Joliet museum to revive Slovenian Grape Harvest Festival on Sunday

Greg Peerbolte: ‘Everyone is Slovenian on October 2 at the festival.’

Retired Joliet City Council member Michael Turk will serve as an honorary mayor at the Slovenian Grape Harvest Festival on Sunday.

Turk’s duties will include attending a polka Mass at noon at St. Joe’s grotto and then presiding over the festival from 1 to 8 p.m. at the former Rivals Park picnic grounds at Haunted Trails, 1423 N. Broadway St. in Joliet.

He also will sample a glass of Slovenian wine along with the other dignitaries, who will include Alenka Jerak, consulate of the Republic of Slovenia, and John Vidmar, honorary consul for the Republic of Slovenia for Illinois.

Turk will then approve the grape and announce, “Now it’s time to dance.”

For Turk, who is half Slovenian (his mother his Irish and his Slovenian father was born on St. Patrick’s Day), serving as mayor is a humbling honor and one that harkens back to his childhood memories.

“My dad had seven brothers,” Turk said. “Every Sunday night when I was young, any of the brothers who could make it went down to my grandmother’s house in Rockdale. She put on a spread with homemade soup and homemade noodles and sausage. The grownups would sit in the kitchen and talk. The kids would sit in the living room, goof around and watch TV.”

The Joliet Area Historical Museum is the host of the 2022 Slovenian Grape Harvest Festival. The festival was an annual cultural celebration in Joliet from 1980 to 2005, according to the museum’s website.

Admission to the event is $5. Greg Peerbolte, executive director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum, is expecting good attendance.

“I have a personal theory – not sure it’s scientific – that the smaller, community-centric festivals are rebounding and making a dramatic comeback after [COVID-19],” Peerbolte said.

Features of the day include the polka Mass, traditional Slovenian food, beverages, baked goods, live entertainment by Ray Koncar and the Boys from Illinois, The Singing Slovenes, the Marela Dance Group and John Churnovic & The Slivo Express, according to the museum website.

Attendees may also get a “sneak peek” of the unopened Planinsek Slovenian Market Museum, at 1314 Elizabeth St., which is located adjacent to the picnic grounds.

The Joliet Area Historical Museum is restoring the former 1929 Martin & Emma Planinsek Meat Market into a museum that will document and showcase the experiences of Slovenian immigrants such as the Planinseks, Peerbolte said.

The project is generously endowed by Ken Odorizzi and Irene (Planinsek) Odorizzi, according to the museum website.

“We recently found a poster from 1919 that was hanging in the steel mill, written entirely in Slovenian and signed by Woodrow Wilson,” Peerbolte said.

The poster encouraged Slovenian immigrants to participate in the U.S. Census, Peerbolte said.

This poster from 1919 that's written entirely in Slovenian and signed by Woodrow Wilson is one of the artifacts in the not-yet opened Planinsek Slovenian Market Museum in Joliet.

“Joliet is so rich in culture,” Peerbolte said. “You have immigrant neighborhood culture and certainly ethnic culture, and you still feel that today in the city. It’s one of the many reasons why Joliet’s a cool city.”

Slovenian Grape Harvest Festival is reminiscent of the traditional celebrations in Slovenia that revolve around the annual gathering and harvesting of grapes, since Slovenia is known for its magnificent, wine-producing vineyards, according to a 2009 Herald-News story.

In 2009, Branch 20 of the Slovenian Women’s Union of America, held the 29th Slovenian Grape Dance Festival at St. Joseph Park Hall. About 300 people were expected to attend, according to the story.

In Slovenia, to the tunes from rollicking polka bands, men in native costumes would cut and crush the first grapes of the season in wooden wine presses to prepare the grapes for wine, according to the story.

Past Joliet festivals included a “grape arbor” with candy suspended in bunches to resemble grapes, because candy was less messy than grapes, according to the story.

Peerbolte stressed that the Slovenian Grape Harvest Festival is a festival that people of all cultures can enjoy.

“Everyone is Slovenian on October 2 at the festival,” Peerbolte said. “I claim no Slovenian ancestry myself. But I always get treated like I’m very in the family.”

For tickets and information, visit