Last dance

Past dances, fraternity, community and culture will be honored at the last dance in memory of the Bohemian Hall Saturday.

The free dance at the Eagle Ballroom will feature music by Malek’s Fishermen Band, a regular at the former Bohemian Hall. The tribute dance is open to anyone but especially those who danced for years at the 73-year-old hall.

The dance hall southwest of Fort Dodge was built in 1939; It burned to the ground on Aug. 3, 2012.

The final dance was brought about by five friends of the hall: Jerry Wesley, Betty Schneider; her daughter, Diane Urban Amandus; and sisters Lisa Stanek Lemons and Alice Stanek Krause.

“All of our grandparents, in some way or another, helped build and manage it,” Amandus said. “That’s why we have such a deep feeling for the hall.”

The hall was built by the Western Bohemian Fraternal Association, also known as Zapadni Cesko-Bratrska Jenota. The order built its first lodge in the area in 1899. That original Bohemian Hall held funerals, weddings, receptions and Christmas programs for Czech families, as well as fraternity meetings and weekly dances.

The original wooden hall was torn down when the old building grew too small. It was replaced with a brick building that was dedicated on Oct. 6, 1939.

By then, dances were not restricted to the Czech community.

“It was a way for the community to get together,” Amandus said. “People would come from all over the state and dance.”

The hall held a free dance every October to commemorate its dedication. Those dances were packed, Schneider said, often with 300 people.

“People from as far as Des Moines, and also from Spirit Lake, came,” she said. “One New Year’s Eve we had 1,000 people.”

“The hall was the center of my rural Bohemian community,” Lemons said. “It is where I learned the lessons of living in community, the importance of community and being there for each other.”

Amandus said she and her siblings used to help clean the hall.

“For payment we got a bottle of pop, and we spent hours up there. But also Mom could hear us upstairs sliding on the wax floor,” she said.

No beverages were allowed upstairs on the super slick dance floor. Refreshments were served in the basement.

One of her best memories of the hall, Amandus said, was dancing with her father and grandfather.

“I can still remember both of them singing the ‘Lady with the Blue Skirt Waltz.’ Grandpa gave me the heritage of singing the songs in Czech,” she said.

She went to school with Lemons, she added, and remembered dancing with her too.

The big focus was on old-time music.

“Polkas, two-steps, foxtrots,” said Amandus.

“Or the jitterbug,” Lemons added.

“If we were going to do foxtrots, we could only do them in one corner of the dance floor,” Amandus said. “So that the other people could do waltzes.”

“There were so many people there, they didn’t want the jitterbug people on the whole floor; they wanted them in one corner,” said Wesley.

Wesley started dancing at the hall when he was 14 and kept going until the hall closed.

“I enjoyed being the manager for 18 years and enjoyed visiting with people from all over the state,” he said.

The numbers at the dances dwindled in later years. In December 2005 the hall was sold to Richard Woodard, who continued the Sunday night dances for a while.

The reaction on hearing about the fire was shock, Lemons said.

“It was at 9:30 that night that fire started,” Wesley said. “Somebody called me up and I went over there.”

The friends knew they wanted to do a tribute to the Bohemian Hall.

“Linda called me, and she said she would like to have some type of closure in her own mind,” Amandus said.