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Riverhead Polish Town festival draws thousands
The sweet smell of freshly cooked kielbasa sausage and onion pierogies drifted from under a white tent off the corner of Pulaski Street in Riverhead, enticing thousands of visitors to come over and sample some of the authentic Polish dishes.
The tent was run by Polish Civic Association treasurer Maureen Bock, but she wasn’t doing it alone. Today, three generations of the Bock family joined her, each with their own job.
“I have my son-in-laws cooking, the girls are serving the food, and my husband and I are running the cash boxes,” Bock said. “We do this every year, the whole family comes out to help.”
Family was the emphasis this weekend at the 39th l Polish Town USA Street Fair and Polka Festival, held on Pulaski Street in Riverhead. The fair, organized by the Polish Town Civic Association, was dedicated to celebrating the rich Polish heritage of the area.
Polish Town, the area of Riverhead surrounding Saint Isidore Roman Catholic Church on Pulaski Street, was established more than 100 years ago, when Polish immigrants began to settle in the area, turning fields of potatoes into a thriving neighborhood, said Tadeusz Osiniak, 45, who immigrated to the area 30 years ago.
“We’ve been here for four generations,” Riverhead resident and festival volunteer Gene Sendlewski, 34, said. “The family is so central here, I can’t see us moving out.”
There was a little bit of everything at the festival, with tents of vendors selling an array of items, carnival games, and cold Polish (and American) beer sold by the pint in signature glasses, made special for the occasion.
On Saturday, volunteers re-enacted a traditional Polish wedding and visitors were invited to dance as bands played polka music late into the night. Members of the Maximillian Kolbe Polish School Program at St. Isidore Church, also performed traditional Polish dances.
“Maybe one year, we can get someone to actually get married,” Burte Harris, of the Polish Town Civic Association, said jokingly. “Most of all, this about the celebration of our culture to carry on.”
Proceeds of the festival will go to the Polish Town Civic Association, which, according to Bock, plans to use the funds to help better the area of Polish Town through charity, beautification and other local projects.
As a Polish Town resident, Osiniak said he has attended the festival every year since he moved to the United States.
“You know, we all get along, the younger generations, the older generations,” he said. “Everyone is proud to be Polish today.”