By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
Pearl Molnar remembers when the Birmingham Ethnic Festival was just a picnic at the St. Stephen’s schoolyard.
“I would never have guessed it would have become all this,” the 82-year-old said while selling Hungarian cookbooks for the St. Stephen’s Catholic Church mothers club.
Yesterday’s Birmingham festival may have been the biggest ever, long-time observers said. Thousands of people took advantage of temperatures in the 70s and a refreshing breeze and headed to the 25th annual festival in East Toledo.
The festival started out in 1974 as a small celebration for the Hungarian population of the Birmingham neighborhood, centered around its churches.
But over the years, it has expanded, in size and audience.
Now, the audience of the festival is racially and ethnically mixed, with as many people from the Toledo suburbs as from the neighborhood itself. That diversity has made the festival less Hungarian and more broadly “ethnic.”
“I wouldn’t have ever guessed back then that you’d be able to get Chinese food here, or gyros, or Italian,” said Ann Mascsak, another lifelong member of St. Stephen’s, who was helping to auction off a traditional Hungarian quilt.
That matches changes in the neighborhood, which has become less homogeneously Hungarian over the last few decades.
But the entertainment is still straight out of the old country. Yesterday’s festival featured the standby of Birmingham festivals past: traditional Hungarian dancing. Along with the Magyar Dancers of Toledo, troupes from Toronto, Detroit, New York, and Hungary performed.
And despite the changes in the neighborhood, the Birmingham festival remains one of the best reminders of Toledo’s ethnic heritage.
“It’s terrific,” said Kay Yard, a former Oregon resident who just moved back to Ohio after 13 years in the South. “We didn’t have things like this in Florida.”