Joan Linder Langendorfer can't trace her roots to a Polish background. But that didn't stop her from dancing the polka during Sunday's Pulaski Day Parade.
"You don't have to be of a certain heritage to celebrate," said Langendorfer as she tapped her feet. "I like the music and the spirit of the parade. The whole coming together thing is good; you don't see that too much anymore."
The PhoCus Polka Band, Polish heritage dancers, a Polish Arts Club float and the Harmony Polish Folk Ensemble were among the entertainment for spectators waving their American and Polish flags from their lawn chairs lined up from the Thruway Mall on Walden Avenue to Cheektowaga Town Park on Harlem Road.
The parade honors Gen. Kazimierz Pulaski, a Polish hero of the American Revolution, and is held in conjunction with the 29th annual Polish-American Arts Festival, which began Friday at the town park and concluded Sunday.
Carol Delaney, 66, believes the parade's location is a fitting spot to celebrate Polish history.
"My grandfather came from Poland and was one of the early settlers on the East Side of Buffalo," said Delaney. "After a while, a lot of people moved from the city to Cheektowaga. This is a very Polish area."
Parade countess Paulina Paw of Clarence and parade princess Destyny Sklener, 9, waved to the crowd as they rode on the back of a blue Lincoln convertible.
"I was born in Poland," said Paw, 15. "My family and I are here every year. I hold my heritage very close to my heart."
The parade's grand marshal, Cheektowaga Town Justice Thomas Kolbert, believes the parade is the result of the Polish community of Buffalo coming together. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard and Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk, Poland's consul general in New York City, served as honorary grand marshals.
"These people working here have the hardworking Polish heritage in them," said Kolbert, who is up for re-election this year.
At the end of the parade, Kolbert presented a $1,500 check to the General Pulaski Association, which organizes the parade each year. The funds will help cover parade expenses.
For local politicians, the crowd was a sea of potential voters. "I'm meeting 1,000 people in one day; it's great," said Republican Chris Collins, a candidate for Erie County executive. "I wish there were six of these things in one day."