Those of us who live in this area sometimes take it for granted, but Tabor Hall, located just southwest of Dorchester, has played a significant role in the ethnic culture of Saline County.
Today, we examine the historical importance of Tabor Hall and the people behind it.
If you've been to Tabor Hall, you've likely noticed the lettering atop the front entrance. And many of you have probably scratched your head in bewilderment.
The Zapadni Cesko Bratrske Jednota (Z.C.B.J.) or Western Bohemian Fraternal Association emerged in 1897 from the oldest fraternal Czech organization in the United States. The purpose of this group was to provide life insurance and sickness benefits to members, and to aid immigrants as they settled in their new homeland. The headquarters of the Z.C.B.J. were in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with lodges in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Wisconsin.
The Z.C.B.J. lodges nurtured the Czech culture's so-called "free-thinking movement" on the Great Plains. The free-thinking movement had begun in Czechoslovakia in the 1800s. The Young Czech party -- made up mostly of peasants, farmers and tradesmen -- was organized as a force against the upper-middle class Czechs against the ruling forces of the Catholic Church, which was a dominant political force.
The Z.C.B.J. lodge was critical in promoting the preservation of the Czech language and culture in Saline County. It also provided a place of fellowship and social interaction for the rural Czech community.
Tabor Lodge was organized Oct. 8, 1899, in Pleasant Hill -- the former county seat -- located two miles east of the lodge building's current location. The 14 charter members of Tabor Lodge were: John Cerny, Joseph Cihal, Joseph Freeouf, Frank Hajek, Paul Kasl, Anton Koci, Joseph Kozeluh, Jarlim Vrbsky, Vaclav Kucera, Anton Prokop, Vaclav Prokop, Jerry Shestak, Thonas Sokolik and Frank Zumpfe.
Tabor Lodge Hall was constructed in 1914 and dedicated Sept. 27, 19I4. During WWI, when Czechoslovakia became involved, Tabor Lodge organized a chapter of the Czech National Association and raised several thousand dollars to help in the war effort. Language classes were conducted at the hall. The hall also helped promote the Sokol movement -- gymnastics designed to create and preserve a "sleek, well-tuned body."
At one time, Tabor Lodge held the distinction of being the largest Czech lodge in Nebraska.
By 1934, the organization had an urgent need for more space. A large dance pavilion was added to the existing lodge -- and the renovated, expanded Tabor Hall re-opened in June 1934 with a huge dance. Soon, Tabor Hall became known to almost everyone in the Saline County area as it hosted political functions, farm organizations, class reunions, graduations, parties, flea markets, and wedding/anniversary celebrations.
In 1981, the building received an extensive makeover and restoration. The ceiling was lowered to provide for a more energy efficient space. The walls were adorned with advertising signs as local businesses purchased their space and provided the sign painting.
Today, 102 years after its construction, Tabor Hall is well maintained by the members of Tabor Lodge. The building still serves as a social hub for Saline County, regardless of ethnicity or family background. Tabor Hall is a historical gem; its importance in shaping our regional community cannot be overlooked.