Polish Summer Fest proves Dayton’s diversity
By Rusty Pate
Our modern world rarely leaves much time to reflect on our roots. The day-to-day grind of work and family commitments don’t give us a chance to reflect on where we’ve come from. Immigrant communities once banded together in the brave new world of America and attempted to keep homeland traditions alive. The convenience of big-chain retailers and the hustle and flow of modern life have driven wedges between us and the heritages which once were held so dear.
The Polish Picnic/Summer fest on August 5 recalls those time-honored customs.
Established in 1935, the Dayton Polish Club has always pursued a simple mission: to preserve old-world Polish traditions in the new world. The club has steadily grown since its inception, from a humble, single-home existence to its large country-club-like grounds they currently call home. While the membership still numbers around 350, they have struggled to engage the younger generations in keeping traditions alive.
Enter Christine Kielbaso-Fowler.
Kielbaso-Fowler’s family has a long tradition in the club. She joined at 23, just after finishing a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy. In 2010, she became the recording secretary, and she was named the club’s first female president this year.
She says her initial fears of butting heads with older members were quickly put to rest.
“I thought a lot of the older men would protest it, but they’ve been very supportive,” Kielbaso-Fowler said. “Everyone seems to embrace the change well. I’ve never had any problems. It’s nice, because I have a lot of backup.”
While the club once held as many as three picnics a summer, they have since consolidated their efforts into one big event with Summer Fest. The club also puts on a children’s Christmas party and Easter egg hunt, but this picnic offers the public their best chance to experience the true Polish experience, according to Kielbaso-Fowler.
Just be ready to dance.
“We dance a lot,” Kielbaso-Fowler said. “We have games and a play area for children, too.”
Music will be provided by festival-favorite Duane Malinowski and his polka band from Toledo from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m.
“They will play all our polka favorites – ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ and ‘She’s Too Fat,’” Kielbaso-Fowler said. “The polkas are hilarious if you listen to the words.”
Polkas often are preceded by salting the dance floor, which helps the dancers, according to Kielbaso-Fowler.
“The polka is a very basic, two-step type of dance and you shuffle your feet a lot,” Kielbaso-Fowler said. “Sprinkling the salt on the floor makes it so your feet can glide across the floor.”
However, as with any ethnic festival, one attraction remains the top draw.
“The best thing about the festival, if you ask me, is the food,” Kielbaso-Fowler said. “We are on third- or fourth-generation of hand-me-down recipes that are absolutely amazing. We typically sell out of food every year. It’s some of the best homemade polish sausages, cabbage rolls and pierogies that a person could have.”
Prices on food range from $1.50 to $4, with beer costing $2 and soda $1. Hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob will also be available, in addition to the traditional Polish favorites. Cost to enter the grounds is $4 a car.
Keeping traditions like this alive takes some work, but the payoff is well worth the effort, according to Kielbaso-Fowler.
“There’s just not the member support or volunteers the way it used to be, but things change as the years go and we’re just embracing everything and pushing through and just still trying to do what we can do to keep the traditions alive,” Kielbaso-Fowler said. “It’s great to come up here and be able to hear the older men speak in Polish and hear the stories from back in the day, the things they used to do.”
Kielbaso-Fowler said that she understands people have busy lives, but she hopes the younger generations of Polish descendants, including her own, begin to rediscover their ties to these customs.
“I’m only 32, so I am young, but I also embrace my heritage,” Kielbaso-Fowler said. “I’m proud to be Polish. It’s an honor to do what I’m doing here. I wish I could get more people my age, and even younger and older to come help and see what it’s about – to sit and talk with the older generations, to find out how proud they are of what they accomplished and take on that same pride.”
Proceeds from the event allows the club to make necessary renovations to its buildings, but the real goal is to bring together club members, as well as the general public, for a celebration of all things Polish.
“It’s great people in a drama-free zone with some really, really good food,” Kielbaso-Fowler said. “It’s a cheap way to spend an afternoon and I hope people come out and support us and the local Polish heritage.”
The Polish Picnic/Summer Fest will take place Sunday, August 5 from 3:00-9:00 p.m. at the Polish Picnic Grounds, 3690 Needmore Road. Cost is $4 a car. Entertainment will be provided by Duane Malinowski and his polka band from Toledo. For more information, call The Dayton Polish Club at 937-222-8092.
Reach DCP intern and freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@daytoncitypaper.com