By Conrad Dudderar
Near-perfect fall weather highlighted Yukon’s Czech culture and heritage celebration.
Tens of thousands of people – from across Oklahoma, the United States and even other countries – massed in Yukon last Saturday, Oct. 7 for the 57th Annual Oklahoma Czech Festival.
Opening ceremony was noon outside the Czech Building, 5th and Cedar, which featured the singing of the U.S., Czech and Slovak national anthems.
Oklahoma Czechs, Inc. President Marjorie Jezek said the weather was great for this year’s festivities.
“Good afternoon!” Jezek told the assembly. “It’s not going to rain. It’s not windy. Everybody’s going to have a wonderful day!”
In her 18th year leading the Oklahoma Czechs, Jezek has been festival chair for 21 years and craft show chair for 23 years.
“I want to thank all of my volunteers for helping me this year,” she said. “If it wasn’t for all of them, this festival would never happen. I hope everybody enjoys themselves and comes back again next year.”
Several Yukon-area elected officials took turns addressing the audience.
“Welcome to Yukon … is this some kind of wonderful or what?” Yukon Mayor Shelli Selby asked festivalgoers. “I am so honored to host this every year here in the Czech capital of the world.”
Yukon has officially been proclaimed “The Czech Capital of Oklahoma” – to be precise.
“I hope that you have an amazing day,” Mayor Selby said. “I ordered up this weather special for today.
“You’re welcome. Enjoy it. Enjoy our people. If you’re not from here, come on back and see us soon!”
District 60 State Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, pointed out that Canadian County is the fastest-growing county in Oklahoma. She thanked everyone who came to celebrate the rich Czech history.
“Every year, we look so forward to hosting people from every state,” Baker said. “This morning, we have talked to people from Texas, Arkansas and Iowa. They come from as far as Scotland, Ireland and the Czech Republic for this festival. So, you’re in great company today.
“Enjoy your time and welcome to Yukon!”
District 43 State Rep. Jay Steagall, R-Yukon, thanked everyone who attended the festival.
“I want to say thanks to the mayor for ordering up this awesome weather,” Steagall said. “Could we have asked for a better day to celebrate our Czech heritage?”
District 18 State Sen. Jack Stewart, R-Yukon, told the audience that Oklahoma’s Czech Festival was started 57 years ago as a day to recognize Yukon’s 75th birthday.
“It was such a success in 1966 that they said they just couldn’t let it die,” Stewart said. “Now it’s the first Saturday of every October.”
Yukon Czech Day is a “great time for the whole town to come out and get together,” he added.
The Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers, directed by Elaine Benda, performed authentic Czech, Bohemian and Moravian folk dancing and singing throughout the day “under the tent” at the Czech Building.
Music was provided by the Bohemian Knights and Masopust Polka Band.
Inside the Czech Building, festival attendees bought Czech souvenirs, kolache pastries and klobasy sandwiches.
The Czech Fest craft show featured 168 vendors in front of the Czech Building, the “festival hub.” Several dozen food booths lined 5th Street both north and south of Main.
Other highlights included a carnival in Old Mill Plaza, more than 60 vendors booths along “Yukon Chamber row” on 4th Street and royalty crowning.
Some 108 entries were featured in the traditional Oklahoma Czech Festival parade on Main Street.
Parade judges Gloria Olvera, Rob O’Hara and Susan O’Hara decided the winners in three categories:
First Place – Canadian Valley Christian Academy
Second Place – Jurassic Pack 395
Third Place – St. John Catholic School
First Place – Patriot Garage
Second Place – Jewelry Closet
Third Place – Conquest Martial Arts
First Place – Central Oklahoma Ballet
Second Place – Youth & Family Services
Third Place – Oklahoma Bikes for Kids
The Czech Fest parade’s theme was Jurassic Park, in honor of the late Gary Olvera – brother of parade chair Jaime Olvera.
The 2023-24 Oklahoma Czech-Slovak Royalty winners were announced to conclude Saturday afternoon’s program at the Czech Building.
Thirteen contestants were judged during the Oct. 1st royalty pageant.
“All of these contestants have shown courage, grace, intellect, and a love for our Czech-Slovak heritage,” pageant emcee Jerusha Smith said. “Please help us celebrate each and every one of these contestants with pure enthusiasm and appreciation for their efforts in keeping our heritage strong.”
Crowned as the 2023-24 Oklahoma Czech-Slovak Royalty were:
- Queen Aspen Hein, 17, of Yukon.
- Junior Queen Sophie Gering, 13, of Oklahoma City.
- Prince Elliott Gering, 10, of Oklahoma City.
- Princess Emma Fraser, 9, of Edmond.
They will represent Oklahoma Czechs, Inc. during many festivals, parades and other special events over the next 12 months. Among them is the annual Czech Christmas Market this December in Yukon.
A royalty coronation ball followed Saturday night at historic Yukon Czech Hall, 205 N Czech Hall Road. The Bohemian Knights and Masopust Polka Band performed as the audience danced the evening away.