Before the April explosion at the West Fertilizer plant, the town of West was best known for its Czech heritage and culture—both of which are celebrated annually on Labor Day weekend at Westfest.
West is still recovering from the explosion, which killed 15 people and injured 200, but the tragedy isn’t deterring plans for this year’s Czech and polka festival. If anything, organizers expect the festival will grow stronger and bigger in the tragedy’s aftermath.
“We’re curious to see what it’s going to be like this year,” says Brian Muska, public relations director for the festival. “We’re expecting a pretty good crowd.”
The 20-acre festival grounds are on the opposite side of town from where the explosion occurred. In the hours after the blast, the festival grounds turned into a makeshift staging area for donation drop-offs and distribution, Muska said.
The volunteer board that runs the nonprofit festival is still working on plans for how the event will recognize the town’s tumultuous spring, including honoring the firefighters who died in the blast as parade marshals, Muska said.
The festival’s line-up is already set, with everything from polka band performances to a Miss Westfest contest, arts-and-crafts vendors, a kolache baking contest, and more.
Westfest’s purpose has always been to raise money for local community organizations, such as fire departments and scholarships. Muska says this year’s proceeds will likely contribute to the community’s recovery efforts.
“There were a lot of concerns that we wouldn’t have the festival, but that’s not true,” Muska says. “It will go on and will be stronger and bigger than ever.”