FIRST National Conference of the Polish American Community Held in Chicago

FIRST National Conference of the Polish American Community Held in Chicago

By: Betsy Cepielik, Editor, News of Polonia (except as noted)
with contributions by Dr. Susanne Lotarski, PAC VP for Public Relations
(Used by permission. Click here for image of text as published.)

On October 15 and 16, 2009, the Polish American Congress was the host of the first National Conference of the Polish American Community in the 21st Century – Challenges and Opportunities. Guests from all over the United States, Poland, and Canada gathered in the Fine Arts Center of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago for this momentous event.


Day 1

  • Opening Session
  • General Session 2 – Today’s Polish American Community
  • General Session 3 – Leadership in the Polish American Community
  • Issue Session A1 – Education Partnerships: Teaching and Learning
  • Issue Session A2 – Role and Importance of Ethnic Organizations
  • General Session 4 – U.S. and Poland Business Ties
  • Reception and Piano Recital

Day 2

  • General Session 5 – Polonia and Poland: Ties Between the Two Countries
  • Issue Session B1 – Political Opportunities: Getting Involved, Being Active
  • Issue Session B2 – Building Community Through Sports
  • Issue Session C1 – Preservation/Promotion of Polish Heritage & Culture in the United States
  • Issue Session C2 – Networking in the Community
  • General Session 6 – The Future of Polonia – Organizational Challenges and Opportunities
  • Conclusion, Unveiling of Wałęsa Bust, Concert
  • Sponsors
Opening Session

PAC President Frank Spula welcomed the attendees and informed them that this would be the first meeting for sharing, moving forward for the Polish Community, a time for solidarity, and to “go for the goal.” 65 years ago (in May 1944) the Polish American Congress was founded, in Buffalo, New York. The tremendous efforts of the PAC and other people working in the United States contributed to the successful emergence of a free and independent Poland 20 years ago.

President Spula then introduced the officers of the PAC: Vice President Virginia Sikora (President of the Polish Women’s Alliance), Vice President for American Affairs Dean Anthony Bajdek (President of PAC Eastern Massachusetts Division), Vice President for Polish Affairs Bożena Kamińska (President, Polish Slavic Credit Union in New York), Vice President for Public Relations Susanne Lotarski (President of PAC Washington Metro Area Division), Vice President for Cultural Affairs Deborah Majka (President of American Council for Polish Culture), and Secretary Wallace Zieliński (past president – Polish Falcons). Mr. Spula also recognized the Conference Organizing Committee, especially members of the PAC Illinois Division and PNA officers, who worked tirelessly to plan this very spectacular event.

Dr. Carla Knorowski, Vice president for Institutional Advancement of Northeastern Illinois University then addressed the assemblage. She announced the University’s partnership with Polonia and Poland and said that this is the opportunity to go back to school and be an eager student. (Indeed, it did feel like being a student again – even with having lunch in the school cafeteria.)

Introduction of Honored Guests
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was scheduled to appear, but unfortunately, was attending to important state matters in Springfield. His message was read by Senior Policy Advisor Sam Rincon who informed the audience that there are 1,000,000 Polish Americans and 3,000 Polish organizations in the state of Illinois. A letter of greetings from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan was delivered by Agnes Ptaśnik. A resolution congratulating the PAC on its 65th anniversary and conference was received from the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

There were numerous distinguished guests from Poland who spoke. Leading off was a letter of greeting from the President of Poland, Lech Kaczyński.

Krystyna Bochenek, Vice President (Wicemarszałek) of the Polish Senate extended greetings from the President of the Senate and noted that President Spula had spoken to the Senate on its 20th anniversary earlier this year. She thanked American Polonia for strengthening Poland’s position in the international arena. Today Poland is free and sovereign. For this reason, she said, the Polish Senate desires that Polonia centers around the world play an ever larger role in the political lives and societies of the countries where they have settled, where they live.

Maciej Szymański, Director of the Department of Cooperation with Polonia, delivered a message from Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski and spoke of the new strategies being planned for the promotion of Poland. The Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Economy, Rafał Baniak, spoke about how they are encouraging American investments in Poland. Poland is the only country in the EU with a positive Gross National Product this year. Many industries are locating service and R&D centers in Poland – such as IBM in Wrocław. He thanked the PAC for their activities of the last 65 years.

Robert Kupiecki, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland, expressed hope for open discussions and to think about future challenges and opportunities. The role of the PAC is as critical as it was 65 years ago. This conference offers a platform and the Embassy is giving its commitment. A letter from Wspólnota Polska President, Maciej Płażyński, was read by Treasurer Grzegorz Popielarz; Mr. Płażyński joined the conference later in the day. A letter of greeting also was received from PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński. All of the distinguished speakers from Poland stressed the importance to Poland of a strong and united Polonia able to influence American society and policy makers on Poland’s behalf.

Greetings addressed to conference participants can be viewed here.

General Session 2 – Today’s Polish American Community

The moderator for this session was Dr. Lucja Mirowska-Kopec, General Secretary of Polish Clubs and Principal of Arthur Canty School in Chicago. The three panelists, like most speakers throughout the conference, used Power Point presentations to highlight their points. The first panelist to speak was Kasia Rivera, Partner Specialist of the U.S. Census Bureau, who urged all to respond to the 2010 Census so that their communities will not be under-represented in Congress and under-funded by federal programs. She noted that the 2010 Census will contain only 10 questions, since questions asked previously in the long form are now asked in the American Community Survey which is done once every month in every community across the country.

Dr. Thaddeus Radziłowski, President of the Piast Institute, spoke of their Census Information Center and findings from their survey of Polonia. With him was Dominik Stecula, Census Coordinator of the Piast Institute, who noted that migration from Poland to the United States is declining. Whereas in 2003, 12% of Poles migrating from Poland came to the United States, only 9% did so in 2006, with the UK and Germany as the leading destinations. Emigration from Poland overall appears to be declining; outmigration reached a low of 37,000 in 2007. Five percent, or 525,590 of Polish ethnics in the United States are foreign-born.

The picture of Polonia that emerges from Census data is highly positive. Polish Americans, who numbered 9,887,799 in 2008, are slightly older, better educated, wealthier, more likely to hold professional and management positions and own homes than the general American population. Median age of Polish Americans is 38.7 years as compared to 36.9 years of the general American population. Bachelor and higher degrees are held by 36.1% of PolAms as compared to 27.7% of the general population. 41.3% of PolAms hold professional and managerial positions as compared to 34.9%. Median family income of PolAms is $79,494 versus $63,360. Only 7.1% of PolAms fall under the poverty line, compared to13.2% of Americans. 74.4% of Polish Americans own their own homes versus 66.4% of the general population.

Dr. Radziłowski briefed the gathering about the “Modern Polonia Survey” which the Piast Institute is currently conducting and is being distributed by Polish-American media. Respondents are not a representative sample, but, as those with contacts with the media, are more likely to be 21st century leaders of Polonia. So far there have been 636 respondents from 32 states. Their profile: Age: 50% are 45-64 years of age; 20% over age 65. Place of birth: 75% born in U.S., 20% in Poland, 5% elsewhere. Political party affiliation: Independent 34%, Democrat 33%, Republican 29%. Political orientation: Conservative 46.7%, Moderate 21%, Liberal 31.5%. Of the respondents, 56% have visited Poland, of which 74.6% visited Poland in 2000 or later. For respondents, the single most important issue in U.S.-Polish relations was: Economic cooperation 28.3%, Visa Waiver for Polish citizens 27.6%, cultural and educational exchanges 18.4%. None of the respondents attributed importance to settling old issues or scores. A majority of respondents believe Poles are not accorded the same respect as other nationalities and report discriminatory treatment and offensive or stereotypical remarks.

A Q&A session followed. There was great indignation that this year’s census form does not include an opportunity to specify Polish ancestry. Instead, Poles will register in the “white category” along with other Europeans, Arabs, Israelis and others. However, Hispanics and those of Asian Pacific ancestry are separate categories with opportunity to indicate countries of origin. There is concern that this change in the census will lessen our opportunities to get various types of special benefits doled out to specific ethnic group categories.

General Session 3–Leadership in the Polish American Community

After lunch in the cafeteria, guests returned to their seats to be informed about Leadership in the Polish American Community. The moderator was Dr. Casimir (Cash) Kowalski, Professor of Educational Leadership, South Carolina State University. First he spoke about “passing the torch.” Too many leaders hold on to their positions too long and prevent new leaders from having an opportunity. New leaders need to be developed. Any action is better than none. People tend to wear too many hats and should take a break and give others a chance. They should not be critical of these new leaders and should welcome the change. The old leaders could still be Directors on the Board. It was decided that leaders are made – not born.

The first panelist was Laura Felusiak, Secretary of the PAC Texas Division. Miss Felusiak attended the School of Polish leaders in Poland, where she learned about Poland’s political and educational situation. Kamil Mróz, Co-organizer of Polish-Canadian Youth, spoke about Quo Vadis II, where 200 young students learned about their heritage, country, and leadership. The next conference will be held beginning May 7, 2010 in Windsor, Ontario. The location will enable more American students to attend. With the advent of email and texting, communication and rapidity have improved greatly. Students can communicate quickly and often. Organizations were urged to send a student, to be ready to confront challenges, and to bridge the gap between young and old. Education is a lifelong journey. The audience was told to “share the vision, trust, and keep it.” Jennifer Crissey of the Polish Roman Catholic Union is another example of a positive youthful leader. She urged all to be positive, sensitive, and recognize others. They also need emotional intelligence and charisma. In the Q&A session, the President of the Northeastern Illinois University Polish Club lamented the fact that she has over 100 members and only five who attended this conference. Miss Crissey encouraged her by saying that she should be thankful for those five, and not to be discouraged over the others.

Issue Session A1 – Education Partnerships: Teaching and Learning

Dr. Lidia Filus, Professor of Mathematics at Northeastern University, moderated this session, with professors from Poland and the Chicago area as panelists. (I did not attend this session.)

Issue Session A2 – Role and Importance of Ethnic Organizations

Virginia Sikora, President of the Polish Women’s Alliance of America, moderated this panel.

Teresa Abick, Vice President of the Polish National Alliance (for 16 years) was the first speaker, and stated that she is ready to “hand over her torch.” The PNA is active in 37 states. For the youth (and others), they sponsor dance groups, classes, choreography seminars, Debutante Balls, sports, spelling bees, and trips to Poland. It is important to support fraternal organizations.

Anna Sokołowski, VP of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, informed the audience that the PRCU was founded in 1873 and is the oldest Polish fraternal. They support religious and educational activities, dance groups, as well as the Polish Museum. They have been a presence at Six Flags, White Sox and Chicago Wolves games, and other events. They believe in keeping Polish customs and traditions alive. The audience was urged to lobby textbook publishers and encourage them to include Polish history.

Wallace Zieliński, PAC Secretary, represented the Polish Falcons, of which he was the President for many years. Mr. Zielinski explained that The Falcons, PWAA, PNA and PRCU are 501(c)8 Fraternal Benefit Associations. Fraternals must be not-for-profit, have subordinate lodges in the country, offer a benefit (e.g., life or health insurance), and have a common bond among members that separates them from others. Mr. Zielinski spoke about how changes in our society are challenging the fraternals to find new missions. The original mission of the fraternals to provide mutual assistance has over time been supplanted by government, employer, and union programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, life and health insurance, and pensions. Instead, fraternals have turned to volunteerism and community service, as well as scholarships. Will fraternals remain relevant; will the resources be there to support our community, he asked. The resources will be there, he suggested, if ethnics buy insurance, IRAs, annuities. Fraternals offer excellent, competitive insurance, annuity, IRA and other products at lower cost and higher return than commercial firms. Because they are non-profits, they return their earnings to their members, communities, and Polish American organizations such as the PAC. They also are highly regulated and safe. As examples of new directions for fraternals, he mentioned the Falcon’s sponsored “Make a Difference Day” and “Join Hands Day”, as well as getting together with other organizations. They work with and visit the veterans, senior citizens, and churches.

A discussion followed in which many participants spoke about activities of some of the oldest organizations (Polish Singers Alliance of America founded 1889), as well as the newest, such as League of Young Polish Women (Ms. Lucy Bucki), Polish Youngstown (Andrea Cika-Heschmeyer), Children of Christian Holocaust Survivors Illinois Chapter (Dr. Cathy Diipla), and service organizations such as Organization Health Plus, serving 15,000 Polish immigrants yearly (Małgorzata Cieślak). Rob Kamiński, President of the Polish Heritage Society of Northeastern Wisconsin, emphasized that you can make a difference: their organization of 200 members publishes a newsletter six times a year and distributes 5,000 copies of each free of charge through stores, veterans organizations, and other locations.

General Session 4 – U.S. and Poland Business Ties

The moderator was Bogdan Pukszta, Executive Director of the Polish American Chamber of Commerce. Panelists were Andrzej Arendarski, President of the Poland Chamber of Commerce; Iwona Bocheńska, Illinois Department of Commerce; Maciej Cybulski, Managing Director, state of Illinois Central European Office; and Richard Walawander, Principal of Miller Canfield School. Positive assets of Poland were brought out:

  1. Poland is a country of young people.
  2. 87 percent of the students speak a second language
  3. There are 500 institutions of higher learning.
  4. Poland is the only European country with a positive GDP of 1.1%. China’s is 7%.
  5. Poland is Number One of the 12 East European countries.

The United States, Germany, Luxemburg, and other countries are investing in Poland. Some of the industries are Intel, General Electric, and SAS. IBM is setting up in Wrocław. Poland is offering business incentives, such as tax exemptions. New roads and sports arenas are being built. In 2012 the European Soccer Championships will be held in Poland. Poland is indeed a very favorable investment destination!

Reception and Piano Recital

At 7:00 PM all of the attendees gathered in the lobby to enjoy a reception of wine and hors d’ouevres. Following the reception, there was a piano recital. An Evening with Chopin was very beautifully performed by Maralgua Darjaa, who was born in Mongolia and studied in Poland.

DAY TWO – October 16

General Session 5 – Polonia & Poland: Ties Between the Two Countries

PAC Vice President for Polish Affairs Bożena Kamińska was the moderator of this panel. Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard William Enyart was the first speaker. Illinois has long had a Partnership for Peace with Poland. Some of the topics General Enyart touched on were, the “elephant in the room” – missile defense. President Reagan’s threat of a Star Wars defense in the 1980’s led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Illinois National Guard is very committed to Poland. Positive programs mentioned were:

  1. There are 18 Illinois National Guardsmen serving with the Poles, under Polish command, in Afghanistan.
  2. Six Illinois State Police officers went to Poland to learn and share information. Youth intervention programs were initiated.
  3. The Illinois National Guard and Poland both believe in the importance of peacekeeping and are stationed in countries such as Kosovo and Lebanon – to keep the borders safe.
  4. There are 64 countries partnered with National Guard units. Illinois has only Poland, while other states have more than one country.

A “surprise” panelist was Mr. Sebastian Mikosz, CEO of LOT Polish Airlines in Warsaw. He stated that Polish Americans are one of their largest groups of passengers. LOT is one of the few central European airlines still flying over the Atlantic. Charters will soon begin flying to the U.S. LOT is always striving to improve their services. They hope to add another U.S. city to their schedule, as they add new large planes. All their Transatlantic flights are served by Boeing airplanes and they are first in line for the newest planes.

Mr. Andrzej Arendarski, President of the Polish Chamber of Commerce, spoke of Poland’s business strength. He said that there is no recession in Poland. They are receiving subsidies from the EU. There are 500,000 companies currently in Poland.

Dr. Susanne Lotarski, PAC V.P. for Public Relations, Retired Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe and Director of the Office of Eastern Europe, Russia, and Eurasia for the U.S. Department of Commerce, was the next panelist at the podium. Dr. Lotarski began by saying that Polonia and Poland are very different today from what they were when the PNA or PAC were founded. For most of its history in America, Polonia’s top goal was regaining freedom and independence for Poland. Twenty years ago this goal was achieved. Both Polonia and Poland now have different expectations of each other. Polonia wants a Poland it can be proud of – one that conducts its own affairs in a democratic manner, that takes care of its citizens and provides them opportunities to realize their potential, that is principled and tolerant, and that contributes constructively to European, Transatlantic and global peace and prosperity. What Poland, in turn, needs today is a strong, united, organized Polonia that has influence in politics, the media, academia, the professions and business. Polish leaders repeatedly have told us: “We need you to be strong and influential in the U.S.” But there is a paradox, Dr. Lotarski said. Even as individual Polish Americans have prospered and reached the top of their professions, our organizational strength and influence as an ethnic group has dispersed and faltered. The truth of the matter, she suggested, is that Polonia has been most united and forceful when Poland is under threat, when there is a “big cause” on behalf of Poland. She suggested that to build unity and energy in a normal state of affairs, in the absence of crisis, we need to go back to our roots in this country. Our organizations always had dual missions. One was Poland’s freedom and independence. The other was the well-being and advancement of Polish Americans in the United States. It is this latter mission, advancement of Polish Americans and rejuvenation of Polish American organizations that is the crisis of our times. So much of our Polish heritage in this country has disappeared or is in danger of disappearing. Too few Polish Americans under age 50 know about or care to get involved in the Polish community. Too few of our successful efforts reach out beyond the Polish community to interest, inform and influence our fellow Americans. These are the challenges we face. Polonia needs new energy, new directions, modern communications, and strengthened unity of purpose. In working toward this, Polonia needs a new partnership with Poland. Dr. Lotarski said that she had proposals for this partnership but would conclude her remarks at this point because of Mayor Daley’s imminent arrival.

Maciej Płażyński, President of Wspólnota Polska, was the last speaker from this panel. He thanked Polonia for its help when Poland was not free. Now they no longer need the letters and packages from their American relatives. They want an exchange of potential – an academy, beginnings of partnerships. He said that Poles like to worry about things, and concluded, “Let’s worry about the potential that is there.”

Mayor Richard Daley
At this point, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley entered the auditorium to a standing ovation. (He has been named one of the five best mayors in the country.) He is known for his work with the Polish Community. Daley stated that immigrants come to the city for the American Dream of education and home ownership. Chicago has been the Sister City of Warsaw for 50 years. The Poles have built schools, churches, and hospitals. Now the former Polish neighborhoods have been taken over by Yuppies, wishing to live in the city. He also talked about a need for senior housing for all ethnic groups.

The mayor concluded by thanking Frank Spula, hoping for continuing improvement of the city, and expressing his pride in the military who are serving this country.

Congressman Mike Quigley
Fifth District Congressman Mike Quigley spoke about the need for visa waiver for Polish citizens, health care reform, and the missile shield program. He feels that it is important to recognize the efforts of Poland and to serve arm in arm. He will move in that direction. Quigley referred to “The Burial List” show on MTV, which is like the movie “The Bucket List.” He is already doing the things on his Bucket List.

Issue Session B1– Political Opportunities: Getting Involved, Being Active

This was a very outstanding session, featuring former Congressman and Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Edward Derwiński and former Illinois Attorney General Neil Hartigan. (He was the youngest Attorney General, and was defeated in his run for Governor by Edgar.) The moderator was Dean Anthony Bajdek, PAC Vice President for American Affairs and retired Senior Lecturer in History at Northeastern University in Boston.

The Honorable Edward Derwiński, a Republican, began by saying that “good government provides good service.” Poles need to be active in politics because politics is positive and politicians should serve the public. In 1958 there were four Chicago Polish Congressmen. Today there is one – Lipiński. There are none from Buffalo or Wisconsin and only one from Detroit. Political elections are also related to the Census and how districts are formed.

Neil Hartigan proposed the question: Why is there a loss of Poles in Chicago politics? Politics has changed. We all need to be involved and not wait for someone else to do it. Mr. Hartigan introduced the current recommended candidate, MaryAnn Somo (who was present in the audience).

The third panelist was Andrew Przybyło, President of the White Eagle Hall in Niles, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. Przybyło spoke from his experience as a Niles Village Trustee since 1989 and head of the Maine Township Democratic Party for 11 years.

Dean Bajdek stressed the need to be involved and active at all levels up to the White House. Singing and dancing are not enough. PAC President Rozmarek brought Poland’s case to President Roosevelt – an example where the PAC stepped in and went right to the top. Politics need to be approached at the local level if we want to have access and clout at the national level. Altogether there are 1637 state senators and 4937 members of lower state houses in the United States; only 78 have Polish surnames. Over 60% of Members of Congress come from this pool of local officials; get involved with them while they are still state officials. The PAC has a presence in 18 states. Members should get involved and push for Visa Waiver resolutions by their state legislatures and organize Polish American days. Laws are made according to the interest of ethnic groups. In his state of Massachusetts Bajdek has been instrumental in sponsoring five Polish American Congress Days. He urged the audience, “Let’s build something together.”

A Q&A session brought out the question of Dan Rostenkowski, and it was unanimously agreed that he was wrongfully accused and was highly regarded by his constituents. A story was related of how a Homeless Shelter needed a van to transport a group of Polish men, who were living on the streets. A call to Rostenkowski brought a Chrysler van to the shelter the next day. He was a man of action – not just words.

Issue Session B2 – Building Community Through Sport
by Wallace Zielinski, PAC Secretary, Panel Moderator

Mr. Tomasz Bednarek, the coach of the Polish National Alliance Soccer Academy, said that he wanted to teach the skills of soccer that he learned by returning to the community his service. Mr. Bednarek is a young man about to graduate from college. The program consists of children 8 through 16 year olds. The children do not have to be members of the PNA to participate. Also the program has grown from 50 participants to 100 participants in only six months. Mr. Bednarek is appreciative of the PNA for supporting this program.

Mr. Edward L Kelly, a retired superintendent of the Chicago Parks, indicated the number of parks, pools and fields that are available in Chicago. He had hired several instructors to run the varied sports programs associated with the Chicago system. This is all done with the intention of giving the children of Chicago a place to go and getting them off of the streets.

Mr. Timothy Kuźma, National President of the Polish Falcons of America, spoke of the history of the Falcons which started with the Sokól program in Poland in the 1860’s and was brought to America in 1887. He showed how over time the Falcons of America have developed from only gymnastics into many other sports. This is conjunction with their motto, “A healthy mind in a healthy body”. Mr. Kuźma mentioned how important sports and physical fitness was to Pope John Paul II. He said Cardinal Dziwisz in his book revealed that the late Pope would go off secretly with just a few friends to ski outside of Rome.

Mr. Janusz Rajewski, the director of the Sports and Recreation Center of Poznań spoke of the center as being the largest in Poland. They have many soccer teams that practice and play there. The Center is seeking to host the European soccer championships in 2012. Recently they held the largest marathon in Poland with over a thousand runners. Finally, if you are looking for a place to practice kayaking, the Center has some of the best courses.

Issue Session C1: Preservation & Promotion of Polish Heritage & Culture in the United States

The moderator of this session was Debbie Majka, PAC VP for Cultural Affairs and President of the American Council for Polish Culture.

Maria Cieśla, President of the Polish Museum of America was the first to speak. She came to Chicago as a Displaced Person 43 years ago and is a cancer survivor. The Polish Museum has a very interesting history. The idea originated in 1935, and the museum opened in 1937. WW II and the Polish exhibit from the 1939 World’s Fair brought more acquisitions. There are 50,000 books, sculptures, paintings, Kościuszko and Modjeska collections, a large Paderewski Room, records, and archives. At the end of 2010 there will an early Polonia Exhibit, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Paderewski’s birth. There are frequent lectures and events, as well as a photo restoration project.

Maria Zakrzewska, Chair of the Polish American Services Committee at the Chicago Polish Library since 1995 is also the President of Polish Collections. She presents Polish culture to non-Poles.

Barbara Lemecha and Henrietta Nowakowski (both from Michigan), Co-Chairs of the ACPC’s Polish Resources Booth very enthusiastically presented a report on their participation in the National Social Studies Convention for 12 years. The idea of a Polish exhibit originated with Irena Szewiola, a former administrator and teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Other cultures had booths, so why shouldn’t the Poles? Up to 5,000 teachers attend this conference, which is held in a different American city each year. This year it will be in Atlanta on November 13 and 14. Each year a different part of Polish History is featured. In 2008 and 2009 the subject was WW II – highlighting the participation of the Poles in so many theatres of the war. A booklet prepared by the ACPC was presented to all attendees. The presenters said the best part is when someone with no Polish connection shows interest, and especially when they say, “I didn’t know that.” The PNA helped financially with a film on Żegota, which can be purchased and used in the classroom. The fifth generation of Polish Americans does not realize the beauty of Poland. These ladies are truly dedicated, and all travel is done at their own expense.

Debbie Majka did not speak, but she should be given credit for the very special celebration in Jamestown in 2008, as well as other events she has spearheaded.

Issue Session C2: Networking in the Community

PAC VP for Public Relations, Dr. Susanne Lotarski was moderator of this panel.

Don Verson, a banker and civic leader who helped found the Polish American Leadership Initiative (PALI) with the Archdiocese of Chicago, opened the session by drawing attention to the conference subtitle, challenges and opportunities, and suggested it needed a third element – change. Change Causes Challenges; Change Creates Opportunities. He also noted the frustration he had heard (on visa waiver and declining political representation) that Polish Americans aren’t the force that we once were. The way we can harness change to meet challenges and opportunities, he suggested, is to recognize that each of us in the course of a lifetime builds up spheres of influence beginning with family, classmates, colleagues, neighbors, etc., perhaps 18-24 spheres in total, We all do sales jobs all of our lives, often without realizing it. These spheres are the basis for networking. PALI served as a network, which is being merged into the PAC and along with PolOrg will present PAC with a website for networking with over a thousand Polish organizations countrywide. Successful people have good networking skills. As organizations and community, we need solid networks to overcome our frustrations and turn them into opportunities.

Philip Mullins, the Chief Operating Officer of United Neighborhood Organization, described how a British Irishman became an organizer of the Latino community and head of one of the largest Latino leadership development organizations in the country. He stressed the need for developing a network of relationships and mediating institutions which are the base for developing civic leadership. The starting point is identifying the problem then developing a strategic vision focused on building relationships to solve the problem.

Tony Muszyński, a lawyer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and Director of “Poland in the Rockies,” provided a case study of the strategy described by Mullins. The problem he had identified was the loss to the Polish Canadian and American communities of young adults once they had graduated at about age14-16 from the Polish Saturday schools, Polish Scouting, and other organized youth programs. His solution was to create “Poland in the Rockies,” a biannual 11-day educational program in things Polish for young adults. Youth, he suggested, feel like guests in most Polish organizations; they need to feel like members. Young people are looking for networks. They have all kinds of choices. We want them to join a Polish network. We want them to be “Born Again Poles.” The next session of Poland in the Rockies will be held July 21-31, 2010. See

Agnes Ptaszyński who participated in the School of Polonia Leadership sponsored by the Polish Senate, related the lasting impression made by the program’s concluding Oxford-style debate where the question for the debaters was whether young people who aren’t part of Polonia organizations should circumvent existing organizations and create their own or should they work within existing organizations.

The discussion session returned to many of the issues raised by the panelists. Don Verson pointed out the importance of mentoring and networking, pointing to the PAC as providing contacts and networks throughout the U.S. and even the world. Use these networks, he urged; pick up the phone. Phil Mullins noted that change is a challenge for all. Change is not comfortable. People resist change. There are always fractions, but unity comes from success. Andy Gołębiowski of Buffalo, N.Y. said this was one of the most positive PAC meetings he’s ever attended and has never seen so many young people before. He spoke of another tile the younger generation was adding to the Polonia mosaic, and that is the effort to record for posterity the history of what those who settled in Buffalo had gone through during WWII. Ewa Betka praised the panel and said it would be useful also to learn from and network with other ethnic groups. A specialist in network technology spoke in Polish (translated by the moderator) about the opportunities for networking offered by modern technology. Mr. Wrześniewski urged the participants not to resist, but to use social networking tools such as LinkedIn.

General Session 6: The Future of Polonia – Organizational Challenges and Opportunities

Moderator PAC President Frank Spula kicked off the panel stating: “The future of Polonia is up to you.” Individually it starts with each of us. “Don’t be a Monday Morning Quarterback,” he urged; focus on issues and problems. He noted that Mayor Daley had come because of the Polish American Congress, its history, its accomplishments. There are many challenges, both public and private, but also many opportunities in the United States, in Poland, in the world. In order to make changes and meet challenges, we need to be united, work together, and respect each others’ opinions. We need to learn from Solidarity. Individuals, groups and organizations need to unite as one – Solidarity!

Dr. Donald Pienkos, Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, began by saying “Yes, the organizations of Polonia do have a future!” This future is in the hands of the leaders and activists of Polish organizations. His introductory points were:

1.) All of the Polish organizations are voluntary. What they do and how effective they are is up to them and whether they attract or repel members. The key words are leadership and partnership. 2.) There are 11 to 12 million people of Polish heritage in the U.S. and they are very diverse. The Polish American fraternals have the largest number of members – 500,000. They have the power to transmit their message through their publications. The fraternals, however, face real challenges. There is tough competition from other insurance companies. The cultural societies and clubs are not mass membership groups and operate on the local level, except for some that are affiliated with the ACPC. The future for them is bright. It is hoped that they and the fraternals can work together. Academically, there are three: the Kościuszko Foundation, the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences, and the Polish American Historical Association. The Polish American Congress has been working on the American Agenda. However, the recent decision of President Obama not to develop a missile defense system in Poland – its loyal ally – may have “returned us back to earth.” Things have changed since 1863. Poland now has the opportunity to strengthen Polish America – by sharing its rich cultural resources with our people. 400,000 people viewed the “Leonardo da Vinci and the Splendor of Poland” exhibit (brought from Poland) in three American cities in 2002.

Dr. Thaddeus Radziłowski, President of the PIAST Institute, opened by saying that “our ancestors did not create Polonia to have it disappear.” Polonia has to be reinvented every generation. Poles have been in America for eight generations. Our identity can be maintained and renewed by creating a new public presence in America and altering our image. We have to an astonishing degree privatized our ethnicity. Our withdrawal from the public square has been largely the result of prejudice. Polish Americans have become “white” as a result of racialization of political dialogue in the United States. We need to reclaim the public arena. We need to begin to speak to the important public issues of the day, and we need to develop sophisticated strategies to be heard in the mainstream media and be part of the news. We need to widen the range of issues addressed, not limiting ourselves to those that serve Poland directly or the cause of anti-defamation. We must speak to the common good from our unique stance reflecting our beliefs, experience and culture on two continents. Polonia has something to say about key issues that transcend politics, like human rights and the dignity of work, as defended by Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński, Józef Tischner, and Karol Wojtyła. As concerns Poland and Polonia, Radziłowski suggested that Polonia needs greater understanding and support from Poland. It needs that there be an effort to understand and incorporate our story into the broad Polish story. Polonia, in turn, needs to know and incorporate modern Polish culture into Polish American culture with solutions for a new age; otherwise the split between us and Poland will grow. “Now take this heritage and make it your own, so that it serves the future,” Radziłowski urged in conclusion.

The last panelist was Irene Tomaszewski, author and Founding President of the Canadian Foundation for Polish Studies. She stated that when young Polish students go to college they blend in. The Polish Community needs to attract them and compete against the mainstream. They should take their Polishness with them and integrate it. The Poland in the Rockies conference for young Poles brings in excellent speakers. Young people can have a “bigger stage” and develop self-confidence and knowledge.


Summary of the Issue Sessions
The moderators of the issue sessions summarized key points made by panelists and discussants.

Frank Spula concluded the symposium by saying that we should build bridges with other groups, build unity in our own groups, respect each other, make changes, and be positive. There is a need for the PAC – more now than before. He thanked all of the speakers, volunteers, and staff for their hard work.
All of the attendees left with hopes that there will be more of these symposiums in the future.

Dedication of Lech Wałęsa Bust
In May, a building on the Northeastern Illinois Campus was named for Lech Wałęsa. A bronze bust of Wałęsa, donated by the Polish Arts Club of Chicago, was dedicated at the conclusion of the conference.

Dr. Sharon Haas, President of Northeastern Illinois University, welcomed the guests. Edward Dykla, Trustee, unveiled two plaques naming the donors. President Spula stressed the need to encourage Polish culture in the news and in the media.

President Haas, President Spula, and Trustee Dykla then unveiled the bust. A reception followed

Concert: Grażyna Auguścik
The day/evening concluded with a concert by Grażyna Auguścik and accompaniment of keyboard, guitar, drums, and bass. This was a jazz concert with a series of jazz numbers. The group is well-known and appreciated in the jazz world.

Conference Sponsors

In addition to the Polish American Congress, support for the conference was provided by:

  • Polish National Alliance
  • Senate of the Republic of Poland
  • Wspólnota Polska
  • LOT Polish Airlines