Czechs in Wilber, Nebraska host annual Czech festival


The weather may have taken a downturn in Prague to drizzling rain but one place they're hoping will hold out for beautiful conditions is Wilber, Nebraska, USA. This Friday will see the start of the town's annual Czech Festival, expected to draw thousands of visitors. For more than forty years the festival has celebrated the Czech heritage, showing off traditional folk costumes, polka music, and of course offering an opportunity for visitors to enjoy Czech cooking and beer. Earlier, Jan Velinger spoke to the festival's spokesman, John Fiala, on a line from Nebraska:

Wilber,  photo:
"Twenty-two percent of our population in Nebraska is Czech-Slovak. And, as a result this festival, which lasts three days, is very important to people in the Midwest, to carry on their culture and traditions. It involves music: many polka bands, also our parades are truly Czech-oriented. Last year our attendance was 50,000 over three days, with about 15-20,000 people each day."

JV: What are some of the traditional dishes that visitors of the festival will be able to enjoy?

"Everybody looks forward to pork with dumplings and sauerkraut, then there are the duck dinners as well as the 'kolache' (Czech pastry). The kolaches, by the way, usually number around twenty thousand dozen."

JV: No complaints about Czech food being heavy or anything like that?

"None whatsoever!"

JV: Would you say that the festival ultimately has helped 2nd or 3rd generation Czechs rediscover their roots?

"We feel that it serves that purpose. I know that with our national pageant [Miss Czech-Slovak USA] that the girls who compete learn more about themselves and their ancestry, and that helps them go out into the public as ambassadors for the Czechs and Slovaks."

One of the main sites visited during the festival will be the Wilber Hotel and there Jan spoke briefly with caterer Jana Nicholson, also of Czech heritage. She described her view on the festival as well as talked about the Wilber Hotel.

"It was built in 1895 so it's over a hundred years old. We try to keep it looking pretty much the way it was. You know, you have to do a few upgrades in this day and age and it's pretty much restored to the way it was then. And, there's a 'Czech' cellar is the rough wall and the bare ceiling, so it's kind of neat."

JV: What do you enjoy about the festival that is particularly 'Czech'?

"I think seeing the people that come to enjoy Czech days, and it's not just the young who come in for the beer gardens, but also older people come in to taste the food. I think it's the people: how much they enjoy what they're seeing."

JV: Do people talk a lot about former Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic? People who may be several generations down the line and have never been there?

"Yes, they do. Right here in our community we have people who go every year, or every other year, and come back and tell us what's new, what we should try and offer here if we can get it, and things like that. I've never been over there, but from what I know of our family history, it's amazing!

We had a gentleman here that was a musician from Czechoslovakia, and he said that if he had needed to, Wilber was the place he would retire, because it's so much like the where he's from."

Wilber, Nebraska's Czech Festival lasts through to Sunday so if you happen to be in the neighbourhood and are interested in trying Czech food in the US or seeing some of those events, including the Miss Czech-Slovak USA beauty pageant, why not drop by?