicious cheeseburger and gems dinner from the Purple Palace Drive-In!

While you are thinking about the photo, enjoy a couple of hair-raising, related stories from bygone days:

From the June 2, 1921 issue of the Colfax County Press –

While returning to Clarkson from a dance at the B.F. Jaroska farm nine miles north of town, Saturday evening, Emil Pavlis and Paul Havel, young Stanton county farmers, came near losing their lives in a terrible automobile accident. Driving along at a fair rate of speed in a large Nash touring car, the young men endured a race with a party of boys also returning from the dance and as both cars were powerful machines, the drivers experienced no difficulty in increasing the mileage and realizing a terrific velocity. As Messrs. Pavlis and Havel were about to approach the bridge near the Frank Brabec farm, five and a half miles north of Clarkson, they struck the railing of the bridge and landed directly in the creek. The other party with whom the boys were supposed to have been racing after, seeing the car had disappeared, went back, and by raising the over-turned car, rescued Mr. Havel from his perilous situation. Those who witnessed the accident regard it as a miracle that the boys escaped death or much more severe injury and both may consider themselves lucky that they are among the living. The car was badly wrecked and to bring it back into its former state will require an expenditure of several hundred dollars.

From the April 7, 1921 issue of the Colfax County Press –

Last week we no more than finished telling our readers of the automobile accident in Howells when it was reported that a much more costly and horrible accident occurred at the large bridge spanning Maple Creek on the east boundary of Clarkson, on the road more commonly known as the Fremont-Albion highway. It may be said frankly that this adventure as far as known to us, is the only one of its kind happening in this part of the country.
After the close of the day’s work, Edward Zelenda and Jos. Vacin both employed at Prazak Motor Co.’s garage, decided to go to Howells to see the remains of the automobile wreck which occurred there on Tuesday of last week, and while returning in a large Nash touring car, owned by Mr. Zelenda, they were suddenly overtaken on the road by Rudolph Nagengast, son of Albert Nagengast of near Howells, who endeavored to pass their car at the foot of the bridge. In doing so the young man overestimated the distance to the approach and instead of passing the car he squarely struck the bow of the bridge, completely knocking off the structure upon which the bridge was suspended. Traveling at a terrific speed, the car upon colliding with the bridge, turned completely around in a right about direction and was faced to the east. In this act it is understood that the vehicle in making the turn must have also struck the north side of the bow and by breaking off the principle supports, the bridge collapsed.
Luckily, Mr. Zelenda’s car succeeded in getting across before the bridge was destroyed and landed forcibly on an embankment a short distance west of the bridge, both occupants escaping injury. Hearing the terrible noise that followed the crash, both of the boys were stunned with fright but soon revived from the shock and ran to a neighbor’s house from where they called for help.
In the meanwhile the noise of the falling iron and timber was heard all over town and soon scores of cars and multitudes of people were seen hurrying to the bridge to witness the accident.
Upon striking the suspension of the bridge, Nagengast was thrown from his seat and hurled through the air to a distance of several yards, landing in the mire a short ways from the fallen bridge, where he was soon found in an unconscious condition. He was hurriedly taken to Dr. Knight’s office rooms where he was given first aid. An examination later revealed that his injury was not dangerous and upon recommendation of the physician, the injured man was taken to the home of his parents that very same evening.
Nagengast’s auto, a powerful 8-cylinder Willys-Knight touring car, is a total wreck as the result of the accident and beyond repair, while the Nash car suffered only a broken axle and a badly smashed fender and running board, caused by ramming the embankment.
In relating the story of how the collision happened, we are informed that Messrs. Zelenda and Vacin had the right-of-way, knowing nothing of being followed by a speeding automobile until but a short distance before the bridge when the attempt was made to pass them. It is alleged that the Nagengast car traveled at a velocity estimated fully at 50 miles an hour, striking the bridge.
As soon as the main trusses gave away the east portion of the bridge sank rapidly to a depth of about 10 feet, leaving the west side on its moorings in a semi-angle position of 75 degrees. Whether or not the county will make an effort to ascertain who the responsible party was or to attempt to collect the damages perpetrated on the taxpayers by the destruction of the bridge is not decided at this time.

Bridge over Maple Creek in Clarkson
The bridge was erected only a few years ago and upheld heavy traffic of all kinds since its erection without any harm to the structure. It is another ill-fated story added to the rapidly growing list of accidents caused by speed demons of the country whose trail ends no sooner until death imposes its penalty.
The wreckage of the bridge is now being removed and will be replaced by new reinforced concrete bridge at a large cost. Before the completion of the bridge, traffic will be detoured a mile south and it is expected that the new bridge will be turned over to its cause in a course of a few weeks.

Posted in 1910s | 11 Comments

A.J. Karel & Family

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I call the mystery photos above “The Destruction of Karel and Suchy.”  They depict the August 13, 1967 demolition of a building that had stood on Clarkson’s main street since about 1892.  In its first decade, the wooden building housed a general merchandise store operated by Frank Najmon, a bakery owned by Christian Gross, a drug store owned by Joseph B. Mathauser, and a shoe repair shop owned by Anton Odvarka, Sr.  In 1902, Anton J. (AJ) Karel and Philip Suchy moved to Clarkson from Omaha and purchased the building from Frank Najmon.  Karel and Suchy opened up a general merchandise store that marked the beginning of a family business that would serve Clarkson for many years.

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Bill Karel, A.J. Karel (in back), unidentified woman, and Phillip Suchy (1903)

In 1904, AJ Karel bought out Mr. Suchy, and changed the name of the business in the little wooden building to A.J. Karel General Merchandise.  AJ raised his four sons (Richard, Adolph, Clyde, and William) in the retail trade.  By 1912, they had constructed a modern, two-story brick building to the north of the original wooden structure – groceries were sold out of the south (wooden) building and general merchandise in the north (brick) building.  An open archway connected the two stores.

AJ Karel and Sons 1912

In 1913 the Karels opened up a cream station in the back of the wooden building (you can make out the words Beatrice Creamery on the sign in front of the two upper windows).  The “warehouse” also housed a shoe repair shop (under the management of James Prokupec) and a coffee and peanut roasting machine (under the management of Clyde Karel).  “When the roasting machine would start up everyone in the village knew this from the wonderful aroma spread over the town.  This was especially true of the wonderful jumbo Virginia peanut aroma.  After every roasting the sidewalks were covered with peanut shells and to this day are remembered and wanted by our customers.  Mr. Karel bought his first shipments of peanuts by the ton, and when they arrived at the railroad station the train crew asked who went crazy in this town.” (Clarkson Diamond Jubilee book, 1961)

AJ Karel and Sons 1913

By 1922 the boys were ready to take on their own business.  Richard and Adolph Karel purchased a store in Pilger, and Clyde and Bill remained at the Clarkson store.  AJ’s daughters Ida, Alice, Mary and Elma all worked in the store, as did their children.  At about this time the business was renamed A.J. Karel and Sons, the name by which it would known for many years (and can still be seen faintly painted on the larger, brick building).  Later, the name would be shortened to Karel’s Store – the way most of us referred to it.

AJ Bill and Clyde Karel

On November 11, 1920 the Colfax County Press helped promote the business with this story:

After five years of patiently waiting, our leading general merchandise firm, A. J. Karel & Sons, succeeded in re-employing the services of Mr. Old Man Dollar, who is again faithfully performing his full duty at their store. This store has tried to bring the prices back to somewhere near the pre-war basis and have succeeded in doing so to a greater extent. It is now up to you to visit their place of business and see for yourself what Old Man Dollar will do for you. Old Man Dollar specials at Karel & Sons store were: Men’s Barn Yard brand shoes, $5.90. Heavy weight blue denim overalls, $2.00. 27 inch wide ginghams, 35c yard. 36 inch percales, 30c yard. Pretty all-wool 70×80 novelty plaid blankets, $15.00. Sugar, fine granulated cane, 100 pounds $12.50. They posted a quarter page ad in The Colfax County Press for winter eating apples: Extra fancy Jonathans, Extra fancy Winesaps, Extra fancy Winter Pearmains and Extra fancy Winter Bananas, $3.25 per box.

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Bill Adolph AJ and Clyde Karel

Karel’s Store was an interesting place, jam-packed with general merchandise – shoes, ready to wear clothing, bolts of fabric, dress patterns, sewing supplies, hankies, dress and work gloves, Key and Osh Kosh overalls, pipes, cigarette papers and tins of Prince Albert tobacco – anything the farmer and villager might need.  The little wood-floored grocery store was similarly cluttered with canned, packaged, and fresh food.  A good indication of the many and varied activities that took place in that building can be found in the Clarkson Centennial Book (1986):

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I always thought that one of nicest things about the Clarkson grocery stores was the free home delivery service.  I was visiting my grandmother in town one summer day when a high-school-age delivery boy came to the back door with the order she had previously phoned in.  Coming from a farm, where you had to drive into town for everything except gasoline and mail, it struck me as a marvelous innovation.

Dennis Houfek was one of the delivery boys for Karel’s store.  He shared his memories of that job: “Karel’s Store made deliveries every day except Sunday, when the store was closed, of course. During the three months of summer vacation, I delivered six days a week; Monday through Saturday. During the school months, Vrby delivered Monday through Friday; I delivered on Saturday.  Home delivery was performed without charge. Tips, however, were a different matter.  Never received cash.  But since it was Saturday morning when all the babicky were doing the weekly baking I often scored heavily with kolace, buchty and cinnamon rolls hot from the oven.  I often had to stash the goodies in the glove box of the delivery van, not being able to eat the entire haul immediately.  Even had trouble getting the glove box closed a time or two.  Now if that wasn’t a tip I don’t know what you would call it.  Bohemians having a reputation for frugality, I never expected a cash tip from them.  It’s possible they thought they were giving me something that far exceeded its monetary value.  And they were right.”

At some point they had to start charging 15 cents or a quarter for deliveries to begin to cover their costs.  There was some unhappiness about it; that may have been significant sum for many of the retirees.  But they admitted that the grocery stores had to make a living, too.

On June 7, 1967 Bill Karel, his youngest daughter Betty, and her husband Lumir (Vrby) Vrbicky bought out Clyde Karel’s share of the business. Later that summer they had the old wooden structure demolished and replaced it with a new brick structure.  In 1968 Betty and Vrby bought out Bill’s share, and continued the business for a third generation.


(for the disoriented, the brick building built in 1912 now houses the Brass Rail, and the smaller brick structure immediately to the right was built by Betty and Vrby in 1967 on the site of the original Karel and Suchy store; it is also part of the Brass Rail)

A business that lasted as long as Karel’s Store had many employees.  In 1961 they made a noble attempt to list them all up to that point, 75 in number:

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And of course there were many more employees since then.

Addendum:  Avis Studnicka Heithoff began working at Karel’s in 1956.  She shared her fond memories of the business and its people:

“In 1956, I was a sophomore at CHS when Bill Karel, President of the Clarkson School Board asked my father if he would let me come work at his store. Well, as you know teens did not have jobs in those days, so my father more or less considered this an honor. So whether I wanted the job or not, it was assumed that I went to work at Karel’s. I had to kinda be careful with Social Security as I was not 16 yet so Bill was always concerned that he would get caught. In September of the year, I turned 16 and ended up working there every Saturday, every holiday break, every summer anytime I was free. We would start at 8 AM and work until 11 PM on Saturdays as that was the day that the farm women bought their big grocery supplies. We had to write each item in a tablet or itemize each thing they bought so did a lot of writing. Imagine doing an order of several hundreds of dollars back then. I didn’t mind until it came to a customer buying a mouse trap or two. I cannot go there. So I would hand my customer a small sack and tell her to put the traps in the sack and then move on. By 11 PM, my feet were dead or numb or whatever. I would go home and my mother would have a dishpan of hot water waiting for me to soak my feet in. All of my friends and classmates were having fun at a dance in Howells or wherever and I missed all of this for over 2 years. I loved working for the Karel’s………….Bill, Clyde, Vrby, and Joe Makousky were the nicest and most respected men I have known. In some ways they molded my life. I worked with Vera Balzer, Helen Tomasek, and don’t remember any other girls. In 1958, I graduated and Bill was so very supportive of me going to Nurses training as he had a daughter that was an RN and that meant a lot to him. I don’t remember my wages and I wish I did, but it must have been peanuts in those days. I remember I had something like $400 some dollars in my savings acct. to pay for my first semester of nurses training so that tells you that my hourly wage was very minimal after 2 1/2 years. My hourly wage as a graduate RN was $2.00 an hour at the Schuyler Hospital in 1961. So if an RN was only worth 2 dollars, a clerk in a grocery store sure didn’t earn mucho bucks. I loved working for the Karel’s boys and I am sure this experience made me who I have become. I loved them all. I only wish I could tell them now how I feel about them, but as we know it is too late. Life goes on. I would like to add that in those days, one was never idle at the store……it you had nothing to do you made bows for gifts, you cut yeast into 6 squares and wrapped it in paper, you got a box of cookies out of the warehouse and bagged them a pound at a time, same with many of the grocery items. Groceries did not come prepackaged like they do today……we girls did all of that. And we thought nothing of it. I may add that my daughter bought me a Karel’s bowl after the store was no longer as she felt I should have a something special after Bill and Clyde as a memory. I treasure the bowl. God bless these dear people in my young life.”

We have a couple of winners from last week’s quiz – Jeff Beiermann correctly identified the building that was being demolished, and Tony Dusatko seconded his opinion.  Good job, gents!

Posted in 1890s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Businesses | 5 Comments

Bohemian Urban Renewal

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It’s time for another fun quiz.  These two pictures were taken on August 13, 1967.  Who can tell me what is happening here?  The more you tell me about the building, how it was used over the years, etc. then the more points you will get toward free 3-day admission to the 2015 Clarkson Czech Days festival.

Pick up your pencils….  Get ready…..  BEGIN!

Posted in 1890s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, Businesses | 5 Comments

Clarkson and the Great War: Part 3 – The Home Front

While young men from the Clarkson area were going overseas, our local citizens busied themselves with activities intended to support the war effort and/or our local boys in uniform.  Here are some items from the Colfax County Press:

Christmas packages for Uncle Sam’s soldiers in France must be mailed by November 15 to insure delivery to the boys. This bulletin was received by postmaster G.A. Koza. (CC Press, October 17, 1917)

The World-Herald of Omaha requested Emil Folda to open a fund here for tobacco to be sent to the soldiers in France. $8.00 was collected. Those contributing were: Moore and Hobza $1.00, Frank Kubik 0.75, Fred Cosch .50, Jos. Gloser .50, John F. Pimper .60, A.J. Karel .60, Mary Bartak .40, Emil Folda $1.00, Jos. Mundil, Albin Folda, Adolph Filipi, R. Prokop and Stanley Kubik $2.65. (CC Press, October 25, 1917)

At meetings held by Howells and Clarkson businessmen, it was decided to close all business houses hereafter at 6:00 p.m. commencing January 1, 1918.  This is advocated by the State Council of Defense, and is done for the reason to save fuel and light during the period of war.  All places will close with the exception of restaurants, barber shops, drug store and soft drink emporiums.  In the summer time when heat and light will not be needed, it is quite likely that this rule will be changed. (CC Press, December 17, 1917)

A Red Cross program and dance will be held at the Clarkson Opera House on April 27, 1918. Miss Sarka Hrbkova of Lincoln will deliver an address in Bohemian entitled “Woman’s Part in the War.” “Under the Stars and Stripes,” under the direction of Miss Zdenka Sinkula, will be presented by the school pupils. (CC Press, April 18, 1918)

But the activities that undoubtedly raised the most dust were the drilling and maneuvering of Clarkson’s Home Guard.

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 Clarkson’s Home Guard marching in the Labor Day Parade in Schuyler, Nebraska  September 2, 1918

When the United States entered the Great War its standing army was not large enough to meet the challenge.  So all the states’ National Guard units were mobilized and federalized, and provided much of the manpower for the American Expeditionary Forces.  That left the states without organized forces for home defense, internal security, or disaster relief (Tulenko et al. 1981).  In the years leading up to the war, labor strikes in big cities had resulted in violent confrontations with police and national guardsmen.  There were real fears of German sabotage of factories and shipyards.  James Gerard, American Ambassador to Germany from 1913 to 1917, said in a speech “We must disappoint the Germans who have always believed that the German-Americans here would risk their property, their children’s future, and their own neck, and take up arms for the Kaiser. The Foreign Minister of Germany once said to me “your country does not dare do anything against Germany, because we have in your country 500,000 German reservists who will rise in arms against your government if you dare to make a move against Germany.” Well, I told him that that might be so, but that we had 500,001 lamp posts in this country, and that that was where the reservists would be hanging the day after they tried to rise.”

Although sabotage of shipyards was not a large issue in Nebraska, a very large proportion of our population was comprised of recent German immigrants.  In 1910, there were about 200,000 residents of German extraction in the state, the most populous ethnic group.  They were informed by 40 daily and weekly German language newspapers, many supporting the Central Powers (McKee 2010).   Most of these new citizens favored neutrality; at worst they supported their Fatherland in the war, and at best they were reluctant to speak out against their homeland, culture, and families back in Europe.  Anti-German feeling ran high across the nation; McKee (2010) lists some of the actions that were taken in Nebraska after the U.S. entered the war:

“In Nebraska, German ministers were suddenly forced to deliver sermons in English even though some congregations had no one who could understand them. Lincoln’s mayor ordered the visiting Minneapolis Symphony to play nothing by German composers, while Governor Neville organized a State Council of Defense, which saw every German as a potential threat and encouraged vigilantism.

As Nebraska moved solidly behind the war effort, yellow paint was splashed on the houses of some Germans and those who were considered war effort slackers. Eight NU professors were charged with a “lack of aggressive loyalty,” and two were asked to resign.

The Mockett Law, which required the teaching of German when requested by parents, was repealed, and suddenly it was illegal to teach German, German textbooks were burned in public bonfires and it became illegal to speak German with shopkeepers.

As anti-German sentiment peaked, German newspapers merged and withered while advertisers fled and German names were hastily Americanized. Lincoln’s German-American Bank became Continental National Bank, Schmidts became Smiths, Gov. Charles Dietrich’s German National Bank of Hastings became the Nebraska National Bank, while the town of Berlin became Otoe and Germantown in Seward County was renamed Garland for Ray Garland, who was killed in France in 1918.”

These fears of German sabotage and uprisings proved to be unfounded, but the states’ home defense forces (Home Guards) put citizens’ minds at ease and served other useful functions.

Tulenko et al. (1981) summarized the history of the Home Guards in the various states.  Many states had no Home Guards at all, or very small organizations of fewer than 1,000 men.  A handful of states had Home Guard forces in the neighborhood of 10,000 enlisted men and officers, for example, California, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Michigan.  But the state that really embraced the Home Guard concept was our own Nebraska.  By the end of the war, 60,000 Nebraskans had enlisted in the Home Guards and were organized into 390 companies.  These were by far the largest numbers in any of the 48 states. The level of training and organization varied considerably; some were well-armed and equipped, others not at all.  For example, some rifle and shotgun clubs quickly transformed themselves into Home Guards.  In 1917, Johnson County, Nebraska had 400 men of various ages organized into 5 companies.  Although they exhibited patriotic zeal, they were “ill-equipped, poorly trained, and inclined to act independently of one another.”

Clarkson took the Home Guard idea seriously.  As the following entry from the Diamond Jubilee book and museum pictures indicate, our Home Guard volunteers will well-trained and outfitted.  By War’s end, our village had 85 men in uniform.

Home Guard 1Home Guard 2Home Guard 3Home Guard 4

Clarkson’s Home Guard started out modestly, without uniforms or standardized weapons.  In fact, from the picture below it looks like they were training with wooden dummy rifles.

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It didn’t take long for them to get up to speed.  In the single year of their existence, the home guard acquired spiffy uniforms and Springfield rifles.

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They drilled, trained, and encamped…

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And found the time to pose for group photos in front of the Opera House.

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It appears that they even had a youth auxilliary unit.

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The Clarkson Diamond Jubilee book describes the reaction of our town to the announcement of an armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918:  “When the message of the wonderful allied victory came to Clarkson in the wee hours of Monday morning, November 11, 1918 the news was heralded by the chimes of bells and the shrill steam whistles from the Clarkson electric plant.  The citizens were awakened from their sound sleep and before daybreak Clarkson resembled a real metropolitan city and became delirious with joy.  Many people promenaded in the streets, singing and cheering from 5 AM to 10 PM.  Nothing like this had been witness for years.  A community program was held on the main street which was witnessed by people from near and far.  Business was suspended for the afternoon and schools were dismissed.”

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Clarkson’s Nebraska Home Guard unit disbanded soon after the Armistice, on December 26, 1918, and the men were honorably discharged from the Nebraska Home Guard soon after.  During its brief existence, the Home Guard eased people’s minds and stood ready to respond to natural disasters, much as the regular National Guard has done.  Its members helped the local citizenry during the Spanish Flu pandemic – no small task, and a dangerous one for young men because mortality rates were highest among adult between the ages of 20 and 50.  (The global epidemic reached Clarkson during the month of October 1918, and many deaths occurred.  All public gathering places were ordered closed for 12 days, and those who had the flu were ordered quarantined by the board of health.  Parties failing to report any new flu case to the board of health were subject to a fine of from $15 to $100.  The quarantine continued until November 11, 1918.)

Homecoming waitresses 1919

In time, the soldiers and sailors serving abroad returned home, most in the first half of 1919.  They were met with joyous festivities.  They came back to a village that had grown, and grown prosperous owing to the booming agricultural economy of the war years.  While they were gone, the citizens of Clarkson had voted in favor of bonds for the construction of a new coal-fired electric power plant and an extension of the water works.  Construction of the new Farmers Union Co-Op elevator commenced. The Great War was over, and the nation was stepping into the Roaring Twenties.

But a handful of them didn’t come back; they died overseas and never saw their homes and families again.  I’ll tell their stories next time.

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Clarkson Diamond Jubilee book – 1886-1961.

McKee, J. 2010.  Nebraska and Lincoln Germans During WWI.  Lincoln Journal Star, June 27, 2010.  http://journalstar.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/jim-mckee-nebraska-and-lincoln-germans-during-wwi/article_5a674bee-80bb-11df-9069-001cc4c03286.html

Tulenko, T., B. Chase, T.N. Dupuy, and G.P. Hayes.  1981.  U.S. Home Defense Forces Study. Prepared for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense.  Contract Number MDA903-80-C-0594. March 1981. 136 pages.

Posted in 1910s | 2 Comments

Centennial! A Pictorial Essay

I’m sick of winter, ice and snow, and sub-freezing temperatures.  Let’s talk about something warm.  Clarkson’s summer festivals are reliably warm, and our 1986 Centennial Celebration was Red Hot, in terms of both the heat index and excitement!  In June 1986 the average high temperature in Omaha, NE was 84.6°F, which was 0.9°F warmer than the long-term average. The hottest day in June 1986 was Thursday, June 26, the day before the Celebration started, when the temperature reached 93.9°F.

Having trouble remembering 1986?  Courtesy of The People History  ( http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1986.html ) here are some interesting statistics:

How Much things cost in 1986
Yearly Inflation Rate USA   1.91%
Year End Close Dow Jones Industrial Average 1895
Interest Rates Year End Federal Reserve 7.50%
Average Cost of New House $89,430
Median Price of Existing Home $80,300
Average Income per year $22,400.00
Average Monthly Rent $385.00
Average Price for new car $9,255.00
1 gallon of gas 89 cents
A Few More Examples
Casio Portable Color Television $249.99
Tandy 600 Portable Computer $1599.00
Jar Of Skippy Peanut butter $1.49
Potatoes 5 Lbs $1.00
Broccoli Lb 39 Cents
Bacon per pound $1.75
Plymouth Colt $4,999
Ford Mustang $7,452

 Popular Films

  • Top Gun
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • Platoon
  • The Karate Kid, Part II
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  • Aliens
  • Ruthless People
  • The Color of Money
  • The Money Pit

Popular Musicians

  • Billy Joel
  • Robert Palmer
  • Lionel Richie
  • Van Halen
  • The Police
  • Debbie Harry
  • Simply Red
  • Whitney Houston with ” the greatest love of all “
  • The Pretenders
  • Genesis
  • The Bangles with ” Walk Like an Egyptian “
  • Chris de Burgh
  • Madonna with ” Papa Don’t Preach “
  • Prince
  • Culture Club
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Pet Shop Boys

Popular TV Programs

  • Magnum, P.I.
  • Dynasty
  • Falcon Crest
  • Hill Street Blues
  • Cagney and Lacey
  • Cheers
  • Fame
  • Family Ties
  • Remington Steele
  • The A-Team
  • Highway to Heaven
  • Murder, She Wrote
  • The Cosby Show
  • Growing Pains
  • Neighbors

All those films, songs, and TV shows were all right, I suppose, but for REAL entertainment you don’t ever have to go any farther than Clarkson on the last weekend of June.  So put on your tank top and cutoffs, and join me on a trip down Memory Lane:

For the Centennial Celebration in 1986, Main Street (Pine Street, actually) filled up with carnivals, portable bleachers, and a covered stage:

My beautiful picture

There was an authentic Czechoslovakian trail ride:

My beautiful pictureMy beautiful picture A wide variety of musical entertainment (if you like polkas)…

My beautiful picture

Clarkson Centennial 1986_0015a Clarkson Centennial 1986_0036 
Clarkson Centennial 1986_0034aClarkson Centennial 1986_0032a And of course, The Big Parade

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My beautiful picture My beautiful pictureClarkson Centennial 1986_0030aClarkson Centennial 1986_0023aClarkson Centennial 1986_0021
My beautiful picture Clarkson Centennial 1986_0019 Clarkson Centennial 1986_0018a Clarkson Centennial 1986_0017a Clarkson Centennial 1986_0016a  Who was playing in the Frankie Charipar Trio that day?

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My beautiful picture My beautiful picture My beautiful picture My beautiful picture My beautiful pictureIf I’m reading the sign correctly on the wagon below, it says “The Jolly Blum’er”   Anybody know who they are?

My beautiful picture My beautiful picture The Clarkson High School Red Devils Marching Band took the field with great pride and verve…

My beautiful picture And they were followed by the Leigh High School Band, who didn’t feel like marching that day, I guess.

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Many of the neighboring towns and villages entered the parade to help us celebrate our first 100 years.  Here is the float from Richland:
My beautiful picture
My beautiful picture My beautiful picture

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The Stop Inn Cafe had a float that touted their Home Cooking…

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There were long lines outside the Opera House to get some delicious Czech meals, to see Czech crafts, and to watch the mysterious process by which kolaches are made…

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And finally, what Czech Celebration would be complete without a beer garden?  In 1986 a huge covered beer garden was set up in the school playground for a family/class reunion.

My beautiful picture Clarkson Centennial 1986_0026a Clarkson Centennial 1986_0025 Clarkson Centennial 1986_0024 Clarkson Centennial 1986_0027Were you there?  Looking for that certain face in the crowd?  I’ve cut the picture above into 3 pieces and blown them up to help you find yourself…

Centennial Beer Garden 1986 -1 Centennial Beer Garden 1986 -2 Centennial Beer Garden 1986 - 3

I feel warmer already, don’t you?  Thanks again to Sharon and Larry Steinberger for sharing the color photos taken by her father, Morris Odvarka.  See you in Clarkson for Czech Days 2015, June 26-28!  http://www.clarksonczechdays.com/

Posted in 1980s | 3 Comments