2021 Polish Independence Day and Veterans Day

Ted (Tadeusz) Cisek, the veteran granted the PAC-Wisconsin Division honorary membership on November 7, 2021


2021 Polish Independence Day
and Veterans Day celebration

“From the lessons learned in Poland’s over 100 year history and from the diligence and hard work of its citizens, today it has one of the most vibrant economies in all of Europe. For Polish Americans we can be very proud of that, as we gather together today to honor our heritage, and to recognize Poland’s past, its present, and prayerfully a bright long and successful future.”

With these words, the President of Polish American Congress (PAC) Wisconsin Division, David Rydzewski, concluded his main address delivered at the luncheon held annually since 1979 to celebrate the Polish Independence Day (in Polish, Narodowe Święto Niepodległości) and Veterans Day, both observed officially on November 11th.

The 2021 event will be remembered for its particularly cheerful ambiance, a standing ovation for one of the 2021 honorees and the evident bolstering of ties connecting Polish organizations in Wisconsin. It began with David Rydzewski’s opening remarks and a warm welcome from Steven Chybowski, the President of the Polish Heritage Alliance, an organization managing the Polish Center of Wisconsin (PCW), where the Independence Day luncheons are hosted since 2000.

2021 celebration
photo gallery

Over 120 guests attended the event, some arriving from Michigan and Illinois. The list below (in addition to names mentioned throughout the event’s description) provides insight into the variety of organizations visible at the event:
     ● Kenneth Skowronski, Wisconsin State Representative, 82nd Assembly District;
     ● Nellie De Baker, State Commander and National Vice Commander of the Polish Legion of American Veterans;
     ● Roger Radonski, Commander of Post 49, Kobus Molenda Polish Legion of American Veterans;
     ● James Robaczewski, President of Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, Chicago, IL;
     ● Teresa Jankowski, Commissioner of Polish National Alliance Dist. 14 Wisconsin;
     ● Four Past Presidents of the Polish Heritage Club of Madison (Jane Dunn, Ryszard Zolnik, Marge Morgan, Diane Pillsbury) and 2022 President Elect, Ralph Tyksinski;
     ● Jeff Kuderski, Executive Director of the Polish Heritage Alliance;
     ● Malgosia Daugherty, President of the Polish Heritage Society of Northeastern Wisconsin;
     ● Boleslaw Kochanowski, Past President of the Polish Heritage Awareness Society of Central Wisconsin and creator of the sculpture ” For Our Freedom and Yours” unveiled recently in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

The Invocation given by Father Wayne Jenkins preceded an elegant meal prepared and served under the watchful eyes of Mike Norman and Martha Norman. Soon thereafter, Daniel Klosowski, past Wisconsin State Commander of the Polish Legion of American Veterans, delivered a salute honoring all veterans.

In the last part of the event, the MC Andrew Woźniewicz gave floor to Derek Zarzeczny and Karen Więckowski, who introduced four individuals recognized with special honors on this occasion. Two of them, Frank Czarnecki and Irena Frączek, received the Congressman Clement Zablocki Civic Achievement Award traditionally presented during the luncheon. Both 2021 recipients received also the commemorative plaques from the Wisconsin Assembly and from the US Congress.

The final chord of the event touched many hearts when Ted Cisek and Donald Pienkos, both past recipients of the Zablocki Award, were granted the honorary membership in the Wisconsin Division of Polish American Congress. Accepting the honor for Ted Cisek, who couldn’t attend due to health concerns, were his children Elizabeth Barber and Edward Cisek. Both were visibly moved when the outpouring of appreciation for their father’s achievements and sacrifices turned into the standing ovation. And in terms of specifics, the biographies of all four honorees are quoted below just as they were read to the audience during this truly memorable event.

FRANK CZARNECKI was born in Hamtramck, Michigan, which was a Polish enclave surrounded by Detroit. That put him on track to appreciate and love his Polish heritage. He studied Polish from first grade through twelfth, and then took it for two years in college. Unfortunately, all those classes focused on vocabulary and grammar, not conversation. Frank regrets that he was never been a fluent speaker of Polish.

He knows many of the seasonal songs (Christmas and Easter), Marian songs, songs to St. Joseph and St. Francis, as well as Gorzkie Żale. His Śpiewnik Koscielny is a treasured possession.

Growing up, Franks’s family celebrated Wigilja with the sharing of the oplatek. Groch z kapusta was served (But not a favorite of his). To him it was SO dry. All the kids in the family had some wine. The amount was determined by their age. His mom prepared the usual Easter basket for blessing at church on Holy Saturday.

Frank and his children continue the sharing of the opłatek on Christmas Eve. They sing Christmas carols. He permits himself a chance to sing two or three kolędy.

He has been a member and/or board member of the Polish Heritage Society of Northeast Wisconsin for many years. He enjoys its internal activities (mostly potlucks), and its external activities such as a kiosk at Art Street, Pulaski Polka Days, and Arty Gras.

Besides activities related to his Polish heritage, he also volunteers at Literacy Green Bay (teaching English to immigrants) and drives for Curative Connections which provides inexpensive rides for the elderly and handicapped to appointments, shopping, and other activities.

Frank adds “I have to share one more activity and encourage you, if you are able, to give it serious consideration once the pandemic concerns are over. I went to Poland twice with Global Volunteers – once to Siedlce and the other to Zakopane. Our purpose was to give Poles, who are studying English, an opportunity to practice and interact with native English speakers. It was a wonderful experience. We lived right with the students. On one trip I took a teenage nephew (whose heritage is Danish). He is still in touch with several of our students. He returned to the U.S. and took two years of Polish at UW – Milwaukee. He has been accepted at a Polish university (I want to say Wroclaw) where he intends to get his master’s degree. You do not have to be a teacher to serve in this program. You just have to be a native speaker of English. It’s what you have been doing all your life!.”

Lastly, Frank’s joy in service to others is matched by his joy in learning about and experiencing the world where he has traveled to all seven continents.

Frank, you are a real inspiration to us.

IRENA FRACZEK is a native of Poland and a graduate of the University of Warsaw, where she earned a Master’s degree. Winning a Kosciuszko Foundation Scholarship enabled her to come to the United States and study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she later taught environmental science and participated in the UW’s very first steps in online instruction.

Irena is a member of the Polish Heritage Club Wisconsin-Madison where she runs the club website and participates in activities that expand the club’s outreach and community connections (e.g. bringing the “Auschwitz Exhibit” to the UW-Madison campus or coordinating sponsorship of the “Flavor of Poland” PBS series). The PHC recognized Irena’s special contributions by granting her an honorary life membership in January 2021.

Irena is also an active member and Vice President for Public Relations of the Polish American Congress-Wisconsin Division, where she manages the PAC website and creates the majority of its content.

Irena’s keen insight into Poland’s history and culture has been an important part of the message she delivers to the PHC’s and PAC’s members through the websites and which she shares at live talks and presentations throughout Wisconsin. Her feature stories and reports have been published in local Polish-themed publications and the national PAC newsletter. She also uses her amazing photographic skills to create the visual records of Wisconsin Polonia at work and play.

Irena was a key contributor to the development and final form of the brochure “Do You Know Poland,” which won acclaim and a grant from the Polish Consulate in Chicago. Do you know Poland Combining knowledge with a keen sense of design, she created the memorable booklet’s front cover that provided inspiration for the “Do You Know Poland?” competition by showing iconic elements of Poland’s history & culture.

For anyone lucky enough to know Irena, they know that her warm and gracious manner makes her a real people person, and this has helped develop connections between Polish organizations across Wisconsin.

Irena, we’re proud to know you.

TADEUSZ CISEK: A little over 77 years ago a young Polish paratrooper climbed into a transport aircraft, that hours later would put him and General Stanisław Sosabowski and the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade into occupied Holland, outside Arnhem. They were part of Operation Market Garden. It was the Allied attempt to outflank stiff German opposition in a make or break effort to cross the Rhine into Germany, and shorten the war.

In September 2019, Tadeusz Cisek returned to Arnhem and Driel, Netherlands at the invitation of the Dutch government in a 75th Anniversary tribute to those Polish soldiers. European dignitaries, Polish General staff, and hundreds of current Polish soldiers joined in the observance. It was a glowing tribute to the distinguished effort of the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade over 75 years ago.

It’s an amazing story, but there is so much more to tell about Mr. Cisek.

On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s Germany attacked Poland and ended the chance for a normal life for Ted – he was just fifteen years old. World War II had begun. Just seventeen days later Josef Stalin’s Soviet Army invaded eastern Poland where Ted and his family lived – that village is now in the Ukraine. This invasion was part of a monstrous and secret deal be-tween Stalin and Hitler to destroy the Polish state – and its people.

In February 1940 Ted, his family and thousands of others in Soviet occupied Poland were forcibly deported in overcrowded box cars and dropped into desolate Kazakhstan. Over the next twenty months the more than one million Poles shipped off to Siberia and Soviet Central Asia would suffer starvation, harsh weather, disease, and untold privations. By War’s end most had perished.

Ted says of this time, in his own words: “We were forced to endure hard labor and succumbed to hunger, malnutrition, and diseases. I lost five members of my immediate family. My own fate was harsh as well. While in exile, I contracted typhoid fever, I was one of the lucky ones to survive. Then, during the harsh winter, I frequently looked for any means to keep warm, burning whatever I could find. During one attempt to obtain wood, I was arrested and imprisoned for my infraction.”

In June 1941 Nazi Germany attacked Stalin’s Russia, its supposed ally… A desperate Stalin agreed to permit Poles in the Soviet Union to leave the country and form an army to fight the Germans.

This allowed Ted and other young men to leave. It took months for Ted to get to Allied lines in Egypt. From there he was inducted into the Polish Army, and in his first duty was ordered to guard prisoners on a ship that went around Africa in route to Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there Ted got to New York, where he was quickly sent to England for formal military training as a paratrooper. September 1944 found him fighting in Holland.

Professor DON PIENKOS was born in Chicago in 1944, a grandson of immigrants from the Austrian zone of partitioned Poland, who settled there just before World War I.

Don was blessed to be part of a wonderful family. He benefitted from an education where he learned much about his heritage. In 1964 he began his graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin.

There not only did he have outstanding professors in political science and Russian area studies, it was in Madison where he met a fellow graduate student – Angela Mischke. They married in 1967. Together they travelled to Poland many times and have been especially blessed with a warm and loving family.

From 1969 until he retired in 2013, Don taught Soviet and post Soviet Russian politics as a member of the UW-Milwaukee Political Science Department. He created courses on the Politics of Eastern Europe and American ethnic groups and published extensively.

In 1970 Don was a founder of UW-Milwaukee’s Russian and East European Studies program. In 1979 he organized its Polish Studies Committee. Both have been incredibly active bodies.

In 1976, Don became a member of the Polish American Congress, where he later served as its state president and as a national PAC director. In 1991 he published the official history of the Polish American Congress, For Your Freedom Through Ours: Polish American Efforts on Poland’s Behalf.

Don was also a national director of the Polish National Alliance, president of the Polish American Historical Association, and a Director of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America.

In 1992, Don was a delegate to the First World Congress of Poles. This great family of Polonia reunion, brought together delegates from over fifty countries to the newly free and independent Poland.

From 1994 Don and many others worked for Poland’s admission into the NATO Alliance, a success spearheaded by the Polish American Congress.

In 1998, as Wisconsin PAC President, Don and his fellow officers organized the first Polish Independence Day – Veterans Day dinner.

In the early 2000’s he helped in the work to restore our great Kosciuszko Monument.

In 2010 Don received the Officers Cross of Service from the President of Poland.

Don continues to write, do book reviews, and lecture. He actively supports the Milwaukee Society of the Polish National Alliance, the national PNA, the Polish Heritage Alliance, the PAC, and all good initiatives on behalf of our heritage, Poland and strong Poland-U.S. relations.

After the War, Ted remained in England, refusing to return to Soviet occupied Poland. He emigrated to the United States thanks to our Congress’ passage of the Displaced Person Act. He first lived in Chicago , and in 1953 he and Lillian were married. They had two children Edward and Elizabeth who are here representing him today and four grandchildren. Ted and Lillian later moved to Wisconsin.

In Milwaukee, Ted became active in Polonia Sport Club, the Polish Army Veterans Association and the Polish National Alliance. In uniform, he took part in our patriotic observances, like Polish Constitution Day. In the 1990’s he joined the Wisconsin Division of the Polish American Congress, where for years he was Treasurer.

Ted is a gentleman and a gentle man, with the heart of a lion. His contributions to Poland and to American Polonia have been countless.

Ted, this quiet man has been recognized for who he is. He has been honored by the Government of free Poland, by the Queen of the Netherlands for helping to liberate her country in the War, by the Pulaski Council of Milwaukee County, by the Polish Army Veterans, the Polish Legion of American Veterans and by our PAC.

We not only congratulate Ted today. We thank the Good Lord for bringing Ted to us. Our thoughts go to Ted today, and to his children and grandchildren, and we offer them this PAC Honorary Member-ship as a sign of our respect and appreciation for all he has done and means to us.

Thursday, November 11th, 2021 Newsletter No Comments

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