July 13,2008


SNPJ hosts meeting, historic society


The Kansas State Historical Society visited the rich tradition and heritage of Franklin polka music and dancing

The Morning Sun
Posted Jul 13, 2008 @ 10:08 PM

Joy Brennan and Nancy Sherbert, two members of the Kansas State Historical Society,
traveled southeast Kansas Sunday and are set to conduct interviews today to learn more
about the area's history.  From left: Sherbert, Phyllis Bitner, Franklin Heritage Committee,
Brennan and Johnnie Zibert, head of SNPJ post #225.

Editor’s Note: Nikki Patrick is enjoying vacation. Please enjoy this personality profile by Staff Writer Kevin Flaherty while she is out. Patrick’s People will return on Friday.

Phyllis Bitner said Franklin Community Center and Heritage Museum typically pulls people from far and wide to its monthly polka dance.

Still, two of the attendees Sunday were from farther than most, and they weren’t there to dance. Joy Brennan and Nancy Sherbert with the Kansas State Historical Society, headed down to Franklin to attend the S.N.P.J. meeting, take part in Sunday’s dance activities, take in the museum and explore the region.

Brennan, KSHS folk arts program coordinator, said the opportunity presented itself when Johnnie Zibert, head of the local S.N.P.J. Lodge donated documents from the old lodges to the society.

“He told us a lot of information about polka and the dancing down here, so we were looking for a chance to come down,” said Sherbert, KSHS curator of photographs and special collections coordinator. “It happened that this weekend they were having a meeting and a dance, so we thought we would come down.”

Brennan said they loved to come to events that showcased local heritage and history.

“There’s a wealth of history right there in that room,” Brennan said. “There’s such a connection to that heritage. It’s so fun to see, on a Sunday afternoon, how everybody gets together to celebrate that.

“We’ve been able to talk to so many people, learn more about their stories, and their relatives’ stories.”

Part of that history belonged to Zibert, Brennan said, who had an extensive knowledge of polka music, lyrics and history. The couple plan to interview him today to glean some of that history, she said.

Another part of the history they hoped to learn will come from their tour of the area. Sherbert said they would take a tour of Arma as well as Franklin, before heading down to Pittsburg to see Immigrant Park and Miners’ Memorial.

“This area has such a rich, rich heritage,” Brennan said.

Part of that comes from the music, which Brennan said brought her back to her childhood. Growing up, she said everyone came to take part in wedding dances.

“It brings back memories,” Brennan said. “You didn’t have to be invited. You just went, and everybody had fun.”

Both said they had fun on Sunday, and took in their share of local history. Sherbert said she was impressed with how Franklin rebounded from the tornado that hit on May 4, 2003.

“It really seems like it brought everyone closer together,” Sherbert said.

Sherbert said it was a valuable trip for the two KSHS members.

“I’m just absolutely amazed at the area and how the culture keeps flourishing,” Sherbert said.

“I just wanted to thank the community for opening their doors to us,” Brennan said. “Everyone has been so friendly. It’s been great.”

Kevin Flaherty can be reached at kevin.flaherty@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 Ext. 134.

SNPJ hosts meeting, historic society

The Morning Sun
Posted Jul 13, 2008 @ 10:11 PM

FRANKLIN — Back in the lodge’s heyday, there were at least 15 S.N.P.J. lodges scattered throughout the area.

Now, that number is at two: one inactive lodge, and a second at S.N.P.J. Lodge #225. S.N.P.J. is an acronym for the Slovene National Benefit Society.

The active lodge held a meeting Sunday, not just to talk normal business, but also to welcome two members of the Kansas State Historical Society, who traveled down to take in the meeting and the dance that followed it at the Franklin Community Center and Heritage Museum.

Typically, the meeting is held in Arma. But with the dance coinciding on the same day, and with the KSHS coming down, Phyllis Bitner said she asked if the meeting could be moved to the Franklin Community Center.

“We thought it would be a great chance to kill two birds with one stone,” said Bitner, with the Franklin Historical Society.

It also didn’t hurt that the lodge’s head, Johnnie Zibert, is the same guy who headed up the polka band for the dance.

Bitner said the KSHS members have been talking about coming down since Zibert donated several books from former lodges, including one that opened up shortly after the organization was formed in 1904. Zibert said that book came from a Kansas lodge that was the ninth one opened up nationwide.

Bitner said the books were passed down from lodge to lodge as they went under.

“If one lodge was closing, it would pass its books on to the next, biggest lodge in the area,” Bitner said.

And eventually, those books came to Lodge 225. Bitner said it made sense to pass those books on to the KSHS, where they could be picked apart and studied.

Nancy Sherbert, KSHS curator of photographs and special collections coordinator, said the books were important in giving people a knowledge of what the lodge did in the past. Included in the books were minutes from meetings of the old lodges, among other things.

Zibert said the lodge served as the center to maintain Slovenians’ culture and heritage in the past. The lodge helped attendees learn English and apply for citizenship, while also offering dances and ways to remember and enjoy their culture.

Not all lodges have been closing. The S.N.P.J. still boasts more than 40,000 members, and Zibert said they had strongholds in large cities like Chicago and Detroit, and across the east coast.

“In a lot of other places, they’ve diminished,” Zibert said.

Zibert said Lodge 225’s biggest function now was the donation of scholarships to college students. The money, which passes directly to the student, includes $450 per semester for all four years of college.

“That’s a lot of hamburger money,” Zibert said.

Zibert said the lodge had three current college students on scholarship and might have a fourth in the near future.

“We focus more on the kids now than the adults, because that’s who we think needs it more,” Zibert said. “We just want to help them out.”

Kevin Flaherty can be reached at kevin.flaherty@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 Ext. 134.

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