(Michael Epstein/Medill)

Polish Constitution Day Parade shares stage with the Draft

By John Rosin

The NFL Draft wasn’t the only reason to be in downtown Chicago this weekend. The 124th annual Polish Constitution Day Parade also marched through the Loop on Saturday, though not down its usual route on Columbus Drive.

With the draft festivities planted in Grant Park, the Polish Parade was forced to shift to a new location on Dearborn, between Lake and Van Buren streets. Parade organizers didn’t seem to mind.

“We knew for a while that the draft was going to be in Grant Park,” said Rufin Rychwalski, a coordinator of the parade. “We had plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments.”

Having such a high-profile event in the city may actually have benefitted the parade, said Rychwalski, adding that many people who came into the city for Draft Town also may have decided to take in the parade.

The thousands of people clad in red and white (the colors of the Polish flag) who lined both sides of Dearborn also may have come for a glimpse of one of the most famous Polish Americans in the country, Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. Kryzewski, a Chicago native, was named by the parade organizing committee as the honorary grand marshal of this year’s parade.

“Coach K,” fresh from winning his fifth NCAA tournament with Duke, fired up the crowd with a rousing pre-parade kick-off speech from the judging station.

“Like I would say to my team, it’s game time,” Krzyzewski said. “Let’s start that darn parade and let’s celebrate our Polish heritage.”

Parade goers seemed to revel both in the parade and in one of the warmest days of the year. They waved flags and streamers and cheered and chatted in English and Polish as the floats and marching groups representing Polish-American social clubs, civic organizations and businesses passed by.

Many seemed unfazed by the change in locale.

“I like it being here in the city,” said Ewa Stolarz, a mother and preschool teacher. “The park is nice but I like seeing the floats and the cars coming down the street. There’s much more room, too, for people, but no food.”

But some complained that the location was less convenient.

“Every year I get off a bus at Grant Park and the floats and judges are right there,” said Henrieta Antol, 65. “This year the bus didn’t drop off at the parade. We had to walk some blocks to get here.”

The Polish Constitution Day Parade celebrates the adoption of the Polish Constitution, which was established on May 3, 1791. It is the oldest democratic constitution in Europe and second-oldest in the world, behind the U.S. Constitution. But mostly, the parade is an excuse to celebrate pride in heritage.

“We came here for a parade. We also came here to feel the pride of what our ancestors did for us,” Krzyzewski said to the packed crowd. “There’s never a time where Polish people get together where they do not have a good time.”