Clinton's return trip to Chicago's Polish Village will have to wait until next year


Hillary Clinton talks with the woman owner of Pasieka Bakery in this photo salvaged from the charred ruins of the bakery in 2011

Notification from the Clinton Foundation that President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not be returning for a visit to the Avondale neighborhood has local boosters and neighborhood groups disappointed.

Home to Chicago's "Polish Village," the area had long been a nexus for politicos looking to hobnob with the city's Polish Community. The Orbit  Restaurant, Pasieka Bakery, St. Hyacinth Basilica, along with numerous delis and shops in the area have received visits from famous politicians and statesmen from both sides of the Atlantic. The list includes President George H.W. Bush, Tipper Gore, Senator Paul Simon and Polish Presidents Lech Walesa and Lech Kaczynski.  


The bakery's mural on the side of the building

It was during the 1992 campaign for the U.S. Presidency that both Clintons found their way to this hallowed corner of Polish Chicago. As brief as their visits were, they had a decidedly important impact on the community. In the case of President Clinton, it was in his inadvertent role as the "Guardian Angel" that saved the neoclassical building that housed the Orbit Restaurant from the wrecking ball after it closed in 2006.

Leading the charge to save the building was Ward Miller, the Vice President of Logan Square Preservation, who deftly used the fact that the future president dine there as a key talking point to prevent its imminent demolition. "It's not only a historically significant building, the Orbit (building) is a visual testament to the strong  links between Poland and Chicago in the built environment of Avondale." 

Former First Lady Hillary Clinton on the other hand visited Pasieka Bakery, a venerable institution in Chicago's Polish Community, that tragically fell prey to fire in September 2011. A large framed photo of Hillary Clinton's visit to the bakery dating from 1992 greeted folks coming to Pasieka's, including numerous tourists and clients traveling from out of state for a taste of the establishment's signature Polish baked goods. 

It was in the aftermath of the Pasieka fire that local groups such as the Greater Avondale Chamber of Commerce and the parish council at St. Hyacinth Basilica came upon the idea of inviting the Clintons back to the neighborhood.

St. Hyacinth Basilica

St. Hyacinth Basilica

"We thought it would be a good way of bringing together the neighborhood after such a great loss for the community," said Joe Jurek of St. Hyacinth Parish council. Bogdan Dola of TVP Chicago concurred saying, "This would have been a great way to give a positive meaning for something that was so painful for the Polish Community in Chicago. It would be a symbol that our future will be as bright as our past".


This is a detail showing the eagle on St. Hyacinth Basilica

The idea was originally conceived by the Executive Director of the Greater Avondale Chamber, Dan Pogorzelski. "We have spent the last few years organizing our neighborhood together with the Avondale Neighborhood Association, and we saw this as a natural way to put a silver lining onto a deep loss for Avondale. Given that the U.S. Secretary of State has recently concluded her public service, we thought a return visit to our neighborhood would be a beautiful way for the Clintons to celebrate with a warm 'welcome back' to our neighborhood."

Greater Avondale Chamber President, Attorney Robert Groszek echoed that sentiment by stating "events like this have the unique ability to bring a community together. Hopefully we can welcome the Former President and First Lady in the future. After all, we Poles pride ourselves on our strong tradition of hospitality."

Chamber member Mark Thomas, well known as the owner of "The Alley Stores" joked that like other entrepreneurs in the neighborhood, he was "looking forward to the photo op with the presidential couple."

The proposed site of the Clinton's visit would have been St. Hyacinth's Carnival, a prominent local festival that has traditionally been the highlight of residents living in the area of Avondale, Kosciuszko Park and Logan Square.

Taking place in mid-August, the festive environment would have been a great background for such an event, according to Forgotten Chicago Editor Jacob Kaplan. Kaplan, who is one of the co-authors of the upcoming neighborhood history book to be released by Arcadia Publishing later this year, said "Parish Carnivals have a long tradition for being the backdrop for politicians to meet with the public at large in Chicago. This kind of event would have fit right into that convention, and I certainly hope it happens in the future." His coauthor, Rob Reid, known in the area as "Mr. Avondale" had this very political response, "Avondale's pervasive civic engagement spanning diverse cultures make it the great American neighborhood Clinton should visit today. But if he waits until tomorrow it'll be even better. Even if it's another year away, my heart will soar like the Polish Eagle when Clintons are ready to visit Avondale."



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