My husband, Tom, is 100% Czech and since we live only 20 miles from Wilber, NE, the Czech Capital of the US, Czech Days are a big part of our family. Our involvement began when the Howells Hotshots were playing in the parade and we decided that we should attend and cheer them on. One of the members of the group was the father of a good friend. While we were there we also had the opportunity to see the Wilber Czech dancers, a group of children dressed in Czech folk costumes dancing the two-step. Tom immediately wanted to know how our girls could be involved, too. So the next summer we travelled to Wilber once a week so Sara and Melissa could learn to dance and perform at Czech Days.
Dancing with the Wilber Czech Dancers also meant that they needed Czech outfits, also known as kroj. The kroj that I made for the girls are considered Americanized, but represent Moravia, the area of the Czech Republic from which Tom's ancestors originated. Little did I know that the skills I learned when making my trick skirt in 4-H many years ago would come in handy for this project. All I had to do was add some braid, lace, and rick rack to the skirt. I found a pattern for a peasant blouse and made my own pattern for the apron. Lace and ribbon were added to the neck and sleeves of the blouse. The sleeves of the blouse and the apron were also embellished with embroidered flowers and Tom's Aunt Dorothy Benes was helpful in sharing the many patterns that she had. The vests were purchased at the Czech Craft Shop in Wilber as the front features grommets that are used to lace ribbon. The vest is accented with either red or gold braid which continues to the back to form a heart.
Over the 19 years that our girls danced with the Wilber Czech Dancers, several different outfits were made, handed down to the next daughter, and lace added to make the skirt longer. I made Lindsay's first kroj when she was 2-years-old, even though she did not dance until she was five. Melissa and Lindsay also wore their kroj as Little Sisters in the Miss Czech-Slovak US National Pageant.
In May, Lindsay was crowned Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa Runner-up. She was able to compete in Iowa because she is a student a Loras College in Dubuque. As a result, she has been promoting her heritage this summer in Iowa and Nebraska. She attended Houby Days in Cedar Rapids, IA in May, the Clarkson Czech Festival in June, the Dwight Czech Festival in July, and will be at Wilber Czech Days this weekend. For her Queen Kroj, I added more lace and ribbon to her outfit in addition to a pocket on the front of her skirt. We also made a new head piece with flowers and ribbons. This specific head piece indicates that Lindsay is unmarried.
We have been to many Czech festivals over the years, but never see as many costumes as we do each year in Wilber. Young and old are dressed in kroj, including all members of the Wilber High School Band and the 100+ members of the Alumni Band. So come to Wilber this weekend and "czech" out the many sights and sounds of the festival. You'll be tapping your toes for days!!