WHITING | Community figures loosen their ties and put on ensembles like a coconut bra and grass skirt, mismatched outfits and pastry suits.
The 19th annual Pierogi Festival in downtown Whiting kicks off with the International Polka Parade at 7 p.m. July 26, giving a tongue-in-cheek salute to the area's Eastern European heritage and local officials. The festival runs from July 26 to 28.
The parade runs through downtown Whiting on 119th Street, from Davis Avenue to Oliver Street.
"People come from all over the region," said Tom Dabertin, Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce president and festival chairman. "Somehow the fest maintains its small, hometown flair but still draws hundreds of thousands of people."
Dabertin said each year the parade and festival is different, though it has its traditional figures. Favorites such as the The Precision Lawn-mower Drill Team and Twirling Babushka Brigade will march, along with parade marshal Steve Baskerville, the broadcast weather anchor. Dabertin also will be in the parade in a coconut bra and grass skirt.
A lot of care is taken to make sure Pierogi Fest is "completely out of the box." The Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce gets 100 parade entries each year and only 50 make the parade lineup.
"A lot of people apply, but we have to turn them down because it doesn't fit with the parade's theme," Dabertin said.
A few years ago, former Gov. Mitch Daniels asked to be a part of the parade. Dabertin said yes, but only if Daniels pushed a lawn mower in the The Precision Lawn-mower Drill Team.
Daniels declined, but Dabertin stood his ground.
"Elected officials in convertibles belong in many parades, just not ours," Dabertin said.
Dabertin didn't want to reveal this year's parade lineup but said, "it's as madcap as I've ever seen."
Pierogi Fest has 77 food vendors, 100 arts and crafts booths, 20 specialty vendors and 50 parade displays. The chamber begins planning for the next Pierogi Fest a week after the festival ends.
Dabertin said limited space is the biggest challenge. The chamber has lists of several thousands of vendors who want to be at the festival, but only a few are picked.
The festival committee heavily scrutinizes what cuisine is offered. He said there are vendors as far north as Canada and as far south as Texas, with everything in between.
When 119th Street closes the morning before the event begins, it's a rush to get the entire festival set up within 24 hours. Dabertin said about 250 volunteers work to construct and run the festival. Anyone interested in volunteering can call the chamber office at (219) 659-0292.