Here’s a trivia question for you. Who was the first Houby Queen? It was Vera Jandacek Wilt, the former North Riverside village trustee who is now Riverside Township supervisor.
My column on mushrooms (houbys) and the Houby Festival last week prompted interest, so here are some more fun facts about the event.
The first Berwyn-Cicero Houby Festival, which celebrates its 50th year this weekend, took place in 1968 and was started by the Cermak Road Business Association. Since mushroom patterns could be found on almost anything in the area business from dish towels to jewelry – autumn being traditional houby harvest time for Czechs and Slovaks — the association decided to capitalize on the little gems and thus the event evolved.
Pictures of the candidates for Houby Queen could be found in member businesses along with ballot boxes, so patrons could cast ballots. Voting also resulted in patrons receiving a raffle ticket from each store. Needless to say, the ballot boxes were full.
Cicero resident Vera Jandacek (Wilt) was a candidate in the inaugural queen contest and joined the other contestants in the parade, which with the announcement of the name of the Houby Queen.
The queen’s duties did not amount to much, according to Wilt, but she was invited to appear on a Chicago TV show hosted by Jack Eigen. Wilt was accompanied by hour business association members who, as she said, were nervous as to what their queen would say. She made the group proud, extolling the Houby Festival and its merits.
Wilt related that mushrooms played an important part in the Jandacek household. Her father was a well-known mushroom forager even finding a 30-pound mushroom. Her brother, Tony, continued the tradition becoming an expert in the field of mushrooms.
There is always more to the story. It went from houbys to a young Cicero girl who worked part-time at the Ondrus and Sons Draperies Store, attended Morton High School and UIC-Chicago, became the first Houby queen and now is Riverside Township supervisor.
Maybe she will don her sash and crown as a member of the Riverside Township Lions Club as she assists during the club’s annual Candy Day, which will be held on Oct. 11-12 in the area.