What: 30th annual Lagrange Street Polish Festival
When: Today, noon to 7 p.m.
Where: Guests may enter at the intersection of Lagrange Street and Central Avenue. The festival is held on Lagrange Street between Central Avenue and Mettler Street.
Highlights: “Prince of Pierogi,” a pierogi contest among the food vendors, 3 p.m. Pierogi-eating contest, 4:30 p.m.
Admission: $2. Children 8 years old and younger, free. Minors under age 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Transportation: A shuttle bus will be available outside Central Catholic High School, 2550 Cherry St. Adults pay $1 for a round trip to and from the admission gate. Children ride free.
The smell of pierogi filled the air as locals learned how to polka.
As the Lagrange Street Polish Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend, thousands of people from far and wide flocked Friday and Saturday to Toledo's north end.
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Drawing an average of 20,000 visitors over the course of three days in the past, the festival has become Toledo’s largest street festival, said Linda Detrick-Jaegly, chairman of the festival and fund development coordinator for United North.
United North, a community development organization that benefits North Toledo, organizes the annual festival to fund housing improvements, home construction, business district maintenance, and the Martin A. Blaszczyk Memorial Scholarship, which provides $3,000 to one graduating senior from North Toledo.
The festival raised more than $41,000 last year, and Ms. Detrick-Jaegly hopes this year’s event will raise $50,000.
The first Polish immigrants entered Lucas County about 1850, said David Chelminski, a historian at the Toledo Polish Genealogical Society. The Lagrinka Polish community started developing in what is now Lagrange Street in the 1870s, and by the 1970s, a quarter of all people in Toledo were Polish, Mr. Chelminski said.
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“There are Polish people, Hungarian people, and Mexican people [in North Toledo],” Ms. Detrick-Jaegly said. “We are just a hodgepodge, a melting pot, like America’s supposed to be. But the roots of this neighborhood are Polish. It doesn’t matter what their race is, people come [to the festival] to celebrate our [Polish] culture.”
The festival continues today.
Founded in 1983 on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the first Lagrange Street Polish Festival had only food and music, recalled Jerry Murawski, 63, of Temperance, who has been attending the festival every year since it began.
Thirty years later, the festival has evolved into a three-day celebration jam-packed with activities. In celebration of the 30th anniversary, United North has partnered with the Ohio Theatre in North Toledo to offer a $4 discount to festival-goers who wish to attend the Polish play Hunting Cockroaches this weekend.
Visitors can also enter a trivia treasure hunt, in which participants search for 30 wooden disks bearing answers to Polish and festival trivia questions. The disks are posted throughout the festival grounds, and winners receive necklaces and key chains from Treu House of Munch, one of the event’s beer distributors.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) presented the Martin A. Blaszczyk Memorial Scholarship to DeMarkus Darrington, a graduating senior from Woodward High School who will study engineering at Ohio State University.
An amateur polka dancing contest was held Saturday, and today, festival-goers can participate in a pierogi-eating contest at 4:30 p.m. Vendors will enter samples of their best dumplings, competing for the title of “Prince of Pierogi.”
In addition to eight polka bands and the Echoes of Poland dance group, the festival features more than 20 stands selling arts and crafts, six trailers selling beer or soda, and more than a dozen neighborhood nonprofit organizations. At least 15 food vendors will be selling pierogi, kielbasa, haluski, and other ethnic fare.
The Cincinnati Circus Company also made an appearance Saturday, performing card tricks and walking on tightropes. Towering 8 feet, 6 inches above the ground, balloon artist Kevin Brandenburg stood on stilts, twisting balloons into hats, swords, and elephants.
Flanked by his parents and siblings, Da-Shad Strong, 9, clutched a blue sword in his hand.
“[The festival] is fun,” Da-Shad said. “My favorite part was the tightrope in the circus tent.”
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Mr. Murawski, a former Toledo resident whose father owned a Polish grocery store on Elm Street, drove from Temperance to visit old friends and sample Stanley’s Market kielbasa, a festival delicacy since 1983.
“We’ve never missed one [festival],” said Mr. Murawski, who turned 63 Saturday. “My birthday’s been perfect.”
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