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updated: 8/27/2014 7:31 PM

Roots Aurora festival to celebrate diverse heritage, honor community leaders

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  • Krishna Bansal

      Krishna Bansal

  • William H. Bigham

      William H. Bigham

  • Daniel Dolan

      Daniel Dolan

  • Mirna Lopez-Freitag

      Mirna Lopez-Freitag

  • Maria Lozano

      Maria Lozano

  • David A. Frieders

      David A. Frieders

  • The Apollo Dance Troupe was founded by Aurorans Michael and Eva Kontos in an effort to teach young people more about their Greek culture. The Kontoses are among eight community leaders being honored at Sunday's Roots Aurora festival.

      The Apollo Dance Troupe was founded by Aurorans Michael and Eva Kontos in an effort to teach young people more about their Greek culture. The Kontoses are among eight community leaders being honored at Sunday's Roots Aurora festival.
    Courtesy of Al Benson

 
By Mary Clark Ormond
Aurora Historical Society

Aurora celebrates its diverse heritage at the Roots Aurora festival -- featuring food, music, art and dance from a variety of cultural enclaves in Aurora -- and honors eight community leaders who have preserved and shared their own family heritage and in doing so have enriched the culture of Aurora.

The festival runs from 1 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 31, at RiverEdge Park, 360 N. Broadway, Aurora.

A mixture of first-generation Americans and those who trace their families back more than 100 years in Aurora, the honorees include business owners, professionals and an artist.

• A first-generation American, Krishna Bansal was one of the motivating forces this year in establishing the Indian American Community Outreach Advisory Board in Aurora and serves as its first president. The group aims to provide economic, political and cultural benefits for both the Indian-American community and the city of Aurora. Founder and principal of Q1 Technologies in Naperville, Bansal has served on the Naperville Chamber of Commerce and the Indian Prairie High School District 204 Foundation board.

• William H. Bigham's mission, in life as well as business, is to increase awareness and knowledge of fine art from Africa and African-American artists. The William H. Bigham Galleries, with locations at Westfield Fox Valley mall in Aurora and in downtown Chicago, showcase fine art, custom jewelry and home décor. He also creates custom artistic awards for corporations and groups, as well as luminaries such as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The list of recipients of awards designed by Bigham includes Della Reese, Sydney Poitier, Cicely Tyson, Angela Bassett, Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela.

• Daniel Dolan was instrumental in recently bringing back an Irish festival to the Fox Valley. He is a principal of the Dolan and Murphy real estate firm, and has been a pillar of the Irish Club in Aurora and a supporter of Irish cultural initiatives.

• David A. Frieders is a fourth-generation Auroran and radio personality who delved deeply into his Luxembourg heritage through research, travel and the tales of his grandfather. He is a longtime member of the national Luxembourg American Cultural Society and has worked on many activities in the Aurora chapter.

• First-generation Aurorans Michael and Eva Kontos kept their Greek heritage close to their hearts. When they realized many young Greek Americans were growing up without understanding the widely varying regional cultures of their homeland, they set about creating the Apollo Dance Troupe to teach not just the dances but all aspects of culture.

• Mirna Lopez-Freitag was born in Aurora but raised in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Returning to her Aurora roots as a teenager, she built her own business, Midwest Occupational Health Management Services, while throwing herself into the life of the local Puerto Rican community. She is president of the Aurora Puerto Rican Cultural Council and a former board member of the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board. Lopez-Freitag is credited with reviving the once-annual Puerto Rican Festival and Parade and introducing holiday customs from the island.

• Maria Lozano was unable to speak English when she arrived in the United States from Monterrey, Mexico, at the age of 5. Today she is director of the English language learners program for West Aurora Unit District 129 and has gained renown for her innovative ideas, such as the children's book giveaway at the annual Dia de los Ninos festival. As an educator she also works with parents, teaching seminars such as "How to Navigate the U.S. Education System" and how to achieve citizenship. She serves on the boards of the Aurora Public Library and Family Focus and is a former member of the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board.

• Guy Prisco is the son of Italian immigrants who arrived in Aurora in 1926 and established the family name as synonymous with the grocery business. Following a different path, Prisco became an architect but helped to found the Italian American Club in Aurora. He continues to support the cultural activities of the community.

Tickets to the festival are $3, or $1 for those in cultural clothing. The festival includes ethnic food vendors and alcohol sales. For information, visit riveredgeaurora.com.

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