Of the scores of clubs and organizations that have donated their priceless archives to the James K. Hosmer Special Collections at the Minneapolis Central Library none collected and preserved the record more thoroughly than the Polanie Club. Known well by Polish Americans everywhere and by residents of Northeast Minneapolis in particular, the Polanie Club is mighty force committed to preserving – and sharing – all that is good about Polish culture.
The Polanie Club became a reality in October 1927 when a dozen young women of Polish descent gathered for a social club and welcome home to a friend who had just returned from Poland, “full of enthusiasm” to share what she had learned. The young women agreed to a common purpose, shaped a collective vision and a shared mission: to preserve their Polish heritage – the history, language, art, music and cuisine of their native land. The fledgling group called themselves the Polanie Club, “polanie” meaning “people of the prairie.” From the outside the Club served as a resource, providing Polish national clothing, exhibits, recipes, and a library open to the community. In the 1930’s the Club sponsored Polish language classes at the U of M and at two public high schools.
Nearly a half century after the formation of the Polanie Club the publication Northeast: A history described the women and the early days of the club they shaped:
Each was beginning her career as wife, mother, teacher, social worker, lawyer, musician or University student. Even the Depression years, which followed, were gay times at the Club…The group celebrated each other’s birthdays, engagements, graduation, scholarship awards, and new babies, but never lost sight of its main purpose, to enhance understanding of Polish culture. This was largely due to the influence of Monica Krawczyk. (from notes found in the Polanie Club file housed at the James K. Hosmer Special Collections, Minneapolis Central Library)
The unidentified author of this article reminds the reader that the Polanie Club grew at a time when many Polish Americans were changing their names by dropping the RZ-SC-CA combination that native Americans found difficult.
Over the years the Polanie Club continued to meet in members’ homes where they enjoyed comraderie and a monthly gourmet dinner. Though they ardently supported the defense effort, they held firm to their commitment to preserving the Polish culture. Wartime programs included “The Music of Poland”(1939), Musical Education in Poland”, and “Poland, a Songland of the World from Music and Youth,” Later programs featured “Polish Folklore” and” “Polish Women Authors” among a long list of serious discussions of Polish culture, talks often presented by noted scholars and artists.
At these monthly meetings, the women reviewed their many projects and pondered how best to promulgate Polish culture in this country. Focus on writing and publishing, they agreed, was the best way to spread the word.
Their first publishing venture was launched in 1942 with a collection of the lyrics of 110 Polish songs, Piesni Ludowe. On their 15th anniversary they published Victoria Janda’s collection of poems entitled “Star Hunger”. That was followed two years later by the poet’s “Walls of Space.” In 1948 the Polanie Club published its premiere best seller, a cookbook entitled Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans, illustrated by Stanley Legun, a Northeast Minneapolis artist.
The presses were kept busy with Polish publications – poetry, short stories and, in 1957, a compilation of over 300 songs – music and words. This major work, entitled Treasured Polish Songs with English Translations was illustrated by Maria Werten and translated by Polanie members.
A major event for the Polanie Club came in 1966 when the organization sponsored the Annual Convention of the American Council of Polish Cultural Clubs (now known as the American Council for Polish Culture.) The conference, held at the University of Minnesota, celebrated the Polish Millennium with a program of distinguished lecturers on the theme, “Poland through a Thousand Years” The Polanie Club also supported the Polish American Cultural Institute of Minnesota in hosting the 1996 ACPC convention, held in Minneapolis.
The following year, in 1967, the Club celebrated their fortieth anniversary. In that year four members of the great (Josepha Contoski, Cecily Helgesen, Rose Polski Anderson and Marie Sokolowski), received research grants for study in Poland. Their experiences and the realia with which they returned to the Twin Cities launched Polonie on a more formal exhibition program. The Club had long supplied Polish costumes and memorabilia for local projects. Now the Exhibit Committee, armed with the materials brought back by the grant recipients, extended the program of displays – for which they soon began to receive acclamation and awards.
In 1977 members of the Polanie Club celebrated their 50th anniversary in style with a Red and White Ball at the Holiday Inn on the Nicollet Mall. They also expanded their publications list. Treasured Polish Folk Rhymes, Songs and Games was translated into English then published in both languages.
Over the years the list grew. In 1983 Polanie published Bocheck in Poland: A children’s story about the white stork, the fairytale bird of the old world, by Joseph Contoski. In the late 1980’s the Club diversified their publications later with a 1989 cassette of Polish Christmas Carols and later a CD of Christmas carols created my piano virtuoso Bonnie Frels.
Let it not be written that Polanie Club members look only to the past – one of the most active programs of today’s Polanie is the scholarship program for post-secondary education. Minnesotans of Polish-American descent are eligible for stipends to attend the post-secondary institution of their choice. Since the inception of the program in 2000 tens of thousands of scholarships have been awarded.
When the American Council for Polish Culture met again in Minneapolis in 2003 Polanie seized the opportunity of the organization’s lifetime when they were called upon to conduct national wide auditions for the Marcella Kochanska Sembrich Vocal Competitions. The winner performed in concerts at both Hamline and Universities, events that offered hundreds of Twin Citians an opportunity experience the beauty of Polish culture.
A delightful tradition of Polanie is the annual Wigilia celebration, a Polish Christmas tradition kept alive in this community. Wigilia, meaning “watchful vigil,” is hosted by Polanie during Advent, offering Minnesotans a chance to prepare for the Nativity in a celebratory but reflective gathering feature Polish food, live performances and an altogether “magical evening.”
At this writing, members of the Polanie Club are working feverishly on preparations for the Twin Cities Polish Festival 2011, August 13-14 on the banks of the Mississippi near St. Anthony Main. The event itself is a celebration of Polish culture featuring a Chopin Celebration, a Polish film festival, an exhibit of the works of Joseph Conrad, Polish jazz and folk music and dance – along with fabulous food and great exhibits where visitors can learn about the Twin Cities Polish community, including the Polanie Club. Don’t miss it!
v In truth, having lived in Northeast Minneapolis fewer than thirty years, I am a newbie. Learning about the women of the Polanie Club expands my understanding and appreciation of my neighborhood. My profound thanks to those who have maintained the record, everyone who kept the minutes, clipped the newspapers, and preserved the reports.
v It is worthy of note that the files are replete with the individual names of Polanie members and their roles in the Club. Though I would love to have been able to attribute some of this credit, there were just too many women to name!
v Most of the publications of Polanie are still available. Check the Polanie publications on line. If you don’t find the title you want there, check Amazon. My google search was successful in finding virtually all of the titles new or used and at reasonable cost.
v This piece was written for my blog, whimsically, if accurately, known as Poking Around with Mary. That is what I do, poke around – around my neighborhood, the city, libraries, parks, coffee shops, and any other sites or gatherings that catch my eye. I also search online a range of interests, including a current passion to learn about and draw attention to threats to open government. When I’m not poking around, I write about what I have learned. If you’re interested you might take time to poke around the blog where you’ll find past posts on related issues including a piece on last year’s Polish Festival and several pieces of what’s happening in Northeast Minneapolis You will find an easy subscription link online.