A complete journey around the Cleveland Cultural Gardens totals about 3 miles, but North Ridgeville resident Cindy Fanderys views the property in a much larger sense during the annual One World Day event.
“I just think the festival is very nice because it’s like taking a trip around world,” Fanderys said as she checked out various countries’ booths at the gardens on Sept. 16. “I like geography, and this gives you a chance to go to one spot once a year and you get to learn all about so many different countries.”
The 73rd annual One World Day welcomed visitors Sept. 16 at the more than 30 established or proposed cultural gardens located on Martin Luther King and East boulevards within Cleveland’s Rockefeller Park.
One World Day has been the official event of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation since 1946. The event aims to exemplify the theme of the Gardens: “Peace through Mutual Understanding,” a news release stated.
At the 2018 edition of One World Day, held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., visitors could walk or ride bicycles along those streets and stop by each country’s garden to learn about its culture, sample authentic ethnic foods and enjoy music or dance performances.
Fanderys was visiting the booth at the Lithuanian Cultural Garden during the early afternoon on Sept. 16. Staffing the booth were sisters Ruta Mekesa Degutis of Richmond Heights and Vitalija Mekesa Butkus of Euclid.
“Volunteering for everything is the ethnic way,” said Degutis, who also serves as president of the Lithuanian Club in Cleveland.
The booth featured Lithuanian food such as fried garlic rye bread, bacon buns, and sakotis, or “tree cakes.” While Degutis and Butkus chatted with visitors at the booth, Edita Kuizaitis of Concord Township fried up batches of bulviniai blynai, which is Lithuanian for potato pancakes.
Degutis also shared information with visitors on the Lithuanian Cultural Garden, which was dedicated in 1936. It is the fifth oldest and third largest of all cultural gardens in Rockefeller Park.
The Lithuanian Cultural Garden extends from East Boulevard down three levels to Martin Luther King Boulevard. In addition, the garden is designed in the shape of a lyre, a stringed instrument that looks like a harp with a u-shaped frame.
Just across the way from the Lithuanian garden, Renata Harmatiy and two of her children, all of North Royalton, were staffing the booth at the Ukrainian Cultural Garden.
Shortly before noon, Harmatiy and her daughter, 17-year-old Bohdanna, and son, 14-year-old Dorian, were visiting with 9-year-old Jimmy Zurbuch and his mother, Kristen Zurbuch, of Canton.
Jimmy had brought his “Passport to Peace” to the Ukrainian booth to be stamped. These small booklets, which resembled real passports, were available at the One World Day information tables. Visitors who took them could get them stamped at booths of the different countries, with space in the books to jot down facts on the nations, as well.
Kristen said Jimmy has been interested in geography since early childhood. She and Jimmy, along with several other relatives, heard about One World Day and felt it was an event worth checking out.
“We’re trying to cultivate Jimmy’s interest in geography and support what he loves to learn about,” Kristen said.
Many of the booths at established gardens also offered information on statues of historical figures which are built at these sites. Statues in the Ukrainian Garden, established in 1940, include those honoring Ivan Franko and Lesya Ukrainka, who both were poets and political activists in their home country.
Another annual highlight of One World Day is the naturalization ceremony, where a judge swears in a contingent of new American citizens during a ceremony in the Syrian Cultural Garden.
The naturalization ceremony took place this year after the noontime Parade of Flags through the streets bordering the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.
This year, the parade was expanded to include ethnic groups from Cleveland that do not have cultural gardens in Rockefeller Park. Some of the new entries were expected to include units from the Indonesian, Mexican, Colombian, Brazilian, Catalan, Uzbek, Palestinian and Bhutanese communities, marching along with representatives of the 30 or so nations that have established gardens at the site.
“We want to be as welcoming as we can to all cultures in Cleveland,” said Lori Ashyk, executive director of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Foundation.