Franklin, Wisconsin, September 23, 2021 (personal report).
On September 23, 2021, the annual general meeting of the Polish Heritage Alliance (PHA) members was held at the Polish Center of Wisconsin, featuring the elections of several Officers and Directors.
The Polish Heritage Alliance is an organization currently with over 760 members. Its mission is to promote understanding and respect for Polish culture and tradition, the Polish language and Polish history, as well as promoting contemporary events related to Poland and Polish art.
The Polish Heritage Alliance is based in Franklin, in the southern suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their headquarters, located among the picturesque scenery of the surrounding park, architecturally resembles an impressive Polish manor house, as if alive from the heyday of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In reality, it was actually built in modern times, of course, in the years 1987-2000.
The facility is a treasure of Polish culture, where you can experience Polish traditions, customs, taste Polish food and learn about Polish ways. The ornate and picturesque landscape of the park around it provides a natural, breathtaking setting and a backdrop for all kinds of events, such as weddings, banquets, and meetings, which used to take place frequently throughout the year — more on that in a moment. The center also usually hosts many information seminars, shows, concerts, activities, and other great events throughout the year.
The general meeting of PHA membership primarily involves the choice of the Officers and Directors. No one was really surprised by the selection of candidates. Mr. Steven Chybowski was re-elected President - by acclamation. He is a long-time PHA activist, previously acting as the president and prior to that, as vice-president, of the organization, an engineer by profession, educated at the local Marquette University.
A bit in line with the Polish "tradition" and olden days of "sejmiki", although the vote was supposed to be secret, by ballot, and the ballot box was available beforehand, most everyone was elected in the open, by acclamation, during the meeting. The paper ballot counters were nowhere to be found. In fairness, it mattered perhaps very little, as all the seats up for re-election ran unopposed.
Mr. Thomas Radoszewski — a long-time member of the PHA board, a retired employee of, among others, Ladish Co., a company through which many Poles and people of Polish origin have passed through the years — was re-elected Vice-President. He was absent from the meeting for health reasons after a surgery. David Zepecki, who was once a member of the Milwaukee County Board, became once again the Treasurer of the organization. The other directors elected at the meeting were: Heidi Moshinski, Janet Protasiewicz, and Janine Adamczyk - people with many years of experience in PHA structures and well known within the Polish community in Wisconsin.
The general meeting of PHA members is an opportunity to summarize and reflect. Currently, the Polish Center is slowly returning to a certain level of normalcy after the "lost" year of the still-ongoing pandemic. The meeting was inaugurated by the incumbent and - at the same time newly-elected - president of PHA, Steven Chybowski. Summarizing the last two years of activity, he stated that those were difficult times, full of adversities.
For the Polish Center and for the PHA, the last two years were primarily marked by lost opportunities and lost income - lost resources that determine the ability to operate and the development opportunities, or even the existence of the Center itself. Weddings, traditional fish-fries, brunches, such as the one on Mother's Day, golf events - they all simply stopped in 2020. However, the most painful loss to PHA was the suspension of the traditional and usually celebrated Polish Fest - twice. Both the 39th (in 2020) and the 40th (2021) edition of this great Polish event in Milwaukee simply did not take place. The financial condition of the Center and the PHA, who manages it, were severely impacted.
In his report, Steve Chybowski highlighted the most important element of conducting the business over the past two years that has ultimately helped the organization survive: the efforts of Executive Director Jeff Kuderski to obtain financial aid available through various government programs. Without these programs, and without aggressive involvement in trying to secure them, the financial situation of the Center would be very difficult.
Additional explanations on this subject were provided later by the second-term Treasurer of the organization, Mr. David Zepecki. His report, and his published financial data, showed that PHA had increased its resources by over $ 300,000 over the past year - which might look surprising at first - but these resources came mainly from the (so far) interest-free loan of the Small Business Administration (SBA), so they will have to be repaid some time soon.
Not wanting to leave those present in a somber mood, Steve pointed to the situation slowly normalizing. Traditional events and meetings are taking place again, although they have not yet reached their pre-pandemic levels. President Chybowski also announced a great fundraising campaign — about which, below.
By far the most important news were: the preparations for the Polish Fest 2022 are already underway, which was later announced by the chairman of the Organizing Committee of this event, Mrs. Janine Adamczyk. Ms. Adamczyk is a person of great energy and enthusiasm, as well as a voice of experience in this matter. So we can probably believe that what she said will come true, and what she promised was that the Polish Fest 2022 will be "the biggest and the the best ever". Let's hope that she, and the other organizers, will succeed. For now, we should all pencil in the dates June 10-12, 2022 into our calendars. She also announced a solemn appeal for volunteers to help with organizing and running this event.
The highlight of the meeting, however, apart from the swearing-in of the newly-elected Officers, turned out to be the speech of the chairman of the Facilities Committee, Mr. Michael Berzowski — not only for his hilarious and unique humor and optimism. It was also a tour de force of a PR master who, in his own unique way, appealed to PHA members, supporters, and all friends of Poland in Wisconsin and beyond, about - well, what else could it be, other than - money, and really big money at that!
The Facilities Committee has extremely ambitious plans to completely renovate the parking lot adjacent to the Center, which has shown the signs of wearing out for several years now. The renovation is expected to cost over $300,000. But that's not all! There are extensive plans for the renovation of the outdoor patio, which should make it more attractive as an instrument for enticing people looking to organize weddings and similar events. There is also a plan to install new gutters, modernize the kitchen, renew heating and cooling systems, upgrade electronic and computer equipment - in a word, a litany of needs that have never been properly funded before. All this, not to mention the current operational expenses, such as the need to replace the sills of some windows, so that water does not penetrate inside when it rains, requires funds.
All these plans and needs, both operational and long-term facility related, are the backdrop for the extremely ambitious and aggressive three-year capital fundraising campaign for the purpose of improving the condition of the real estate around the Center, that was announced at the meeting. The goal of the campaign is to collect an impressive sum of $1.1 million. Michael made it clear that it was a very ambitious and difficult plan, but he also expressed his innate optimism: "We will do it!"
May it prove to be true, because the Polish Wisconsin Center is an extremely impressive and prestigious institution, which should serve the needs of the Polish diaspora and Polish cultural affairs for many years to come.
All photos by Andrew Woźniewicz.