Polish Art Center & Heritage Farm

By Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer

Kathleen Bittner and her two siblings grew up in Detroit’s once predominantly Polish enclave-suburb of Hamtramck, surrounded by Polish artifacts at their parents’ business – Polish Art Center. Kathleen not only knows all about imported Polish merchandise, but has become skilled in such traditional folkcrafts as pisanki (Easter eggs), wycinanki (paper cut-outs) and straw Christmas-tree ornaments.

Recently, she opened a branch of Polish Art Center in the northwestern Michigan community of Cedar in the Traverse City area. Like the original Hamtramck location, it offers a wide variety of Polish cultural goods and gift items – folkcrafts, greeting cards, books, maps, CDs and other ethnic artifacts.

A few years earlier, Kathleen said “I do” with PolAm boy Tom Koch who, while growing up, had been very close to his Polish-born grandfather, Kazimierz Szklarski. Tom inherited his green thumb and interest in farming from Dziadek Kazik, who had been raised on a farm in Poland. Later, he had an extensive garden and raised pigeons at his home in Hamtramck.

“After the arrival of our son Tomek, we couldn’t think of a better place for him to grow up than on a family farm,” Kathleen explained. “Since we were both city kids, my husband was initially a bit hesitant to make such a huge move. While discussing it, I reminded him that both our families had been farmers in Poland and his family is still running a hog farm near the northern city of Bydgoszcz. Maybe for us that would not be doing something new but returning to what we were really meant to do all along.”

A woman’s power of persuasion knows no bounds, and the result was Polish Heritage Farm on Lake Leelanau in Cedar, Mich. “It has been quite an exciting year-and-a-half since moving here but we couldn’t be happier,” Kathleen told this reporter. “We have never worked harder but also never experienced something so rewarding!” They raise produce from seeds imported from Poland, have over 150 chickens, heritage-breed hogs, goats and rabbits, as well as a huge vegetable garden.

The PolAm couple, both in their early 30s, is now in their second growing season, so they are still establishing what grows best and what types of crops (red currents, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, fruit trees, etc.) would be worth cultivating in future years. The heritage farm offers pickling cucumbers, radishes, oregano, thyme, basil, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, beets and tomatoes – all from Polish seeds – as well as farm-fresh eggs.

The family farm also provides freshly butchered USDA certified meat ranging from a side of pork or a whole hog in six large pieces ($4 a pound) to basic cuts in one to three pound sealed packages or according to customer preference ($4.75 a pound). Complete processing including fresh cuts and Old World specialties such as bacon, ham and fresh and smoked kiełbasa are also available. Dressed goats and rabbits are sold whole.

Queries regarding both the Polish Art Center and Heritage Farm should be emailed to: kmbfri1382@gmail.com or phone: 231-228-2461. I might add that while preparing this article, Kathleen and Tom experienced their second blessed event: a little girl named Leokadia Ray. Is this the start of a new PolAm business dynasty? Let’s hope so!

Donald Trump meets with leaders of Polish American community

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump met on Wednesday, September 28 with leaders of the Polish American community at the office of the Polish National Alliance in Chicago. PFA National President Timothy L. Kuzma represented the Polish Falcons of America at the meeting. The meeting was organized by the Polish American Congress (PAC).

PAC President Frank Spula welcomed Mr. Trump to the Polish National Alliance headquarters. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani accompanied Mr. Trump.


President Spula addressed issues of importance to Polish Americans and Poland; specifically the critical need for a strong NATO, of which the Republic of Poland has been a member since 1999, as well as Poland’s inclusion into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. Mr. Trump expressed strong support for both issues, including the support of a missile defense system which’s elements have been located in Poland. Mr. Trump said, “I am all for NATO and in a Trump Administration, we will have a friendly and strong partnership with Poland and Polish Americans.”

Although unfamiliar with the issue of inclusion of Poland into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, Trump expressed concern that Poland is not a member of the Program. Trump said, “I promise that within weeks of my Administration being sworn into office, I will see to the approval of Poland in the Visa Waiver Program.”

Mr. Trump thanked those in attendance for the hospitality afforded him and Mr. Giuliani.

Meeting participants included: Frank J Spula – President of the Polish American Congress & Polish National Alliance; Rick E. Pierchalski, PAC First Vice President; Mark Pienkos, PAC VP for Public Relations; Hubert Cioromski, PAC VP for Financial Development; Timothy Kuzma, President of the Polish Falcons of America and PAC Secretary; Micheline Jaminski, PAC Treasurer, President of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America; Romuald Poplawski, President of the PAC Illinois Division; Mary Anselmo, PAC National Director; Jacek Niemczyk, PAC National Director, General Manager of the WPNA Radio Station; Magdalena Pantelis, PAC National Director, General Manager of the Alliance Publishers and Printers; Joseph Drobot, PAC National Director, President of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America; Marian Grabowski, PAC National Director, Treasurer of the Polish National Alliance; Bozena Nowicka McLees, PAC National Director, Chair of the PAC Educational Commission; Charles Komosa, PAC National Director, Secretary of the Polish National Alliance; Margaret Blaszczuk, PAC National Director, Editor of the Polish Daily News; Alicja Kuklinska, PAC National Director, Editor of Zgoda; Mark Grzymala, PAC IL Division Director; Kornelia Krol, President of the Polish American Medical Association; Maciej Pisarski, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, Washington; Piotr Janicki, Consul General of the Republic of Poland, Chicago; Anna Morzy, President of the Polish American Chamber of Commerce; Ewa Koch, President of the Polish Teachers Association in America; Jan Cikowski, President of the Polish Highlanders in America, and Iwona Wegrzyn Bochenski, President of the Warsaw Committee of Chicago Sister Cities.


Following the meeting with leaders of the Polish American community, Mr. Trump spoke to nearly two hundred Polish Americans who gathered in the PNA headquarters. Mr. Trump reinforced his fondness and commitment to Poland and Polish Americans.

The meeting was organized by the Office of President Spula, Mr. William Ciosek of the Donald Trump Campaign with the assistance of Anthony Bajdek, Polish American Congress Vice President for American Affairs.

The Polish American Congress has reached out to the Hillary Clinton Campaign for a similar opportunity to meet with Secretary Clinton. As of today, the campaign has not responded to the invitation.

The Polish American Congress does not endorse candidates, but hopes to inform candidates as to the issues facing Poland and Polish Americans.

Polishfest 2016

A “family-oriented festival” of Polish live music, song, folk dance performances, ethnic foods, crafts and culture will be presented on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016 from noon to 5 p.m. at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning (Commons Room, 1st Floor). This cultural event is FREE and open to the public. A variety of cooking demonstrations and food sampling, make-n-take kids crafts, folk art demonstrations, and a holiday craft and gift mart will be centered around “A Celebration Of Christmas in The Old Country.” This year’s festival will also celebrate the rich culture, music and folklore of Pittsburgh’s Lithuanian Community. Take a trip to the “Old Country” without leaving Pittsburgh. It’s FREE!

Featured entertainment will include: Bociai Lithuanian Chorus, Frania’s Polka Celebration, Lajkoniki Polish Folk Ensemble, Living Traditions Folk Ensemble, Radoslaw Fizek (Polish Folk Songs and Christmas Carols) and the Echos of Lithuania.

For more information, contact L.G. Kozlowski, Festival Director, at lgk505@aol.com or 814-969-5940.

Polishfest ’16 is partially sponsored by the Polish Falcons of America and the Polish Falcons Heritage Foundation.

Polish Platter Dinner

St. Mary R.C. Church (857 Kenneth Ave., New Kensington, PA 15068) will host a Polish Platter Dinner (pierogi, golabki, haluski, kielbasa, string beans polonaise, dinner roll, beverage) on Sunday, October 2, at their Friendship Hall. Dinner price is $11 and eat-in is available from noon to 4 p.m. Take-out is available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For additional information, please call 724-335-8212.

Second Johnstown Slavic Festival

(JOHNSTOWN, Pa.) – The second Johnstown Slavic Festival is coming to town on Saturday, September 17, with Slavic music, dance, food, speakers, cooking demonstrations, crafts, children’s activities, and more. The free festival will be held in the parking lot and courtyard of the Heritage Discovery Center in Johnstown.

Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, a member of the committee that works to produce the Slavic Festival, said, “I’m pleased to be a part of a community where residents truly honor and respect their roots. This year’s Festival builds on last year’s great debut. The all-day event provides a terrific place for thousands to gather and enjoy authentic food, lectures and entertainment while learning more about the wonderful Slavic nations whose people came to help build America.”

Music and dance programs presented at the 2016 Slavic Festival will including tamburitza music, Ukrainian fold dance, Balkan Brass music, and polka. The stage for the performances will be located in the Heritage Discovery Center parking lot.

Speakers on a wide range of related topics will be presented in the Education Center of the Heritage Discovery Center. Food demonstrations will be presented in the café of the Heritage Center.

Authentic Slavic food will be sold in the courtyard of the Heritage Discovery Center. Vendors include St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church (Conemaugh), serving halusky and pugich; Kraus Polish Deli (Youngstown), with pierogi, kelibasa sandwiches, stuffed cabbage and more; Darlington Inn, with gulas, borsch, halupky and more; St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church, with chevop sausage sandwiches; the Phoenix, serving Slavic specialties; and Custom Cakes and Cookies (Johnstown), with nut rolls and cookies. Beer imported from Slavic countries will also be available for sale.

Several Slavic crafts vendors will have wares for sale, as well as non-profit Slavic heritage organizations. A Bulgarian cooking demonstration will also be presented.

Discounted admission to the Heritage Discovery Center of $5 will be offered during the Slavic Festival. Exhibits include “America :Through Immigrants’ Eyes,” an interactive experience that puts the visitor in the place of a recent immigrant to Johnstown 100 years ago, as well as the multi-media program “The Mystery of Steel.”

“The festival is a terrific tie-in to the exhibits and presentations at the Heritage Discovery Center,” said Richard Burkert, JAHA president. “Many of the immigrants to the area who came to work in the mills and mines of Johnstown were Slavs.”

The Slavic people immigrated from nations we know today as Belarus, Bosnia and Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Macedonia, and Ukraine. The Slavs also include the Carpatho-Rusyn people, whose descendants are present in our area.

From 1880 until 1920, thousands of Slavic immigrants came to Johnstown to find employment in the area’s mills and mines. By 1920, 25 percent of Johnstown’s residents were of Slavic descent. They created a rich network of churches and social clubs to support their way of life and culture.

The festival is being organized by a volunteer committee. Members include Dan Kisha, Dr. Gerald Zahorcak, Barry and MaryAnn McCaffrey Ritko, Ed Cernic, Sr., Brian Subich, Mike Kozak, Suzette Gardenhour, and Rick Kopco.

More than 25 donors supported the first year of the festival, and contributions are still being sought. Major sponsors for the Johnstown Slavic Festival are Best Window and Door Company, ProVia, 1st Summit Bank, and IMAC. The Johnstown Area Heritage Association has provided organizational and technical support for the festival.

Paid parking is available in the Best Window lot on Sixth Avenue, near Broad Street.
Information about the Slavic Festival can be found at www.johnstownslavicfestival.org

Entertainment Schedule:

1:00-2:00: Kyiv Ukrainian Dance Ensemble (Pittsburgh). The Kyiv Ukrainian Dance Ensemble prides itself in being a training ground for young dancers. In 1994 the children’s classes were combined into a formal school under the directorship of Natalie M. Kapeluck. A curriculum for teaching a mixture of traditional Ukrainian Folk dance and ballet technique evolved. Kyiv Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and School has performed throughout the eastern United States. Kyiv believes that Ukrainian Folk Dancing should be learned and enjoyed by all people.

2:00-3:00: Czech & Slovak Moravian Club Folk Dance Group (Binghamton, N.Y.). This folk dance group was organized in 1977 and presents folk dances from the Czech, Moravian and Slovak regions to authentic folk music. The dancers’ folk attire is of the villages or areas their families came from. They have performed in a wide variety of cities at many ethnic festivals and venues, including the New York State Fair (for 30+ years), Statue of Liberty, Czech and Slovak school in Astoria (NY), State College (PA), Washington D.C., Cleveland, Toronto, and the Czech and Slovak Republics. At the 2009 Czech International Folk Fest in Prague (2009), the group received 3rd place.

3:00-5:00: The Mikey Dee Band (East McKeesport, PA). The Mikey Dee Band will play a mix of polka and tamburitza band music. The Mikey Dee Band was organized in 1988. In 1990, he recorded his first records “Don’t Cry My Darling Polka” and “Euclid Vet’s Polka”. Mikey Dee has performed in many tamburitza bands through the years, and has had his own Tamburitza band (Mikey Dee Tamburica Stars) since 2004. In the polka field, Mikey played bass and keyboards for two years with Jack Tady and the Tady Bears, traveling everywhere from Chicago to the Catskills. He has also performed with Frankie Yankovic, Dick Tady, Walter Ostanek, Polka Quads, Ray Skovenski, Gene Peterson Trio, Delmars, The Barons, Dorothy and Co., Sensations, Sounder, Harold Betters and The Jack Fronhofer band.

Mikey Dee has recorded and produced twenty albums and numerous singles to date, ranging from polkas and tamburitza music to country-western and standards, and was a studio musician for Oakhill records and B & M Studio and a recording producer and advisor at McKeesport’s Soundscape Studio. Currently, Mikey performs around 220 shows a year, playing everything from oldies to ballroom, polkas to tamburitza.

5:00-6:00: Pittsburgh Slovakians: Pittsburgh’s oldest Slovak Cultural Organization. The Pittsburgh Slovakians have been spreading Slovak Culture in and around the Pittsburgh area since they were founded in 1956 by Roman Niznik. Since Roman’s untimely death in 1977, the Ensemble has been under the direction of Rudy and Sue Ondrejco. The “Slovakians” perform annually at the Pittsburgh Folk Festival, Slovak Day in Kennywood Park, and at the Slovak Heritage Festival at the University of Pittsburgh. They also provide entertainment at many other festivals, conventions, and social events in the tri-state area throughout the year. The ensemble has also enjoyed opportunities for performing tours in Slovakia in 1989 and 1997.

6:00-8:00: Rosie & the Jammers (Johnstown): This upbeat five-piece act has been a staple at Johnstown events and festivals for eighteen years. Rosie and The Jammers bring high energy and a tireless dedication to preserving our ethnic musical heritage. While known for their polka music, they will present music from a variety of Slavic traditions at the 2016 Slavic Festival. Members of the group are Rosie Sida, Brian Anater, Eric Furfari, Tim Bartek and Judy Gaeta. Rosie and The Jammers have released three CDs, “At Last,” “Celebrate,” and “Rosie and The Jammers Live,” and are working on a new CD to be released by the end of the year.

8:00-10:00: West Philadelphia Orchestra. The West Philadelphia Orchestra (WPO) is a dance explosion of blasting trumpets, pulsating drums, and shouting voices. Beats and melodies are inspired by those in Serbia, Romania, and all of the Balkans. WPO began playing Romanian ballads, Macedonian folk-dance songs, Bulgarian wedding music, and Klezmer in late 2006, and have continued expanding their repertoire of Eastern European music. WPO consistently brings a raucous party where ever they go. As much a community as a band, WPO’s performances are celebratory events.

Speaker Schedule:

12:00 noon-1:00: My Experience as a Serbian Immigrant to Johnstown, presented by Steven Purich. Germany invaded Serbia, former Yugoslavia, on April 6, 1941; Steve was born 3 days later. After the war, Serbia was taken over by the Communists. Steve’s father, a Serbian Orthodox priest, was declared an enemy of the state was arrested and scheduled to be executed. He was able to escape the night of his arrest and fled on foot dodging enemy forces, finally ending up in Austria and was able to get in touch with his family to tell them he was still alive some four years later. He was separated from his family for twelve years. The family eventually managed to emigrate to the United States, settling in Johnstown when Steve was 15. Steve will tell his family’s dramatic story.

1:00-2:00: Croatian Travel & Genealogy, presented by Robert Jerin.
Noted Croatian genealogy expert Robert Jerin also hosts guided heritage tours of Croatia. He will discuss touring the country.

2:00-3:00: The Steeples Project and Immigrant Pageant, presented by David Hurst, Sr.

In July, 2009, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown consolidated the five parishes into a new Resurrection Parish and closed three church buildings – St. Casimir, St. Columba and Immaculate Conception. The Steeples Project succeeded in saving these landmarks. Mr. Hurst will discuss plans to develop a theater in the former St. Columba Church, and a current project that will establish an ongoing “Immigrant Pageant.”

3:00-4:00: Slovak Kroj (Folk Costumes), presented by Helene Cincebeaux.
This presentation discusses the origin and appearance of traditional Slovak dress and its role in ceremonial life, and symbolism in its wearing and decoration. Helene Cincebeaux, of Rochester, NY, hosts tours of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Movavia, and is a board member of the Slovak Heritage and Folklore Society. She is also editor of “Slovakia: A Slovak Heritage Magazine.

She will display a folk dress exhibit titled “Kroje for the Dance of Life” at the Johnstown Slavic Festival.

4:00-5:00: Famous Slovaks from Johnstown, presented by Dr. Peter Baran.
Dr. Peter Baran, who was born in Slovakia, is a professor of chemistry at Juniata University.

5:00-6:00: The Slovak Family in Slovakia and America, presented by Susan Kalcik.

6:00-7:00 – Genealogical Research in Slavic Countries, presented by Connie Martin. Connie Martin is President of the Johnstown Area Genealogical & Historical Society, Inc.

7:00-8:00: The History of Slovakia, presented by Dr. Michael Kopanic. Dr. Kopanic teaches history at the University of Maryland University College. A resident of Cresson, he is a member of the board of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International.

The Johnstown Area Heritage Association is a non-profit, membership-based organization dedicated to preserving and presenting Johnstown’s unique history to the nation through high-quality educational, cultural and recreational experiences. It owns and operates several museums in the Johnstown Discovery Network, including the Johnstown Flood Museum, the Frank & Sylvia Pasquerilla Heritage Discovery Center, Wagner-Ritter House & Garden, and Johnstown Children’s Museum; in addition, it owns and operates Peoples Natural Gas Park. JAHA programs regular workshops and other events for children, cultural presentations for adults, and other special events, including the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival, Summer Concert Series, and the Johnstown Film Festival. For more information on JAHA programs, facilities and events, visit www.jaha.org.