President Kuzma: Druh Kuzma Goes to Washington

I thought I would start my first official PFA blog telling you about an important trip I am making this weekend to Washington, D.C. for two events. First, in conjunction with the American Fraternal Alliance, I will be visiting the offices of four U.S. Senators to talk about our federal tax exemption, and second, I will be attending the second annual conference of a relatively new Polish organization called the American Polish Advisory Council.

Taxes and the PFA

In the past, many of you may have heard me talk about the issue of the federal tax-exemption that Polish Falcons of America has been granted by the IRS as a fraternal benefit society. This exemption not only covers the operations on a national level, but covers all of our Nests and Districts. This exemption is critical to a successful business model for our organization. Without it, I don’t see a sustainable future for our organization and other fraternal organizations.

The assault on our exemption has been ongoing for a number of years. The federal government (and some local governments) is leaving no stone left unturned in its quest for additional revenues. Earlier this year, we sent a “Call to Action” email encouraging members to contact their U.S. Congressmen and Senators in regard to the “blank slate” proposal suggested by Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and his GOP counterpart, Senator Orin Hatch (R-Utah). They sent a letter to every member of the Senate proposing a “blank slate” approach to tax reform. This approach would eliminate virtually every tax preference and exemption from the current Tax Code – including the deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions – and require those who benefit from such provisions to make a compelling case to lawmakers that such policies should be restored.

Baucus and Hatch stated in their letter that each credit and deduction will be scrutinized and those that cannot be justified will be eliminated. “We plan to operate from an assumption that all special provisions are out unless there is clear evidence that they: 1) help grow the economy, 2) make the tax code fairer, or 3) effectively promote other important policy objectives,” said the letter. Baucus and Hatch indicated that “some existing tax breaks should be preserved in some form.”

This is a terrible idea. We joined with the American Fraternal Alliance to oppose this proposal. PFA members were among the 5,500 fraternal members from across the country who sent more than 10,000 emails to their Senators in Washington. Each of the 100 Senators received an email. I sincerely appreciate the response of PFA members who took the time to respond to this call.

While the response to this Call to Action was successful, this war is ongoing. The American Fraternal Alliance is ever vigilant in monitoring this issue and keeping us aware of new developments. This Friday (Sept. 27) the firm working with the AFA arranged for me to visit the offices of four U.S. Senators where we have a large concentration of PFA members. I am scheduled to visit the offices of Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Senators Robert Casey and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

My primary purpose in these meetings is to explain the importance of the tax exemption for all fraternal benefit societies. I will also stress all the positive programs, benefits and activities the Polish Falcons does for its members and communities, and why it is so important that our tax status does not change. I want to make it clear that if we lose our exemption, we will lose the ability to provide the services and benefits we offer. And if they are lost, they are lost forever. There won’t be another organization to step in and do what we do. And even if we would survive, PFA would not be the same organization it is today and we would not be able to do the things we do for our members and communities.

Fraternal organizations like the Polish Falcons of America have been an important part of this nation’s fabric for almost 150 years. Our record of accomplishment and service speaks for itself. The exemption gives us the ability to do all the great things PFA does. As I said, this battle is not done. I hope that my meetings will have an impact so that if these Senators are ever called on to vote on the exemption in the future, they fully understand the impact of the decision they will make.

2013 American Polish Conference

The next day, the American Polish Advisory Council is holding its 2013 American Polish Conference at the Atlantic Council. I attended the conference last year and was impressed with the speakers which included Ryszard Schnepf, Poland’s Ambassador to the U.S. and New Gingrich, former U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives. Overall, it was a good conference and provided me with new insight into what is happening in the broader Polish-American Community and in Poland.

This year’s conference agenda is equally interesting. Among the speakers are Andrew Nagorski, bestselling historian and award-winning journalist , U.S Congressman John Dingell from Michigan, Lee Feinstein, Ambassador to Poland 2009-2012, and Ian Brzezinski, a senior fellow in the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. Topics will focus on U.S.-Poland strategic relationships, immigration reform from a transatlantic perspective.

As one of the largest Polish organizations in the U.S., I believe it important that PFA be an important part of the Polish Community in the United States. We play a large role with the Polish American Congress and are affiliated with organizations such as the American Council for Polish Culture and the Kosciuszko Foundation.

Historically, PFA has always been involved in the Polish-American Community. By forging strong relations with other Polish organizations we create a greater awareness of the PFA. That is important if we want to the PFA to be noticed, to stand tall in the crowd and grow as an organization.

I am looking forward to the journey and the meetings. I am hopeful that they will be productive and that the PFA will benefit in the future. Watch for my next blog next week when I report on what happened when “Druh Kuzma Goes To Washington.”


Richmond native wins Sembrich vocal award

The American Council for Polish Culture has announced that Soprano Sarah Kate Walston has been selected as the recipient of the 2013 Marcella Kochanska Sembrich Voice Award. The Award was presented on Aug. 4, 2013, at the ACPC’s annual Convention in Baltimore, Md.

Walston, a native of Richmond, Va., received a Bachelor of Music Degree at Lee University and a Master of Music degree and Graduate Performance Diploma at the Peabody Conservatory. She has performed with the Baltimore Symphony, the Annapolis Symphony and the Virginia Symphony. She has attended Lorin Maazel’s Castelton Residency for Young Artists program, the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival and was engaged as a Virginia Opera Spectrum Resident Artist during the 2010-2011 season. She has played numerous operatic roles including Musetta in “La Boheme”, Despina in “Cosi fan Tutte” and Zerlina in “Don Giovanni,” among others. She has received numerous enthusiastic reviews from music critics nationwide. According to the Cleveland Daily Banner, “To possess a voice so silvery that it soars among the more memorable classical timbres has made Sarah Kate Walston a musical must see.”

Walston’s August 4th recital included selections from Donizetti, Mozart (“Le nozze di Figaro”), Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss. The broad spectrum of her repertoire ranged from these classical pieces to a selection of Songs from “Kurpie Opus 58” by Karol Symanowski, which the artist sang in Polish, to popular tunes by Duke Ellington and traditional spirituals. The accompanist for the recital was pianist Joy Schreier of Maryland.

Walston was introduced by the chair of the ACPC Music Committee Alicia Dutka of the affiliated Polish Arts Club of Chicago, who presented the soloist with the 2013 Marcella Kochanska Sembrich Vocal Award. Members of the Music Committee include Jaroslaw Golembiowski, of the Chicago Chopin Society; Robert Synakowski, of the Polish Heritage Club of Syracuse, N.Y.; and Dr. Wanda O’Brien Trefil, of the Polish American Arts Association of Washington, D.C., who has accepted the appointment as Chairman of the Music Committee at the ACPC August National Convention.

Since its inception in 1948, the American Council for Polish Culture (ACPC) and its national affiliates have produced a wide range of programs supporting and promoting artists, scholars and musicians who have helped to advance an awareness and appreciation of Polish culture in the United States. For over forty years, the ACPC’s Marcella Kochanska Sembrich Voice Competition and Vocal Award have been foremost among these initiatives. Each year, through a national competition, the ACPC Music Committee selects one emerging young vocalist as the recipient of the $1,500 Vocal Award in support of the young artist’s career development. As part of this process, the selected vocalist is invited to present a recital at the organization’s annual convention.

The Marcella Kochanska Sembrich Vocal Competition and Award honors Polish vocalist Marcella Kochanska Sembrich, a coloratura soprano who is regarded as one of the most brilliant representatives of the vocal art of all time. The Polish artist was born in 1858 near the former Polish city of Lwów in the Austrian administrative region of Galicia. Kochanska Sembrich had an important singing career, chiefly at the New York Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, and was a tremendous favorite at the Italian Opera in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Polish coloratura made her American debut in 1883 with the newly founded Metropolitan Opera Company after a sensational European career. Her retirement in 1909 was a gala affair at the Met, but she continued to give recitals until 1917. Kochanska Sembrich then taught privately and at the Juilliard and Curtis schools for as long as her health permitted. She died in New York in 1935. Throughout her life, Kochanska Sembrich was a great Polish patriot. During World War I she served as President of the American-Polish Relief Committee of New York. She was wholly devoted to raising money, food stuffs and clothes for her suffering countrymen.

Source: Polonia Media Network

U.S. Senator honored with Polonia Restituta Order

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski honored U.S. Senator (of Polish origin) Barbara Mikulski with the Polonia Restituta Order in Warsaw on Aug. 22, 2013. Mikulski has dedicated herself to strengthening ties between the U.S. and Poland via advocacy of Poland’s inclusion in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which would enable Poles to visit the U.S. without a visa, just as U.S. citizens may currently visit Poland.

Source: Polonia Media Network