Tonawanda News — Hundreds of people packed inside the Dom Polski Social Club for a Dyngus Day tradition dating back more than a half century in North Tonawanda.
Organizers capped the number of attendees at 230, turning away dozens of more, many of whom came dressed the traditional red garb and carrying pussy willows and Polish pride.
Cathy Brachmann, president of Dom Polski, said Dyngus Day has grown in popularity in recent years around Western New York, with many residents, Polish and not, taking vacations around the Easter holiday.
While she said the social club has a membership of 270, renewed interest has been sparked among much of the community, who flood to the club each year in increasing numbers to celebrate the end of the Lenten season.
“We have a lot of outsiders, about 70 percent of the people who come here today aren’t Polish,” Brachmann said. “Back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s a big part of the North Tonawanda avenues were Polish. But many of them have passed on.”
The day was bittersweet, however, with the news that the group’s longtime president, Roberta Pfeil, passed away last week. Brachmann, who said the close-knit group was still absorbing the loss of their friend, read an ode to Pfeil’s life before the polka music led by the Kathy Carr Band.
“Dyngus Day this year is very emotional for us,” Brachmann said. “It was Berta’s favorite holiday.”
Nonetheless, the show must go on and many families who attended Dyngus Day along Oliver Street said they came because of Dom Polski’s reputation for a good party.
Niagara Falls resident Gail Foreman, who was standing in a longer-than-usual line waiting for a plate of buffet-style sausage, salad and rye bread, said she came to North Tonawanda with 15 of her relatives.
“It’s my first time here,” she said. “My cousin told us what a great time it is. She was right, I think it’s fabulous.”
Kim Denny, a Dom Polski board of trustees member who was dressed in a red shirt, beads and baseball hat that said “Polish Princess” on it, said she began coming to the event seven years ago and decided to bring her granddaughter this year.
“It’s a big Polish holiday, a lot of fun and really good food,” she said.
The main dining room was filled with attendees old and young, with the most senior member coming in at the age of 96, according to Brachmann. Red and white balloons, streamers and clothing added to the festive nature of the evening.
While thousands head to Buffalo for the Dyngus Day celebration, many of the members of Dom Polski, and those in attendance, say they prefer the more intimate atmosphere of the event held in the Lumber City.
“We really want to show the community that we’re a family,” Brachmann said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Gina Swinger, who was festively dressed outside the social club with her daughter, Samantha Burkett, said she was supposed to meet a group of 20 friends and relatives, before she found out that Dom Polski had sold out for the evening. Instead the crew was planning to head down the street to the East Avenue Tavern, where they might one day begin their own tradition.
“I heard Dom Polski has a great celebration,” she said. “We have our pussy willows and we have our squirt guns.”Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.