Saint Patrick establishes traditions
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
Parnell, MI- I love this Irish unincorporated settlement in the middle of nowhere. I got hooked on it almost 20 years ago, when we were looking for a place to build a house. We found it right here in northeast Kent County, Michigan, some 6,000 miles away from home in former Czechoslovakia.
“I am going to like it here,” I said to my husband Ludek as we drove past the white country church and the old general store.
I can easily list all the establishments in Parnell. There are the Saint Patrick’s Church and school, the cemetery and the Parnell Grocery store.
The parish with its parishioners cement Parnell as they have for the last 170 years. The annual Saint Patrick Festival is the biggest event of the year in the community. It always takes place at the end of June far from the actual feast of Saint Patrick on March 17. But, the weather is better, although unpredictable.
Over the years, the festival weather has been from jacket cold to bikini hot.
We found out about the Irish festival early on through channels in Lowell. We’re not Irish by any means, but we lived in Montreal which has a big Irish heritage. We went to the Saint Patrick’s parade there which was complete with bagpipers in skirts.
Saint Patrick festival has become a family tradition, a homecoming when we all get together. My daughter Emma Palova-Chavent usually flies in for Saint Patrick Festival from France.
Dave Simmonds’ bluegrass band Easy Idle that played on Friday festival nights inspired her wedding music and dance back in 2009.
This year, the Conklin Ceili Band played on Friday night. Even without closing my eyes, I could see Michael Flatley and his troop dancing to the Irish band.
I can’t dance the jig, but I can certainly appreciate it.
The Las Vegas night, preceded by the auction, takes place on Saturday nights. I tried my luck a few times and I’ve always lost.
The big get together day is Sunday. After the mass, it’s time for the popular chicken dinners. My parents Ella and Vaclav Konecny always come from Big Rapids to share this special time.
I am not a chicken lover, but the grilled chicken with mashed potatoes, corn, cole slaw and apple sauce is delicious. And the desserts baked by the parishioner women are awesome.
“I don’t have to cook,” mom said victoriously.
Moreover, Saint Patrick parish festivals started popping up around Michigan, according to mom.
“We had one last week in Big Rapids and it raised $18,000,” Ella said.
Much like back in 1850 when the chicken dinners started, I introduced my future daughter-in-law Maranda Lynn Ruegsegger to the tradition.
“I always had to work,” she said. “I am excited.”
Longtime parishioner Ed Donahue said the chicken dinners evolved into the three-day festival. Donahue has been in charge of the dinners.
“It’s a lot more than a fundraiser,” Donahue said.
It is more than a fundraiser. Freelance writer Maryalene LaPonsie received the Dorothy Award after the 5K run Friday for enduring hardship. LaPonsie has been raising five children as a single parent after her husband Tom passed away last year.
“I think the festival weekend may have breathed some new life into me,” LaPonsie wrote on Facebook. “I feel better than I have in a while. Hopefully that will carry over to tomorrow when the alarm goes off.”
LaPonsie wrote that she was honored to get the award.
“The only reason I can persevere is because of you my friends,” LaPonsie wrote. “You who pick me up when I fall, you who cheer me on when I despair, you who rush in when I falter.”
Saint Patrick parish festival is definitely more than a fundraiser for the church and the school. It is bonding time for families like ours and Irish descendants far away from home.
Copyright © 2014 story and photos by Emma Palova