Linda Bushnell (left) and Jayne Reilly make kolaches in the kitchen at the Made from Scratch Restaurant in Wilson on Wednesday, July 28 in preparation for the Wilson Czech Festival. Up to 80 dozen kolaches and 70 dozen bieroks will be made for the festival. (phltoby Jeff Cooper/ Salina Journal) | Buy Journal Photos


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Jayne Reilly spreads Apricot filling in a batch of kolaches on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at the Made from Scratch Restaurant in Wilson. (photo by Jeff Cooper/ Salina Journal)

Progress Czech

By TIM UNRUH Salina Journal

WILSON — A fire that torched the iconic Wilson Opera House in November hasn’t dimmed enthusiasm for the After Harvest Czech Festival, which begins Friday.

Folks in the western Ellsworth County town of 834 have been gearing up for weeks to celebrate the festival’s 50th anniversary, and they’re sticking to this year’s theme: “1960-Looking back. Moving Forward-2010.”

Thousands of people are expected to attend over two days.

It all begins at 2:30 p.m. Friday with the Kansas Czechs state meeting. An arts and crafts show opens at 4 p.m., followed by lots of activities, bands and other music, a beer garden and a polka party. A fireworks display begins at dusk.

The fun starts again at 8 a.m. Saturday with a full slate of things to do and see well into the night. The parade starts at 10 a.m. Wilson firefighters are the parade marshals.

“Everybody in town is involved in this Czech festival in some way,” said Sister Marilyn Wall, of St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church in Wilson. Volunteers at the church have baked more than 3,000 kolaches — fruit-filled Czech pastries — which are a staple of the festival.

“They will sell like hotcakes,” Sister Marilyn said.

Kolaches are sold separately and served in special dinners around Wilson.

This week has been “nonstop baking” at Made from Scratch Restaurant, owner Jayne Reilly said. Workers there will make up to 80 dozen kolaches, along with 70 dozen bierocks, which are bread pockets filled with beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, other fillings and seasonings.

Some of those goodies are sold at the restaurant and others are donated to the festival.

“I usually go through 500 to 600 pounds of flour this week,” Reilly said.

That’s what or more than she would use in a normal month, she said.

Opera house destroyed

A fire that started in an auto and storage garage next door spread to the opera house early Nov. 6.

The building — constructed in 1901 — also housed a museum loaded with artifacts, some more than a century old. It was home to the Czech Festival queen pageant, meals and other events, said Libbie Sebesta, a former caretaker of the opera house, who sits on the Wilson Opera House Czech Corp., owner of the building.

The Czech queen pageant has been moved to the Wilson High School commons area.

Remnants of the blaze are still at the site while decisions are made about what to do with the property.

“Hopefully, we will be able to save part of the walls and use it as a background for things,” Sebesta said.

Some have suggested that the world’s largest Czech egg, a 20-foot-tall Fiberglas egg that’s 12 feet in diameter and under construction, be permanently displayed at the opera house lot, said Sharon Holloway, president of the Wilson Chamber of Commerce.

Plans are for the egg to be dedicated in May 2011, she said.

The museum will be rebuilt, Sebesta said, but there is not enough money to rebuild the opera house.

Wilson residents are moving forward, she said, because they don’t have time to look back.

“We’re too busy trying to do what we have to do,” Sebesta said. “Whatever needs to be done to have a festival, you do it.”

n Reporter Tim Unruh can be reached at 822-1419 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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