By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
An estimated 50,000 people are expected to converge on Yukon two weeks from today for an epic celebration of Czech heritage.
The 54th Annual Oklahoma Czech Festival will be Saturday, Oct. 5 in Yukon – the official “Czech Capital of Oklahoma.”
Czech Day crowds are typically thick.
“You can’t walk through the craft booths or get through the building half the time,” said Marjorie Jezek, in her 14th year as Oklahoma Czechs, Inc.’s president.
“This festival brings people back to their roots. They come back that day for family reunions and to see everyone, year after year.”
Festival goers come from all around to enjoy Yukon’s Czech Day.
“People from out-of-state and other towns show up just to come see family and friends,” said Jezek, who wears many hats as president of the Czech organization.
This is her 17th year as festival chairwoman. It’s also her eighth year as parade coordinator and 19th year in charge of the craft booths.
There already are more than 100 entries for the traditional 10 a.m. parade on Yukon’s Main Street. This year’s parade grand marshal is Elaine Benda, who chairs the Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers and coordinates the festival-day program at the Czech Building.
More than 200 vendors will sell their wares at craft booths outside the Czech Building at Fifth and Cedar. The building – one block north of Main Street – is the festival “hub.”
After the parade ends, the Czech, Slovak and United States national anthems will be performed. Both Jezek and Yukon’s mayor will address the audience.
There will be dancing and live music throughout the day with authentic Czech meals served under the “big tent.” Featured musicians will be the Bohemian Knights and Masopust Polka Band.
The 2019-20 Oklahoma Czech-Slovak Royalty and parade winners will be announced during a ceremony that starts around 4 p.m.
Sixteen candidates are competing for Oklahoma Czech-Slovak Royalty. The pageant will be the previous Sunday, Sept. 29 at Yukon Czech Hall, 205 N Czech Hall Road, but winners won’t be crowned until Czech Day.
“We have one queen-elect, four junior queen, four prince, and seven princess contestants,” Jezek said.
Czech Festival activities will kick off Sunday, Sept. 29 with an annual 10 a.m. Czech Mass at St. John Nepomuk Catholic Church, 600 S Garth Brooks Blvd.
FOOD, CARNIVAL, BALL
A great variety of tasty food is a staple of Yukon’s Czech Day.
Inside the Czech Building, festival goers on Oct. 5 will buy kolache (individual and by the half-dozen) and klobasy sandwiches, along with Czech souvenirs.
The Czech Building is already filled with those tasty treat-filled pastries ready for distribution to the masses.
“We’ve got close to 2,500 dozen kolaches in the freezer,” Jezek said. “And it will be around 1,800 pounds of klobasy.”
Kolaches will be sold individually and by the half-dozen.
Meanwhile, concession booths will line Fifth Street north and south of Route 66 throughout the festival day.
“We usually have around 30 food vendors right there at the corner of Main and Fifth,” Jezek said.
They will be selling Indian tacos, funnel cakes, turkey legs, roasted corn, brisket sandwiches, smoked sausage, and more.
The carnival at Third and Elm is another Czech Day staple. It will be open from 5-10 p.m. Friday and then all day Saturday during the festival. Wristbands are $25.
Yukon’s Czech Day will conclude on Saturday night with a popular dance at Yukon Czech Hall. The highlight will be the coronation ball for newly crowned Czech royalty starting at 8 p.m.
The Oklahoma Czech Festival had its beginning in October 1966, when the lodges of Yukon Czech Hall, WFLA Lodge #67 and Sokol Lodge Karel Havlicek, sponsored a festival to celebrate the City of Yukon’s 75th anniversary.
After the successful first festival, a group from both lodges under the leadership of John Kouba, Ralph Stejskal, and Hubert Smrcka decided to make the festival an annual event.
Oklahoma Czechs, Inc. was formed to administer the affairs of the festival. The group decided to hold the festival annually in Yukon on the first Saturday of October.
The goal and purpose of the Oklahoma Czech Festival is the preservation and sharing of the old Czech customs so dear to the people of Czech descent.
These customs, including recipes, kroje, songs, and dances, have been handed down from generation to generation. Today, Oklahoma Czechs, Inc. continues to strive to preserve the precious traditions their ancestors gave them.
The Oklahoma Czechs’ longtime president and pageant coordinator gets help from other Oklahoma Czechs members to plan and present the annual festivities.
“The ones that do volunteer work very hard,” Jezek said. “We have a good, loyal group.”