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39th annual Czech-Slovak Festival celebrates heritage and culture in Phillips

Young women in kroje stand in front of the stage at the Czech-Slovak Festival
Hannah Davis-Reid
Young women in kroje stand in front of the stage at the Czech-Slovak Festival

Every year, in Phillips, Wisconsin, members of the community show up in droves for the annual Czech-Slovak Festival.

There are family-friendly arts and crafts, the Miss Czech-Slovak Wisconsin State Queen Pageant, and plenty of everyone’s favorite pastry- the Kołaczki.

“We better start this engine up, vroom, vroom, vroom-ba-ba-ba.”

Pam Corcoran stands behind her puppet stage, a half circle of children glued to her show.

Today, she’s performing her version of “The Fisherman and his Wife,” a traditional Czech tale, at the 39th annual Czechoslovakian Community Festival in Phillips.

“The story I did was “The Fisherman and his Wife.” I hate that story. Because if you go to the library and look at books of “The Fisherman and his Wife”, the woman is always horrible. She's greedy, and grasping. And I thought, ‘you know what, we women don't need that.’ So I switched the story,” she said.

She likes her version better.

Corcoran took a puppetry course in Prague in 2019 and learned how to build Czech Rod Marionettes, which she used at today’s show.

Corcoran performs "The Fisherman and his Wife" to an audience at the Czech-Slovak Festival
Hannah Davis-Reid
Corcoran performs "The Fisherman and his Wife" to an audience at the Czech-Slovak Festival

This was Linda Flottum’s first time at the festival.

She has family roots in Bohemia and posts about the event on Facebook caught her eye.

“It's wonderful. I love the music. The music, it just draws me in all the time and the Kołaczkis are just the best. I already bought Kołaczkis and took them back to my car,” she says laughing.

While it was Flottum’s first time, it was eight-year old Ella Speer’s fifth time.

She’s standing in a floral kroje and flower crown watching Corcoran’s show with her family.

Speer tells me that while the festival doesn’t always have a puppet show, when they do, they’re always fun to watch.

“Last night, we learned about the Lidice Monument,” she says.

She’s talking about the annual memorial service that occurs each year before the festivities begin at the Phillips First Baptist Church.

In June, 1942, German forcesrazed Lidice, massacring many of its residents as an act of revenge for the assassination of a prominent Nazi official.

Remaining survivors fled and a number of them ended up in Phillips, where two years later, a memorial monument was erected.

At the memorial service, after a speech, the group walked from the church to Sokol Park, where the Lidice Memorial Monument has stood since 1944.

Trinity Pesko, Miss Czech-Slovak Wisconsin 2023 and 2024, has deep family connections to the monument.

“My great grandfather on my Czech side, great, great grandpa Kočí, donated rocks from his farm to build the memorial to Lidice, so a reminder of his heritage is standing and is memorialized forever,” said Pesko.

Sign at the Czech-Slovak Festival
Hannah Davis-Reid
Sign at the Czech-Slovak Festival

As Miss Czech-Slovak Wisconsin 2023 and 2024, Pesko modeled kroje and answered on-stage questions about her heritage.

Luanne Peterson is the Director of the Miss Czech-Slovak Wisconsin State Queen Pageant.

She explained that it’s not a traditional beauty pageant; instead, contestants, who are all young women between the ages of 17 and 25 with Czech, Slovak, Silesian, Rusyn, or Moravian heritage, answer questions about Czechoslovakian history and pop culture.

“One of the reasons we have the festival and the committee is to really impart, to instill in the young people the heritage because if we don't pass it on to the youngsters, it just gets dropped. You lose it,” Peterson said.

Pesko attended a total of 18 cultural events in her year of reign.

“I've loved every single one of them. The Czech- Slovak American community is so welcoming. I'm never afraid to drive to a new town, go to a new event, even if I don't know anybody there, because I'm always welcomed with open arms,” she said.

Pesko, who herself is a quarter Slovak and a quarter Czech, says she loves these kinds of events.

“This isn't just an event that you go to, you walk around, and then you go home. You end up talking to people, you’re talking to strangers, because everybody, their heritage means something different to them. And they'll tell stories about ‘oh, my grandfather came over through Ellis Island’ or ‘I came over, I'm a first generation American’,” she said.

The festival occurs annually on Father’s Day weekend and all are encouraged to attend, whether you have Czech or Slovak heritage or not.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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