Wilber is a rural community with a thriving business district offering many economic opportunities. Wilber’s roots date back to an 1865 Czech settlement and that rich cultural history is still evident throughout the town. This close knit community is a great place to raise a family offering quality schools, strong churches, affordable housing, and beautiful parks. Wilber boasts many civic organizations for children and adults and many recreational opportunities all of which help to improve the quality of life for Wilber’s residents and visitors. Along with its vibrant downtown, Wilber is home to modern medical facilities as well as a strong library that includes a Czech heritage room. Local residents enjoy the support from local newspapers and affordable utilities. Wilber is the Czech Capital of the United States and annually hosts a large cultural celebration, the Wilber Czech Festival but tourism is an important part of the community throughout the year.
The first Czech settlers came into the area in 1865, and approximately 90 percent of the town’s 1,250 inhabitants were of Czech descent in 1900. With them came a love for music, drama, gymnastics, education, patriotism, well-tended lawns and gardens, and traditional Czech foods. From early times on there were two opera houses, many fraternal organizations, and annual summer carnivals to celebrate the harvest.
Wilber was platted on March 10, 1873, on land donated by C.D. Wilber, after whom the town was named. Early merchants were W.H. Mann and Charles Harvey, who built a dam and a mill on the Big Blue River; W.C. Henry, who built an elevator; and C.D. Wilber, owner of The Wilber House. By 1875 the population was 800. Wilber became the county seat following an 1877 election.
The Wilber Mill, established in 1873, was rebuilt in 1913 and an electrical power unit was added. Hotel Wilber was built in 1895 and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Some Wilber residents who have become prominent in their chosen fields:
- Dr. Olga Sadilek Stastny, the first Czech woman physician in Nebraska, was elected to the Nebraska Women’s Hall of Fame in 1975.
- August Molzer, an 1897 Wilber High graduate, was a violinist who studied in Europe with Anton Dvorak and others and also served in the University of Nebraska Music Department and at Wesleyan.
- John Grant Tobias, an artist who lived in Wilber from 1924 to 1939, donated many of his scenes of Saline County to the Nebraska State Historical Society.
- Frank Sadilek, a prominent politician from 1883 through 1918, who served as county clerk and treasurer as well as a state senator, and was the author of My Reminiscences.
- Irma Ourecky, promoter of many Czech events, was given the Henry Fonda Award in 1990 by the Nebraska Tourism Foundation for her work in Wilber and across the state.
In 1962 the Czechs of Wilber organized the Nebraska Czechs, Inc., in order to preserve the culture and heritage of the past through other groups in the state, of which there are eight other chapters in addition to Wilber. Wilber was proclaimed “Czech Capital of Nebraska” by Governor Frank Morrison in 1963. The designation was further expanded on July 10, 1987, when Wilber was named “The Czech Capital of the U.S.A.” by proclamation signed by President Ronald Reagan. A Czech Festival is held annually in Wilber.