Ethnic Women of Cleveland
Bertha Modrzynski Recording & Transcript
Listen to the interview as you read along.
- INTERVIEWEE: Bertha Modrzynski
- INTERVIEWER: Jeanette Tuve
- DATE: April 15, 1986
- PROGRAM LENGTH: 79:54 min.
JT: Mrs. Modrzynski what was your maiden name?
BM: My maiden name was Struzynski.
JT: Could you spell that for us?
BM: Yes, S-T-R-U-Z-Y-N-S-K-I.
JT: Thank You. Where were you born?
BM: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio.
JT: Where you born here in the Warszawe neighborhood?
BM: No, I was born in Poznan. That's out in 82nd and Pulaski. St. Casimir's Church.
JT: Is that Poznan?
JT: Where were your parents born?
BM: My parents were both born in Poland.
JT: Could you tell us your fathers name and where he was born?
BM: Yes, my fathers name was Steffen, S-Z-C-Z-E-P-A-N Struzynski, born in Poznan, Poland. My mother was Maryanna Koglaski Struzynski, and she was born in Kalisz, Poland.
JT: When did they come to this country?
BM: My father came here in 1908.
JT: He was a young man at the time?
BM: Yes, very young. He left my mother behind with two children and he came here because he had word from my aunt who was here ahead of him that there was possibilities.
JT: For work in Cleveland?
BM: For work in Cleveland.
JT: What did he do in Cleveland?
BM: When he came to Cleveland he had been living at the locality which I had mentioned as Poznan and he was boarding by my aunt and had been employed by the American Steel and Wire Company on St. Clair Avenue around Marquette Avenue.
JT: And then after he got established your mother came?
BM: After three years he earned enough money that he was able to send for my mother and two brothers...with her two sons that came with her.
JT: And then you were born in this country?
BM: Yes, we were. My sister was born in 1912 and I was born in early 1913.
JT: I was born in 1914.
BM: How about that?
JT: So you had two brothers and a sister?
JT: Could you tell us something about your home when you were children? What language was spoken?
BM: Oh, we definitely had spoken Polish because my mother and dad could not speak our American...our English language. And of course going to school we had picked from the children that we could get the English language. But definitely we spoke it until the time my mother and dad passed away. She passed away five years ago at the age of 96-1/2. We always spoke Polish at home.
JT: Did your mother ever learn to speak English?
BM: My mother had learned many, many words and knew all the programs on the TV...or by her own names which were relative to what they were. And she had enjoyed them immensely. That was her pleasure. We were happy to have her as long as we did. When she passed away we felt bad and, you're selfish. The longer you have them, the longer you would like it. My dad passed away in 1963. And I believe, not because he was my father, he was about the most wonderful man walking. We just idolized him.
JT: And I presume he learned English?
BM: Yes, he did. He didn't speak it fluently, but he understood. And both my father became an American citizen as soon as it was possible and also my mother. We were very pleased to have them American citizens.
JT: What special holidays did you observe in your home?
BM: Oh, we had observed...most of all we observed Christmas. And then the entire family would gather up. And small children, even my aunts that lived out Superior and in Medina and all around Sowinski Avenue, we'd all congregate together. It wasn't like it is today, that you would go to visit only when you had an invite. Years ago they'd congregate one Sunday by one aunt. One Sunday the next family of relatives, you know. Oh, it was just a merry crowd all the time. So we would observe Christmas and the next day, it so happened that, my brother and my father were both born on Christmas Day. That was their birthday. The next day both my mother and...pardon me, my brother and my father have celebrated their names day for St. Steven's Day. So, it was a double celebration. And at Easter time we always had prepared...mother always made homemade kielbasa and homemade kishka and we had ham and we had pierogi and we had all the delicacies there would be. And then she would make this beautiful basket that we little ones would march to church and have it blessed Saturday before Easter. And that tradition has remained with us and still does. And I try to have my family continue it. And I don't know whether I'm going ahead, but in 1978 I was chairman of what they call Easter Over Cleveland. It was my pleasure to put out the entire dinner at Channel 8 and they filmed it on TV. I also have here a menu. I brought it along because...
JT: Oh my, from the picture it looks like a feast.
BM: Oh, it was just beautiful. The film...they told me that would be available to me. So I was just thinking probably some day I will ask them. I have some publications here where it had put down here for the press release and also the menu. And on this menu...this is...I just have a photostatic copy...but it was put on film where it said Bertha Modrzynski and Stella Walsh presented a Polish Easter dinner with the background with all the trimmings and all. So this is our tradition as far as Easter is concerned.
JT: Oh, good. Where did you go to school when you were a child?
BM: I had attended Immaculate Heart of Mary on Lansing Avenue. I had graduated there from eighth grade. And that particular year they started a high school. So I had attended the ninth grade from there on I went to South High to the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade where I graduated.
JT: Did you say South High?
BM: Yes, South High and then later on...I had it down here...in 1950 I had gone to John Marshall School to take clerical...you know, advancement in clerical work. So I had gone there. And later on it seemed I was interested in keypunch operating so I went to the data processing and I took keypunch operator. Of course, I never specialized in that because I had other interests that involved here at the Polish Falcons. And...
JT: What church did you go to?
BM: The Immaculate Heart of Mary. And then in 19...when the war ended...in 1944-45 I had then moved to Chagrin Falls and bought a home there. Then I attended the St. Rita Church in Solon, Ohio. Then we turned back home.
JT: I see. Were you in any dramatic events or things like that when you were a child?
BM: Oh, many in school and then later on I had done that here at the Polish Falcons. And I put up a Polish mock wedding that I had repeated on the request of the people here in our Polish...our organization which is a national organization. And here is a copy of the picture. And I sewed all the costumes for all these people that had taken part in this mockery.
JT: What an undertaking. Those are beautiful costumes.
BM: I still have them.
JT: Do you? When you were a child did you have a costume?
BM: Well, yes because at school the sisters used to teach us and then you dramatized poems and the different things, you know.
JT: Where did you get your costume?
BM: At school. The sisters used to make them.
JT: The nuns made them?
BM: Yeah, like we were angels or something they just had like white flannel and then they would make little artificial wings on them and all.
JT: But these costumes are, I assume, from different parts of Poland?
BM: These are all velvet...not all the jackets are velvet. I believe there are four velvets and the rest I only used felt. Good felt. And I had embroidered and I had sewed all the sequins on it. And I did the same thing with the men. And they were caps... I should have my husband...
JT: Where did you get the design for the sequins on the jackets?
BM: I just made my own.
JT: You made your own. They are not traditional Polish then?
BM: The original from Poland would be a little different. These were my own because they only had different kind of design. Swirls and little flowers and embroidery on it. That's what I added to these.
JT: What did you do with the music at home when you were a child?
BM: Music at home? Well, we had, my mother bought us a beautiful piano. A Gulbrasen. We had rolls and of course we did try to learn how to play the piano. And we did. My sister and I both. So we used to make it a duet.
JT: Did you sing Polish songs?
BM: Yes, we did, always. Of course, then it was very traditional to sing Polish songs in our church. And I belonged to the choir of Immaculate Heart. And even up-to-date I'm a member of the Halina Singing Society, District 3. And right now, this year, in May we are celebrating and having our national convention at Stouffers.
JT: I heard about that.
BM: Yes, and I'm invited to be a speaker there for the opening on May 22nd.
JT: Good, that's wonderful. Your brothers and sisters, did they marry within the Polish community?
BM: Yes, they did.
JT: All of them?
BM: Yes, they did. My sister married a boy from Aetna Road. And he's Polish. And my brother Casimir, married Cecilia Sawicki and she was Polish and just four blocks away from home off of Harvard Avenue. And my sister... my brother Steven married Harriet Bohumulski and she was from Corlett area...So they all married.
JT: My next question is: Do you think your sister continued the traditions more than your brothers? But, your brothers married Polish girls so they all continued the Polish traditions.
BM: They did. And my sister did also because from the day she married she lived right with my mother. And then, of course, when father passed away my mother still lived in with them. And they still live in the homestead that mother and dad had worked so hard to buy. And of course mother left it to the two girls. The two of us because my both brothers had passed away.
JT: After you finished your education you worked?
BM: Yes, I did. The first job I had was a milliner at the Cleveland Hat. They were located at that time on Ontario Street just there where the Justice Center is. That's a long time ago.
JT: And the hats were handmade, I suppose?
BM: They were. I used to block them and make them and sew on them and trim them. It was nice.
JT: That's an art that's gone out of style.
BM: Yes, it is.
JT: How long did you do that?
BM: Oh, I can't tell you exactly. But it was for many years. And then after that I went to work for the Ohio Crankshaft in the cafeteria. I was called by the employment office to get nine other girls besides myself. First time in the history of Ohio Crankshaft they were going to have girls working in the factory.
JT: Was it during the war by any chance?
BM: Yes, in 1941. So, I did. I had asked my friends, ...my two sister-in-laws and we started out at the plant. And shortly after that I was called to take care of the girls that were being hired into the factory. I remained in the employment office and took care of them. And, of course, we had to have regulation suits, pants and tops and caps to wear so that our hair wouldn't be exposed. And I took care of their sizes and did all the ordering and had quite a job, however, it was nice. Then when my son was old enough to go to school I quit my job. But it wasn't that easy because at that time, you know, you had to get a release because you were on defense. So, really the employment office downtown didn't want to release me. And I had opportunity to work for Cleveland Pneumatic Tool Company. They were located on Euclid Avenue. At that time we worked seven days a week, twelve hours a night. The reason why I had left Ohio Crankshaft was because it was a daytime job and I couldn't very well make my schedule work with my son going to school. So, I accepted this job and I worked from seven in the evening until seven in the morning. So by the time I got back home I had plenty of time to take my boy around by my mother. And then she took care of him during the day. He returned home because it was just a block away from school. My dad was home then. So he took care of him and I managed.
JT: It was a heavy schedule.
BM: Yes, it was.
JT: I gather you enjoyed your work experience.
BM: All the time, all the time. And then VJ day we all got laid off. You know, our work was done. And in 1952 Cleveland Pneumatic Tool had notified me there was a recall and I was able to return back to work. First, I worked in the factory and I had enjoyed. And I was the only lady that had an A rating. So, I had top wages like the men and was all around the machines. I had worked there for fifteen years. Unfortunately, we were involved in an auto accident. And I had to leave my work. I had eighteen months to return but the doctor wouldn't release me, so I had to quit my job.
JT: I'm sorry to hear that. Isn't it unusual for a woman to be a machinist?
BM: At that time during the war I don't think so. Because there were many ladies that worked in the machine shop as inspectors and machines and...At Ohio Crankshaft, I want you to know, after I had worked there a while, this job was just taking care of the ladies and in the employment office got boring for me. Just to walk through the factory I used to see all kinds of excitement...all this work going on. I want you to know I got to be an all around machinist. So, I worked on internal grinding, external grinding; I had centerless grinding, on the lathes, on the mill, turret lathes, engine lathes...all around machinist. So, every day I'd stagger to make a different machine. I'd be like a relief operator. And I enjoyed it.
JT: Was there a union in the company?
BM: No, There was no union at Ohio Crankshaft. And there was none at Pneumatic Tool at the time I was employed. Then in 1967, as I said, I was involved in this accident and I had left Pneumatic Tool and I was home until 1969. And, being home all the organizations...because I'm a member of most all of the organizations, I was Vice President of the Polish American Congress; automatically I became President of the Polish American Congress for the state of Ohio and I was involved in all different organizations. I thought this is the time for me to get a job because I spread myself so thin that I just didn't have any time for myself or my family. So, I went to see Mr. Emil Masgay, he was the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts and he had hired me. I went to work for the Clerk of Courts. And then after he deceased, Gerald Fuerst took over and I worked for him. It was a great pleasure. Really it was. When my husband told me on our way returning from Poland...that was in August, that we were going to retire in December I couldn't hardly believe it but we did.
JT: Whom did you marry?
BM: I was first married to Joseph Kornowski.
JT: Is that K-
BM: K-O-R-N-O-W-S-K-I. And in 1970...pardon me, in 1949 after we moved to Chagrin Falls he passed away and of course then I moved back home here to Cleveland. And I met my husband, my present husband, Steven Modrzynski, and we were married in June of 1952.
JT: Do I have your husband's name?
BM: No, I don't think so.
JT: Could you spell your husband's name for us?
BM: Yes, it's Stephen, S-T-E-P-H-E-N Modrzynski. M-O-D-R-Z-Y-N-S-K-I.
JT: Thank you. Maybe I can ask a question. Were both of your husbands members of this community...of the Polish community?
BM: Yes, they were. And my husband, Stephen, had worked for the Cuyahoga County Commissioners. He was employed at the Courthouse.
JT: Is that where you met him?
BM: No, it is not where I met him. I met him here at the Alliance of Poles. I was to a function there and he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and he stopped in there for a meeting. That's how we met. After ditching him, avoiding him and all but nevertheless we met over again and started to court. Afterwards I was very truthful. I told my husband I had a son that was fourteen years old. I told my friend that I had met that I was not interested in remarrying. And I says, after all I have this son and I certainly wouldn't want to have him abused. And I thought that I was capable enough to take care of myself and I got ahead of myself. At that time I was employed at the Richman Brothers. I said I think, I wasn't interested and I didn't want to waste his time. He said, "Oh, let's go on for a little while and see maybe you'll change your mind." Well, he did change my mind and we were married in 1952.
JT: Did you ever keep company with a young man from outside the Polish community? Did you ever think of marrying anyone from outside the Polish community?
BM: No, I never did, really. I never courted with anyone or went out with anybody besides Polish boys in my younger days. Later on I had many opportunities after my first husband passed away when I lived in Chagrin Falls, I built a home in Bainbridge. And I was young at that time and I had my son. He was going to school... grade school. And I had this long drive to Richman Brothers and I had many opportunities to go out if I wanted to. Of course, those men that were there were not Polish. But, I just never gave them a tumble. I was so independent and I felt I didn't want to waste my time with them.
JT: Maybe we could go back now to your work experience. You say you worked in the Clerk's office?
BM: Yes, I was...Now I forgot my title, excuse me. I was taking care of...I worked in the Auto Title Department. And I took care of all the accounting and I believe...You'll have to excuse me. Will you shut that off for a minute please?
JT: So, you worked with titles for cars and boats and you were an accountant.
BM: Yes, I took care of all the records and I had to submit all the records daily to Columbus on how many titles we processed and how many boat titles we processed. Then I had to break down the monies. I turned it in then to the main office which is at the Justice Center.
JT: Sounds like a responsible position.
BM: It was a very responsible position.
JT: In this connection were you involved in politics in any way?
BM: Oh, in politics I'm involved most everywhere. First of all it started with Mayor Locher. That was how many years ago? 1963 that would be...
JT: Twenty-three years ago.
BM: Oh, more than twenty-three years. I first of all was called to be chairman of Bronis J. Klementowicz. A night was planned when he was first appointed as the Law Director through Mayor Locher.
JT: I think we need his name, Bronis, B-R-O-N-I-S J. K-L-E-M-E-N-T-O-W-I-C-Z. And you were first associated with him?
BM: Yes, he's a member here at the Polish Falcons. I was the chairman in care of this beautiful affair we had. It must have been over 3,000 people. We served over 2,000 people here. We had a dinner for him here at the Association of Polish Women Hall. That was in 1963. Prior to that, as I have mentioned, I was chairman of that beautiful Polish Mock Wedding. Then I was elected as organizer. Then in 1965 I was elected as the first lady president here of Polish Falcons of America Nest 141. I still hold that title today.
JT: How did you win the election?
BM: Well, it was unanimous. Everybody voted for me. So by acclamation I was elected as president. And, of course, prior to that I had been chairman of many affairs. In Pittsburgh when they called our national office and District 4 Office called on me I had a presentation there. Then I had this dancing group, the Polish dancers. We went to Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio. We made a presentation there. I have this all here. Right after that I was organizer of Nest 141 District 4 Polish Falcons. I was elected president. I hosted the district 4 Bowling Tournament here in Cleveland. In 1941 we had entered the Polish Falcons Men's Team in Erie, Pennsylvania. I was very instrumental to get the boys to go out there. And the ladies won the Bowling Tournament. In 1968 I hosted the District 4 Golf Tournament here in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1969 I reorganized our children's gym class and of course we went down to the nationals and to the district. When we went to Pennsylvania we had won 59 trophies. I had a full bus of children and all these trophies as you can see here.
JT: Oh, I see.
BM: All these trophies here... And I will take you downstairs a little later and I will show you all the trophies down-stairs. I was very instrumental to take these children and work with them and had the instructors work with them. We'd take them out and they were winners. Of course, if you came in first place like our Polish Falcons Nest 141...which in our district consists of 33 nests, we would get the honor of having the big trophy. But, each child that won had received individual trophies. So, it was always my pleasure. Maybe I'm telling you too much here.
JT: No, no, this is fine.
BM: Am I right?
JT: No, this is fine. What a wonderful experience for the children. Could you tell us what is the purpose of the Falcons?
BM: Purpose? Well we major in physical education and all around sports.
JT: I noticed the softball over the door.
BM: Right. We sponsor all around sports. Then we have tournaments in volleyball and ping pong. Now, this year we...they have added on jacks and ball...ball and jacks. And then they have...I mentioned softball. They we have our District 4 Bowling Tournament and we have our National Tournament. We have our national conventions and we have our district conventions. So that means that Polish Falcons of America, which is the national office, as of now that I know...as of Sunday we exceed 33,000 members all over the United States all points east and west.
JT: How does one become a member?
BM: Well, you have to join an organization just like we have here. We do have an insurance that we have as a fraternal organization. Today, any child that is born you can buy a $1,000 policy for $48.00 and pay no more. Years ago I know my mother had little had little policies that she paid $.10 a week or $.15 cents week or whatever it may be. When you got 16 years of age then you had to turn this policy over and take another one. Well, at the age 16 already you were a little older the cost was greater. But, we really do have the best insurance in the country. By being a Polish Falcon member and having the insurance you are then also a national member and you can participate in all district and national functions. Because there are so many nests that are designated that you belong to District 4, which we do that takes care of practically all of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Then the others that go West again are District 6. That's Indiana and Toledo. Chicago is District 2. And then East you go to Connecticut and to New York and then District 9 with Erie, Pennsylvania, Rochester, New York, Buffalo, New York is District 6. This is how... where everybody is assigned to.
JT: Must you be Polish to join?
BM: They had a rule that you must be Polish but, you may marry a Polish boy or you may be of any Slav origin. You may be Slovak, Slovenian, Croatian or whatever it may be, you still are able to join our organization.
JT: But I presume the vast majority of the members are Polish?
BM: Well, I would say most of them. But in the inter-marriage, which the children there are able to join you'd be surprised how many are not Polish and how many have Italian fathers or mothers that don't go on with our Polish language. So many of the children outside the different nests you'll find that they don't even understand it or speak it. But they do belong to the Polish Falcons. I believe that the Polish Falcons is the one and only organization that majors in physical education. And that's why I'm so proud of it, truthfully. Another, thing, every four years when we go to our national competition games in track and field and everything else, the children are very pleased to take part because they practically all come back in honors. I thought I'd find something I want to show you.
JT: Does the society do anything about preserving Polish culture?
BM: Polish culture? In our meetings they have...and our rule is that you must speak both languages to be an officer. Then we do open our meetings with the salutation which is in Polish. And, of course, in English you would interpret it. It's a Czolem. It goes like this you salute. In Polish we call this Czolem, Czolem. You know, our forehead. So it would be forward ahead is what the meaning of it is.
JT: Could you spell that for us?
BM: Yes, it's C-Z-O-L-E-M, and on the L at half way we had just a little dash there. Not a T top but in the center.
JT: I know.
BM: And we called that Czolem. Most everywhere we go in our Falcon functions you very seldom say hello. You say Czolem, druhna, which we call ourselves. Or czolem druh on the mail. We don't address them as Mr. or Mrs. and I think that everybody is proud.
JT: I noticed that you're wearing a necklace with the eagle of Poland emblem. Is that usual? Do many people have such an emblem?
BM: Well, I don't know if many have but this was a gift given to me and I treasure it and I love it. This was given to me when we celebrated our anniversary here in 1984. Our 75th anniversary and that's been given to me and I really love to wear it. I'm proud of it. Here's a booklet of our 75th anniversary.
JT: Diamond jubilee.
BM: Oh yes. And of course, I asked the girls to help me and we passed those to everyone. We had almost 300 people at our banquet and it was beautiful.
JT: Does this symbol with the red ribbon and the white lace and the dove have any significance?
BM: Well, the dove...the little bird is like for the falcon and the red and white is our Polish colors. So, I try to keep it in that. We try to do everything we possibly can. Here in 1985 we had been in the all nations captive week for the City of Cleveland that our girls took part.
JT: Now you have what looks like national costumes.
BM: Yes, those are the same ones that I had made in 1960.
JT: Those are the ones that I saw in the Mock Wedding?
JT: You're putting them to good use.
BM: Right. Of course, in 1985 here in May. In 1984 we take part in the Polish Constitution Day. And of course in a...
JT: My, that is a magnificent white eagle there on the front of that car.
BM: I had received that from Stella Walsh and she was given that to her when she was in Poland. That's on velvet and the eagle is white porcelain and she gave it to me as a gift before she passed away.
JT: How nice.
BM: I was proud to have it.
JT: And it's a large emblem.
BM: Yes, and we always put that on our car.
JT: I see other people have red and white flags on their cars.
BM: Oh yes, yes.
JT: Oh, you should be very proud of that. It's beautiful. Is it just a coincidence that all the women here are wearing red and white?
BM: Well, they do know. They do know that red and white...of course the way our flag is...the bottom of our flag is red, the top is white. That really is the way it should be. You know what I mean...to be traditional. Some of them don't have it exactly but they're still in the red and white.
JT: I see you have a red skirt and a white jacket.
BM: Right. In 19...I must think back so please excuse me. It's coming back to me. I had just thought of my title at the Clerk of Courts, Auditor.
JT: Auditor, at the Clerk of Courts.
BM: Right. Okay, now we'll go on. For three years I was chairman of a picnic that we had sponsored from the Polish Falcons. In that we always had children take part and we had games for them and we had prizes for them. Those were all the winners. Of course, we had hundreds of children but that was the winners.
JT: This picture was taken here in your hall?
BM: No, this picture was taken at Kilma Grove on 71st in Cuyahoga Heights. That's where we held our picnic. And this was in 1984. There was another occasion where we were called by the City of Cleveland to take part. And here is the proclamation that was given to me by the Captain of Luciyan Adamczak when he gave me the resolution when they celebrated their 60th. He was one of the veterans that had joined and drilled and recruited the soldiers to go to war. He was...I was so pleased to have him. Now he must be approximately about 95 years old. He had presented me with this proclamation that I had showed you.
JT: How did you originally get interested in the Falcons?
BM: Well, I had joined the Falcons in 1955. Living here all my life in this community with the exception of about five years in Chagrin Falls, I never noticed the building. Then in 1955 when I returned home my brother -in-law had asked me to come to one of the functions. I just liked the crowd and I liked the people there. So, I had joined. In 1956 they had automatically elected me as their secretary...financial secretary. And then I just kept on until I got elected to be president. Then practically took...was chairman of every affair that we had celebrating. Here was our 65th anniversary which we had a beautiful, beautiful turn out. You wouldn't believe that's me but...
JT: That's a beautiful picture.
BM: Thank you. And that was in 1965.
JT: Oh, you've put a great deal of work into this over the years.
BM: Yes, we did.
JT: This is an interesting booklet. It has highlights, great moments in the history of the group.
BM: Yes, all the way down. Then of course, as you go along it will tell you the different...I was organizer of the Ladies' Bowling League, organizer of the Children's Gym Class.
JT: Little League Baseball?
BM: And of course, I was Vice President of the Fourteenth Ward Democratic Club. And I still belong. Today it's the 12th Ward and I'm still very active. I'm Precinct Committee Woman of our Precinct for the past 20 years. I'm on the Central Committee.
JT: Is that the State Central Committee?
BM: No, it's here from the state of Ohio. That would be Cuyahoga County for the state of Ohio. So, I am very active with that. I am a member of...I hate to mention all of these names. But, if you're interested I will/
JT: Well, who are some of the important people you've been associated with in the Democratic Club?
BM: Well, John Coyne is our chairman...County Chairman.
JT: Is that K-L-E-I-N?
BM: Coyne, C-O-Y-N-E, John Coyne. He's mayor of Brooklyn and he's Chairman of the Democratic Party. And, of course, about 3 years ago when Dennis Kucinich was running for councilman he had a lot of opposition. There was a lot of talk he'd never make it. He asked me to be his chairman and I was and we elected him as our councilman here in Ward 12. We're very sorry that he had left us. But of course Dan Edward Ripka got elected and again I helped him here. Then we had a fundraiser here for him which I had cooked kielbasa and sauerkraut and served the people. We had served over 250 people. And I always done my utmost to help whoever had called on me. That was the same when Mayor Locher was running. I was very instrumental in helping him. Now, this is going back to 1961 and 1962. So ever since then I've been very active with all these fellas.
JT: I see, you have many pictures with you and the mayors of Cleveland.
BM: Oh yes, we had so many. Of course, here's just a write-up here where our Mayor...he was so pleased because he came to church when we celebrated our 75th anniversary. He made me very happy. I just had attended the funeral of my very dear friend, Jerry Krakowski that passed away. And of course, the Mayor was there yesterday...the funeral was yesterday at St. Vitus Church. And as I say, this was our 75th Anniversary and we're all gathered and we marched to church with our banners which I'm very proud. We just keep on our tradition...our Polish singing...our Polish songs. Of course, here's a write-up about Cleveland Nest 141 on TV for that Easter over Cleveland.
JT: Oh yes.
BM: And a night to remember. They had a birthday party here just last December when I was...My birthday is December 8 and they had a birthday party and then a swearing in for the members when we got elected... re-elected. So, we have very many memories, many memories. One other thing is...I wanted to mention. Here is Dennis Kucinich. I had sworn him in as our Councilman and held the entire affair here in the library grounds. And that was like in the park. It was so beautiful. And this is where I had administered the oath for Dennis.
JT: Do you know his brother Gary?
BM: Oh yes, I worked for Gary. I was hoping he was going to be elected mayor. I really did.
JT: I had Gary in classes.
BM: Did you?
BM: I just seen him here a week ago Friday. He told me his wife is pregnant. His wife is expecting in November. He's a very nice boy.
JT: Yes, I like Gary very much. I notice here an article that there's been some restoration of the Polish Falcon Park. Do you have a park?
BM: No, that must be from the District. Is it? Oh, that must be from a different...continued from page 4. I don't know what that is referenced to.
JT: Oh well.
BM: Crystal Lake, that's from Nest 519 Polish Falcons.
JT: I see. I thought it was from your Nest.
BM: No, that's from out of state. Middletown, Conneticut.
BM: No, we do not have a park. We have a park and a camp in Portersville, Pennsylvania that belongs to District 4. In 1975, '76, '77, and '78 my husband was the district president...elected as District 4 President. That took care of all of Pennsylvania and Ohio. At that time, I was retired in '77 and then I was asked to go back to the Clerk or Courts to help them out. I don't know whether you know...we're allowed to put in 59 days...so many hours and 59 days. So, I committed myself. After that my husband said, "I need you. You must do the cooking for the children at the camp." So I had a very hard time to get myself released because I only put in about 20 days when I had asked them to release me. But, nevertheless, Mr. Fuerst was very kind and he did. I went to work for the camp...to cook for the children at the camp. We were only supposed to have 50 children. A big surprise...we had 105.
JT: You mean in your retirement you went to cook for 105 children?
BM: Yes, I could have worked here and earned money and I went over there and offered my services for a very small remuneration.
JT: What did you cook for 105 children?
BM: Well, in the morning, I'll tell you it was a regular routine. Stella Walsh was with us. She helped us out. Because it was like two weeks with the District and then two weeks with the National. That brought all the athletes from all over the United States from our different nests. We had cabins...several cabins that the children were assigned to. One big dormitory...it must have been for about 40 children. In the evening, the first thing we did in the morning...I'd get up at about 4:00 in the morning and start preparing. There were so many children. I used to beat up my batter for whatever we were going to have that particular morning, whether it was hot cakes or pancakes or whatever it was.
JT: I think it's ready now. You were talking about cooking breakfast for 105 children.
BM: Yes. And then the children would take the pitchers of milk to each table. We had ten children assigned to each table and they would return to their own respective tables every meal. There was no switching, changing or anything. Then they'd have their juices in their pitchers and they'd pour it in their own little cups. They done a fine job. When they finished up they'd all pick up what ever had to be thrown into the rubbish. The silverware was put into the pans that were assigned and marked knives, forks, spoons or whatever it was. There was no problem. Absolutely no problem.
JT: That's children for you.
BM: Right. So it was my pleasure.
JT: I assume your husband was almost as active in Polish Falcons as you?
BM: He is all...just as active and does all the work here at the Polish Falcons. He takes care of remodeling. He takes care of all the repairs. He takes care of most of all the cleaning that has to be done with the exception that my granddaughter and her husband now give a big hand here.
JT: It's beautifully kept and it's such an attractive building.
BM: Well, thank you very much. We're very proud of it. There's a lot of memories here. We had a lot of beautiful athletes that left this building like Stella Walsh for one. It was my pleasure when I was called to be the chairman when she was inducted into the National Women's Sports Hall of Fame. And we had this beautiful banquet at Carter Hotel. There must have been at least 600 people because that was all that we could have in their dining room...in their ballroom. The response was beautiful. I have many pictures here on the wall. You can see for yourself. Then, I want you to know again, I was very pleased when our mayor called on me in 1982 in the South High School...the Center...the South High Center. And I was very instrumental in hoping that we call this Stella Walsh Recreation Center. And it was my pleasure that they had reconsidered. So we had a rededication of the South High. As you see she was an Olympian. She was Polish, that's the Polish emblem. Here she was an American and this is our falcon bird. So, they...we had...and I was pleased with the mayor. And of course, I was one of the chairman here and I had invited our national president. It was a beautiful turnout. I didn't mind. I had never refused...and it was so nice. As you can see we had the Star Spangled Banner and we had our Polish songs also.
JT: Is this the national song of Poland?
BM: Yes, it's _______________Poland.
JT: And this is God Bless Poland?
BM: Yes. Of course, that was just like God Bless America. Well, this is God Bless Poland. So you understand it. So, I was very pleased because they went along with us. Which I think she was very deserving.
JT: Oh, no doubt.
BM: Listen, I want you to know, no matter where, no matter what she undertook, she done a good job with the children. We went to many track and field meets and they always came winners because she was very good at coaching and instructing. In 1977 we went to Poland. Believe me they rolled out the red velvet carpet for us. That's how they honored her as the queen of Poland. I really...it was very sad when I received all these letters, you know, when she was killed.
JT: You and your husband and Stella Walsh went to Poland together?
BM: My husband, Stella Walsh, and I went to Poland; we took a young girl fifteen years old, Terry Nolan and she won two gold medals in track and field. Believe me they were shocked. So we were so honored, when we came back here Mayor Perk came down here to the Polish Falcons and we had a night for her at the Polish Falcons. Well, it was very, very...it was a honor and I was very pleased. And another thing that I am so happy that I have...this was in 1969, I'd already been involved in representing Polish American Congress and all these other organizations... here in 1969 when Pope John came here to Cleveland as a Cardinal, I'd already then had our gym class visit him and we took part in the welcome of him.
JT: That is very interesting. Who is the young lady in the Polish costume?
BM: That is Kowalska. She is the one that was selected for her to give the bouquet of flowers to him. And it was held here at St. Stanislaus Church and they had a reception afterwards...a welcome reception for him. At the dedication of this South High Recreation Center here was Mayor Voinovich and I had our girls dressed up in costumes.
JT: Are these your granddaughters?
BM: No, no, no. Those are girls here from the Falcons.
JT: Oh, I see.
BM: This was from the gym class with our instructors here. Here's Mayor Perk. Here we had Frances Kaszubski. Have you heard of her?
JT: No, how do you spell that?
BM: That's K-A-S-Z-U-B-S-K-I, she is one of our members here. She attended the rededication of South High. And this is our national president Bernard Rogalski that came from Pittsburgh and was our guest here during the rededication. So, I have so many, so many pictures here, so many things...what can I tell you?
JT: Have you been active in other organizations besides the Falcons?
BM: Well, I'm not active because I'll tell you why. If you belong to a fraternal organization it is no more that proper that you cannot go and solicit for another organization. But, I'm a member, I'm a member of the League of _________________, which is the Senior Citizen's of Polish National Alliance. I am a long time member of the Alliance of Poles and still am. I am a member of the Union of Poles. And I...no matter what comes up or wherever I get an invite, I always participate and reciprocate. And attend most of the Polish Veterans affairs. What else can I say? And another thing is what I wanted to tell you was when the dedication of South High was here...that's when John Nagy, who was our Commissioner of Recreation, I was Chairman on the program there with him. In 1961 we took part...that was Alice Walas and her husband here from our nest and Steve and myself and she is chairman in Pittsburgh. We took part in a Polish Mart in Pittsburgh in 1961. Of course, I did...I don't know whether I had mentioned to you, in 1965... Oh, pardon me. In 1975 and 1976 they had asked me to be Chairman of the Polish Constitution Day and I was chairman. And I drew the biggest crowd ever downtown Cleveland. I had 59 floats. We had the horses out and we had all the carriages and we had the different groups that were dressed in their costumes and everything.
JT: This is in Wade Park?
BM: No, we had it on Public Square.
JT: Public Square?
BM: Right. At that time Dennis Kucinich was Mayor. You see him sitting in the background. The following year Mayor Perk was. I thought I had the picture here and now I can't find it. I don't know how I got my husband's picture here. That's when he got his fourth degree from the Knights of Columbus. As I told you, I was both president and vice president of the Polish American Congress here for the Ohio Division. And I am still very busy. And I want you to know that I went to Pittsburgh, Sunday. And to my great big surprise I was elected as president of the Legion of Honor because at our 75th anniversary they had presented me with a gold legion of honor and you don't get that until 30 years of service. And I was elected as president. It was by acclamation also. I was very pleased. I really hesitated because we do spend about four months from December until April in Florida and I thought well maybe there'll be a little conflict there. Maybe they'll say she will not do her job. But there isn't that much involved. It's only when there's presentation of application for awards. We first go into our star award. Before you can get your bronze star you must have at least been a member for five years and doing continuous work or helping out with the organization. Then the tenth year you're entitled to silver. Then the fifteenth you get the gold star. After that is the twentieth year you are able to put in an application...not you but your organization can put in an application for you to receive bronze Legion of Honor. Then 25 years you have the silver. After 30 years then you're entitled to your gold. Now, that takes many years of hard work in order to receive that. So, I was so pleased that on our 75th Anniversary that our president from Pittsburgh came and honored me with this gold Legion of Honor.
JT: I'm sure you're very deserving.
BM: Thank you. Thank you very much. Of course now, with this election as president I had promised them I'd try to do my utmost to do everything I possibly can. I'm sure that I will. Because if I take a job upon myself I try to do a good job. Because I think it's always a burden for the rest of the committee and the people if you just take a title and don't fulfill it. And that was always my aim to do the best I can.
JT: You have lived most of your life then in this neighborhood?
BM: Yes, I did.
JT: And your son; is your son...you have one child?
BM: I have one son.
JT: A son, and your first husband is his father?
JT: And, when your son was little at home what language did you speak?
BM: Well, it was practically Polish. No, I beg your pardon, it was English with the exception when we went by Bushia, that was by my mother's which they call grandma is Bushia in Polish. Well, then he would have to say some words in Polish. He can speak it quite well today.
JT: How old is he now?
BM: Fifty. He'll be 50 years old on May 25th of this year. And of course, my granddaughter...
JT: Let's talk about your son first.
JT: Where was he educated?
BM: He went to Immaculate Heart of Mary right from Kindergarten. After he graduated from the 8th grade he went to St. Stan's, Central Catholic and graduated from there. Then he went to Alliance College and that was it.
JT: What does he do?
BM: Today, he runs a factory...not a factory, but an office. He takes care of all the installation of C2 gas for institutions and hospitals and all. He's doing quite well.
JT: And he does speak Polish?
BM: Yes, he does.
JT: Did he marry a Polish woman?
BM: No, well he married a girl, the father is Polish and the mother is Italian.
JT: Well, that's not far off.
BM: No, it isn't.
JT: Does she and your son follow the Polish customs?
BM: Oh yes, very much so. They do. They even...like my grandson is getting married in Dayton may 17th and we had the shower for his fiancée here at the Polish Falcons. So, my son was so proud because her mother and father and her two sisters came from Dayton. Naturally, where do you think he took them to church on Sunday morning? Back to Immaculate Heart of Mary. And he said, "Mother, I was so happy because the church was decorated so beautifully." Which it was. I was so pleased, in fact, I had received a card because Sister Narcissus is my schoolmate. We graduated together and she's still at Immaculate Heart of Mary as a Nun. Well, she sent me a card because while we were in Florida we had a break-in at our home. I had to fly here and I stayed only for three days because I had to return because we had arrangements to go on a cruise. We couldn't cancel out in such short time. So, I was here and she sent me such a beautiful card on St. Patrick's day as Easter greetings. What did they do even though I had a change of address? They sent it to Florida. By the time it came back to Cleveland, I received it the day after Easter. But, meanwhile I had sent her a card and I always put a little token in there because those sisters are able to use the money. I said, "Wishing you a Happy Easter and all." When I had received her card the day after Easter I had to send her another thank you because had said so many beautiful words...how sorry she was to hear that we had that break-in and wishing me well and she was praying for me. So, again I sent her a nice thank you and put a little tip in there for her. I says, 'Please keep on praying because I need all the prayers." Due to the fact we had the break-in at our home, three weeks later they broke in here and broke my heart. You have no idea how hard I worked here to go ahead and get monies and pledges and donations to help fix that building outside. It got so bad that we had water running over our heads and I just didn't know what we could do because we're a very small organization. Most of these organizations, Alliance of Poles, Union of Poles, Association of Polish Women, Polish National Alliance, they have maybe 25,000-30,000 members. We're just a small group. Our national headquarters are in Pittsburgh so our hands are tied. Another thing is most of our members have moved into the suburbs. Naturally, they're not in a position where they're going to stop here too often because the drive is too far and you can't hardly blame them. So, what we have here is we're just trying to keep our heads above water.
JT: Well, it looks very nice.
BM: Thank you.
JT: I hope you were covered by insurance.
BM: We were covered by insurance. But, I had thought that we had better coverage than we did. In fact, when I had mentioned it to the insurance agent, I believe he tried to make me think that we had no coverage at all. I said to him I couldn't hardly believe this because it did cost us $1,119 last year. This year the renewal is coming up on the 5th of April. It's $1,235 and I says, “Mr. Gallagher, I've done business with you for over 30 years, ever since I've been active with the Falcons. I thought we were covered for everything we needed.” Well, we were only covered for fire and rain and hailstorm. I said, “That can't be true because when we had a terrible wind and rainstorm then it got extremely cold and the snow came down. The water already had the rainpipes and downspouts coming down and then with the weight of the snow they all come down. Well, that was the grace of God. When we were vandalized in the building, as you noticed, all our windows are boarded up with the permission from the Landmark Commission. As you see the certificate right there that the Polish Falcons is a Cleveland landmark. I called Mr. John Cimperman., and I explained the situation. And I says, “The insurance is not going to do anything for us.” They said that is vandalism. We're covered under vandalism but in this case they won't do anything because nobody lives in the building. So, they didn't do anything. I says, “What can we do to help ourselves?” So, with his permission we boarded it up... you know just tried to trim it up the best we could. And it seemed like we'd been working hard to try to keep this building because it does have many, many memories you know that we can talk about. Mr. John Cimperman came here last fall and he was so pleased to see how nice the building was and took all the pictures of the interior of the building and he said he will try to get a foundation to take care of the interior and make this a national landmark. Because he said most of the wood... everything here is original. It has not been changed. So, that makes me very happy and I hope I can live to the day that can be done. Whether I'm here or not but really that is my heart's desire.
JT: I hope that works out for you. Do I assume that your grandson is marrying a Polish girl?
BM: No, my grandson is marrying an Italian girl. Pardon me, an Irish girl. But we had a shower here. Seems to be a very nice girl. But my granddaughter married a Polish boy that came here from Poland.
BM: And of course, he came here. Then he went to South High. He graduated there. But, he speaks fluently in Polish. And when I speak to him... I try to speak to him quite often because I don't get this opportunity to talk to many people that do speak the Polish language. I try to keep up with it because I'm still hoping someday we can go back to Poland.
JT: You have been to Poland, then?
BM: Oh yes.
JT: When did you go?
JT: Oh, with Stella Walsh?
JT: And did you enjoy it?
BM: Very much so. We were there for a month. I still receive correspondence from a dear friend that we met there. And of course, I always receive mail from the Polish Olympic Committee and we send them a donation. The most beautiful letter I have received now because I did send them a little donation because they need the money to keep their athletes going also. And still extending an invite any time that we would like to come to Poland.
JT: Do you keep up with politics in Poland?
BM: No, that is one thing we have never mentioned any politics. We know it's a communistic country and we have many, many friends there. We had met this vice president that's from a little suburb in Warsaw. He was so wonderful that he had really given us his new car and his chauffeur drive from Warsaw to all the way to Gdansk to dinner which is almost a full day's drive. We stayed overnight and returned the following day. They were very courteous and they accepted us well. But as far as politics we had never discussed that. Because that wasn't the reason we went there. We went there to the international games, you know and we were pleased that we had that.
JT: Do you approve of the United States' policy toward Poland? Do you think we're doing the right thing as far as Poland is concerned?
BM: Well, what can I say? I had heard that Poland owes many millions of dollars to the United States. I know that they do receive funds from the United States. In fact, that one hotel we have in Warsaw was with the money that they received... I was told they had received from the United States. I have no objection to that because it's my mother and father's homeland. I do... I'm proud of my heritage. I'm proud to be Polish. But, then again, there are many people here in our country that could be helped in a different way. Please understand me right.
JT: Do you read in Polish regularly?
BM: Yes, I do.
JT: I see that you have the newspaper of your organization here. Do you read other publications?
BM: Oh yes, whenever I'm able to. Of course now we only have this one paper that comes out from Canada. We don't have any Polish publications with the exception of the Alliance of Poles. We have once a month... we receive the paper from the organization and that's probably half Polish and half English. The Union of Poles is the same way. And the Falcons, we have this publication goes out twice a month. And I do read fluently in Polish and I try to speak it every occasion that I possibly can.
JT: And here you probably have many occasions. And how nice to have a Polish son-in-law.
BM: Not son-in-law, grandson. You wouldn't believe we have two great-grandchildren and our grandson... great-grandson, he's five. And let me tell you, we went to dinner last night and he says Bushia, he calls me Bushia. He calls my husband dziadzia, that's grandfather. And then he calls my son Papa and he calls his grandmother, grandma because then he has my Jesse, his father's father, he calls him Jadek. And then he's got grandma on his father's side, he calls her Babka. And then he again on my daughter-in-law's side, mother and father, he calls them grandma and grandpa because this way if they called everybody grandma and grandpa they wouldn't know who they're speaking to. No, it's four generations and I was hoping that my mother would have lived another month because we would have had five generations. She was so happy when our Linda was pregnant. But...
JT: Well, four is a very good record.
BM: Thank you. Thank you.
JT: Do you listen to the Polish programs on the radio and television?
BM: Yes, on Sunday they have a Polish program. In fact, Edward Rybka, our Councilman and Eugene Stolarczyk, he's the one that has it. But at one time when they called him that Polish Baron, he had the program... we listened every Sunday. I've been on the radio with him many times. He had that beautiful station out in Richfield, Ohio. Anthony Zebrowski WSAK. I was on his program many times. So, it was my pleasure.
JT: Do you like the music that's composed by the younger generation?
BM: You mean the rock and roll? What can I say? Times have changed and as far as the rock and roll is concerned I feel that it has its place. If they have a concert or if they have any function that's relative to that type of music I can go along with it very easily because after all we have to give the younger generation a little credit and feel that they're on the right track and perhaps today is what they know is what they hear and this is what they practice. Just like when we were younger we had the Charleston we used to dance to or whatever dance there was. Oh it was Fox Trot and old waltzes, you know. Well, today it's outdated for the younger generation. So, what can I say? I don't have any objection.
JT: That's very generous of you.
BM: Thank you very much.
JT: I think I have no more questions. Is there anything else you'd like to comment on?
BM: No, I believe I had already told you everything... Oh yes, and I am very involved with the AAU, which is the American Athletic Union of the United States of America. I am a life member. I have my certificate downstairs. When we go down I'll show it to you. And then I am very active here with our Lake Erie AAU, which is here for the City of Cleveland. For a long time I was membership chairman and now I'm chairman of... Award's Chairman. I had attended the last convention with them. I'm hoping that I will go to the convention this year. That will be in September in New Orleans.
BM: Well, I've been to New Orleans once before.
JT: How nice.
BM: But, it's still nice. I'm very pleased.
JT: When you are in Florida in the winter time, do you belong to any Polish organizations in Florida?
BM: In Poland, yes... I mean in Florida. When we first thought that we were going to buy in Florida, this was approximately 15 years ago before our retirement, we had a very dear friend that lived in Hollywood... Holiday, Florida, we were thinking of organizing a Polish club. It was just at the time that I was there that they had called a meeting. So, I attended this meeting and of course being president here of the Polish Falcons, they were very pleased to welcome me. And of course, had me up at the head of the table and I had told them that I thought that was so wonderful that there were so many Polish people here in this community that they should have a club. And we organized that club. My husband and I happen to be charter members of the Polish Club, Pascal County in Florida. And that's in Newport Richey. And then when we go to Florida we do attend the Bonita Springs. They have another big large group of Polish people there. We attend their functions and their meetings. Let me tell you something, I'm very pleased with the fact they have so many beautiful things going on there. They have different states. They have the Buckeyes, that's the State of Ohio. They have a meeting there and we attend that. That's in Cape Coral, Florida. That's an annual affair. We always stop. We're always very pleased to be asked to attend. And we do.
JT: Good. Well, we thank you very much for the interview.