WHITING | If the Calumet Region really has a true identity, it might as well be Pierogi Fest.
It certainly appeared that Pierogi Fest had its lovers of all that is ethnic, colorful and just a bit weird, as thousands of people jammed 119th Street on Friday night for the fest's annual Polka Parade.
As the lead car crossed the intersection of Indianapolis Boulevard and 119th, people five and six deep craned their necks to get a glimpse of king and court of the pierogi world — Mr. Pierogi and Pieroguettes.
“You are my people! I love you all,” shouted Mr. Pierogi to the cheering crowd.
Not to be outdone, the Babushka Brigade came armed with mops, plungers and feather dusters (head scarves not optional). Bringing up the rear — and right where they belonged — were the Precision Lawnmower Drill Team, dancing its way down the street.
With his 8-year-old son, Andrew, perched atop his shoulders, St. John’s Steve Urbanski was watching his first Polka Parade.
“It’s everything I thought it would be,” he said. “It’s one of those must-see experiences for a lifelong Regionite.”
Hammond’s Ed Kaczmarski, dressed in his Polish-best red and white, has been coming to the parade for about the past 10 years.
“It gets bigger and better every year,” he said. “I get my pierogis from M&S Deli, which is located right by my house.”
His friend Mary Daly, of Munster, went with something new and different for her pierogi dinner this year.
“I had some bacon and cheddar pierogis over at Kasia’s. It was really good,” she said.
Pierogi Fest is well known outside Northwest Indiana, drawing people from many states and even outside the United States. Former region resident Colleen Barany was in from Milwaukee with her friend Alli Weiss, of New Berlin, Wis.
“It’s a fun experience to catch up with old friends,” Barany said. “You don’t get pierogis like this in Wisconsin.”
Weiss could attest to that. “We have big festivals in Milwaukee but nothing like this.”
Locals roll out the welcome mat for some 250,000 visitors on fest weekend. Whiting’s Jon Krilich is glad to see them come and put the small city on the map of some of the world’s most celebrated festivals.
“I was in the pierogi parade once, but I wasn’t supposed to be,” he said. “They asked me to leave.”