By Chris Eversole, staff writer
Janice VanBrunt’s life has revolved around her Czech heritage all her life.
VanBrunt is being honored for her contributions by serving Saturday as the grand marshal of this year’s Oklahoma Czech Festival Parade.
“I was born and raised in the Czech heritage,” she said. “It’s always been a way of life.”
VanBrunt traces her ancestry to the great grandfather, Rudolph Adamcik, who came to the United States in the late 19th century as a stowaway on a ship and settled in the small Oklahoma town of Prague – an hour east of Yukon.
“He was 13 or 14, and all boys were drafted in the Czech at age 16, so he came to America,” she said.
VanBrunt grandparents, Charles and Lena Jezek, were active in the Prague Kolache Festival.
Her mother, Frances Jezek Moore, and her father, Leo Moore, carried on the tradition. “Dad learned to make klobase from my grandfather, Charlie,” she said.
VanBrunt began dancing the Kolache Festival with her sister, Karaleen, when she was 2.
A photographer took photos of the family dressed in its Czech gear and submitted it to Life magazine, which never printed it.
“We were little bitty girls wearing Czech dresses,” VanBrunt said.
After graduating from high school, she moved to Yukon so she could be closer to the big city and yet live around other people of Czech heritage.
She began working as a hair dresser, and she married Mike VanBrunt who in 1969, is deceased.
Janice VanBrunt’s involvement in the Czech Festival didn’t begin until 1981, when organizer Tony Kouba asked her to help with the Royalty Pageant.
“I agreed, but I said it would just be for one year,” she recalled.
One year stretched into another; VanBrunt served as the pageant’s assistant director for 20 years and its director for 17 years.
In 1982, VanBrunt started baking kolaches, which are Czech pastries, with John Onderek’s group on Tuesday nights.
“In 1996, due to John’s failing health, I took over the group, and I still bake with my group of dedicated bakers,” she said. “We start in July so we’ll have enough kolaches for the festival.”
Although she’s stepped down as the pageant director, VanBrunt remains active in the Czech Festival.
“Twelve active members put it on with the help of our children and grandchildren,” she said. “We’re trying to keep the kids involved so was can keep it going.”