I’m sitting in a huge booth, a safe distance from my fellow diners, sipping pivo and snacking on pierogi. I’m trying not to laugh at the self-deprecating joke that was just told about lightbulbs while a copper bust of the Pope glares at the back of my head. A young server wearing a “Bet your Dupa” shirt delivers fresh beers and we all toast, “Nice Driveway!”
I’m at the Polish American Citizen Club of Akron, where they’re planning a celebration for their upcoming centennial.
Akron, like many cities across the Midwest, has a large Polish-American population. This is especially true in North Hill, where the Polish American Citizens Club of Akron was established in 1921. The club was established to provide immigrant families a place to feel at home, build a social network and support each other.
Over the last century, the PACC has adapted with the times while maintaining its cultural traditions. The PACC is always accepting donations for the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank and raising money for people in the community, especially recent immigrants. They do toy drives and Breakfast with Santa during the holidays and a special Veterans Day lunch every year.
You don’t have to be Polish to be a member, and you don’t have to be a member to use the space. The club has been witness to so much, from meetings to organize opposition to the KKK in the 1920s to Bhutanese wedding ceremonies in 2020.
The club moved to their current location at 472 East Glenwood Avenue in 1949, upgrading their facility with an industrial kitchen and large banquet hall. They have space for everything from “baby showers to wakes and everything in between,” sitting PACC President Tim Ostroski tells me. People have had parties here for 25 to 200 people.
Run by a mostly volunteer staff, the kitchen at the PACC has all the Polish staples and the bar is stocked with beer and vodka imported from the motherland. Their most popular night has always been Friday, when they’re open to the public for their famous fish fry. They’ve been using the same battered perch recipe for 60 years.
Coronavirus restrictions have obviously put a damper on traditions like Dyngus Day this past year, but that’s not the only thing the PACC is up against. There used to be cultural clubs like PACC all over the Akron area. Many of them are now closed.
Editor’s note: This story previously said Akron’s Irish Club has closed. The Akron Hibernians remain active, so that reference has been removed. The correction was made Feb. 24.
At its peak, PACC served over 600 members and their families. Now they only have around 200 members.
“Nobody is building any new clubs like this,” Ostroski tells me. “We need to be supported by the community. We don’t want to see the doors close.”
On top of providing space and a sense of belonging for people in Akron, PACC keeps historical records and a community archive. They have a rich collection of oral histories, documents and photographs going back over the last 100 years. Anyone who is interested in these records or would like to contribute to them in any way is encouraged to come in and do so.
The Polish Club’s centennial festivities will include a dinner on March 7 and a big celebration on June 5. They plan to have live music and lots of food. They’re currently taking donations and raising money to help keep the event safe and free to attend.
Until then, PACC is open to the public every Friday, and their food and bottled beer are available for carryout. They’ll give you a membership if you come in on your birthday. Whether you have Polish ancestors or are just “Polish by Pleasure,” you’re welcome to join the club.
For more information, find PACC Akron on Facebook or stop by. They’re open from 1-6 pm Monday-Wednesday and Saturday and 1-10 pm Thursday and Friday.
Emily Anderson isn’t Polish, but she still wears red on Dyngus Day.