Lynn Dowling married an Irishman from her hometown, but the Wilson native still keeps alive her heritage from Czechoslovakia.
“All eight of my grandparents came from there,” said Dowling on Thursday of last week as she prepared for a visit from the Consul General of the Czech Republic in Chicago.
While Dowling now lives 49 miles away from Wilson in Hays, her roots in the Czech Capital of Kansas run deep.
“Growing up in Wilson I’d go into grocery stores and I’d hear people talking Czech,” said Dowling, secretary of Kansas Czechs, Inc. “We’ve always been very involved with our heritage. ”
The Consulate didn’t give the little town of 800 more than a week’s notice of Consul General Borek Lizec’s first visit to Wilson and to Kansas.
“I think it’s important for him to see how hard we’re working to keep the heritage alive. It would be very hard to do this without their support,” said Dowling, noting the city gets help for cultural activities with grants from the Consulate. “He already had a swing through the Midwest planned, so we kind of rallied and pulled together a plan.”
With Interstate 70 threatening to ice up Friday evening, no one was sure if Lizec and his mother, Vita Lizec, would make it. But they made it to Wilson.
There to greet them, with a full schedule of events for the afternoon and evening were the people of Wilson, probably able to spring into action because they routinely practice their culture.
“A lot of people are actually doing these things, they have this so at heart and love their heritage, and this is important to them,” Dowling said.
Hays dentist Christine Dowling, president of the Kansas Czechs Inc. and Lynn’s daughter, planned and hosted the event with the help of Lynn Kasper, Wilson.
The agenda included a greeting and proclamation by Mayor Larry Ptacek, a visit to the Wilson Heritage Museum, a demonstration of sausage making at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church’s parish center, a tour of the church and Czech stained windows and Czech saint statues, a visit to the world’s largest Czech egg, and an evening of Czech food and beer and dancing at the Midland Railroad Hotel.
Wilson High School teacher Christine Slechta, designer of the world’s largest hand-painted Czech egg on display in Wilson, demonstrated the art of egg painting, or “kraslice,” for the Consul General. Despite the cold and damp weather, he visited the giant outdoor egg.
“That’s my art form, I do Czech eggs,” Slechta said. “I learned it in high school here from my teacher, Betty Kepka Belton, at Wilson.”
Now she is teaching her students. One of them, sophomore Kami Thrasher, won the 3D category of the Northern Plains League High School Juried Art Exhibit last spring.
“She’s bugged me every year since she was a kindergartner to learn,” Slechta said. “She has more eggs ready to go for the show this year.”
Spearheading Friday’s sausage-making was Vera Ehrlich, said Kasper, who headed up Wilson’s Czech queen pageant for 30 years. While the Czech word for sausage, jaternice, easily rolls off her tongue, she offers a pronunciation for anyone who can’t say it: EAT-suh-nitze.
“We thought it would be nice if he had some fresh jaternice,” Kasper said. The women of the church make the sausage twice a year, in July for the Wilson Czech Festival, and in the fall. The sausage is a mixture of pork shoulder, barley and seasonings, with a little pork heart and liver.
“We were very excited to have him here,” Kasper said. “They provide us with several thousand dollars in grants each year and it was really important for us to thank him.”
Virginia Florian, owner of Grandma’s Soda Shop & Diner, 2524 Ave. E in Wilson, baked homemade kolace in the traditional flavors of poppy seed, apricot, cherry, cottage cheese and prune, which were served at City Hall during a welcome and proclamation.
Downtown, Melinda Merrill and her staff at the historic Midland Railroad Hotel & Restaurant, 414 26th St., Wilson, prepared and served a traditional Czech dinner of dumpling, roast pork and red cabbage. In the bread basket were kolace made by the St. Wenceslaus Altar Society.
“It turned out so wonderfully,” Lynn Dowling said, “and he was such a kind person.”