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White Eagle Society polka picnic might be its last

  • The Hadley-based Eddie Forman Orchestra's  Polka music filled the dance floor Sunday afternoon at the White Eagle Society's 100th anniversary picnic, which may be the organization's last. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis

    The Hadley-based Eddie Forman Orchestra's Polka music filled the dance floor Sunday afternoon at the White Eagle Society's 100th anniversary picnic, which may be the organization's last.
    Recorder Chris Curtis Purchase photo reprints »

  • Millers Falls residents Joey and Ashley Bobala, ages 4 and 8, dance to Polka music Sunday at the White Eagle Society's 100th anniversary picnic, which may be its last. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis

    Millers Falls residents Joey and Ashley Bobala, ages 4 and 8, dance to Polka music Sunday at the White Eagle Society's 100th anniversary picnic, which may be its last.
    Recorder Chris Curtis Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Hadley-based Eddie Forman Orchestra's  Polka music filled the dance floor Sunday afternoon at the White Eagle Society's 100th anniversary picnic, which may be the organization's last. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis
  • Millers Falls residents Joey and Ashley Bobala, ages 4 and 8, dance to Polka music Sunday at the White Eagle Society's 100th anniversary picnic, which may be its last. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis

GREENFIELD — Attendees gave a 76-year tradition a proper send-off Sunday to the strains of the Eddie Forman Orchestra’s energetic polka and the quaking of the wooden dance floor.

The White Eagle Society celebrated its 100th anniversary on Sunday with a “Polka Mass,” chicken barbecue and hours of dancing under the pavilion of the picnic grounds. The society bought and built the grounds on Plain Road in 1938 for what were once weekly social gatherings.

Society president Bob Gibowicz said Sunday that the day’s event, which drew at least the 265 people tallied for the barbecues, was probably the last the society will host unless someone else assumes the organization.

“I’ve chaired for 30 years, it’s about time someone else takes over. I’m resigning with regret,” said Gibowicz, a third-generation member. “I’m sorry to see this happen but it’s time to see someone else take over.”

Harry Prouty, 66, of Ashuelot, N.H., estimated he’d been coming to the Greenfield picnics for about 20 years. “Many years. They say it might be the last one, I don’t know,” Prouty said.

Prouty and his dance partner were among the dozens on the floor, the crowd ebbing and flowing according to the music. Several apparent favorites cleared the seats inside the pavilion entirely, filling the floor. “The band, the music, that kind of music you don’t get every day, everywhere. It’s a different beat, a different time, a different era; if the young people don’t keep it up it’s going to be a lost era,” Prouty said.

John Sabola, 57, of Hadley sat at a picnic table on the lawn before the pavilion, where more than half the attendees sat and talked in the fresh air.

As a teenager, Sabola said he was a drummer in a polka band that played at the Sunday picnics, when he said the music was strong enough to support four bands out of Hadley alone. “You couldn’t see a parking place in here,” Sabola said, indicating the lawn and pointing out the sections filled by motorcycle clubs.

Sabola said this was his parents’ music, but it hasn’t carried on to the current generation. “It’s just fading away,” he said. “I brought my kids; at a certain point, they just don’t want to do it anymore.”

Under the pavilion, the dance floor thumped like a drumhead underfoot. “That’s the heartbeat of the music,” Prouty said. “You know they’re happy when the floor’s shaking.”

The White Eagle Society’s roots stretch back to 1914, when a group of local Polish immigrants joined together to support newcomers. The society had a hand in the establishment of the first Polish Catholic church in Greenfield and helped fellow Polish immigrants learn English and find jobs. As immigration slowed, the focus shifted to socializing and the society acquired the picnic grounds, now mainly rented out to pay the taxes. Gibowicz said the society hopes to be able to continue offering the picnic grounds for event rentals.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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