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Tradition, Polish pride on display at Dyngus Day parade

There were dancers in traditional Polish garb, along with politicians, labor union members in red T-shirts and even a small team of folks dressed like zombies Monday, representing the breadth of participants marching in the annual Dyngus Day parade along Broadway in the Historic Polonia District on Buffalo's East Side.

As compelling as they all were, it was Walter Smiziera of Alden and his large extended family, armed with large super soakers, that entertained paradewatchers stationed at the corner of Broadway and Lombard Street. Their exuberant antics ensured that many of those in the parade, as well as those watching, were going to get soaked, which along with the handing out of pussy willows, candy and red beads, have become an enduring part of the Polish-American, post-Lenten celebration.

Smiziera and his young grandsons, along with Smiziera's buddy, Jimmy Dudek of the Village of Alexander in Genesee County, gave as good as they got.

"Jimmy over here is the sergeant-at-arms. He gives us the commands, when to do it and when not to do it," Smiziera said.

The parade, which lasted the better part of an hour, is only part of the celebration.

"We usually come down to the parade every year, and then we go out to dinner all together," said his daughter-in-law, Colleen Smiziera of South Buffalo.

[Photo gallery: 2017 Dyngus Day parade]

Buffalo police estimated the Dyngus Day parade drew a crowd of 40,000 to 50,000 people. There were no arrests at the event, police said.

It was the fifth year in a row at the parade for Bob Hageman of Cheektowaga, who attended the parade and Monday's other festivities.

"My wife's family is very, very Polish," said Hageman. "It's great. When the weather is good, it's even greater."

Hageman was dressed in a stark white suit and red T-shirt.

"This is just something I've had and I use it whenever I can, because I really splurged on it, a whole $25. So it works for everything, a canoeing regatta or Dyngus Day or prom night, whatever," he said.

For the Hagemans, the celebrating actually started on Saturday.

"The weekend starts on Saturday with a 5K run and, of course, yesterday was Easter Sunday and we celebrated. Today, Dyngus Day, we started in Cheektowaga at noon and we're down here by 5 p.m. to catch the parade," he said.

Dyngus Day's floats: From grand to goofy to honor heritage

"The Anchor Inn is one of the stops, with a pussy willow bus tour. It's a bus tour that goes to probably 20 different bars or establishments. You buy a wristband and it gets you on the bus for free and they charge you only $2 to get in every place. So you get moved around without having to drive," he added.

After the parade, he and his family moved on to the pussy willow tent outside the Central Terminal for some keilbasa and Polish music.

Down by the Central Terminal, Eric Jaszka of West Seneca was seeking similar fare, including golumbki – rolls of meat and cabbage – pierogi and Polish beer.

"I'm 100 percent Polish," Jaszka said. "I love the memories it brings back of my grandparents and those who came before them living on the East Side. It's a great way to celebrate Polonia in Buffalo."

Dave and Pat Gerken of Black Rock have attended Dyngus Day celebrations in Historic Polonia for about 30 years.

"It was just about going from one venue to another, mostly for the polka music. That's the big thing for us," said Dave Gerken.

"It's the excitement of the place. We met a guy from Detroit just a little while ago and we're showing him around town and all the places he could go. It was kind of great. He was appreciative," he added.

"My grandparents were Polish. Everybody was Polish, and we'd go to my aunt's on Sunday and she'd bake all the Polish kielbasa," said Pat Gerken. "It's a tradition that goes all the way back to Poland … It's just about having a good time."

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