GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A weeklong celebration of Polish heritage in Grand Rapids got underway Sunday afternoon with the raising of the Polish flag outside Diamond Hall.
It was the start of a number of events marking the 50th Pulaski Days. There are activities each day leading up to the main event when all of the 14 halls open to the public Friday, Oct. 7, through Sunday, Oct. 9.
“Pulaski Days was founded because of General Casimir Pulaski and our co-founders Walt Ulanch and Ed Czyzyk wanted to create a memory of their Polish heritage in honor him,” Michelle Kershner, the chairwoman of Pulaski Days, said.
Pulaski, a Polish immigrant, was a famous general in the American Revolutionary War who is credited as the father of the U.S. cavalry. He was mortally wounded in battle and died on Oct. 11, 1779.
“So 50 years ago, they started off with two guys sitting in this hall, (saying,) ‘Let’s get something pulled together.’ It started with a weekend of festivities and now it’s rolled into a week of festivities,” Kershner said.
Most of the Grand Rapids’ Polish halls on the northwest and northeast sides of the city were established in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were a place for the large community of Polish immigrants to feel at home. Many of the immigrants did not speak English nor have a job when they came here. The halls were somewhere they could go to connect with other immigrants, learn English and get help finding work.
“Each one of these halls has their own unique facets of who they are and what they bring to the community, which represents not only Polish but Lithuanian, so there is a mix and you’ll learn that with the food and the music,” Kershner said.