Growing Up Czech: Rooted in Connection

Written by Morgan Tranmer

I like to tell folks that I ‘grew up Czech’. While I don’t have a lick of Czechoslovakian heritage, I grew up in Wilber, NE, a community that proudly claims the title of ‘Czech Capital of the United States’. Growing up in this community, I learned how to polka dance while in grade school, tried my hand at kolache making in high school, and enjoyed preparing potato dumplings and sauerkraut in the basement of the Lutheran church every summer in preparation for our annual Wilber Czech Festival.

My story of being a ‘transplant’ into a cultural community is not unique. The state of Nebraska is full of celebrations, festivals, and commemorations of the heritage, culture, and history of our communities. From the Grundlovsfest in Dannebrog, to Cinco de Mayo in South Omaha, to the Intertribal Gathering and Pow Wow in Fort Robinson State Park, these are just a sampling of the many cultural festivals we celebrate in Nebraska. Beyond cultural festivals, Nebraska is also home to the Applejack festival, Railroad Days, Kool-Aid Days, the Avoca Duck Races, and the Prairie Chicken Festival just to name a few. Nebraskans know how to celebrate!

The through-line for all these festivals and celebrations is the deeply rooted connection of our faith and culture. This faith springs forth in song, dance, dress, and art throughout these celebrations. Stories are shared of ancestors gone by, and we look ahead with hope for our communities – communities that share, grieve, celebrate, and pray together. While we may lift up one culture or piece of our history, we recognize that we would not be who we are today without the influence of our neighbors.

As Nebraskans, we fundamentally understand the call to walk together. We know that each of our stories are braided together in unique and mysterious ways. Whether you are attending a festival, county fair, or simply driving through the communities of Nebraska, take a moment to consider who your neighbors are. What can you learn from these neighbors? How are you feeling called to connect with them?

‘Growing up Czech’ does not diminish my personal culture or identity, but I am changed by it for the better. Ourselves, our churches, and our communities are changing and evolving beings. We do not lose our heritage, history, or faith by embracing these changes. Meet your neighbors with open ears, open minds, and open hearts. Whether you hear a story or a polka, take an opportunity to meet and love your neighbors.

Photo Credit: Nebraska Czechs of Wilber