Archive for June 27th, 2017

2017 Polish Fest

A Quick Polka Through the 2017 Polish Fest

36 Years of Celebrating Polish Heritage and Tradition

The 36th Polish Fest was again a memorable highlight of Wisconsin summer. The festival is held every year on the Summerfest grounds near Milwaukee’s lakefront and since its beginnings in 1982, it grew to become the largest event of its kind in the United States. The fest is a three-day long fête of Polish heritage attracting crowds with lively music, exuberant dance performances, folk art and crafts, eye-catching souvenirs, Polish cuisine and much, much more to do and see for different interests, tastes and ages.


The program of the 2017 Polish Fest included several events honoring the bicentennial of Tadeusz Kościuszko’s death commemorated this year all over the world. On Friday, Anne Gurnack, professor emerita from the UW-Parkside, delivered a talk on Kościuszko monuments and remembrances. On Sunday, a standing-room only forum took place presenting “Kościuszko From Three Perspectives” of historians John Gurda and Angela Pienkos – and the chairman of Milwaukee’s Kościuszko Monument Restoration Committee, Claude Krawczyk.

The fest-goers could also explore a great exhibit portraying details of Kościuszko’s life. The exhibit was expertly put together by two members of Polanki (the Polish Women Club of Milwaukee), Ewa Barczyk-Pease and Tamara Johnston.

The third speaker was Susan Mikos, also a member of Polanki, who presented the history of “Polish National Anthems through the Ages.” You could see her later volunteering in the Polanki’s tent filled to the bream with handmade Bolesławiec pottery, jewelry and Christmas ornaments. Polanki also showcased a display of amber artifacts and a 3D mural hand-painted by Margie Hess and depicting the Baltic Sea. While talking about educational displays, the fest attending public had also a chance to explore the “Frank Piasecki and Other Polish Aviation Designers” exhibit on loan from the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago.

The Polish American Congress – Wisconsin Division hosted a booth in the 2017 Polish Fest and many members generously volunteered to share their love for Polish culture and knowledge about our organization. In addition to Stan Grajewski adding an unforgettable accent to our presentation with his Kościuszko uniform, big thanks go also to Robert Bialecki, Danny Carlin, Doris Graiewski, Debbie and Jerry Halkoski, Jan and Dan Klosowski, Ann Pienkos (the coordinator for this event), Don Pienkos, Mark Pienkos, Steve Pienkos, David Rydzewski, Karen Wieckowski and Derek Zarzeczny). To see your smiling face in the volunteer column next year, sign up for the 2018 Polish Fest.

The white and red colors of the Polish flag reigned in the booths of other Polish organizations displaying their informational materials. These colors prevailed also in the clothes of the festival attending public and at the “Sukiennice Market Square” – where one could buy anything from Baltic amber jewelry to Lewandowski T-shirts. Polish craftwork could be purchased also in the tents of “Cultural Village” – with many handicrafts created by the attending folk artists right before the eyes of the onlookers. To round the picture, add to this a chance to pet the endearing Polish Tatra sheepdogs, learn about Polish breeds of rabbits and chickens, gaze at the nightly fireworks and watch the excitement accompanying the Polish Fest pageants (held in three age categories: little, pre-teen and teen) and other shows for kids.

Children were also delightful to watch as dancers in about every folk dance ensemble – all performing in the superbly colorful Polish folk costumes. Most dance groups arrived from Illinois (Hejnal, Lajkonik, Mali Hyrni, Mali Kościeliscanie, Wesoly Lud, Whispers and Wici) and one from Michigan (PNA Centennial Dancers). Yet Milwaukee’s own Syrena made the lasting impression with the greatest variety of regions represented in their dances (see the video box above) and a mini concert of folk music. The kaleidoscopic folk dance marathon was crowned with the dazzling Polish Folk Dance Gala under the auspices of PFDAA (Polish Folk Dance Association of the Americas).

Another folk side of the Polish Fest was the polka dance music (polka is an official state dance of Wisconsin since 1993) played tirelessly on the “Non-Stop Polka Stage” and most of the time on other stages. Some bands arrived from as far as Connecticut (Polka Country Musicians), New York (The Knewz) and Canada (John Góra – inducted to the Polka Music Hall of Fame in 2011). But our eye caught the talented band Box On from Chicago, comprising Rick and Alicia Vinecki and six of their eight children (see the video to the right), and gifted polka dance teachers, Randy and Ashley Thull from Wisconsin.

For a change of pace and genre, many fest-goers assembled to enjoy the annual Chopin Youth Piano Competition and the amazing skills of its young contestants. There were three Wisconsin resident’s were among winners this year. In Junior Division (ages 10-14), Antonio Wu from Madison took the 1st place, while the 3rd place went to Wojciech Klos from Menomonee Falls. Antonio’s sister, Audrianna Wu, finished 3rd in Senior Division (ages 15-18)..

The 2017 Polish Fest food did not disappoint with many choices of traditional favorites (not to mention the Tyskie bear imported directly from Poland). Pierogi, potato pancakes, gołąbki, hunter’s stew and kiełbasa were available in various combinations, while local chefs let some of their secrets out during the “Cooking with the Polish Flair” demonstrations. But the fest is not just about feasting on Polish food. Helping to feed the hungry is also among its aims and this year about 7,550 lbs of food was collected for the Food Pantry (donating non-perishable foods scored the fest attendees a reduced or free admission). This was nearly a six-fold increase over 1300 lbs raised in 2016. Another venue for the same noble purpose was the 12th Cappuchins Run Walk For The Hungry – joined this year by over 1,500 participants.

On another note of altruism, the charity chosen to benefit from collections at the Catholic Mass traditionally held on the fest grounds on Sunday morning was again the Center for Blind Children in Laski, Poland. This year the mass celebrant was Father Timothy Kitzke, as always blending humor and life experiences into his homily. He is co-pastor of the Three Holy Women Parish including the Saint Hedwig Church, established by Polish immigrants on Milwaukee’s East Side in 1871 and named after the Queen Jadwiga of Poland (1373-1399, canonized in 1997). We remember Father Kitzke also as a recipient of the 2016 Congressman Clement Zablocki Civic Achievement Award

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