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Marshall V. King
Marshall V. King writes about restaurants and local food issues. And a lot about what he eats.

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Five reasons why you should care about Dyngus Day

The Polish-American holiday is centered around food, but it may matter most as a chance to exercise democracy.

Posted on April 20, 2014 at 11:56 a.m.

Dyngus Day is here.

The Monday after Easter isn't a big deal everywhere, but in northern Indiana it is.

And it matters. It makes a difference in more than our mouths and stomachs. It should make a difference in our community. A new event this year underlines that.

Here are five reasons why it matters.

1. We need a holiday. It's been a brutal winter. Spring may actually finally be here. Easter is the biggest holiday on the Christian calendar. It marks the resurrection. And it's a big deal. For those who gave up a food or drink during Lent, Easter marks the end of the fast and the Monday after can be a blowout.

2. The food is great. One should not eat Polish sausage every day. Nor do some see it as having one as a celebration. But I do. To have one with sauerkraut and mustard and have some pierogi, sweet and sour noodles, a pickled egg every so often is glorious, even if it's only once a year.

Max Yeakey and his cooks in the basement kitchen of the Knights of Columbus hall at 112 E. Lexington Ave., Elkhart, will put out a spread at lunch and dinner.

At The Oasis in Goshen, there will also be Polish sausage and some of the sides. And hard-boiled eggs will be a dime each or two for a quarter. Everyone will order two.

Sports Time Family Pub & Grill, 56199 Parkway Ave., Elkhart, there will also be sausage, cabbage, sauerkraut, noodles, eggs and "the coldest beer in town," according to owner Cristy Eldridge.

3. It's tradition. More than 30 years ago, Don Gonsoski and Benny Wiercioch saw the fun Polish-Americans were having in South Bend and brought Dyngus Day to Elkhart at the Knights of Columbus.

The Elkhart celebration isn't as big as the ones in South Bend, but there's still a rich history of people gathering, eating, drinking and schmoozing. By my count, this is the 34th year.

One of my traditions is pointing out publicly that cook Max Yeakey shouldn't put cabbage in the kluski noodles. I do it every year. And then we laugh about it.

The tradition doesn't mean nothing's changed. The Knights hall doesn't allow smoking anymore. Solidarity Day celebrated on the south side of Elkhart hasn't happened as it did for a while.

There's better light since windows were put in on the east side. And some of the old-timers like Gary Meagher, Gonsoski and Wiercioch have passed on. This year's celebration will be without Jim Gallagher for the first time. He usually called me to remind me about Dyngus Day and ask for coverage. This year someone else called and I missed Jim.

4. It's political. Because of the timing sometimes weeks before a May primary election in Indiana, politicians come out to stump for votes, to meet the people who may vote for them.

I have mocked the political nature of this event in the past. I have pointed out that they get in the way of a good meal. I have made jokes about heartburn.

But the reality is that Dyngus Day is when you can interact with politicians. You can ask them questions. You can tell them what you think about the job they're doing or want to do if elected. This year, U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski will be at the Knights Hall about 11:15 a.m. Monday.

Those conversations are a key part of democracy.They're a key part of a good community. And somehow beer and heavy, rich food help that civic engagement happen.

Not enough people will go vote on May 6. Not enough people will show that they do care about the community and its future by casting a vote. But perhaps if they learn more about a candidate or a race on Dyngus Day, they'll do so.

5. A new event builds on the politics and tradition. The Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce usually has a candidate forum leading up to an election. Trevor Wendzonka, director of communications and government relations, said they wanted to add this to the tradition of Dyngus Day and embrace some of its fun. And this became Pitch & Pull. 

So from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, politicians and those who care about them will gather at Iechyd Da, 317 N. Main St., Elkhart's first and only brewpub. It's a place where people gather and discuss the life of the city. It's not open Mondays, but on this night, candidates will be there to pitch why they want the jobs as judge of Superior Court 3, as a state representative for District 48, or as county auditor or recorder.

"As taxpayers, we're all going to be paying them to do the work for us," said Wendzonka, who has worked to pull together this new event to help educate voters and give them a chance to meet the candidates in a different kind of setting.

Reservations for the event are nearly full. I'll be there to emcee it with Kyle Hannon, who oversees the chamber.

Dyngus Day matters. It's not known or celebrated in every community. But in this one, I hope we make the most of it by having a good meal and learning a bit about those we may elect.

I'm hungry. Let's eat.

Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@etruth.com, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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