Geoffrey Hauschild|The Vindicator.Members of Piast Artistic Folk and Dance Ensemble, from Cleveland, Paulina Kossakowski, Aleks Wielgus, Barbara Sychla, Ryan Pluhar, Jacob Kossakowski, and Haley Pluhar, dance during Polish Day at St. Anne Church in Austintown on Sunday afternoon.
Alyssa Koval of North Jackson holds a napkin over her mouth as she recovers from downing 11 pirogis in a pirogi-eating contest during Polish Day. Her cousin, Ashley Koval of Youngstown, rests her head on the table after taking second place by eating 14 pirogis in three minutes.
More than 1,000 people partake in Polish culture in Austintown event
By BOB JACKSON
Aundrea Cika Heschmeyer had a simple, to-the-point message for people who visited Sunday’s Polish Day celebration.
“We’re not just polka and pirogi,” she said of her Polish cultural heritage. “We are about so much more than that, and we want people to know it. We’re really excited about this.”
Polish Day, sponsored by Polish Youngstown, was a complete celebration of Polish culture and its contributions to science and the arts as well as cuisine and dance.
The event at St. Anne’s Church, 4310 Kirk Road, attracted more than 1,000 people to the church and outdoor tents that had been set up to handle the overflow crowd.
Heschmeyer, director of Polish Youngstown, said the festival is rooted in a fund-raiser three years ago in the basement of St. Casimir Church in Youngstown to benefit the Polish Arts Club. Organizers expected only about 100 people, but got a turnout of five times that many.
“I said then, ‘I knew it. There is a market for this. People are hungry for it,’” Heschmeyer said.
That led to last year’s inaugural Polish Day, also at at St. Anne’s Church, which pulled in some 1,200 people. At least that many were expected to come back again this year, and Heschmeyer said planners tried to make improvements to better handle the crowds.
Two food lines were set up to help keep people moving through faster as they lined up for traditional Polish foods like kielbasi, pirogi, cabbage and noodles, potato pancakes and bigos, a tradional Polish stew. A take-out window was set up for people who didn’t want to eat at the festival, and extra seating was set up under tents outside.
“We’ve outgrown this space,” Heschmeyer said, noting that organizers already are looking for another site to hold next year’s event.
“We do programming all year, but this is our culmination. This is the big event.”
Bishop George V. Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown said Polish Day is a wonderful celebration of Polish culture and traditions.
“The Mahoning Valley has been so blessed by having a variety of those cultures and traditions,” said the bishop, who led a polka-themed Mass to kick off the event.
“People here feel so connected to their Catholic faith, and to their families. And there is a patriotism, which is admirable.”
While many visitors savored the Polish food and drinks that were being served and sold, others enjoyed the traditional polka music. John and Marian Lipinski of Boardman took advantage of the chance to dance up a storm.
“This is our thing,” said John, smiling broadly as he took a short break off the dance floor. “This is what we love to do. We were brought up on this type of music.”
The Lipinksis, who said they are in their late 70s and married 49 years, said they love traditional Polish-style polka dancing.
“It used to be nothing for us to drive 400 miles, dance for four hours, and then drive home,” John said. “We still travel all over to dance, but now when we drive that far, we spend the night,” he said, laughing.
Outside the main church hall, vendors had set up tables under tents, where visitors could buy Slovak merchandise including clothing, jewelry and foods. There were also workshops on genealogy, Polish travel options, language and conversation, and an accordion overview and jam session.