60 Years of the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo, 1945 - 2005:
“The women and members of ethnic groups who were the objects of acute discrimination even as they served their country remember the hurt, but they have not allowed it to cripple them, nor have they invoked it as a claim for special treatment now. They’re much more likely to talk about the gains that have been achieved rather than the pain they suffered.”
Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation
Author: Arthur Parks, former First Vice President of the Polish Arts Club and member of the club for fifteen years, Grove City college, B.A., University of Notre Dame, M.A.
1945 was sixty years ago, the year in which the Polish Arts Club was founded. 1945 was a monumental year in world history since it was a year of extremely important and dramatic events which shaped the world! In February, a secret meeting of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, the “Big Three”, was held at Yalta, and Poland was betrayed. In March, the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine River was finally crossed but only at a high cost to Allied men which included Polish troops. This was the first crossing of the Rhine River by an invading army since Napoleon! May eighth was “V-E Day”…”Victory in Europe Day”, the day in which the German high command signed unconditional surrender documents in Berlin. In July, the United Nations Charter was ratified by the United States Senate with an 82 to 2 vote. The first Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9. “Victory over Japan Day” (V-J Day), was designated on August 15 and marked the end of the Pacific phase of World War II.
Tom Brokaw in his best-selling book, The Greatest Generation (1998) describes America’s World War II generation as follows:
“They answered the call to help save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs.
They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting, often hand to hand, in the most primitive conditions possible, across the bloodied landscape of France Belgium, Italy, Austria.”
This aptly describes many members of he Polish Arts Club who served in the military such as our legendary Brownie Trzyzewski, now deceased, a veteran of service in the United States Navy, and whose contributions to the club are many such as the tradition of the Biesiada. Remarkably, in this year of 2005, the club has active members who were very young people in 1945, who suffered with their families from the horrors of Nazism, Communism, and World War II in Europe, and who had unbelievably dangerous experiences and miraculously survived to eventually emigrate to America. Shining examples of this are the following current Polish Arts Club members: Dr. Teresa Gessner, survivor of Stalin’s Siberia who has served as chair of the Education Committee and club Director; her husband, Dr. Peter Gessner, who as a boy witnessed the Nazi Blitzkrieg, and who has been the outstanding Club President for the past thirteen years; Brig. General (Ret.) Jan Libront, who escaped from Nazi occupied Poland over the mountains into the Balkans and managed to reach England and served as an officer on a bomber in the Polish Air Force. (Libront served as Club President in the 1990’s); Dr. Frederick Fleszar, a retired, brilliant surgeon, whose innumerable experiences are legendary; Krystyna Pienkowska, who as a teen-ager with her mother joined the Polish Air Force in England, and who chairs the Polonaise Ball which will be the occasion at which the Polish Arts Club will commemorate its sixtieth anniversary; Leonard Szczesny, a very young Polish boy during World War II whose father was banished to Siberia and who survived German Slave Labor Camps. Leonard and his wife, Anne, continue to work tirelessly for the Polish Arts Club. These fine people are a sample of Club Members who are also members of “the greatest generation.”
The year 2005 therefore can be dubbed “a year of anniversaries”, since in this year, the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo commemorates its sexaganary or 60thanniversary year. Obviously sixty years is a very long period of continuous and dedicated volunteer service time performed by the many officers and members of the club. Although the founding of the Polish Arts Club cannot have the same profound historical impact as the dramatic earthshaking World War II events of 1945, the club has been a fountainhead of numerous Polish cultural events over this lengthy period of time, and has been a very successful agent for the safeguarding, the appreciation, and the promotion of the finest in the history and culture of Poland and Polonia. The preservation of this precious heritage is indeed a most remarkable accomplishment.
During the past ten years in particular, accolades have been delivered to the Polish Arts Club as exemplified by these statements:
Erie County Cultural Resources Board: “The Polish Arts Club of Buffalo, in spite of its reliance on volunteers, is a remarkably productive organization providing a vast array of cultural programming and services that are attended by thousands. This is a highly recognized, top quality organization with a very sharp focus/mission.”
The Am-Pol Eagle: “The PACB not only has a well-defined mission but carries it out with the precision of a well-oiled machine. It represents the best Polonia has to offer with respect to programing for the Polish- American community and the general public.”
The founding of the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo was inspired by a lecture given by Dr. Zygmunt (Sigismund) Stojowski, a famous New York City teacher of classical piano, composer, and a close friend of the world’s most famous pianist of the first half of the twentieth century, Ignacy Jan Paderewski. As a response to the brutal Nazi attempts to destroy Polish civilization and culture during World War II, Stojowski addressed a group of about fifty Polish Americans at the International Institute on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo in the Spring of 1944. He strongly urged them to organize an association for the purpose of preserving and promoting Polish artistic achievements and contributions which would benefit not only Polonia but also the American public and the world’s cultural communities. Several inspired individuals, namely Walter Orzelski, Sophie Schoen, Francis Schunke and Sophie Czech, met at the home of Magdalena Frost and agreed to organize an arts club. Eugene M. Dyczkowski, a talented artist, joined in the establishment of the new club.
A total of 25 distinguished and dedicated men and women have served as presidents of the Polish Arts Club from 1945 through 2005. Dyczkowski served as its first President, 1945-46 and his successors are as follows:
Edward C. Sobolewski 47-48
Aleksander Janta 49-51
Dr. Richard B. Bugielski 52
Francis A. Winiarz 53-54
Lawrence M. Januszczak 55-56
Emilie Lubelski 57-58
Leonard B. Glowinski 59
Lawrence M. Januszczak 60
Edward V. Stronski 61-62
Dr. Herman A. Szymanski 63
Daniel L. Reczek 64-65
James R. Przepasniak 66-67
Mrs. Richard D. Brzyski 69
Emilie Lubelski 70-72
Robert J. Jarnot 73
Zosia (Sophia) Dabrowska 74-76
Benedict A. Rozek 77-78
Bronislaus R. Trzyzewski 79-81
Wanda Winiarz 82-85
Anthony Smaczniak 86-88
Ann Nowak 89
Jan Libront 90
Christine Nowak 91-92
Dr. Peter K. Gessner 93-2005
This essay allows for only a brief overview of the vast variety of activities which have taken place throughout the club’s presidencies. The impressive variety of accomplishments includes lectures, art exhibits, tours, recitals, film showings, trips, establishment of computer web sites, newspaper articles, book reviews, cooperation with American, Canadian and European Polonian organizations and government officials and agencies, the rescue of Polish artifacts and intellectual properties such as the Slawinski murals and the Officers Club at Old Fort Niagara, promotion of Polish Dramatic productions, the development of educational materials for teachers and students, strong support for the Polish Library at the University of Buffalo, scholarship competitions, foreign exchange programs and the celebration of Polish traditions through the sponsorship of the Easter Swieconka, the May Biesiada, and the Christmas Wigilia.
It is important to note that the club’s first President, Eugene Dyczkowski, was also the President of the Buffalo Society of Artists and an Associate Director of the Albright Art Gallery. He was also the artist who painted six panels of murals, 95 feet long and 3.5 feet high in the Officer’s Club at Old Fort Niagara, which were saved from destruction through the club’s strenuous lobbying efforts with the New York State authorities.
Former club President Zosia Dabrowska, in her essay of ten years ago commemorating the fiftieth anniversary, provides us with a list of impressive activities promoted by the club, some of which are as follows:
Lectures: Kazimierz Wierzynski, poet; Josef Czapdki, painter; Ludwig Krzyzanowski, historian; Felix Labrewski, composer; Oscar Halecki, historian
Christine Nowak, also a previous club President, described her vivid memories as a young club member selling tickets and attending the 1958 concert by Artur Rubenstein and a reception for him at the Statler, and in 1960, attending a peerless concert given by the gifted Witold Malcuszynski.
Exhibits: Polish Royal Court manuscripts covering three centuries at the Museum of Science; the Polish Room opening at the University of Buffalo; the 1969 art exhibit at Canisius College displaying 171 canvasses of American and Canadian artists; Stefan Mrozewski wood engravings at the Albright;
Receptions for outstanding artists: Artur Rubenstein, Sigismund Stojowski, Witold Malcuszynski, and Roman Maciejewski
Dramatic presentation: Forefather’s Eve (Part III) by Adam Mickiewicz at the Albright Gallery
Fund raising activities: sold out concert by Liberace at Memorial Auditorium to benefit the Scholarship Fund; record crowds at club sponsored concerts by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra which resulted in the club’s substantial contribution to the Permanent Chair of Polish Culture at Canisius College
Social activities: organizing the Jarmark, an Old Country fair, held annually at the former Polish Union of America buildings; the Polonaise Balls held at the Statler Hilton, and the folk festival at the Convention Center.
The 1993 selection of Professor Peter Gessner of the University of Buffalo ushered in the new renaissance of the Polish Arts Club. In his 1994 mission statement to the Erie County Cultural Board, the dispenser of grant money, Dr. Gessner stated the club’s primary purpose:
“The Polish Arts Club of Buffalo, Inc. is organized for the purpose of:
(1) Bringing an understanding of the universal character of Polish Culture to the appreciative attention of its members and community, thus contributing to the cultural enhancement of the whole community;
(2) Creating a favorable climate for the understanding and encouragement of Polish and Polish-American artists, writers, and musicians;
(3) Cultivating interest in artistic activities and culture in general by making the Club a meeting place for the exchange of ideas knowledge;
(4) Granting scholarships to deserving American students of Polish descent interested in the Arts;
(5) Having its own home which could be transformed into a cultural center serving the community.”
One most critical factor in the tremendous success enjoyed by the PAC was President Gessner’s successful assemblage of energetic and intellectual Polonians and friends of Polonia to serve on the Board of Directors, chair committees, and volunteer many hours to contribute their expertise and talents for Club programs, and for organizing, refining, and completing projects. Inadvertently, some are not in this list of resourceful and dedicated men and women who have contributed to the success of the Polish Arts Club, but it is important to take note of at least a small number of them: former First Vice President, Kathy Kubala, who was involved in countless endeavors; current First Vice President Anne Szczesny, whose tireless activities are innumerable; brother and sister, Stan and Christine Nowak, long-time officers and club activists; Dr. Regina Grol, Professor of Literature, whose expertise has enhanced and academically legitimized many of our programs; the Honorable William J. Ostrowski, advisor, chair, and participant in a lengthy list of the Club promotions; Dr. Severyn Zoledziewski, former Club Treasurer; Zosia Dabrowska, long-time (joined in 1948) , energetic Club leader, writer, three term President; Ed Stronski, educator and perhaps record holder for longevity as a board Director; Wanda Winiarz, now deceased, and long- time Board member who served four Presidential terms in the 1980’s and who,along with her husband, col. Frank Winiarz (also deceased) early in the Club’s history introduced the Polonaise Ball to Western New York and established the successful Club’s Fine Arts Scholarship Fund ; Andrzej & Malgorzata Nalecz, activists on various committees since 1996; Charles Peszynski, retired Buffalo educator, who has chaired a number of committees such as the Polonaise Ball, Wigilia and Installation; Mr. & Mrs. Kazimierz Kaczor, notable husband and wife club activists; Irene Pawlowski, gifted computer analyst, who contributes her expertise to the Club’s financial affairs; Felix Klempka, expert in audio-visual engineering, the historian of music, and Club officer, who contributed his skills and knowledge in the fields of music history and audio-visual presentations and their engineering; Cindy Baumgarnter, former Second Vice President, who performed her many club functions and chairmanships with grace and ability; Maria Zelezny, a most able Membership Secretary who maintains a most efficient modern and updated accounting of membership.
Under Dr. Gessner’s leadership, Club membership increased from fewer than 50 members to over 400 in recent years. A number of his accomplishments also included obtaining grants-in-aid from the City of Buffalo and Erie County, updating the Club’s Constitution, publishing a Club bulletin, expanding the mailing list to over 1000, supporting dialogues and exchanges between local and Poland’s Academia, cooperating with the Canisius College Chair of Polish Culture and using his impressive writing skills for the submission of many articles to the Am-Pol Eagle.
In his thirteen years as president, Dr. Gessner must be credited for being the brilliant architect and vigorous promoter of a multitude of activities presented by the Polish Arts Club. The impressive activities are too numerous to enumerate entirely, but an abbreviated chronological listing provides a good insight into the remarkable number of undertakings by the President, Board of Directors and other Club volunteers. During this time period, thousands of western New Yorkers have been satisfied beneficiaries of the following kaleidoscope of presentations:
Sophie Hodorowicz Knab: “Polish Traditions & Folklore”
Professor Thomas Witakowski: “Witold Lutoslawski”, an examination of a world renowned composer
Dr. Severyn Zoledziowski: “When the Earth Moved: Copernicus and his Heliocentric System of the Universe”
Dr. Alicja Budzilo-Jarzebska explained the music of Gorecki, Witoslawski and Penderecki in a music and slide lecture
Brownie Trzyzewski, Colonel Tony Smaczyniak, Colonel Wally Piotrowski and Art Parks: “The Military Genius of Tadeusz Kosciuszko”
A program of dramatic readings of the memoirs of the Poplewski Family: “The Siberic Gehenna”
David Franczyk, current Buffalo City Council President: “The Pilsudski Legend: Poland’s Rebirth in 1918”
Gary Burgess, Martin Ruminski (currently a New York City operatic star), Anthony Shaefer and Professor Thomas Witakowski: Recital of Moniuszko songs and arias
The Honorable Carl L. Bucki, federal bankruptcy judge: “The Cultural History of Western New York’s Polonia”
Dr. Regina Grol:: “Adam Mickciewicz: Poet, Patriot and Prophet”
Celebration of Polish Constitution Day via expositions of the symbols of Poland: the Constitution by the Honorable Carl Bucki, the White Eagle and flag by Jan Rekawek, the Black Madonna by the Rev. David Bialkowski, the National Anthem by Burt Czyz and patriotic selections by The Chopin Singers.
James Benson: “A Polish Literary Giant in English Clothing: Jozef Korzeniowski alias Joseph Conrad”
Coordinated by Arthur Parks and performed by Ann Barrett, Keith Elkins, Thomas Kazmierczak, and William Ostrowski: Dramatic readings from the eyewitness reports by Poland’s Nobel prize winning novelist, Henryk Sienkiewics during his travels in the United States from 1876 to 1878 as a correspondent for the Warsaw newspaper, Gazeta Polska.
Polish Gala Days at the University of Buffalo marked the formal opening of the Polish Academic center which provides an academic vehicle for an exchange program between the University at Buffalo and Krakow’s famous Jagiellonian University.
A program of readings in Polish and English of poems of Wislwa Szymborska, Nobel Laureate in Literature, and an exhibition of her manuscripts, photos and memorabilia.
The establishment of a $1000 scholarship for summer study at the Jagiellonian University
Co-sponsorship of Stanislaw Moniuszka’s four act opera, The Haunted Manor (Straszny Dwor) at Shea’s Buffalo Center for the Performing Arts, and a Moniuszko Concert at Villa Maria College, which preceded the opera
A guided tour of the magnificent Murals of Jozef Slawinski. The day-long tour to sites in Niagara and Erie counties was enhanced by Professor Anne Garner’s explanations and was coordinated by Arthur Parks.
Biographer Sue Quinn of Brookline, Massachusetts: “The Life of Marie Sklodowska Curie” a lecture at the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society with reception and book signing.
Co-sponsorship with the University at Buffalo and the Polish American Congress of “Viva Polonia”, a four month festival of films at UB’s Center for the Arts. The films were based on writings of Polish-born Nobel laureates with readings of excerpts from the following authors’ works: Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis; Wladyslaw Rejmont, The Peasants; Isaac B. Singer, Yentl; Czelslaw Milosz, The Issa Valley.
A concert entitled “A Magical Musical Memory” to benefit the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society was a recital of world renowned piano soloists recorded by the Duo-Art Reproducing System in New York City between 1900 and 1932. It featured QRS Pianomation by artists including Paderewski & Horowitz and was arranged by Felix Klempka.
An exhibition and program to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Eugene M. Dyczkowski and to announce the opening of the Officers Club murals at Fort Niagara State Park for public display. The activities included a ceremonial opening by State Senator Maziarz, a lecture on Dyczkowski by Ann Nowak, PAC past President, and presentations by David Reel and Walter Keener.
Two programs dealing with sister cities in Poland: Lowicz, sister city for Cheektowaga, and Rzeszow, Buffalo’s. Cheektowaga town Supervisor Dennis Gabryszak and Sister Marcella Garus, President of Villa Maria College, spoke about Lowicz while Buffalo-Rzeszow-Sister-City Committee officers Chris Skonecki, President, and Theresa Clarke, Vice President, described their experiences in the international exchanges. Kathy Kubala gave an introductory slide presentation.
A lecture entitled “A Polish Military Engineer’s Contribution to the American Revolution” by Dr. James S. Pula, Dean of the Graduate School at Utica College and the author of Thaddeus Kosciuszko: The Purest Son of Liberty.
A slide illustrated talk by Millie Walenczak, Project Architect with Cannon Design, Inc., exploring the topic, “Castles of Poland”.
sponsorship of the play, Witnesses, written by a giant of Polish literature, Tadeusz Rozewica, with a discussion of the continuing relevance of the play led by Professor Tamara Trojandowska from the University of Toronto at the Irish Classical Theater.
An illustrated talk describing the Gothic and Baroque city of Wroclaw by Professor Leszek Koczanowiez
A reception for the Consul General of Poland, Anieszka Magdziak-Miszewska
“The roots of Polish Identity”, a fascinating presentation by Visiting Professor of the Kosciuszko Foundation Polish Studies Program at the University of Buffalo
A presentation by Maria B. Szonery of Akron, Ohio, who authored World War II Through Polish Eyes
“Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains - an inspiration to the Artists of Young Poland,” a slide presentation by Renata Freindorf
An in-depth examination of the first permanent Polish settlement in America presented by Kathryn G.. Rosydal entitled “The First Polish Americans Find Hope in Panna Maria, Texas”
An exploration of the history of Catholicism and its impact on Poland presented by Dr. Tomasz Herzog titled “Poland: European Union’s Most Catholic Country?”
A slide presentation by Dr. Wanda Bolanowska-Higdon entitled “Little Pictures of a Great Country”
A presentation by Wiesia Abczynska entitled “Hidden Poland: The Country’s Lesser Known Jewels”.
A lecture ny Dr. Tomasz Herzog at the Montante Cultural Center co-sponsored with the Permanent Chair of Polish Culture at Canisius College. The topic: “Solidarnosc, 1980-2005: 25 Years of Poland’s Solidarity Movement”
Club Treasurer, Stan Nowak, led a full day tour of Erie, Pennsylvania that explored the city’s Polish immigrant experience, traditional Polish foods, and a lecture entitled “Copernicus and the Stars over Poland” at the Erie Planetarium.
A lecture by Buffalo City councilman Joseph Golombek titled: “A Tradition of Tolerance from the Reformation to the Revolution, 1500-1650”
Through most of its history, the Polish Arts Club held its meetings at the International Institute in Buffalo; however in the past several years many meetings were held at the Harlem Road Community Center, a venue more suited for club programs and at a more convenient location for the club membership. The Arts Club continued to expand its out reach to the wider community by co-sponsoring programs and projects at the diverse locations noted in the chronologically arranged projects noted above.
The Polish Arts Club has also initiated collaborative programs with other cultural organizations, specifically with those of Hungarian-American, Jewish-American, and Italian-American societies. These efforts examined the historical connections between their respective nations and Poland.
In 1998 the club was honored by the General Pulaski Association of the Niagara Frontier “for years of service to the Polish-American Community”. In 2000, the Club was designated “Community Organization of the Year” because of its significant contributions to the Polish-American Community in Western New York. The Am-Pol Eagle, Western New York’s premier Polish-American newspaper, has cited the excellence of the Polish Arts Club contributions to Polonia a number of times, and most recently, in its August 18, 2005 editorial, it declares that “...the Polish Arts Club once again proved that it is one of Polonia’s most outstanding organizations”. This accolade referred to the Club’s successful efforts to save the St. Joseph Calasantius mural created by Josef Slawinski and to have it relocated to Buffalo State College. In October 2005, the Buffalo and Erie County Historical society awarded the PACB their prestigious Niederlander Award which honors “an organization for outstanding programing in regional history”.