News - Joliet and Will County

Hundreds come to Joliet festival to celebrate Slovenian culture with music, food

The SMS Marela Dance Group performs during the Slovenian Grape Harvest Festival  Sunday,Oct. 2, 2022 at Rivals Park Picnic grounds in Joliet

Hundreds of people came to Joliet on Sunday to experience the revival of Slovenian Grape Harvest Festival.

Many of those who came to the festival did so because of their Slovenian heritage, such as Kay Whiteley, of Joliet. Whiteley went to the event with her family to enjoy the music and food she knew from childhood.

Some of that food included smokies, or smoked sausage, and poticas, a nut roll.

“We grew up on smokies and poticas,” Whiteley said.

The event was hosted by the Joliet Area Historical Museum at the former Rivals Park picnic grounds at Haunted Trails Family Entertainment Center, 1423 N. Broadway St., Joliet.

While the main festival was at that location, attendees could also visit the Martin & Emma Plaininsek Slovenian Market Museum, 1314 Elizabeth St. Ray Koncar, one of the musicians at the festival, described the museum as taking a “step back in time.”

Ray Koncar performs during the Slovenian Grape Harvest Festival  Sunday,Oct. 2, 2022 at Rivals Park Picnic grounds in Joliet

Visitors at the festival enjoyed not only smokies and poticas but beer, wine and strudels. Some of the musical acts that performed at the event included Ray Koncar & The Boys and The Singing Slovenes. Audiences also watched traditional Slovene folk dancing.

The festival began at 1 p.m. on Sunday and by 3 p.m., there were an estimated 240 people who had shown up, according to the festival organizers. The event was scheduled to last until 8 p.m.

“The turnout demonstrates what we’d hope, that this culture is still alive and well. And it’s fun,” said Gregory Peerbolte, executive director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum.

Margie Cepon, who co-chaired the festival with Don Govoni, said there were many Slovenes who immigrated to the area, including her parents. She said she is a first-generation Slovene.

Cepon said the festival is tradition in certain regions of Slovenia, where people celebrate the harvesting of grapes in the fall.

“Slovenian people are happy people. They love to dance, they love to sing,” Cepon said.

Ben and Bettie Komar tour the Martin & Emma planinsek home and Market museum during the Slovenian Grape Harvest Festival  Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022 at Rivals Park Picnic grounds in Joliet

Attending the festival were Alenka Jerak, consul general of the Republic of Slovenia and John Vidmar, honorary consul general for the Republic of Slovenia for Illinois.

Former Joliet City Councilman Michael Turk served as the honorary mayor at the Slovenian Grape Harvest Festival.

As part of the event, Turk shared a glass of Kobal wine with Joliet Mayor Robert O’Dekirk, Peerbolte, Jerak and several others. The crowd around them were encouraged to sing along to a Slovenian toast called Živijo.

“It’s excellent,” Turk said after drinking the wine.

Turk is half Slovenian and he has said serving as the mayor is a humbling honor and one that harkens back to his childhood memories.

O’Dekirk thanked the museum staff, sponsors and others for helping to make the festival possible.

“It’s a great event and it’s a beautiful day. I’m glad we’re all here to enjoy it. Obviously your community has been a staple in Joliet for many, many years,” O’Dekirk said.

Honorary Mayor of the festival Michael Turk raises a glass of wine for the proclamation during the Slovenian Grape Harvest Festival  Sunday,Oct. 2, 2022 at Rivals Park Picnic grounds in Joliet