St. Patrick's Day brings people from all backgrounds and lineages together - many call themselves honorary "Irishmen," dressed in crazy green outfits, as they run around town drinking green beer. Maybe you've done it yourself - even joining in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Downtown Kalamazoo.
You may not, however, know about the well-organized group that has been the backbone of all things Irish in our community for over 20 years. This rich, quiet and generous Irish presence is the Irish American Club of Kalamazoo, which has been active since 1997, celebrating Irish culture and history. Margaret Strzelecki and her husband Ron, both of Irish descent, have been involved with the group for years, and are now club president and treasurer, respectively. They recently invited me into their Kalamazoo home to learn more about the club, a timely topic as March 17 approaches.
Margaret has served the club as president for 18 years, and is a wealth of knowledge of club happenings and of Irish culture in general. One major, visible club project is the St. Patrick's Day Parade. In June the Irish Fest is another event and club members get in free. But what was extremely interesting was the additional club activities that take place on a regular basis, benefiting citizens in our community through donations and cultural events - including some activities that probably fly under the radar of most locals.
Anyone who's been around Kalamazoo for a few years has probably witnessed the Irish American Club's annual St. Patrick's Day parade. The parade steps off for its 18th year in 2018, and because the Irish can handle the weather, the parade goes on rain, snow or sun. Following the parade, the club sponsors The 6th Annual Hooley for Healing from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Bell's in downtown Kalamazoo. This indoor/outdoor Irish party is another example of the Club's quiet generosity. This year's annual fundraiser will support two local families struggling with a cancer diagnosis. The event features Irish Step Dancers, music by Celtic folk band Fonn Mor, a silent auction and a kilt contest.
"We love getting together and celebrating Irish culture," says Margaret. "These events are part of the fabric of Kalamazoo and are kind of expected."
Another well-known event is Irish Fest, which also celebrates its 18th year in 2018. This two-day celebration of Irish heritage (June 22-23, 2018) will be back at Old Dog Tavern. The events include Irish music, contests, plus a Celtic marketplace.
"(Old Dog Tavern founders) Sean and Amy (Smith) are great to work with, and the venue has been well- received by the community," says Margaret.
As mentioned the club quietly support the community and another giving program is their annual Ministry with Community lunch service. Each year around St. Patrick's Day (Friday, March 16 this year), club members buy, prep, cook and serve a meal at the dining room in the Edwards Street location.
The club roster includes about 125 members who have established monthly giving programs as well. Food donations have been collected for Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes. Other times, toys and diapers are collected for individuals served by the YWCA of Kalamazoo Fundraisers throughout the year include a poinsettia and Irish shortbread sale in November and a silent auction in December.
The Irish American Club of Kalamazoo meets monthly to socialize and celebrate Irish culture. On the third Monday of the month, the group meets at Theo & Stacy's on Portage Road for dinner, announcements, and Irish entertainment. Membership information is available on the club website and you can join for as little as $15 annually.
Clearly the Irish American Club is a generous and giving group committed to serving the people of Kalamazoo without fanfare or recognition. Margaret and Ron prove to be no different as individuals. After our interview, Margaret filled my arms with fresh, home-baked Irish soda bread and Irish shortbread. I left the Strzelecki home excited about the Irish treats, but more importantly, feeling sincerely embraced and loved - a feeling certainly echoed by the many others who have been touched by this caring Kalamazoo group.