Does this festival make me look Polish?
MICHIGAN CITY — “Does This Shirt Make Me Look Polish?”; “Not Only Am I Perfect, I’m Polish Too”; “Little Polish Sweetheart”; and “Proud To Be Polish” – these were a few of the shirts at the Goskand Sports booth during the 7th annual Polish Heritage Festival.
Working at the booth on Sunday at Friendship Botanic Gardens was Margaret Piton, who said the shirts with the Polish flag’s white eagle were most popular with the crowd of about 1,000.
Visiting the booth were Michigan City resident Angie Myland, her daughter, Rachel Myland; and her grandchildren, 5-year-old Jasper Myland and 2-year-old Lana Albertson.
“We need to stay with our Polish heritage,” Angie said, while admitting the great food including the Polish sausage dinner they bought, is a big draw.
“And the kids like to walk around and look at the gardens,” said Rachel. “The scenery is just beautiful.”
Sunny and extra warm weather helped also – last year’s event was canceled due to rain.
“People are interested in their ethnicity,” said Janusz Duzinkiewicz of the Polish Heritage Association of Michigan City and associate professor of history at Purdue University Northwest. “It’s nice to see that there are children and young adults.”
Duzinkiewicz had an education booth at the event, and said he enjoys meeting attendees who aren’t of Polish heritage.
“They are my favorites because you can educate them more,” he said, adding the festival “helps young people become more aware of Poles, Polish Americans, and the culture and history of the country of Poland. It’s important for people to know their own roots and the ethnicity of others too.”
Duzinkiewicz called the Polish Heritage Festival a “major undertaking” that requires “a lot of dedication and synchronization. He said the Polish Heritage Association will be meeting on Oct. 21 to start planning for 2019.
The festival included traditional food favorites such as paczki, kiszka, golabki and pierogi from Hammond’s Cavalier Inn and Baker’s Dozen Bake Shop in South Bend, in addition to a Polish beer garden.
George and Judy Groll of Dyer were especially impressed with the pierogi and stuffed cabbage; they called the festival “excellent.”
Both part Polish, they saw the Friendship Botanic Gardens sign while driving by.
“We pass this all the time on our way to New Buffalo and Three Oaks,” George said. “We looked the event up online and said, ‘That’s where we will be going.’”
They are already looking forward to attending next year.
Music played a major role in the festivities, with Polish folk dance performances by Wesoly Lud and Zespol Wiyrchy, and music by the Polish-American polka band “Ampol Aires.”
New for 2018 were workshops on traditional Polish dance and song by Dr. Michael Young – offering music from the roots of Polish culture passed down through demonstrations in Polish villages.
“Everyone loves the interaction with the Polish dance groups and Polish band. This event, each year provides a common place for the community to gather and experience our culture, values and history,” said Mark Kolasa, president of the Polish Heritage Association. “Everyone is always welcome.”
Larry and Shannon Oates of West LaFayette attended a service at St. Ann of the Dunes Parish in Beverly Shores and saw an ad for the festival in the bulletin. It was their first time attending and first trip to Friendship Botanic Gardens.
“The Polish sausage was awesome and the highlander dancers were really fun,” said Shannon. “I’m a huge fan of decorated Easter eggs.”
They were admiring the eggs – the art of Pisanki – made by Theresa Child, who has been on the festival committee since its inception. Each year she sells the decorated eggs for $5 each and returns the money to the Polish Heritage Association. Near the end of the event, she’d sold 27 of the brightly colored eggs.
“The funds from our annual festival go to our Polish Heritage Scholarship essay contest as well as annual gifts to charities like homeless shelters and the food panty,” Kolasa said.
This year the Polish Heritage Association awarded college scholarships to Alyssa Grzesiowski from Marian High School in Mishawaka, Bethany Worl from Purdue University Northwest, and Lois Sadlowski from Hammond Baptist High School.
The scholarship recipients weren’t the only winners announced.
Father Jozef Zuziak was awarded the Polish Ambassador of the Year Award. Ordained a priest in Poland in 1966, he joined the Chopin Chorus of the Polish Singers Alliance of America shortly after arriving in the United States. He went on to found the Polish walking prayer pilgrimage from Chicago to Merrillville, and has served as chaplain for several Polish Highland clubs in the Chicago area.
All in all, it was a great day for Polish food, fun and fellowship.
“Hopefully, we can generate a day that people enjoy and revel in their ethnicity or others’ ethnicity,” Duzinkiewicz said.