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A Serbian festival or Serb Fest is an annual celebration of Serbian culture presented by many ethnic Serbian communities and organizations in the United States and Canada as well as Australia and New Zealand. Typically, these events are intended for attendance by the general public.
Serb Fest at Turkey Run State Park
Every Memorial Day Weekend, Turkey Run State Park in Marshall, Indiana plays host to Serb Fest. The annual celebration of Serbian food and culture originated in the mid-1970s by a group of Serbian families from the Chicago area. Through the 1980s, the event grew to as many as 20 families. The weekend's events focus on large amounts of meat blazing about the grills of Turkey Run, the pleasure of good company & conversation, hiking, and a slow float down Sugar Creek. Most activities are usually situated around grills and picnic tables adjacent to the Tennis Courts.
The event has seen continued evolution. Beginning in 1996, a new generation of attendees were groomed to keep the tradition alive as many of the original attendees grew older and unable to commit to attendance each year. This new generation has opened up the celebration of the Serbian culture to individuals of all backgrounds and ethnicities. While many of the attendees are not Serbian by blood, still strong is the celebration of the Serbian culture - primarily through cuisine and the ever present Serbian Flag which can typically be found attached to a nearby light pole by an old tree branch and duct tape.
The First Generation
In the mid-1970s a Serbian gentleman (known affectionately by today's attendees as "Abe Lincoln" for the resemblance of his facial hair to that of the Sixteenth President of the United States) and his wife gathered with a close group of Serbian friends at Turkey Run State Park to celebrate Memorial Day Weekend. The number of attendees in these early years is unconfirmed, but as the legend grew, so did the numbers. The weekend was an invitation only event for families. Families would reach out and invite close family friends and by the mid-1980s, it is believed that as many as 20 families might have gathered 'round the grills of Turkey Run (TR).
In 1986, Predrag & Mila Zelenkovich who themselves had first attended only 1 year prior brought their 6-year-old son Jovan to Serb Fest. Little did they know that this was to be a life changing event for Jovan and was a pivotal event in the endurance of Serb Fest into the 21st Century.
Fire & Ice Extravaganza
As the children of the founding fathers of Serb Fest grew older, so grew the responsibility of the younger generation to carry the torch of Serb Fest into the 21st Century.
10 years after his first trip to TR, Jovan Zelenkovich suggested to his parents that he bring a friend or two to Turkey Run. They of course, did not object and this was to become somewhat of a tradition each year following. Two years later, in 1998, Jovan extended an invitation to Scott Berger, a college roommate of his who was familiar with Turkey Run State Park after having camped there the summer before. After Scott accepted the invitation to TR 1998, the two recruited a mutual friend known as "OLAF" to join the lineup.
As experienced by the first generation, attendance of the younger generation continued to grow as Jovan & Scott continued to invite more friends who in turn invited yet more friends.
Turkey Run 2003 was a year of transition for those who were familiar with the Legend of TR. For the first time in Serb Fest history, there were no adults in attendance. For various reasons, it seemed as though the last of the original founding attendees had said their final goodbyes to their Turkey Run days. While 2003 marked a transition for Serb Fest, the younger generation led by Jovan Zelenkovich & Scott Berger vowed to carry the torch for the new generation and TR 03 managed to stay true to the spirit of Serb Fest.
As TR 03 came to an end, regular attendee, "Nutz" proclaimed Serb Fest as "A Weekend of Fire & Ice" in reference to the fires burning in the grills of TR and the Ice that filled the collection of coolers. Following TR 03, the new generation's Founding Member, Scott & John decided that it would be appropriate to rename Memorial Day Weekend's events at Turkey Run as it would relate to the new generation. With this, "Fire & Ice Extravaganza" was born.
"Serb Fest" vs. "Fire & Ice Extravaganza"
While the title was officially adopted in 2003, its inaugural year is considered to be 1996 as this was the year that Jovan made the decision to invite a new contingent of attendees to TR each year. This is the year that truly marked the beginning of what most know Turkey Run to be today.
The title was originally intended to replace the title of "Serb Fest" when it was believed that the older generation was no longer going to be able to attend. Fortunately, 2003 aside, because at least one elder has been in attendance and those of the younger generation have vowed to uphold the true spirit of the original founding members, it was decided in 2007 that the weekend's events would continue to be known as "Serb Fest" for all time and "Fire & Ice Extravaganza" would simply be a secondary title for the weekend.
Evolution and transition is rarely easy. While the first 20+ years of Serb Fest was very clearly a family atmosphere, for nearly a decade, as the group of Jovan Zelenkovich and his non-Serbian male friends grew, there was a tendency for the group to consider Serb Fest somewhat of a "guys weekend"... despite the fact that there were still several girls, Serbian adults, and even young children in attendance. The notion of a "guys weekend" was actually fueled by a rule put in place that "No women would be allowed until the greater of (1) at least 3 wives or (2) wives for 40% of the attending men would be available to attend". This of course was referring only to the group of men that included Jovan and his non-Serbian male friends.
In 2004, Scott Berger took a bold step and suggested that this rule be dissolved and the weekend be upheld solely as family friendly weekend, which would include the welcoming of significant others and of course, when applicable, children. Invitations would be acceptable at the discretion of each man and would be with the understanding that the significant other being invited would (1) be accepting of and embrace the Spirit of Turkey Run and (2) be willing to commit all future Memorial Day Weekends to attending Serb Fest barring a death in the family or similarly understandable event. The suggestion was met by mixed reaction including some of whom felt that the invitation of significant others would put the comradery of the guys in jeopardy. With great debate, the rule was in fact dissolved and in 2005, Julie Walton, longtime girlfriend of Scott Berger, attended Serb Fest. In 2008, an astounding 6 of the 10 male attendees brought wives, girlfriends, or fiances. This would also mark the first year in which one of the non-Serbian males would bring a child to TR.
The Lost Year
1989 remains the only year that it can be confirmed that an alternate site had to be chosen for Serb Fest. It seems that Turkey Run had gotten too popular and sold out of cabins & rooms at the Inn, so Devil's Lake was chosen as the alternate location. It was in 1989 that the Serbs began reserving rooms at Turkey Run two years in advance.
Several traditions have been embraced by the attendees of Serb Fest. These include the mass consumption of ćevapčići, the annual pre-hike "wife beater" photo of Jovan & the non-Serbian males, hiking, kayaking, bocce ball, the affinity for coolers, the Indian Head Dress, and of course, the Serbian Flag waving proudly in the wind.
Hall of Fame
In 2003, as the torch was passed to the younger generation of attendees, Jovan Zelenkovich & Scott Berger introduced the "Turkey Run Hall of Fame" to honor those attendees who have been instrumental in the founding of Serb Fest. Inducted in 2003 were "Abe Lincoln & his Wife", Predrag & Mila Zelenkovich, Bora & Lela Boskovic, Daca & Cica Danilovic, and Monica's Parents, Mr. & Mrs. Stevanovic.