SOCIETY HOLDS ELEVENTH ANNUAL SUMMER SOCIAL EVENT
AND THIRD 1960s POLISH WEDDING PARTY
SATURDAY NIGHT, MAY 14: PRCUA #162, 1430 OAK STREET, WYANDOTTE!
Who says you can’t travel back in time? On Saturday night, May 14, the PRCUA #162 in Wyandotte was transported back to a summer evening in the 1960s when the West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society held our Eleventh Annual Summer Social Event and our third 1960s Polish Wedding Party. Approximately 165 guests attended the “wedding.”
Outside the hall, a vintage Ford Ranger, courtesy of Society Director Lawrence A. Choraszewski, welcomed guests before they entered. The vintage truck was decorated with white tissue flowers and a JUST MARRIED SIGN propped up on the rear bumper, from which strings of curly white ribbon and empty tin cans were dangling. On a street signpost near the curb, Larry’s sign advertising the event brought in a few walk-ins who happened to be passing by.
Inside, guests were greeted by beautiful wedding cakes on each table, decorated in white fondant icing and trimmed with yellow and peach-colored buttercream ribbon icing and roses. The cakes, made by Dunia Sweets in Livonia, were yellow and chocolate, and each cake was topped with a porcelain bride and groom cake topper. The walls of the hall were decorated with enlarged black-and-white photos depicting vintage 1960s Polish weddings that took place in our west side Detroit churches.
The oblong tables were spread with pristine white tablecloths and were arranged so that the hall resembled a 1960s Polish wedding reception. On each table were vintage Polish wedding song sheets, ashtrays with faux cigarettes, and bright yellow dessert napkins monogrammed with “Lucy and Jerry, May 14, 2022.” There was a vintage wedding guest book for everyone to sign as they entered the hall.
It was delightful to see several women wearing bridal veils and some with colorful Polish shawls over their shoulders. Many guests dressed in vintage 1960s attire, which was optional but encouraged. Several guests brought framed photos of their own weddings, which was also encouraged. It was wonderful to walk around the hall, look at the photos, and share memories with guests of the churches where their weddings took place long ago—many at churches in the Society’s official territory that are now closed, such as St. John Cantius in Delray.
The event kicked off with the “Polish Wedding March,” performed by our featured entertainment, Jody Maddie and his Up Town Sound, who made the trek all the way from Parma, Ohio, looking dapper in matching outfits of stark black and white. The bridal party energized the entire room as they marched in and made their way across the hall to the bridal party table, which was decorated with white and yellow crepe paper streamers, yellow and peach-colored tulle “flowers,” and white tissue paper wedding bells.
Our bonus entertainment was DJ “Dr. Doug” Faillace of MSUdj.pro, who also stood up in the bridal party with his wife, Teri. Both Doug and Teri are members of the Society as well, and Doug happens to be the horn player in the Kielbasa Kings polka band.
Doug immediately answered the call of duty and led the bridal party in the wedding march as Larry Choraszewski, our Master of Ceremonies, in his authentic 1960s powder blue tuxedo, white tux shirt, powder blue bowtie, and white shoes, sprang into action and filled in for Doug by escorting Teri Faillace in the grand entrance, as Doug was otherwise engaged. At one point toward the end of the wedding march, Dr. Doug had the crowd breaking off first into groups of two, then four, then six—all the way up to 16—using regimented, sharp motions similar to those of a traffic cop! It was extremely well-executed—and hilarious.
Our bride and groom, Society members Lucy and Jerry Hayden, looked Red Carpet ready and radiant! Lucy wore a hand-made bridal veil that she created especially for the occasion. Best man and maid of honor Joe and Mary Kay Gromala were stunning. Joe is a Society director and Mary Kay is a member. Completing the bridal party were Society members Dan and Donna (Kutylowski) Czeski, Society members Doug and Teri Faillace, Honorary Society Members John and Mary LaDrigue, Society members George and Dar Olson, and Don and Chris Unwin. Everyone looked fabulous!
We got off to a bit of a late start due to circumstances beyond the control of one of our bridal party couples, but no wedding is without a few bumps in the road. Throughout the night, the band and Dr. Doug coordinated the music perfectly, creating a mix of authentic 1960s Polish wedding numbers as well as fun, mainstream 1960s line dances such as the Stroll and the Locomotion. Dr. Doug threw in lots of 1960s popular music, and the band interspersed many well-known and beloved waltzes and polkas.
It was wonderful to see such a mix of people—young, middle-aged, and older—dancing at this event! There were also people from many different groups and walks of life, including other Polish organizations, the Polka Boosters, ballroom dancers, and those who came as a result of hearing about the event via word of mouth and were curious to find out what a Polish wedding was all about. People came from all over the tri-county area and from as far away as Cheboygan, Milford, Brighton, and Commerce Township.
The Society gained seven new members at this event! The new members included three couples and one individual member.
While everyone continued to dance and have a good time, a small, dedicated group sat at a table near the bar and kept the food and drink ticket sales flowing throughout the evening. The “dream team,” Society member Andrew Choraszewski, Society member Val (Choraszewski) Gonzalez, Winston Lazarte, and Julia Richards worked without coming up for air, selling out a roll of 1,000 tickets several times and requiring board members to have to retrieve used tickets from the bar and kitchen at least three times and recycle them.
Speaking of food, the line for the kitchen formed as soon as guests arrived, and it remained extremely long throughout the evening! Guests came to this event hungry for Polish food! In the kitchen, the Ptak family kept the pierogi, kiełbasa, kapusta, and gołąbki moving like an assembly line, and the food was absolutely delicious! Our sincere thanks to Society Director Rev. Canon Walter J. Ptak, Laura Taraskiewicz, and assistants Mary, Carol, and Kenny.
One of the highlights of the event was the bread and salt blessing. Donna (Kutylowski) Czeski set up the table for this blessing. The beautiful “blessing table” consisted of a hand-made tablecloth made by Donna’s grandmother, authentic Polish pottery, antique Polish dolls, some Polish vodka, and a rosary. There was also a framed Polish bread and salt blessing, and a framed, personalized Polish blessing for the bride and groom.
Donna searched all over the area for a bakery that would bake an authentic braided Polish bread for the event, and her Polish persistence paid off. The large, round loaf of braided bread was as beautiful as it was delicious.
First, Donna gave the bread and salt blessing in Polish. Later, Fr. Gary invited the bride and groom up to the table to receive the bread and salt and gave them his blessing. Afterwards, he invited all their guests up to the table to partake of the bread and salt. Fr. Gary explained the ancient “Błogosławieństwo weselne z chleba i soli” (“Wedding blessing of bread and salt”) as follows:
“As the bread is dipped in the salt, we recall that bread represents prosperity, and salt represents life’s difficulties. Salt also symbolizes healing and cleansing.”
As Lucy and Jerry dipped the bread into the salt and ate it, and as Fr. Gary blessed their marriage, he stated, “We greet you with bread and salt so that your home may always be filled with abundance.”
During one of the band breaks, we held a share-the-wealth raffle. Polka Booster Mike Biesiadecki, along with Val (Choraszewski) Gonzalez and Society Director Richard Sokolowski, sold raffle tickets. There were four prize payouts of $80, $50, $40, and $18.
One of the traditional dances that Dr. Doug orchestrated was the bridal party dance. The guests were invited onto the dance floor, where they joined hands and formed a large circle. As the band played Dwanaście Aniołów (“Twelve Angels”), the bride and groom danced in the center of the circle and soon were joined by the other bridal party couples. Then, couples were invited onto the dance floor according to the number of years they were married. Soon, the dance floor was full, and everyone around the couples whose hands were joined swayed to the music while the couples continued to dance until the song ended.
It’s probably fair to say that in earlier times, the part of the Polish wedding that everyone looked forward to most was the Grand March. Today, that’s also the part that most people probably remember most fondly. Dr. Doug led an authentic Grand March, which began with two people beginning a long human chain that wound its way through the hall. Eventually, Dr. Doug directed the first two people to stop and face each other and raise their arms in front of them, joining their hands to form the beginning of the “tunnel.” As each consecutive couple passed through the tunnel, they also turned to face each other, raising their arms and joining hands, becoming part of the tunnel. As the human chain wound its way through the tunnel, the tunnel got longer.
Part of the fun of the Grand March was having someone lower their arms while you were inside the tunnel, “capture” you, and give you a hug or a peck on the cheek. It was all about family, friends, camaraderie, and fun.
Everyone waited also for the bouquet toss, when the single women gathered behind the bride and she tossed her bouquet over her head and behind her, into the crowd of ladies. According to tradition, whoever catches the bouquet is the next to marry. There was a lot of scrambling to catch Lucy’s bouquet at our Wedding Party—so much so that the “winner” ended up on the floor!
Because we found ourselves short on time at our event, we were unable to perform the Dollar Dance. Traditionally, guests pinned a dollar bill on the bride’s dress in payment for a dance with her. We had planned to give our guests the opportunity to request a dance with our bride by placing a donation into her silk purse. However, time prevented us from doing so.
Also missing from our event was the Oczepiny, or “Unveiling.” When the bride removed her veil at a Polish wedding in the past, it was symbolic of her passing from a single woman into married life. When the Oczepiny waltz was played and the bride removed her veil, she would pass the veil among her bridesmaids, and each of them would wear it for a measure or two during the dance.
Although we were unable to have the Dollar Dance and the Oczepiny, many wonderful memories were made at the event, including some unexpected and unplanned ones. Society member Jerry McFee, who attended with his wife, Society member Lorraine McFee, sang a solo of the polka Puka Jasiu (“Johnny’s Knocking”) to the accompaniment of the band, which has become a tradition at polka events. Another bonus was hearing Honorary Society Member Syl Wienclaw and his son, Tom Wienclaw, sing “Tiny Bubbles” in both Polish and English, which has also become a tradition at polka events.
There were many moving parts to this event. The board of directors began discussing holding the event in 2019 before the pandemic hit, and the event was originally scheduled to take place at another location. Throughout the pandemic, the board members continued discussions about whether or not to carry out our plans for the event. Several times, the date was rescheduled, and our band worked with us as we navigated our way through the pandemic and tried to determine if and when we were going to be able to hold the event. When we were finally able to move forward with it, there were venue issues due to staff changes, many hall closures, and staffing problems brought on by the pandemic.
Despite all the challenges, with a lot of hard work, we managed to pull off the event, thanks in great part to a wonderful group of board members and volunteers. Director Joe Gromala recruited some couples for our wedding party, and it finally came together. Director Rev. Canon Walter J. Ptak had offered early on to provide the catering for the event along with his family and their volunteers, and to manage the bar. President Rev. Gary Michalik served as our priest, blessing the food and our bridal couple. We received a generous monetary donation from Director Rev. Lawrence Zurawski, even though he was unable to attend due to having to attend a wedding that evening. Officer Barbara Misiolek Gamble, Treasurer, managed our money.
Director Alina Klin, Ph.D., captured memories of the event, not only in still photos, but also in video, which she is turned into a movie. Click the link attached to this story to view the movie! Many others, including Director Lawrence Choraszewski, Donna (Kutylowski) Czeski, Director Joe Gromala, Honorary Member Mike Poterala, and Director Richard Sokolowski also took photos. Joe Gromala offered to gather everyone’s photos, edit them down, and create an on-line photo album as well as a hardcopy version for the Society’s archives. It will serve as a lasting memory of the wonderful moments we shared at the event.
But the event began long before Saturday night, May 14, including the day before, when a group of volunteers came together to help set up and decorate the hall. Andrew Choraszewski offered his SUV so that his dad, Larry Choraszewski, could pick up and deliver the 19 wedding cakes from the bakery to the hall. Andrew and Larry Choraszewski, Barb Gamble, Joe and Mary Kay Gromala, Richard Sokolowski, and Sandy Boland all showed up at the hall to help set up and decorate on Friday, May 13. Rev. Canon Walter J. Ptak also came, and he spent countless hours that day supplying the bar and then going home to make kapusta.
Had it not been for such a close-knit group of board members and volunteers, this event would not have been as successful as it was. We’re grateful to everyone at the PRCUA for opening up the venue to us at a time when it was difficult to find a location. We would be remiss not to mention those who stayed after the event and helped us clean up, including Larry and Sue Maier.
We’re indebted to all those who helped make this event successful, including all those who helped advertise and promote it. We’re especially grateful to those who attended. We hope you had a wonderful—or should we say smashing and groovy time!
Donna (Kutylowski) Czeski, Lawrence A. Choraszewski, Joe Gromala, Alina Klin, Ph.D., Mike Poterala, and Richard Sokolowski