Bannister, MI- Always held on the first Sunday in August, the Czech Harvest Festival in Bannister is by far the best kept secret around.
I discovered it while writing for the Ionia Sentinel-Standard, I received a press release from an insurance agency in Owosso about 13 years ago.
The one-paragraph press release was simple, but it did entice me to explore the “Dozinky” Harvest Midwest style.
“Come and sample traditional Czech fare of dumplings, pork and sauerkraut. Dance the afternoon away with polka. Watch the dancers in their colorful costumes,” the press release read.
Since then, we’ve been going to the festival at least every two years.
Following is a video interview by Brianna Prochaska with some of the younger participants of the “Dozinky” Harvest Festivals held all over the USA.
My personal favorite is the accordion music by mostly local people. As the old Czech saying goes, “There is a musician in all Czechs.”
What amazes me is that the language is the hardest to keep alive for more than 100 years of Czech immigration to the US. Most festival organizers and women chefs do not speak Czech. But other than that, a small group of people has preserved everything from costumes, dances, music to food.
The universal word here in Bannister is “kolacki.” Kolacki are traditional Czech, Slovak, and Lithuanian pastries filled with cottage cheese and raisins topped with plum butter. Kolacki are a festive dessert used at celebrations such as weddings.
The food is a complete Czech feast consisting of dumplings, sauerkraut, pork, ham and chicken. The ham and breaded chicken are American changes. But the cucumber salad with sour cream is as Czech as it gets.
And as I watch the dancers in Bannister every year or so, listen to the accordions, enjoy Czech food, and check out the old paintings in ZCBJ Lodge in the middle of nowhere, I admire the people behind this event. Most of them have never been to Czech Republic let alone at a classic “veselka.”
What the Dozinky organizers have recreated, preserved and continue to pass on to next generations is almost a miracle. I can safely say that most people in the old country don’t know how to dance polka, czardas, or mazurka. The Czech Harvest in Bannister is a testimony that human spirit and determination will always prevail.
The lead dancers are Tom and Diane Bradley. Diane also teaches the youngest troop of dancers.
One of all time favorites for the little ones is the song, “Mela babka ctyri jabka a dedousek jen dve,” or in English: Grandma had four apples, while grandpa had only two. “Give me an apple, grandma, and we’ll be equal.”
According to the chairman of the festival Tom Bradley’s “Pamatnik” published for the 100th anniversary of the ZCBJ Lodge in 2011,the Czechs and Slovaks immigrated to Central Michigan around 1904 from Chicago and Cleveland. They were recruited to work the sugar beet fields. Eventually they worked on their own farms. And the recruiters had to look for different workers from big cities.
The Dozinky Harvest Festival will be held on Aug. 3, 2014 with dinner served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for $10 for adults and $3 for children. Get in early, the food does run out.
Authentic gifts such as garnet jewelry and Czech cookbooks are also available.
The program begins at 2:30 p.m. with Bill Nemanis. The dance starts at 4 p.m. at ZCBJ Lodge.
The dinner is preceded by a mass with polka arrangements at the Chuch of Cyril and Methodej.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up for the greatest, or at least the biggest, free fair on earth! By the middle of July, the novelty of summer vacation has worn thin, and most parents have reached a point where they’re ready to scream if they have to hear “I’m bored” one more time. The Ionia County Free Fair is the perfect solution for moms and kids alike. With no entrance fee, you can hardly afford not to spend a day or more there. It’s a complete sensory experience from the moment you step through the gates. Nothing quite says summer like the scent of deep fried cheesecake and elephant ears accompanied by the screams of delighted children spinning high in the sky on rides.
Of course, if you’re used to the only animals at the county fair being livestock,you’reboundto be disappointed. In addition totheusual4H barns filled with goats, cows, rabbits, and chicks barely hatched from their eggs, Ionia County has multiple free daily performances of Circus Pages. A rare white lion races around the caged ring, performing tricks with two white tigers and two other lions. Once they’re safely removed to several smaller cages,theringis transformed into a magical scene with girls dancing high above the crowd, suspended only by their tenuous hold on a rope and metal hoop. Other performances include a group of trained camels, a woman who does a stunning routine on the aerial silks, and some impressive acrobatics on a trampoline. The show finishes with a couple of elephants, surprisingly agile for their size, that are available for rides afterward.
A favorite of mine was the barn filled with baking, canning, sewing, knitting, and crochet projects of all kinds. For creative quilters, they sell $10 kits every year to be turned into 14 inch quilt blocks. Your only limitations are the materials in the kit, the theme, and your imagination. The completed squares are turned into a full quilt to be raffled off the following year.
For those feeling nostalgic for days gone by, there is a mini museum full of antiques, as well as a building filled with classic cars. When you do stop in to check out the Corvettes, the irresistible odor of roasted almonds beckons you next door to the Meijer Marketplace. The combination flea market and community expo has something for everyone, from homemade ice cream to fashionable accessories. There are special events happening daily throughout the fair that include concerts, tractor pulls, and kids’ activities, so even if you bring them more than once, this is one week you will definitely not hear “I’m bored.”
Lowell, MI- A real friend without pretense, an honest, generous man at ease with himself wherever he went.
That best describes philanthropist Mr. Peter Wege, who passed away on July 7th at the age of 94.
Most people in the greater Grand Rapids Area knew of Wege, but very few met him in person or knew him directly.
I belong to the smaller privileged group. I met Wege in person at the Franciscan Life Process Center on April 23, 2008 at a community breakfast in honor of his preservation efforts.
“One couldn’t help but be touched by his presence,” I wrote at the time in an article for the Lowell Ledger and other freelance publications.
His personality was shining through and lighting up the meeting room on a dark gloomy April morning. It lit up a ray of hope for the Heffron family, who were one of the first farm families to preserve land in Grattan Township.
“We should have been preserving since 1950,” he said time. “It should be as normal as kindergarten. It has taken us 40 years to get it started.”
Wege, an astute businessman, was first and foremost, a visionary. His father Peter Martin co-founded Metal Office Furniture, now Steelcase, and the largest office furniture manufacturer in the world. Wege joined Steelcase in 1946 and worked in different executive posts including sales, research and design, and as an officer on the Board of Directors of the Steelcase Foundation. He retired as vice-chairman of the Steelcase Board in 2000. Wege made Steelcase famous as one of the earliest environmental manufacturers in the world. The office furniture maker went “green” long before it became trendy.
Wege always made sure that people knew it was his father’s innovative genius that provided the wealth he gave away to make life better for others.
Wege’s passion for the environment originated in his service to the country as a World War II pilot. While flying from Dallas on a training plane, he wanted to stop in Pittsburgh, but couldn’t find it in the smog in the middle of the day.
“That jarred me,” he said at the preservation breakfast.
Inspired by Health Education and Welfare Secretary John Gardner, Wege embarked on a lifelong mission to save the planet in 1967. That year he established the Wege Foundation in honor of his parents Peter Martin and Sophia Louise Wege.
Wege was a firm believer in doing things together for the better of civilization and to preserve the planet.
“We have to think about what we are doing to this country,” he said in 2008 at the Franciscan Center.
Wege loved the northeast Kent County area that he helped preserved.
Driving around the farmland in Vergennes in Grattan townships you will find bright blue and green signs with a red barn on it. These designate the preserved land through easements funded by Wege. They include area farmers from Heffrons to Konings and Wilcox.
In donating farmland preservation easements, and other conservation efforts Wege wanted to set an example for the entire country.
Wege often visited with the Franciscan Sisters. When the Franciscans came to the area in the early 1970s, he donated 230 acres to what had become the Franciscan Life Process Center.
“He believed in our mission,” said center director Sister Colleen Ann Nagle. “He helped us meet people in the area and to raise money.”
Wege served as the chairman of the advisory board for the Franciscan Center. He participated in many fundraisers.
“He was genuinely interested in anything that would help people,” said Nagle. “He was one of those special people where you do not have to put on any pretense.”
And Wege, who kept a farmhouse on the Franciscan property, always stayed in touch with the center and its mission. He attended events and meetings on regular basis, and moreover Wege brought people with him to the area.
“He would just stop in the kitchen for a cup of coffee,” said Nagle. “That’s the kind of person he was.”
Most people will remember Wege for his unbelievable generosity and honesty, as well as for his versatility. Although best known as an environmentalist, Wege was also an author, poet, painter, photographer and an accomplished athlete.
He liked to say, “Educate, Educate, Educate.”
That is why he co-founded the Wittenbach Wege Agriscience and Environmental Education Center in Lowell along with many of other nature centers.
A business man, Wege coined the word economicology to define his advocacy for striking the right balance between a healthy ecology and a profitable economy. He wrote two books titled Economicology, the first in 1998, and the sequel in 2010. In both books Wege wrote his version of the Eleventh Commandment:
“Thou shalt not commit abuse against the environment, but rather honor it with respect for sustaining life.”
That commandment summarizes Wege’s life philosophy.
“He will be missed for the person he was,” said Nagle.
Thank you Mr. Peter Wege for living in our times, and for giving us the inspiration, passion and love to follow you.”
I like simple things: a cheap glass of wine, a good book, a new picture of my grandchildren and a sturdy lawn chair. I also LOVE the 4th of July. It’s one of my favorite holidays. I love the heat, humidity, picnics, parades, fireworks and time with family.
Each July fourth we load up Sara (my trusty SUV) and head north to the big muddy, the Mississippi river. We have our annual fish fry waterside. My husband, son, nephew and brothers-in-law are all sport-fishing enthusiasts, who do their best to accumulate a sizeable catch. If the catch is small (something a fisherman does not like to discuss) we hit the Piggly Wiggly for fried chicken. The day revolves around good food and conversation.
On the morning of the fourth, we start out with homemade mini donuts deep fat fried on the patio. There is nothing better than a warm donut with your morning coffee!
Midday we heat up the fish fryer and begin breading and cooking the fish. Once it is ready we bring out the corn on the cob, watermelon and a crazy good mixture of midwestern potluck fare. After the fish fry, the kids are busy with squirt guns, swimming, boat rides, jumping off the dock and fishing.
A few years ago we started a new tradition, at dusk we launch Chinese paper lanterns: one for each of the grandchildren. The kids line up by height and the parents help with the launch. Last year, long after the last lantern had flown over the western bluffs, my grandson pointed to the eastern sky and said, look grandma that one made it around the world already!
Meanwhile, a campfire is lit and the adults pull up their lawn chairs. The kids bring out the sparklers, sizzling snakes and their renewed enthusiasm. Sometimes I wonder where they store all that energy. And since we have not eaten enough, the marshmallow forks and pie makers magically appear. We make s’mores, campfire pies and roasted marshmallows before the fireworks begin.
There are several small communities on the big muddy who have fireworks and from our vantage point we can usually see three to four different displays. Sonic booms go on into the wee hours of the night and if the mosquitoes cooperate you can watch the fireworks until almost three in the morning!
I think my favorite part of the holiday is spending time with family. The campfire brings out the stories and embarrassing – the better. One of the uncles, who liked his beer, cut down a light pole with his chainsaw because he ran out of firewood for the campfire. On another occasion, he sunk his boat and motor while it was tied to the dock.
We are also very fond of corny jokes. My father in law was a master; he could entertain a crowd for hours. His standard comeback has now become a one liner for his great grandkids. When he was asked, where did you catch that fish? He would reply, I caught him in the lip. It’s really funny when a three year old delivers the punch line.
Hopefully, one of my great- grandchildren will be sitting by a campfire on the banks of the big muddy retelling stories and corny jokes for years to come.
Copyright (c) 2014 story by skgroen photo by Emma Palova