Roll Out the Barrel
It’s Time for Pierogi Fest
By Barbara Voris Eastman
Nearly two decades ago, community leaders in Whiting, Indiana, put their heads together to create a summer festival to celebrate the Slovak and Polish culture that was so much a part of the tapestry of their small town. In the first year the event was little more than a few food vendors and one or two make-shift floats. With every passing year, it got bigger and bigger and that little event grew into Pierogi Fest, which is now one of the best summer festivals in the region and is brought to you by the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce.
Out the Babushkas
The 18th annual Pierogi Fest will be held July 27th through 29th, and over the three days more than 250,000 will have attended festival events. This year has been deemed “The Year of the Halupki,” which for those not lucky enough to be of Polish or Slovak heritage, is a cabbage roll stuffed with meat and rice. CBS Chicago television personality, Steve Baskerville, will return as Parade Marshall for Friday night’s International Polka Parade, which kicks-off the weekend’s festivities. The parade draws upwards of 75,000 residents and visitors, and is presided over by beloved personalities, Mr. Pierogi and Ms. Paczki. Other favorites are the Precision Lawnmower Drill Team, the Twirling Babushka Brigade, the Pieroguettes, the Halupki guy, and the Pierogi Queen and her court (the Beer-o-gies). The International Dancers will appear on the main stage, and they have been part of Pierogi Fest from the beginning.
Members of a Carmelite order from a convent in East Chicago have participated in the parade and other festival events and will be back again this year. Look for them at the dunk tank, too. This is your chance to get back at that 4th grade teacher who sent you to the principal’s office! Hit the target and you can send one of the sisters (in full habit) into the watery depths. It’s all in good fun and the sisters have a ball! And, it wouldn’t be a parade without floats and this one has plenty of them, including the incomparable World’s Original Lazy Boy float.
A huge component of Pierogi Fest is the food. There will be approximately 70 food vendors (more than there were at Taste of Chicago last year) serving a wide variety of ethnic foods. As many as 20 vendors will be selling pierogis of all types (duh!), but you’ll find a little of everything, including polish sausage, burgers, brats, hot dogs, fries, tacos, chicken, Italian beef and sausage, pizza, calzones, Greek and Cajun food, ice cream, and more. Pack some Tums and have at it!
On Saturday the bushas return with their own cooking show. All community volunteers, the women who portray the bushas have a ball and some have been doing it for years. Many are natural comediennes and have as much fun as the crowd as they walk everyone through the creation of down home comfort food, just like grandma used to make! Other times Polish and ethnic jokes may not be politically correct, but during Pierogi Fest all bets are off. Everyone is out to have a good time and participants are not afraid to poke fun at themselves in the interest of creating a good time for all.
Other Pierogi Fest highlights are the Mr. Pierogi Songfest, the Beer Garden, the Pierogi Toss, Pierogi eating contest, arts and crafts vendors, and performances by the renowned Slovak dancers. This is, without a doubt, one of the best festivals in the region. It has been written up in The Chicago Sun Times (as one of the festivals you don’t want to miss), Bon Appetit, and Midwest Living, and has been featured on Wild Chicago, and on CBS and WGN television news. Need we say more? Head on over to Whiting and no matter your heritage, for at least one day—or maybe three—you can be an honorary Polak or Slovak. Pierogis anyone?
Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce
1417 119th Street
Whiting, IN 46394
Barbara Voris Eastman grew up in Michigan City and moved back to the area after spending nearly 35 years working in Chicago. She is both the editor and a regular contributor to www.thebeachcoast.com.