Outpost of Czech spirit and culture will thrive again in West

Posted Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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kennedy Not long ago, a local TV station promoted itself as the "Spirit of Texas."

Commercials showed Texans of all ages and colors. They danced together, shared thrills and celebrated life's joys.

It looked just like West.

Of all Texas' iconic small towns, I don't know another that is such a crossroad for Texans.

We meet on the polka dance floor at the annual Westfest, or for kolaches at Gerik's or the Czech Stop.

Smack dab between Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and College Station, West draws guests and energy from all three, but remains loyal to century-old traditions of Moravian immigrants who came seeking freedom.

Families still teach their children Czech. After a night in one of the Czech-founded fraternal lodge halls (the Slovanská Podporující Jednota Statu Texas, SPJST), they worship at Czech Protestants' old Brethren church.

On Labor Day weekends, they dress up and dance, bake pastries or make sausages and potato pancakes for the biggest cultural festival in this part of Texas, Westfest.

Having fought assimilation and urbanism, they now must fight to survive after an explosion that took lives, including firefighters and paramedics, and also homes, jobs and pets.

"The kids today, they don't know anything about West or Czechs in Texas," said Jerry Janecka, 80, a fifth-generation Czech-American and docent at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio.

"Czechs came to Texas for freedom. They didn't want to be forced to speak German. They wanted to keep their church. They wanted to live their own way. That is a close-knit community."

Until last year, a Czech-language weekly newspaper flourished.

Prague-based Czech Radio had no trouble finding an interview Thursday.

Raymond J. Snokhous, 83, of West, the honorary consul for Texas, is the son of a Bohemian blacksmith.

According to an online translation, he said: "Please tell all the good people in the Czech Republic that our city is 75 percent Czech."

Czech Radio led newscasts with West most of the day.

Snokhous told listeners that the blast was "like a bomb."

Then he said he lost two nephews.

It'll take a while. But someday, West will dance again.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy

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