By Mindy Ragan Wood
A new generation of Oklahoma Czech Royalty appeared on stage in their cultural dress and demonstrated their knowledge of Czech history during Sunday’s pageant at Czech Hall.
Pageant winners are kept secret until the big reveal Saturday afternoon during the festival, but two were no secret. Winners will be crowned tonight.
The new Oklahoma Czeck-Slovak Queen-Elect, Jerusha Brown, of Oklahoma City, and new Prince-Elect, Garrett Vause, of Tulsa, competed unopposed on Sunday. They will receive their official title and crown Saturday night.
The Junior Queen title drew six girls between ages 12 to 14 and the Princess title drew three hopefuls ages five to 10.
Each contestant is expected to research the history of their family and the Czech Republic and put together a kroj, the cultural clothing that reflects their heritage.
The history is sometimes tragic, but the pain of the past was a lesson of inspiration for Junior Queen contestant Kinzey Shirazi.
During a question and answer session, the 14-year-old teen from Edmond was asked to tell the audience where in the Czech Republic she wanted to visit if she had the chance.
“It would be the old Jewish Quarter in Prague, Josefov. Josefov was the remains of the Jewish Ghetto from World War II. Before the war, Czechoslovakia was home to the most Jewish people in Europe,” she said.
Despite Hitler’s plan to destroy all the Jews, Shirazi said Czech Jews refused to give up.
“Luckily, from this tragedy there is something resembling the strength and power of the Czechoslovakian people in their time of hardship…not only did they persevere during this terrible time, but they stood united and did not let it take away their traditions or culture,” she said.
Contestants were judged on the designs and history of their kroj. Junior Queen contestant Jayden Mason chose to wear a petticoat imported from the Czech Republic under her dress and showcased antique glass beads from the old country.
Fellow contestant Aspen Hein wore a bonnet and an embroidered scarf with fringed edges which was considered to be traditional. It was common to see contestants wearing pieces from their ancestor’s kroj such as ribbons and roses, but Lauren Varnell chose to wear her mother’s kroj that she debuted 24 years ago.
Several aspects of the clothing, from the floral designs glittering on their vests to the type of lace and other embellishments, were indicative of the village from which their family lineage could be traced.
As the audience and judges watched the contestants parade their kroj and cultural knowledge, the final contestant Czech Queen-Elect Jerusha Brown enthralled the audience with her vocal performance. The queen contestant is the only title that requires a show of talent.
Brown demonstrated her detailed knowledge of her family’s past in Bohemia and Moravia. When she was asked which ancestors she would like to meet, she answered her great-great grandfather.
“He was the ancestor who came to this country first. He came to the country in a rather interesting way. He was a stowaway on a boat when he was a very, very young man. He found favor with the captain so when they made port in Galveston, Texas he found a host family and eventually moved to Oklahoma. I think what we would talk about would be why he moved to America and what he thinks of us today at Czech Hall,” she said.
Today’s Czechs carry on the tradition of celebrating culture and history and one among those in the audience was recognized for her decades long service to the Czech Hall and royalty pageant.
New pageant director Debbie Kessler recognized Janice Vanbrunt for her decades of service running the competition. Vanbrunt received an honorary title as Czech Queen complete with sparkling crown and satin sash.
“This year marks the 38th Oklahoma Czech-Slovak pageant that Janice has served on the pageant’s board…you have promoted our history and heritage for decades by keeping this pageant and our royalty going,” Kessler said. “You’ve touched their lives, contestant after contestant and you’ve influenced their personal growth. Many of you are contestants and are here to honor her today.”
Dozens of former contestants stood in recognition for her service.
“I could not have done this all without this wonderful committee,” Vanbrunt said. “Without all of you, I could not have this honor. Thank you.”