Very proud of her Polish heritage, Jenny Milkowski brings humor and a sense of community-building to her career that encompasses broadcast journalism and social media.
And on July 27, the 34-year old first-generation American and Chicago resident honors her Polish roots during two events at Pierogi Fest in downtown Whiting, the quirky celebration that also pokes a bit of fun at the city’s Eastern European heritage.
“Actually I went to Pierogi Fest for the first time last year. I had a blast!” Milkowski exclaimed.
This year, Milkowski will broadcast her radio show, “Jenny Milk & Jay” on 100.3, from 2 to 7 p.m. from Pierogi Fest. Then she’ll grace a special float as queen of the 25th annual International Pierogi Fest Parade surrounded by the Babushka Brigade Buschas serving as her court.
The wacky parade steps off at 7 p.m., traveling down 119th Street just east of Calumet Avenue to New York Avenue.
Queen Milkowski follows in the footsteps of Carol Jacobsen, who reigned over the Pierogi Fest Parade in the late 1990s and early 2000s, said Tom Dabertin, chairman of the festival committee and one of the Pierogi Fest founders.
“Carol appeared as Martha Stewarta, Oprah Piergo and Lady Gagatchy at those events,” Dabertin said, correcting a misconception that Milkowski will be the first queen of the parade.
POLISH PRIDE BEGAN AT BIRTH
“I was born in the Northwest Side of Chicago, which is a heavily Polish neighborhood. My parents were born in Poland. My mom came to Chicago in the 1970s when she was 21 years old,” Milkowski said, adding that her mother had just finished nurse training in the Tarnow area of Poland and came to visit her own mother who already lived in the U.S.
“My dad came here on a boat with his mom and some of his brothers when he was just 7 years old,” she said. “My mom eventually met my dad while shopping at his father’s store, and they started dating shortly after and got married.”
Jenny and her younger sister, Diana, grew up speaking Polish as their first language and didn’t speak English until they went to school.
“Even in preschool I didn’t know English well. … When you’re a kid, you learn languages quickly, but I was very shy,” Milkowski recalled. “So because I was shy and didn’t know how to ask my teacher if I could go to the bathroom, I would pee myself!”
On a nearly daily basis her mother would bring a new pair of pants for her to change into,” Milkowski said.
However, by first grade, she became fluent in English.
“I went to Polish school every Saturday at St. Constance on the Northwest Side, in addition to 'regular' school at Loyola Academy in Wilmette,” Milkowski said.
PASSION FOR BROADCAST JOURNALISM
Even as a young child, Milkowski said she knew she wanted to become a broadcast journalist. An avid book reader, she also filled notebooks with poems and other types of writing. And even in videos of family gatherings, “I would carry around a hairbrush (like a microphone), interviewing people,” she recalled.
That passion led Milkowski to the University of Illinois at Champaign, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in broadcast journalism, graduating in 2006.
“I studied the art of improvisation at The Second City Chicago for several years as well as acting, and love to utilize my quirky personality whenever the time is right,” she quipped, adding she did a lot of acting at the Acting Studio Chicago.
“My first job out of college was in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where I worked as a TV reporter and weekend weather producer and anchor,” she said.
In addition, her resume includes a stint with the "Jerry Springer Show" at NBC Universal, where she worked as a production assistant and booked guests. She also was a producer for CLTV and WGN Channel 9 from November 2007 through September 2012 as well as a blogger for ChicagoNow with 1.43 million page views in just one month.
Milkowski then went to CBS Channel 2, where she was an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer from September 2012 through April 2015.
For the next three years she reported traffic for the FOX morning show. It was at FOX that Milkowski started doing 30-second on-air videos about being Polish and teaching the language.
“I love talking about the Polish culture and my Polish upbringing on TV. I think sometimes anchors on television can be a little stiff and don’t show the audience where they truly come from. I believe that I should be myself — which is Polish and quirky!” she said.
“I want all the Polish men and women and children who watch at home to say, ‘Wow, that’s really cool! She’s like me, and she’s on TV, and she is proud of who she is!’”
Since March, Milkowski has been the host and producer of the afternoon drive radio show “Jenny Milk & Jay” for Hubbard Broadcasting. She also “works closely with the sales team to create seamless and creative digital and on-air-sponsored content for national and local businesses.”
“I have an extensive background in producing LIVE shows and human interest pieces, writing and editing (and have even shot some of my own material),” Milkowski noted. “I have created my own social media shows and designed/created my own websites and have successfully branded all of my materials.”
A very approachable person, Milkowski invites visitors to her website jennymilkowski.com and enjoys interacting with them on Facebook.
And definitely enjoy Pierogi Fest, she said.
“Dziekuje bardzo! I am so happy, humbled and proud to be part of this year’s parade as the Pierogi queen. Bring on the babcias and the kielbasa. I’m ready to rock my red and white. Na zdrowie!”