GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Organizers say Pulaski Days saw a record-breaking 2023 as big crowds packed Grand Rapids’ 14 Polish halls.
Josh Theisen, Pulaski Days Co-Chair, told News 8 Sunday that this year’s celebration of Polish heritage resulted in the most donations and visitors to date.
“From kids to grandparents to people in between, it’s just wonderful to see the level of excitement,” Theisen said. “This is where we make our money for the year, kind of like a Black Friday for retailers.”
Joe Butler, the president of St. Ladislaus Aid Society, said Polish halls around Grand Rapids count on Pulaski Days to stay afloat.
“This is what keeps us open,” Butler said.
Theisen reiterated the importance of the celebration and the money it brings in.
“If we didn’t have Pulaski Days and celebrate this culture, we wouldn’t get the money to keep these halls in the condition they are,” Theisen said.
The big turnout benefits the effort to save Jackson Street Hall. It’s the oldest Polish hall in the entire country, built back in 1888. The hall saw a record-breaking Pulaski Days as well, according to Polish National Aid Society President Anna Tylzynski.
“Jackson spearheaded everything for us,” Butler said. “They were the first ones, and we need to make sure they’re gonna stick around.”
The building is showing its age 135 years later. It needs a variety of improvements: a new roof, siding, windows, fire doors, and concrete, along with chimney and furnace work as well.
“We don’t want them to fail like anybody else, if one fails, we all fail,” Theisen said. “Whatever we can do to help them survive, that’s what we’re gonna do.”
New leadership asked the community for donations at the Grand Rapids Polish Festival in August and again this weekend at the hall. They handed out flyers with a QR code to donate to the effort.
The Polish National Aid Society is hoping to raise at least $50,000, but leaders say anything helps.
“We just want to help everybody and survive and take us on to the next 100 years,” Theisen added.
Butler said the state selecting the building for historic preservation could also help keep Jackson Street Hall open.
“If we could have a state endorsement, this could be amazing for us,” Butler said. “Local representatives, state representatives, federal representatives.”
Tylzynski said donations can be mailed to the Polish National Aid Society directly at 921 Jackson Street NW, adding that checks should be made out to the Polish National Aid Society.
People can also drop off donations in person at 921 Jackson Street NW between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Butler said Jackson Street Hall could also benefit from increased membership, especially from more young people to take the hall into the future.
“The one thing Jackson really needs is just membership and people to go down there,” Butler said. “We just need to make sure we’re getting young blood down there.”
“Whatever we can do to keep the heritage alive,” Butler added.