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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Festival of Friends

Updated: Jan 7, 2020

In November of 1939 the Western Community Center celebrated the various nationalities that made the West Side of Bloomington a vibrant and interesting place. Members of the Community Center donned national costumes to present the customs of different countries. The Community Center was started around 1925 when a group of businessmen saw a need for a community center, such as existed already in small towns throughout Illinois. The center had meeting rooms, a kitchen, a stage and a gymnasium. Boys on the west side had been given the chance to go to the YMCA just one day of the month, through the auspices of the Settlement House on Mulberry Street, but with a Community Center, they would have their own gymnasium.

But in November of 1939, the focus was, for one night, on the roots of the people who lived on the west side. There were many Polish, Swedish, Hungarian and Irish families on the West Side, and in this grouping the women women were dressed in the national costumes of a Hungarian, a Swedish woman, a Hungarian housewife and a gypsy fortune teller. The woman in modern dress was Olive Craig, an employee of the Community Center, who was most likely under the employment of some part of the Works Progress Administration or the Recreation Agency. The women were Mrs. Mike Reiter, Mrs. R.W. Barton, Mrs. Ernst Jake and Mrs. William Thomas.

Although the social agencies of that era were often emphasizing the assimilation of foreigners into the American society, especially the Settlement House, which had included Americanization classes, had organized clubs for the women of various nationalities and celebrated their cultures, while at the same time working to teach the women the way of life in the United States.

The program included Donald Hager and Virginia Roeske dressed in Persian costumes (above) and Franklin Roeske and Leah Whitted as Puritans:

Search: "Festival of Friends" "Western Avenue Community Center"

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