The lodge hall is one of the places you can find in blossoming communities across the United States. These buildings serve as gathering areas for groups of people who share common bonds. For Western Fraternal Life, the original lodges were largely founded by Czech and Slovak immigrants. In this article, we explore stories submitted by members of what their experience in the local lodge hall was like in years past.
by Ella (Rytych) Moravek, No. 19, Munden, KS
My early memories of Novy Tabor No. 19 in Munden, KS began with the things my dad, Frank Rytych, told me. He immigrated from Czechoslovakia and was so happy to come to a community where many Czechs resided. Those Czechs got together and organized the lodge in 1897 in the village of New Tabor, KS. Meetings were held in a schoolhouse and in 1904 they built their own lodge hall. In 1924, the lodge hall was moved to Munden, KS due to the fact that the town of New Tabor did not materialize. My dad and many members helped with the moving.
Dad bought insurance policies for himself, his wife, and his three children. He loved going to the lodge to play cards and enjoy potlucks. We spoke Czech in the home and at the lodge. I became a member in 1931. I remember dad teasing my mom that she would have to ride a goat to be initiated into the lodge. She believed him and was frightened to death. I was really little and was disappointed when there was no goat!
There were many State Meetings with many members attending. When I was eight or ten years old, dad wanted me to recite a poem or story in Czech as part of the program. I was a little nervous, but my dad was very proud. In those days, the State Meeting was full of programs and had a large attendance.
My dad was financial secretary for our lodge. The members would come to our house to pay their dues and insurance premiums. I found out if I stood by dad and acted like a really good girl, I might get a nickel, dime, or even a quarter!
Throughout the years, I remember box suppers, Czech plays, and many dances. We made ZCBJ floats. I remember the one we made for the Munden Centennial. We designed it with an old-fashioned pot-belly stove, a bell, kolache, and a hand-painted ZCBJ emblem banner. Roughly ten of us assembled it and rode in the parade. What fun we had putting them together in our shop. During the parade, we intentionally set a fire in the stove so that it would smoke as it went through town.
The Munden school did not have a gym. From 1924 to 1952 the lodge hall was used for the school's basketball and volleyball games, their class plays, and school programs. The town of Munden had picture shows in the winter. They even had the Globe Trotters and a donkey basketball game. During basketball games, the men would stand around the pot-belly stove to make sure that the players did not run into it and get hurt.
The years continued to go by and in 1950 the meetings were no longer conducted in Czech and changed to the English language. My fondest memories are of sitting at the games and movies with my high school sweetheart who became my husband in 1950. For a long time, the hall served as a community center for these kind of events. The town didn't build any other kind of area for the events until the 50's.
Times changed, and it was decided to sell the hall. The lodge members continue to have regular meetings and participate in events.
Because of dad, Novy Tabor No. 19 has had five generations of my family as members.
by Clarice Sabata, No. 74, Dorchester, NE
Our lodge in Dorchester, NE had dances every weekend. The whole family went and there were no babysitters. Mom and dad danced the night away while children learned to dance by dancing with their parents or each other. The teenagers eyed each other from various groups across the floor.
Babies and toddlers were bounced on the knees of babičky (grandmothers). When the young ones got tired, they were put in a special corner of the hall that had a raised platform with protective sides built up to the wall. The tots were nestled in their blankets, while grandparents sat in chairs around the platform to keep an eye on them while tapping their toes to the music.
On hot summer nights, cut-outs in the wall were opened to let any breezes in. In winter, the pot-bellied stoves were used near the baby area and dining area.
At midnight, the music stopped and all the happy people went home to prepare for a work-week ahead while anticipating the next dance.
by Darlene Musil, No. 74, Dorchester, NE
I became a member of No. 74 in Dorchester, NE as an infant. My dad had an orchestra, so I was introduced to dances at an early age. As a young child, I remember running and sliding on the dance floor.
When infants and toddlers were sleepy, they laid on benches behind the pot-belly stoves. I commend the custodians who tended the stoves to keep people comfortable.
There was a balcony on the south end of the older part of the lodge, where beds were available for the older children to sleep until the dance ended.
The day I was married in July 1954, the temperature was 107. There were very few dry clothes at the Charvari dance. Even with the windows open, it was stifling.
Our 25th and 40th anniversary dances were celebrated at Tabor, so there are many memories.
by Wilma (Rozen) Smith, No. 225, Bannister, MI
I grew up in No. 225, Bannister, MI. When my sister and I were little girls (late 1930s - 1940s) we always went to dances with my folks. I think babysitters were not heard of yet. My dad would say, "If my kids are not good enough to go, I won't go either." So, I was familiar with the hall's Polka music and dancing.
When I was in high school around 1949, there was a regular Saturday night dance. My dad would usually take me and pick me up later. He would usually ask me if I had fun and if I danced with everyone who asked me. He insisted that I danced with whomever asked me or he would not allow me to attend any more because when he was a young man, he and his buddies would never ask a girl again if she refused the first time. It was not only a good lesson at the hall, but a good life lesson.
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