WILSON – It was Bořek Lizec’s first visit to Wilson, the Czech Capitol of Kansas on a cold, gray, blustery Friday. The Chicago-based consul general of the Czech Republic was impressed with what he saw in the small Ellsworth County community of about 700.
“I love it,” said Lizec, who was joined by a small entourage that included a fellow diplomat from Kansas City and his mother. “There are just so many things to see, so many landmarks.”
But, there was more than sightseeing. “I’ve met many great people here. They have been very nice and generous towards me.”
Lizec, who answers directly to the Czechoslovakian ambassador, contacted Wilson officials last week with the news he planned to make the trip. It caught folks off guard, but they scurried and arranged an afternoon and evening packed with events showcasing the community’s heritage.
There was a series of tours, demonstrations of Czech customs and crafts, a meal for the visiting dignitary and a trip to a polka dance in Holyrood.
“I am very surprised by all this,” Lizec said, speaking in a thick Czech accent. “I very much appreciate all the work.”
Wilson falls under the Czech Consulate of Chicago’s jurisdiction, he said. “I am trying the best I can to visit all the Czech centers in the area.”
There is a reason for the timing, he said. “We are celebrating 100 years of Czechoslovakian statehood.”
Independence came in 1918 at the closing days of World War I when the Austro-Hungarian Empire crumbled. It marked the first time since 1620 that Bohemia was not under foreign rule.
The only interruption were the 40 years under Soviet Communist rule during the Cold War era following World War II.
“We want to thank these communities for the help and hospitality they extended to the Czechs who emigrated,” Lizec said. “We also want to thank the United States for its support of the Czech Republic over the years.”
“This was unexpected,” said Christy Dowling, a Hays dentist and a Wilson native with Czechoslovakian heritage, of the visit. “We scrambled and put something together.”
Dowling said they and hoped Lizec would come to the community during its annual Czech Festival in July. This is a weekend filled with a parade, assorted Czech heritage events and the Kansas Czech Queen Pageant.
A member of the Kansas Czechs, Dowling helps organize the Wilson fest. She said they apply for a grant each year through the Czech Consulate to help fund the event and it is Lizec who helps with that application process.
However, Lizec didn’t mind it being the off season. “I can see it. I can just picture what it would be like” when the festival is in full swing.
A royal treatment
The afternoon started at Wilson City Hall where he was greeting by city staff, including a welcome by Mayor Larry Ptacek. They also views memorabilia and toured the Wilson Heritage Museum.
“On behalf of the Wilson City Council and all our citizens, I extend our gratitude and appreciation to Bořek Lizec for his support of the Czech culture in Wilson,” Ptacek said. “Best wishes for continued success in his future endeavors.”
Then, the entourage went to St. Wenceslaus Parish Center where the Catholic Church Women demonstrated making jaternice (a Czech sausage), and tour of the church’s Czech stained windows and Czech saint statues.
This was followed by pictures at the “Largest Czech Egg” in downtown Wilson and a shopping trip for Czech items and art at the Midland Mercantile. The next stop was the Midland Railroad Hotel for a demonstration of kraslice (egg decorating) By Christine Slechta, a performance by Wilson Czech dancers led by Paula Svaty-Gray, and the introduction of the Kansas Czech queen Emma Karlin of Oberlin, princesses, former Czech royalty, Czech grant recipients and others.
There was also at the hotel was a Czech dinner, Czech beers and a Czech toast – Na Zdravi (Czech for “cheers”).
Lizec said he was overwhelmed.
He said he has learned much in his eight years in the Midwest,. He is often struck by how deeply intact the ancient Czech traditions are and has gain insights in to his own culture.