The annual Polish Heritage Day on Sunday at in Lemont offered hundreds of visitors a colorful, spirited and sometimes somber sampling of culture and history.
The all-day event included awards, speakers, singing and a hearty buffet courtesy of .
Lotte and Bruno Koziel were introduced as for their many years of work for the church, the Polish Club and the John Paul II Polish School. Village Trustee Rick Sniegowski read the resolution adopted last week by the Village Board.
"...Lotte Koziel has been vitally involved in SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish cultural life for over 30 years as a member of the Spiritual Life Committee, School Board, Polish Club and School," he said. "...Bruno Koziel, as a founding member of the Polish Choir and Polish Club, and arranging music ensembles for liturgical celebrations and church functions, has worked tirelessly beside his wife to preserve and promote Polish language, customs and culture."
Lotte Koziel said she and her husband agreed to accept the award only in memory of their friend and mentor, Father Edward Witusik, who, with parishioners, began the club and school. Father Witusik died in 1984 at age 52.
Lotte's voice broke as she remembered visiting Father Witusik in the hospital in the days before he died. She was worried that without him, the Polish Club and Polish school would not flourish. With a rosary in his hands, he reassured her, saying that no one person can achieve a dream alone and others would come forward to help, she said.
The Polish school now has hundreds of students who attend classes on Saturdays.
Lotte Koziel said she became involved in SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish when she immigrated from Poland at the age 13. Since that time, she has devoted herself to church activities and to preserving her Polish heritage — passions she and her husband have impressed on their five children.
As the Koziels left the stage, they placed their gifts of a red-and-white bouquet and a Polish crystal vase at the foot of a large photograph of Father Witusik.
Polish saint Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe was remembered with a poignant display on stage. Above his picture were the German words "Arbeit Macht Frei," translated as "Work Will Make You Free." The Nazis used the words on the top of gates to concentration camps to reassure prisoners. Below Father Kolbe's photograph was a replica of a blue-striped prisoner uniform.
Father Kolbe died in Auschwitz after he volunteered to take the place of another man who had a wife and children.
Two speakers, a Polish priest and a Polish-born university professor, spoke about the life and death of Father Kolbe.
Later in the program, Jerzy Pasinski, 94, speaking in Polish, told the hushed audience of his time in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria. After the day's program ended, audience members gathered around him to sing "Sto Lat" ("100 Years"), a Polish birthday song that contains a wish that the person never die.
According to Celina Mrozek, of Celina's Deli, and John Budz, a real estate agent in Lemont, the Polish population in Lemont is largely Gorale, also known as Highlanders and mountain people.
"It is fitting that they would choose Lemont because of the hills," Budz said.
Several women wore colorful, beautifully embroidered and embellished vests and sweeping skirts. Some men wore the traditional Gorale suit of tan woolen tunics and leggings, and broad-brimmed hats.
All Polish costumes are colorful and embellished, but each region has its own designs. It takes a practiced eye to recognize the origin of a design, Mrozek said.
Lemont librarian Renata Teper is the unity coordinator for the church who "bridges the American and Polish communities in Lemont." The Polish club and school also host celebrations at Easter and Christmas for the community to enjoy, she said.