Despite rain, thousands turn out for Shenandoah's annual heritage, kielbasi celebration

SHENANDOAH — Although she had grown up in North Carolina and now lives in Virginia, Ellen Casale could not pass up an opportunity to attend the annual Kielbasi Festival and Heritage Day/Parade of Nations celebration Saturday.

Casale — a daughter of late Shenandoah native Florence Kolenda and Wisconsinite Richard Schalk — made the approximately 275-mile, five-hour trek to Shenandoah, a town that she had never lived in but had gotten to know through the occasional visit and colorful tales passed down through her mother’s side of the family.

“I came just for the festival,” said Casale, who has been attending the event for several years with her husband, Curly, and relatives in Berks County. “And for my cousins and kielbasi.”

Thousands of people lined the sidewalks of the main street for the Saturday event, which started around 10 a.m. with the Parade of Nations, a showcase of different nationalities and ethnic groups represented in Shenandoah.

While the two events had been held individually before the COVID-19 pandemic, they were merged into one festival starting in 2021.

“It’s awesome,” Casale said. “I see people here I haven’t seen. I have so many memories from growing up and coming up here.”

The event, hosted by Downtown Shenandoah Inc., featured 98 vendors, including local staples Kowalonek’s Kielbasy and Lucky’s Corner Deli & Kielbasi Shop.

Grand marshal David “Lucky” Lukashunas, owner of Lucky’s, headed the procession in a white pickup adorned with signs with his shop’s logo.

That was followed by a colorful lineup of national groups, including Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, India and Ukraine, with the largest display being Mexico, which featured a variety of dancers.

Other people involved in the parade included the Shenandoah Valley School District, the Hawk Mountain Highlanders, state Sen. David G. Argall, R-29, Rush Twp., and state Rep. Dane Watro, R-116, Kline Twp.

The parade, which took approximately half an hour, stepped off on Jardin Street and made its way to Main Street, concluding at the borough’s northern end.

Susan Williams, executive director of DSI, said the event was a success, given the rainy weather.

“I’m pleased,” she said. “With the rain in the morning, we were afraid it was going to put a damper on the parade, but it didn’t. People came out and cheered on our Parade of Nations.”

After the parade, DSI officials joined lawmakers and other community leaders for the official welcome at Veterans Memorial Garden, adjacent to the Anthony P. Damato American Legion “Medal of Honor” Post 792 on North Main Street.

Williams credited the organizations involved, including the festival sponsor, Service Access Management Inc., and parade sponsor Explore Schuylkill, for making the event a success.

“We have all kinds of countries represented,” Williams said, “and the community organizations came out.”

Bruce Warwick, of Shenandoah, said he was looking forward to the event this year and made sure to attend, despite the rain.

“I always like it — it’s tradition,” he said. “It looked like they put a lot of work into it.”