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Kolache fest keeps Czech heritage alive

Sept. 24, 2011 at 4:24 a.m.

Tyler Gallardo, 5, of Victoria,  attempted to eat his way to victory in the kolache eating contest at the Hallettsville festival. He didn't win, but was happy to finish.

HALLETTSVILLE - Tyler Gallardo gave himself a pep talk before his debut competition.

"I'm a winner," he repeated to himself.

The 5-year-old wore a blue headband in case he broke a sweat. He rehearsed ringing the finishing bell with confidence.

Cresta Carlisle asked her son whether he wanted to participate in the Kolache Eating Contest. Tyler agreed, even though he was at a slight disadvantage.

"He's a slow eater," said Carlisle. "I thought it would be fun for him.

The Hopkins Elementary student does have a natural sweet tooth.

Tyler was the smallest and youngest competitor. But what he lacked in size, he made up for in spirit.

"I wanted to win," he told his mother. Carlisle soothed his ego and told Tyler he did a great job.

And he felt better about it, too. "I just ate the whole thing," he said. "It didn't take long."

Tyler's day was full of activities. He went to the petting zoo, looked at cars and made pop guns before the eating competition.

On Saturday, the Hallettsville Chamber of Commerce hosted the 17th annual Kolache Fest at the Knights of Columbus Hall.

The contest is a staple at the festivities. There were three categories: children ages 8 to 10; 11 to 15; and 16 and older.

People came from Houston, Livingston, San Antonio and even Oklahoma. There was also live music throughout the two-day festival.

The celebration honors immigrants from Germany and Czechoslovakia, who began settling in the community in the mid-1800s.

Lee Roy, 75, and his wife, Gwen Petersen, 70, danced the day away in a free-style combo polka. The Plantersville couple have been married for 33 years.

Roy and Petersen are the organizers in the Texas Heritage Music & Dance Club. They say dancing is a fun and healthy way to celebrate culture, and they don't mind sharing the spotlight.

"We want to keep the heritage alive," he said. "We teach any person that wants help."

Petersen said she's not Czech, but joked about being switched at birth in the hospital.

"I just can't explain why I love it (polka) so much," she said.

Tyler was a good sport. He cheered for his stepfather, Ben Cruz. The 38-year-old Victoria native had an uphill battle in his round of the kolache eating contest.

He was tasked with trying to knock the reigning champion, William Davis, off his eight-year throne.

"There is no competition," said the confident 19-year-old. And Davis delivered, he finished three kolaches in 26 seconds. To secure his victory, he soaked the Czech pastry in water.

Cruz attempted to follow suit, "If he (Davis) can do it, then it's not cheating," he said.

It was too little, too late.

Both he and his stepson, Tyler, plan to take the crown next time.

"We'll be back next year," Cruz said.



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