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Johnstown Slavic festival organizers hope to educate

Johnstown Slavic festival organizers hope to educate

BY KAYLA PONGRAC

Our Town Correspondent

This year’s third annual Johnstown Simply Slavic Festival will take place Sept. 23 and feature Slavic dance, music, food, speakers, crafts and more. 

The free, one-day festival will once again be held in the parking lot and courtyard of Heritage Discovery Center, located in Johnstown’s Cambria City Cultural District. In addition to providing the venue, Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA) is providing both organizational and technical support to help make the festival a success. 

“We have such an action-packed program this year,” said Shelley Johansson, JAHA’s marketing and communications director. “We could not be more thrilled about what this festival is going to offer all of our friends and neighbors.” 

Johnstown Simply Slavic Festival, the brainchild of the late Dan Kisha, is being organized by a volunteer committee chaired by Brian Subich. Members include: Wally Burlack, Ed Cernic Sr., Patricia Fisher, Suzette Gardenour, Helene Gleason, Melissa Komar, Rich Kopco, Alexis and David Kozak, Barry and MaryAnn McCaffrey Ritko and Gerald Zahorcak.

“Dan Kisha has left us, but the community is continuing to run with this festival,” Johansson said. “It’s going to be a fantastic day.” 

The festival will feature traditional Slavic music and dance, including tamburitzan dance, Balkan brass music, Eastern European roots music played on traditional instruments, an accordion virtuoso and traditional music from the Carpathian mountains. 

The entertainment schedule is as follows: 12:15 to 1 p.m.: Junior Tamburitzans of Duquesne; 12:30 to 3 p.m.: Joe Maloy; 2 to 4 p.m.: Harmonia; 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.: Ariana Lem Joy Trio; 6 to 8 p.m.: Raya Brass Band. All performances will take place on a stage in the Heritage Discovery Center parking lot — save Maloy’s, whose performance will take place in the courtyard.

“This year’s music program is stronger than ever,” Johansson said. “The musicians and bands that we are presenting represent a wonderful spectrum of music. These are definitely acts that you don’t get to see that often and therefore acts that you don’t want to miss.” 

Authentic Slavic food will be sold in the courtyard of the Heritage Discovery Center. Vendors include: St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church (Conemaugh); St. Nicholas Serbian Church Men’s Club (Johnstown); Kraus Polish Deli (Youngstown); Darlington Inn (Darlington, near Ligonier); Steel City Chimneys (Pittsburgh); William Penn Association (Pittsburgh) and The Phoenix Tavern (Johnstown).

“The food is obviously a big deal,” Johansson said. “It’s all extremely authentic.” 

Food items that will be sold include: halusky, pagach, chevops, shlivo cake, pierogi, kelibasa sandwiches, stuffed cabbage, gulas, borsch, palacsinta and more. 

Beers representing seven different Slavic countries will be available for sale. They are: Krolovacko (Croatia); Obolon (Ukraine); Baltika (Russia); Lasko Pivo (Slovenia); Golden Pheasant (Slovakia); Primator (Czech Republic); and Zywiec (Poland). 

New this year is Baba’s Nutroll Throwdown, a nutroll baking competition. About a dozen entries have been received into the competition, which will be judged at the festival by Brian Subich (festival chair), Tom Chernisky (Cambria County Commissioner), Jim Burton (WTAJ weatherman) and Jennifer Shearer (PRESS Bistro).

Three cooking demonstrations will be offered; Rose Marikovich will create Vanilice Serbian cookies, Maryann Manculich pagach and Greg Dulak borscht. The demonstrations will take place in Galliker’s Cafe, which is accessible inside the Heritage Discovery Center courtyard.

In addition, three educational presentations will be held: Steven Purich will present “My Experience as a Serbian Immigrant to Johnstown;” John Righetti will present “Carpatho-Rusyns, Carpatho-Russians, Ruthenians, Lemkos, Slavish . . . Mysteries of the Carpathians Revealed,” and the music act Harmonia will present “Musical Traditions of Slavic Weddings.” All presentations will take place inside Heritage Discovery Center’s education center, located on the first floor.

Slavic crafts will be available for sale, and a variety of organizations will be on hand to share information, including the Ukrainian History and Educational Center, Slavic Heritage Association of the Laurel Highlands, William Penn Association and Croatian Fraternal Union. In addition, Paulette Simunich will demonstrate psyanky egg decorating and Karen Mesaros Slavic folk pottery.

The purpose of the festival is to celebrate Slavic heritages. Slavic people migrated from nations known today as Belarus, Bosnia and Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Macedonia and Ukraine. The Slavs also include the Carpatho-Rusyn people.

“Many of the immigrants to the area who came to work in the mills and mines of Johnstown were Slavs,” said JAHA President Richard Burkert. 

By 1920, Burkert said, 25 percent of Johnstown’s residents were of Slavic descent. They created a rich network of churches and social clubs to support their way of life and culture, and many of their descendants still live in the area today.

“Last year, it was really fun watching people watch the Slavic bands because some of them were singing the words,” Johansson said. “And for the people who don’t share that heritage, this festival is definitely an opportunity to learn more about it and celebrate it. It’s kind of similar to how ‘everyone is Irish’ on St. Patrick’s Day.”

For the first time, the festival is underwriting free admission for all attendees to the Frank and Sylvia Pasquerilla Heritage Discovery Center.

“The festival is a terrific tie-in to the exhibits and presentations at the Heritage Discovery Center and the Johnstown Children’s Museum,” Burkert said. 

“The theme of immigration — where people came from and why — is the overriding theme of many of the exhibits inside both the Heritage Discovery Center and the Johnstown Children’s Museum,” Johansson added. “All those stories are really important to Johnstown, so it’s going to be a great day to come in and learn a little bit more about these immigrants.”

The presenting sponsor for this year’s festival is Best Window and Door Company. Additional sponsors are: 1st Summit Bank, IMAC, Provia, Robert Ramos of Wealth Management Partners, Vision 2025, and Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership. 

Paid parking will be available in the Best Window and Door Company lot on Sixth Avenue, located near Broad Street.

For more information about the Slavic Festival, including a full, up-to-date schedule, visit www.johnstownslavicfestival.org online. More information can also be found on JAHA’s official website, www.jaha.org. 

“This festival is who we are,” Johansson said. “And it’s a lot of fun. There’s going to be so much to eat, hear, see and learn, and I think this is going to be a day that people will really enjoy and appreciate.”

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