On the second Friday of every month, a dedicated group of Milwaukee women get together and celebrate being Polish. They plan events, discuss sending coats to school for blind children in Warsaw, enjoy a cultural presentation on such subjects as the poet Slowacki or the history of the Polish language, then mingle with friends over coffee and Polish refreshments.
Since 1953, when 25 Polish and Polish-American women formed a club to preserve their heritage to pass on to future generations, Polanki has been a sisterhood of goodwill ambassadors for the Polish Culture. From the major undertakings of making and selling Polish food at annual events to presenting programs in schools to awarding scholarships to deserving students of Polish descent, this group of 125 make time to showcase Polish pride in a city of rich ethnic diversity. Meetings were even held in Polish until 1970.
Many members joined to learn about their heritage. „The club offers me the chance to learn about Polish traditions, folklore and customs and express what I’ve learned to others,” says Diane Holytz, a member since 1982.
„I particularly enjoy demonstrating the folklore of Jezyki (porcupine and hedgehog Christmas ornaments) whenever I have the chance. People are fascinated to see how something that starts out flat can be made into a ball with spikes.”
Claire Anderson joined after receiving a Polanki scholarship six years ago.
„I was advised that the movers and shakers of Milwaukee Polonia were Polanki,” she said. She served on the scholarship committee herself for three years „to give back for the kindness and generosity shown me when I was struggling through graduate school.”
Polanki’s youngest member, Lidia Sobierajski, 28, joined with her sister, Monika, and her mother in 1996. When her mother pas-sed away, fellow members provi-ded a loving network of support. „How could I not want to be a part of this family?” she said.
„As was my mother, I am a pro-ud memmber.”
The Sobierajski sisters are both piano teachers and Chopin devotees. They organize the Chopin Youth Piano Competition held at Polish Fest each June.
They are also helping plan Polanki’s premier culture event of the year, a performance by Cantores Minores Polish Boy Choir in Milwaukee in August.
Regardless of how busy the women of Polanki are, their dedication to their club is a priority.
„Our members show an exceptional level of commitment,” says Susan Mikos, the group’s current president. „I think the main reason they work so hard is that they feel a strong sense of belonging to the club and they want to see it succeed.”
An important volunteering duty is baking Polish pastry for various food booths that serve as fundraising.
„Baking is a Polish requirement,” says Geraldine Reszel, member since 1980 and newsletter editor for 19 years. She used to take days off from her teaching job to prepare sweets for the Folk Fair each November.
This year a new culinary fun-draiser was the Fall Soup Festival in October.
Diane Holytz helped organize the event.
„The idea originated in Minne-sota by the Pol-Am Club. We de-cided to try it ourselves. We were overwhelmed by the response. As the aromas of the seven different soups filled the air, and as people were tasting the soups, they talked of special memories or just the chance to try something new.”
The group’s latest undertaking is the library at the new Polish Center of Wisconsin. Members will manage the operations of the resource area and reading room.
There are no signs of Polanki slowing down in the new century, as a handful of prospective members show up each month, and young members like the Sobie-rajski sisters welcome more of their generation into the „family.”
„It’s a wonderful and healthy thing,” says Claire Anderson. „I’ve seen it leading to a greater self-awareness, lasting friendships and a lot of fun. There’s no substitute for who we are and where we’ve been.”