Weaving Together Community, One Maypole at a Time

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Chris and I had been assigned to help Ardene and Gerry, a couple of local people that Barbara had engaged as her wedding organizers.

Ardene, former mayor of Clutier, and secretary of the Clutier Betterment Committee, was also the person who scheduled events at the Z.C.B.J. Hall. When Barbara inquired about renting the place for her wedding, Ardene mentioned that she happened to also be a decorator and event planner. And there you have it; a complete wedding in one fell swoop.

It seemed there was nothing Ardene didn’t do, but in the event that there was, she had her friend Gerry to pick up the slack.

Gerry, it turns out, had spent years as a purveyor of bull semen for artificial insemination in the beef production industry, a job that took him all over the globe before returning to the family farm in Clutier.

“Now I’m just a picker,” he said, chuckling, describing his business of procuring antiques and collectibles. “I was a picker before pickin’ was cool,” Gerry said with a wink. As I watched him use a broom handle to expertly weave tulle into a trellis positioned over what would become the pie table, it was apparent that he was a decorator before decorating was cool, too.

Ardene was at work with yards of brightly colored ribbon that she was attaching to the top of a ten-foot Greek column that looked like it had once been used as a prop in a play, or for an elaborate toga party.

“When Barbra and Bill set their wedding date as May first, I knew right away there had to be a Maypole,” Ardene said over the loud clicks of the staple gun, smiling to herself.

As Chris and I arranged flowers and greenery, Ardene and Gerry shared bits of the story of the Zapadni Cesko Bratrske Jednota Hall, which, given the mouthful of a name it had, was always known by its initials. Built in 1901 by Czech settlers, it was designated for community meetings, dinners, graduations, dances, and other social events. At one time, it had even housed the Clutier Public Library.

But if you asked Ardene, it was really all about the dances.

“People used to come from all over Tama county for those dances,” Ardene reminisced, looking out across the empty dance floor. “They would pack this place, shoulder to shoulder.”

She went on to describe one of the hall’s unique features: the 75-year-old advertising curtain that hung behind the stage, painted with promotions for area businesses, displaying their two-digit phone numbers.

“I still remember the lumber yard was 54,” said Ardene, whose mother had been the main switchboard operator until the dial telephones started showing up in Clutier in 1965. “And now we’ve got these stupid things,” she laughed, pointing to a smartphone in a glittery case. She shrugged gently, “I guess change is part of life.”

There was one change, however, that Ardene, Gerry, and the townspeople of Clutier were not willing to abide by.

By 2019, operating costs at the Z.C.B.J. hall outweighed any revenue that was coming in, and the list of costly deferred maintenance was growing. It seemed the only answer was to sell it, likely to a buyer interested only in the building materials, with demolition on the mind.

Enter the Clutier Betterment Association, of which Gerry is president, and Ardene is the treasurer. The group spearheaded a creative fundraising campaign that not only kept the lights on, but financed a new roof, and windows to boot.

“Replacing the siding is the next phase,” Gerry said, weaving ribbon and silk flowers into the lattice archway under which vows would be exchanged. “Once we raise the money, that is.”

I recalled Barbara and Bill’s wedding invitation, refreshingly devoid of links to a gift registry. “No gifts please,” it read, then, “Contributions may be made to Z.C.B.J Restoration Project.” I was glad I’d brought my checkbook.

The wedding ceremony the next day could be a full-length column unto itself, but for our purposes here, I’ll fast-forward to the part after dinner, when, even before the last forkful of pie was shoveled in, the dancing began.

As guests were summoned by Elvis, Van Morrison, and Pharrell Williams, the dance floor was reanimated by the human presence it had been aching for.

After a few warm-up songs and, of course, the Chicken Dance, Ardene and Gerry carried the Maypole out to the middle of the dance floor.

On cue, the music transitioned from ABBA into a traditional Czech polka.

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