Group aims to keep Polish traditions alive

Polish Happy Hour is tonight at Caf Cimmento, downtown.

special to the vindicator

YOUNGSTOWN — PolishYoungstown and the Youngstown Club will host Ostatki, a Polish Carnival Celebration, Feb. 20 at The Youngstown Club.

This is the inaugural event of PolishYoungstown, the fledgling umbrella organization created to promote and educate the Mahoning Valley on all things Polish. Inspired by the strong response to last fall’s Polish Day celebration, the six individuals representing area groups and churches have gotten together in an attempt to revive what was once a vital part of the Mahoning Valley’s culture.

“We felt like the Polish community had lost its center,” said Aundrea Cika Heschmeyer, Liberty resident and PolishYoungstown chairwoman. “What we are betting on is that it hasn’t lost its heart.”

In addition to Heschmeyer, the group consists of Angela Messenger, Ted Szmaj and Darek Chomczyk, all of Youngstown, Agata Lyda Khoury of Poland and Mary Anne Mlynarski of Liberty. Each represents a different organization or facet of the region’s Polish community. They also represent different experiences: two are Polish-born, two are first-generation Americans, and one is second-generation.

“We feel this brings a varied perspective to every topic or event we tackle,” said Heschmeyer, who grew up going to polka days at Idora Park and Krakusy Hall and then went on to attend Alliance College, a Polish-sponsored college in Pennsylvania. “It’s fascinating that ‘being Polish’ means something so different to each of us.”

The common bond for the group is keeping the spirit of its heritage alive and educating younger generations about why they too should be excited about it.

The group’s first effort was initiating the monthly Polish Happy Hours last October. At each event, the host bar features specials on a different Polish beer and vodka, and the group takes care of the rest. Hospitality includes authentic foods and desserts, as well as thematic games and information. The music selection changes at each event to correspond with the venue. Polish techno, rock, folk and jazz already have been featured.

“At Christmas we did a miniature Christmas Eve dinner sampling and provided our guests with the recipes and rituals,” said Heschmeyer.” It was fun to get notes after the holidays hearing how they implemented the different traditions.”

The next Polish Happy Hour will be tonight at 6 at Caf Cimmento, with love and courting being the theme in honor of Valentine's Day.

The Ostatki event will take the group’s efforts to a bigger scale. The semiformal event will include vodka and beer tasting, an assortment of authentic appetizers, desserts, music and games. Door prizes include Polish pottery, folk art and even free pierogis from St Stanislaus Church. Artist Barbara Lyras will display her work.

Two special attractions are a basket raffle that includes a variety of Polish beers and vodkas not usually available in Ohio. The group is shipping items in from Chicago.

Also, the evening will conclude with the traditional paczki parade. Because Lent was always a time of strict fasting from even fruit and butter, pre-lent Polish celebrations always included paczki, a donut treat with a coin inside one of them. When all are distributed, each person cracks open his donut to see if he has the special coin. That person will receive a one-year membership to the Youngstown Club.

“We are looking forward to bringing back some of the best traditions of our heritage — with a modern twist,” Heschmeyer said.

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