Houby Festival Draws Thousands for Golden Celebration

A festival 50 years in the making, the golden anniversary of the Houby Festival became one for the history books as thousands of Cicero and Berwyn residents, as well as visitors from across the region, gathered along Cermak Road to celebrate the Czech and Slovak cultures at the beginning of October.

Festivities began with the official launch of the event on Oct. 1 at Lombard Avenue, the border of the two communities. Town President Larry Dominick was joined by Berwyn Mayor Robert J. Lovero as they celebrated the five decades of cooperation in honoring the legacy of the early 20th Century residents. Culinary students from J.S. Morton High School District 201 provided food for the kickoff.

“We would love to see the surrounding communities join the parade with representatives and equipment from their police departments, fire departments, local clubs and community organizations, and their schools,” said Patricia Sturdevant, Director of Special Events. “Everyone has worked hard to keep the 50-year tradition of Houby going for many years and we would love to see it continue for another 50 years.”

The celebration continued the next day when Anyce Paul-Emile, 16, of Berwyn, earned the title of Houby Queen during the annual pageant. She is a Morton West student who hopes to go into film and writing, is active in the school’s theatre program, and a member of the National Honor Society. Ithzel Salcedo, 17, was named first runner-up, while Deisy Gil, 16, was named Miss Congeniality. Both are Morton East students.

As the week continued, the celebration turned to the streets, with an outdoor festival featuring carnival rides, booths, food, drinks, and fun activities for children. Folks were spotted along the “L” strip behind Cermak Road congregating around the music stands listening to bands such as 16 Candles, The Ron Burgundy’s, and 7th Heaven perform into the night.

“This has been a wonderful festival,” Dominick said. “I couldn’t imagine a better reason to for people from two great communities to get together and just celebrate our common heritage.”

The Houby Festival celebrates the Czech, Slovak, Bohemian, and Moravian immigrants who settled in the area during a period in the Austro-Hungarian Empire known as Magyarization. Houby, or mushrooms, are a culinary treat and celebrated by West Slavic cultures in Europe and America.

To close out the week-long series of events, residents lined up along Cermak Road for the annual Houby Day Parade, with Svengoolie, the celebrated host of the horror movie program broadcast on the MeTV network, serving as grand marshal. Played by Richard Koz, Svengoolie has focused on the Berwyn despite having no other connection to the area because of the Houby celebration, saying he finds the festival focused on mushrooms to be fascinating.

Cicero Police Officer Luis Duarte was named honorary grand marshal for his bravery after being shot during a routine traffic stop in September. He is still at home recovering from his injuries and was represented by several officers from Berwyn’s and Cicero’s departments.

The parade featured civic organizations, school groups, bands, area businesses and elected officials from Cicero, Berwyn, and several other communities. Dominick was joined by Clerk Maria Punzo-Arias, Supervisor Joe Virruso, Collector Fran Reitz, Assessor Emilio “Emo” Cundari, and Trustees Bob Porod, Larry Banks, Victor Garcia and John Cava in congratulating the organizers for the successful celebrations and joined in the parade on a number of floats.