Dancers hopped along in pairs at Victoria’s 33rd annual Czech Heritage Festival on Sunday to the music of the Ennis Czech Boys, a group of 30-something-year-old men from the town just south of Dallas.
The musicians stood out in the Victoria Community Center’s packed auditorium Sunday afternoon as the youngest in the room, save for a few children dressed in brightly embroidered kroje, traditional Czech costumes.
Gary McKee, editor of Texas Polka News, said the people attending Texas’ many Czech heritage events are largely an older and dedicated group traveling from festival to festival.
“I’ll just tell you the truth, membership at almost all these organizations is declining,” said Joe Janak, a chair of the Victoria County Czech Heritage Society, which organizes the event.
As of the 2000 U.S. Census, there were nearly 200,000 Czech-Americans living in Texas. At one time, Czech was once the third-most commonly spoken language in Texas.
In response to the aging population of Texas Czechs, Janak said the festival has added new events this year, including a kolache-making class, a kolache-eating contest and a singalong.
“We just find new things to bring interest to people,” Janak said. “I think it’s working.”
Last year, Janak said, the event drew in more than 1,000 people.
In addition to the new activities at the festival, the heritage society began offering conversational language classes this year.
Jim Slovak, 84, has been attending the festival for as long as he’s lived in Victoria, over 10 years.
He said music is among his favorite things about Czech culture.
“My dad played the accordion, so he would be asked to play. He even played on the KHBR radio station in Hillsboro as a guest,” Slovak said. “The accordion is an instrument that the Czechs really love.”
This year, Slovak brought his great-granddaughter, McKinsey Wall, of Rockport, to the festival to learn about their culture. Slovak hopes his great-granddaughter will appreciate the culture more than he did at her age.
“As a matter of fact, when I was younger I didn’t have room for all this,” Slovak said. “It wasn’t interesting to me, but it is now.”