BY TOM LAVIS
The key to enjoying the Cambria City Ethnic Festival may be a pair of comfortable shoes.
The 25th anniversary of the festival will be celebrated from one end of historic Cambria City to the other from Friday through Sept. 1, said Monsignor Raymond Balta of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church, a festival organizer and coordinator.
“Since its inception, we continue to grow each year and offer people a yearly free event that has become the fabric of the friendly, historic Cambria City neighborhood,” Balta said.
“It works because we keep it simple, and more organizations are getting involved.”
The festival features church tours, ethnic foods, homegrown music and plenty of dancing to fill the needs of festivalgoers during Labor Day weekend.
“Above all, it’s a homecoming of sorts for the thousands of people who make it a point to return to the festival each year to walk the streets of Cambria City and get reacquainted with friends and relatives,” Balta said.
“When families get together when there is a funeral or wedding, they often say they should get together more often. The festival gives them that opportunity.”
The festival will be held from 4 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sept. 1.
Much of the activity is centered around St. Mary pavilion, 411 Power St.
There will be no shortage of food, activities and music throughout the neighborhood.
“This year, we will have activities the full length of the neighborhood,” Balta said.
“From the Bottle Works (Ethnic Arts Center) on one end to an Irish pub at the former St. Columba school near 10th Avenue, there will be something for everyone. It’s a great, family-oriented event.”
Members of St. Mary’s have been working for nearly a year making tasty ethnic treats that people have come to expect.
“We have made 60,000 pierogi, three tons of haluski and 8,000 stuffed cabbage rolls,” Balta said.
One staple that Balta continues to prepare is Hungarian goulash.
“We use an old Hungarian recipe that was smuggled out of the old country and takes as many as four hours to prepare,” Balta quipped.
“People tell us that our goulash is addictive.”
Other foods are hot wings, hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, funnel cakes, chereghi (Hungarian doughnuts) and gobs.
Festival organizers strive to keep food reasonably priced.
“These are tough economic times and we all try to keep prices as reasonable as possible,” Balta said.
“The primary purpose of the festival is to bring the people together and if each group makes a little money, it’s used to meet Johnstown’s needs.”
Resurrection Roman Catholic Church, Fourth Avenue and Chestnut Street, will offer food, activities and a full musical lineup.
For anyone looking for different ethnic cuisine, Resurrection will feature a variety of foods, including potato pancakes, German potato salad, bratwurst, shepherd’s pie, pierogi, haluski, halupki, kielbasa, hot sausage, hot dogs, apple dumplings, soft drinks and cold beverages.
There will be church tours, children’s games, a kitchen area, games of chance and live entertainment.
The Rev. Alan E. Thomas, pastor of Resurrection, will celebrate a polka Mass featuring Rosie and the Jammers at 10 a.m. Sept. 1 at the church.
A variety of demonstrations will be conducted throughout the weekend in the church’s tent on Chestnut Street. They include learning how to make pysanky eggs, palm weaving and paper Polish stars, which can be used for Christmas decorations.
“This is a wonderful way to celebrate our ethnic diversity and share different cultures,” Thomas said.
“For many, it may be an opportunity to taste pierogi or haluski, while others might want to try German potato salad or bratwurst for the first time.”
But overall, Thomas believes it is a nice way to pass on the rich heritage of Johnstown’s past to future generations.
Holy Cross Lutheran
Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 711 Chestnut St., founded in large part by Slovak immigrants, will also offer ethnic favorites and slow-cooked barbecue.
People will enjoy a variety of live bands and music; browse the specialty items at the Slovak Import Co.; and sample a glass of wine from Cambria City’s B&L Winery and a selection of choice beverages.
Organizers are featuring traditional ethnic and American elements to their menu. A barbecued rib dinner will be offered at 4 p.m. Friday; a lamb steak dinner at 4 p.m. Saturday; and a turkey breast dinner from noon to 3 p.m. Sept. 1.
The church also will have halupki, haluski, pierogi, sausage deluxe, kielbasa with sauerkraut, palacinky (a sweet, Slovak crepe), french fries, sweet potato fries, gobs, pulled pork sandwich, Philly steak sandwich, ice-cream sandwiches and soft drinks.
People also will have an opportunity to meet with representatives doing valuable community work.
“Our primary beneficiary of the festival proceeds will be the Greater Johnstown YMCA’s Youth Initiative Program,” said Paul Kushner, who along with Patrick Kelly, serve as co-chairmen of the event.
“With the festival as its centerpiece, members of Holy Cross are committed to help inform, promote and raise funds for the program.
“As an integral part of the current YMCA renovation and expansion plan, the initiative created for boys and girls from 12 to 14 years old, the program will offer a structured 12-week experience for 50 youth at a time,” Kushner said.
The initiative’s formula is to help youth succeed, which will in turn build stronger families and healthier communities.
“The congregation has pledged 10 percent of all festival proceeds be donated to the initiative project,” Kushner said.
Donations also are being accepted online at www.holycrossjohnstown.org.
The Alternative Community Resource Program (ACRP) and the Ancient Order of Hibernians have partnered to expand the festival to the 10th Avenue block of Chestnut Street.
Visitors can enjoy “a little corner of Ireland,” said Frank J. Janakovic, ACRP executive director.
“We are planning three days of Irish food, fun and festivities at the former St. Columba’s school,” he said.
“We will have activities and food outdoors and our basement facility has a wonderful cafeteria for people to sample a variety of tasty treats.”
Food selection will feature shepherd’s pie, Irish stew, scones, soda bread, hamburgers, hot dogs, kielbasa and a variety of beverages.
Janakovic, who grew up in the West End section of Johns-town, said getting involved in the festival is a no-brainer.
“It’s a perfect opportunity to help rejuvenate the activities on that end of Cambria City where the Hibernians have had a presence for years,” he said.
“We hope to grow our involvement in the festival for years to come.”
There will be a host of activities for children.
Music will take place indoors as well as outside under a tent.
“We also are conducting a cornhole tournament, which will include cash prizes,” Janakovic said.
“Space is limited and I would suggest registering early.”
The entrance fee is $25 per person or $50 for a team.
Participants must be age 21 or older.
Information: Camette Standley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-2277, ext. 394.
Gary Matolyak, owner of Ace’s, 316 Chestnut St., will offer a lamb dinner, lamb sandwiches and other ethnic foods.
“Last year, we had our doorman keep track of where people were from and we had 31 states represented throughout the weekend,” Matolyak said.
“To be honest, when we started this festival 25 years ago, I never imagined it would last this long.”
But Matolyak credits the success to the wealth of ethnic food and variety of entertainment.
“A lot of people had to leave the region to find jobs, but many plan their vacations around this weekend to return to their roots,” Matolyak said.
“We make it a point to give a variety of entertainment to satisfy most everyone’s tastes.”
Art Works in Johnstown, 413 Third Ave., will offer select food items, activities and a chance for visitors to purchase art.
“Artists will have tables set up to display their original art pieces, which people may purchase,” said Theresa Gay Rohall, executive director.
“Barry Poglein will create a sculpture that people will enjoy.”
Poglein, an Indiana County artist, will construct a sculpture made from ordinary construction paper cut into 11⁄2-inch strips and folded to form channels to support a child’s marble to run.
“It will remind people of the old Mousetrap game,” Rohall said.
Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center, 411 Third Ave., will conduct children’s ethnic crafts from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sept. 1.
There also will be face painting, sidewalk art and more. Food will include barbecued items from Shorty’s Italian Smokehouse in Lower Yoder Township and an array of soul food.
“People who come to Bottle Works can enjoy the new green space on the corner and submit a name for it,” said Rosemary Pawlowski, executive director.
“The plants and flowers are native American and the exhibit in the gallery is filled with those representations in a wide variety of art forms from slate to watercolors to watering cans.”
The photographs of Mark Eash also are on display.
In conjunction with the festival, a Garden Day will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Wagner-Ritter House & Garden, 418 Broad St.
Children will be invited to pick vegetables from the raised-bed garden.
The garden is maintained by the Garden Club of Johnstown, and produce is donated to the St. Vincent DePaul Food Bank.
Children also will be invited to play a memory game using vegetable cards, a craft using cut vegetables to paint and a tour of the house.
There is no admission fee. On-street parking is available.
Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Tom Lavis @TomLavistd.