Ethnic Women of Cleveland
Genevieve Sandej Recording & Transcript
Listen to the interview as you read along.
- INTERVIEWEE: Genevieve Sandej
- INTERVIEWER: Jeanette Tuve
- DATE: March 24, 1986
- PROGRAM LENGTH: 60:16 min.
JT: Mrs. Sandej, what was your maiden name?
GS: My name was Genevieve Ziemba.
JT: Where were you born?
GS: Cleveland, Ohio. My mother was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her maiden name was Gladysz, G-L-A-D-Y-S-Z. I can go all the way down to the grandmothers and the great grandmothers.
JT: What was her mother? Your grandmother was born in Poland?
GS: My grandmother was born in Poland, yes. My grandfather.
JT: And where was your father from? Where was he born?
GS: My father was from Poland. Rzeszow.
JT: How do you spell that?
GS: R-Z-E-S-Z-O-W. And that is in the southern part of Poland. And of course, I can't brag about brothers and sisters because I have none.
JT: When did your father come to the United States?
GS: When he was about 16.
JT: Umm hmm. And did he come immediately to Cleveland?
GS: Yes, he came to Cleveland.
JT: Why did he come to Cleveland?
GS: For work, as each and every Pole did and to this day you find the Poles are still coming in because this is where the jobs are. This was the heart of Polonia.
JT: What was your father's occupation?
GS: My father was a truck driver. He was one of the first men that knew how to drive a truck and one of the few people that knew how to read and write. And this is what gave him the job.
JT: Why did your mother come to Poland, to Cleveland?
GS: My mother, well she was born in Pittsburgh. She came to Cleveland with her parents.
JT: And they came because there was work in Cleveland?
GS: More for the work. My grandfather was a teacher in Poland. The money was not there. Couldn't raise a family. So, he came here. And the grandchildren were born here.
JT: And your grandfather was a teacher in Poland. What did he do here?
GS: He worked in the steel mills to make a buck. And that's what life was all about. So the Polish people are a very proud people and they wanted to support their families. You know years ago they didn't...there was no such thing as welfare or think of asking your neighbor to help you. A man went out to work to support his wife and the home.
JT: And sometimes the wife went out to work too.
GS: Oh yes she did too.
JT: Did your mother work outside the home?
GS: No. My dad worked. My mother never did. Only work she's done would be sewing at home. My mother was a seamstress. Her sewing was really for the children of St. Stan's. You know for...
JT: St. Stanislaus?
GS: St. Stans. That's where I was born and raised and educated for the first eight years.
JT: So you were born in the Warzawa area?
JT: And you went to St. Stanislaus?
GS: St. Stanislaus Church. And I'm still going there. Like I said I was baptized. I was married. And I will be buried from St. Stans. That's in my contract.
JT: That's wonderful. That's continuity...
GS: And my children too. They've been to St. Stans. They've been raised here. And now naturally they went out into the world. Because at my time there was no such... you know during the depression you did not go... You didn't pursue too much of a higher education. Cause the money wasn't there.
JT: Umm hmm. Okay can you tell something about your home when you were a child? What languages were spoken?
GS: We spoke American mostly. And Polish when my parents didn't want me to know what was going on.
JT: So you didn't learn Polish as a child?
JT: But you know it now?
GS: Now, yes. I had to in the organization.
GS: Because in the organization, Mrs. Zakrzewski, one of our presidents' wives... Mrs. Zakrzewski took me under her wing and when St. Stan's had the centennial of their existence, I was chosen to be the Polish speaker. Only one woman and one Polish speech. That was me. So Mrs. Zakrzewski took me under her wing and she trained me. From that time on, Polish became very simple.
JT: How old were you at that point?
GS: Well, I was already a widow.
JT: Isn't this interesting?
GS: And I says, well let's face facts. I was an only child but I was never a spoiled brat. My life was involved and revolved around people. There was always people in our home... It was one of those things, whoever had a problem or whenever there was a problem it was up to you to go out and help. And to this day that's what life is all about. I still have a lady living with me. She's lived with me the last five years. She's supposed to be my companion. She's supposed to be my housekeeper. But, in the meantime, I have to clean house when she gets company. I have to do the cooking, but I enjoy every minute of it.
JT: She is Polish?
GS: She's Polish. She came from Europe, from Poland.
JT: Recently then?
GS: Five years ago. During that martial law. Naturally the country permitted them to stay so she stayed. So, she went to work. She's making herself a dollar. I'm her financial advisor. I've got her bank books.
JT: Are you teaching her English?
GS: Yes. She's learning English. Now, we have a Polish fellow here.
JT: And the woman who lives with you, where does she work?
GS: She works at Brentwood Hospital at the Clinic. Brentwood Hospital yes, Brentwood Clinic, on Fleet Avenue. It's within walking distance, because I live right in this neighborhood. She lives.. She works out of Brentwood, she works for Brentwood Clinic. And she manages. She gets her paycheck and I put it in the bank. She only signs it. I don't put her signature on the back of the check. Outside of that I take care of the money. So this is fun though.
JT: When you were a child, what Polish traditions did you follow in your home?
GS: All. Christmas and Easter. To this day we still do.
JT: Any other holidays?
GS: No, not really.
JT: May 3rd?
GS: Oh, May 3rd, yes that's your freedom day procession. And years ago it was only... I remember only May 3rd going to church. And the children, we used to get these red and white ribbons. That was the sign of growing up. It was time to be leaving 8th grade and going to high school, going into the world.
JT: Umm hmm. Did you ever wear a national costume?
GS: Yes, I did when I was small.
JT: Did you have one of your own?
GS: Absolutely. My mother made it. She was the seamstress. She made costumes, I think for about 40 girls when we were in school. My mother she did a lot of sewing. When the Nuns wanted us to have a play, this is what life was all about. My mother was always sewing. That's why I knew all these people. To this day I know them.
JT: Did your mother wear a national costume on the 3rd of May?
GS: No, not really... We did. Because I had to do it because we'd go to the procession. There were parades that had to be celebrated. We had May 3rd, plus like I say your Christmas and Easter. Like now for Easter for your Blessing of the Egg and the food what's to be served, what is not to be. Good Friday and all. These are the things you had to remember. And my children have learned that from their grandparents. I, being an only child after I was married we lived with my parents. We had a live-in babysitter. Well, I guess the grandparents were the babysitters. But I think they enjoyed it just as much as we did having them. And the church was here at all times for us. And the children were raised, like I said, in the Catholic church, Catholic school. And then they went on to high school just like I did to a Catholic high school.
JT: You went to St. Stanislaus School?
GS: No, I went to... at that time it was called St. Joseph's Academy in Garfield Heights.
JT: How come you didn't go to St. Stanislaus?
GS: At that time it was just for the tenth and eleventh grade or whatever. They didn't have complete four years. So, I was at St. Joseph's Academy. One of eight girls to graduate. After four, four years and that. And that was more or less a private school at that time. It was a convent. We went to... we stayed with the convent. We slept nights there. We boarded at the school. We were educated by the Nuns and we had a very nice time. After that it became Trinity High School. First Marymount and now Trinity. It was not what I knew it at the time that we were attending.
JT: After high school did you go on to...
GS: No, I didn't. That was in 1933, height of the depression. My parents gave me a few dollars and set me up in business. I ran a hosiery and lingerie shop.
JT: Interesting. Where?
GS: Right there on Broadway next to The Grand Theater. Now all that has been removed. But, those were the fun years.
JT: Umm hmm. You enjoyed being in business?
GS: Absolutely. I always enjoyed people. Because we always had people... I was surrounded by people at all times.
JT: How long did you have your business?
GS: Until before my baby was born, my son. It was just 34 years ago.
JT: Umm hmm. Umm hmm.
GS: I was in business, I think, about 20 years.
GS: And then from there on, after the child I mean naturally I stayed home for a while, had my second baby. But, I needed people. So, I applied here for... Well I was active with the organization to begin with. But, then I ran for Vice President and became Vice President for twenty years. Then after Twenty years I felt either you move up or you move out. So, I applied for the job of President and I got it three and a half years ago.
JT: And you were the first woman to become President?
GS: First woman to become President.
JT: Of the Alliance of Poles?
JT: And this is nationwide?
GS: Well, we have a franchise in three states. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
JT: That's the body then you're President of?
JT: Was it difficult becoming the first woman president?
GS: Absolutely, because I was told no woman will run this organization.
JT: A man told you that I'm sure.
GS: Absolutely. Equal rights, as you would know. And now we find that a woman is running it and we are advancing into stages that nobody ever thought of before.
JT: But, how did you get the job?
GS: Elected at a convention.
JT: It was difficult you said?
GS: Yes, it was difficult... It was at a convention. Because we have a... every four years there's a convention. Now September of this year there will be another convention coming up. And I have to run for re-election. And I know there will be quite a few men opposing it because they don't, they just don't think a woman should be in a fraternal organization. Especially one that was run by a man for so many years.
JT: Umm hmm. Well, when you ran did you have opposition?
GS: Oh, two men. Two men and a woman.
JT: Umm hmm.
GS: But, I feel that I've earned it because I was with these people. They knew me. They knew my record. And thanks to them, I sit here today.
JT: Umm hmm. Congratulations. Well, you had a good business background.
JT: Didn't that help?
GS: Oh yes, I've been exposed to people at all times like I said... And I'm grateful that my husband understood that fact.
JT: And you've done administrative work as President.
JT: So, you had to...
GS: I had a background, the business acumen was there. And I learned to deal with people and how to approach people. Because this is what life is all about. And in a fraternal organization I have my ear open at all times to the needs of the members. Because I realize there are many people who back off when they hear of you as a title. And I will not approach them as president. I approach them as a human being. Like I said, I've always enjoyed people. I still want to be with people because if I was ever closed in, I think I would die because there was a need that I wouldn't meet.
JT: Well, I understand the Alliance of Poles is a fraternal organization, deals with insurance, is a credit union, and it has other activities. You were showing me around the beautiful auditorium.
GS: Yes, we have a beautiful library. One of the oldest here with Polish historical books. The books are over fifty years old. Some of them are being rented out but, most of them are not any longer because of the fact they are so fragile. We had Western Reserve University here. We have many things on tape because now these things will not be reprinted.
JT: Yes, they should be microfilmed.
GS: They are microfilmed. Many have been put into... What do you call to preserve them? We've put many of these things to be preserved.
JT: Good. Good.
GS: Because it's like I said, it's for our children to be used or to be seen only because some of them cannot be handled. They're just too fragile.
JT: Umm hmm.
GS: The building itself, now the building is standing here for over sixty years.
JT: Did the Alliance of Poles build this building?
GS: Yes, the building was put up by members. In fact, they sold shares at $5.00 a share to put that money in. And today when I took this over, like I say, the first members put nickels and dimes in. How could I ever be untrue to their thoughts or to their ideals?
JT: But, now you're expanding. You're taking over another office.
GS: Oh yes, we just had to... offices upstairs where the Credit Union is. But then we came down because their business required more. And now, with the modern equipment, like I said, computers and we've got files and everything, duplicators and printers, and what have you. We have all that. We have our own newspaper which is printed twice a month.
JT: Is that printed here?
GS: Not in our office, no. We have a printer. We have Alliance Printing. It's off the premises. But, we are being geared now that if the need arose, we can do it here.
JT: Are you expanding your activities?
GS: Absolutely, we were only in Ohio. Then we've gone into Michigan about forty years ago, fifty years ago. And then we had a rough time getting into Pennsylvania. Because Pennsylvania is a very strict state. Well, we merged with one of the Catholic church's groups there and our activities have been expanded to Pennsylvania. Now we go to the Pennsylvania fraternal congress. We've been represented there. We have directors there. And I hope in a very short... near future we'll be picking up an organization from there. These are things that if we can't get into we pick them up and we're going to merge with them too. They will merge with us. We won't merge with them. They will merge with us and that's what business is all about.
JT: Umm hmm. I know that many people are moving out of the neighborhood but, they still come back to the Alliance of Poles for recreation.
GS: Yes, for the recreation. You've seen our hall. You see how beautiful it is.
JT: It's beautiful.
GS: And you see even when we have dances. You've got all the tables set. Everything is beautifully decorated. We have a New Year's Eve party, which is one of the parties at which reservations are made here in advance. Last year, from '85-'86, people made reservations for this coming year. And we do have 380-400 people.
JT: Is there anything about the New Year's Eve party that is particularly Polish?
GS: Everything is Polish. Everything, like I said. The food, the serving of the food. The traditions are observed. You've got your Polish songs and your Polish greetings. Everything.
JT: Polish music?
GS: Oh absolutely, we have our... one of our directors was playing the last time. Mr. John Borkowski. He is one of the polish orchestras. He plays for the Alliance. He plays for the Polish Veterans in Youngstown... He plays for all the Polish groups that we have. I'm surrounded by people that know how. Like I say, Joe Marcowski he's out now in membership. We are working, like I said from the 1940 plans. We're into 1980. And we are the first group locally to do this. One of the first Polish organizations to get into new products. By new product, I mean a new approach to selling life insurance and protection.
JT: What's your new approach?
GS: From womb to tomb we care.
JT: I love it!
GS: We care because this is what life is all about. Listen, from the youngest child from the womb, you have a problem, you come here. We have a physician. Now, that's why I'm also involved with the Brentwood Hospital, the Guild and everything else. If you have any medical problems Brentwood Clinic will take care of them for you. We have a Polish... What do you call these... a woman's gynecologist, obstetrician. These are all things that are Polish. These are people when you speak to them you can speak to them in Polish. They communicate because years ago they came from Europe, they didn't understand the language, they couldn't communicate, they had problems, and many of them died because of that. That's a no-no now. That's why we are here. We speak... each one of the girls here can communicate in Polish. And when you have a problem you come here. They'll take care of you. And we'll lead you on the right way. If you need a job we'll take care of you if I have to rap on doors and windows until they open.
JT: Wonderful! I have a feeling you're a very dynamic president.
GS: Oh well.
JT: Are many of your inquiries in Polish?
GS: Yes, a great many of them. These are people that come and naturally, the language barrier is there and they are ashamed or afraid to open their mouths.
JT: Did many come as a result of the Solidarity movement?
GS: Yes, many of them are here because of Solidarity. In fact, one of my young men here now a janitor is because of Solidarity. He was beaten. He was in the prison. Then the country threw him out. He came here. The Catholic Charities brought him in. They sent him to North Dakota. He was there about a year and a half on the farm. Naturally, farms in North Dakota are closing down, phasing out. There were no jobs. The man was sleeping in a car. He sent me a letter. There is no question. I get the letter, I cable him. I telegraphed him money and he was here within the next day. It was John Kloski who picked him up at the bus terminal and from there on he was in my house because there is room for him. I have another woman coming in from Michigan now. She came in because... she came in five months ago with a child. And it's supposed to be an abused case. She was a battered wife. But she is in my house now. School registration was closed but I go to the pastor, I knock on his door, the Nuns opened up the room for the child.
JT: Do you feel there is an increase in people coming from Poland in the last five years?
GS: I haven't noticed it. There is an increase right... but many of them are coming in just for temporary. They come here just for a couple of months and then leave because they just have that Visa that's made for one year or six months.
JT: And then they go back to Poland?
GS: They go back to Poland, objecting as usual. Because here they are exposed to a different style of living.
JT: How large is your membership in the Alliance of Poles?
GS: Oh, thousands. We have, I imagine, around twenty some thousand members.
JT: That's large isn't it? Is it equally divided among men and women?
GS: Yes, there is no discrimination, age or sex, no discrimination.
JT: Umm hmm.
GS: Our policies, like I said, when we sell insurance, like your big commercial type organizations, like your Metropolitan and all, if you're female you pay one price, if you're male you pay another price. No way! It's all equal.
JT: Good. Was it that way before you came?
GS: Yes, that was the founding fathers' concept. We were equal. I tell you the Polish people do have respect for a female. The women in Poland had a right to vote, to express themselves. They had a right to education. If you had a brain, you could go to school. And they wouldn't tell you whether you're a doctor or a carpenter or painter, or whatever. You had the right for an education.
JT: Do you think there is more equality for women in Poland?
JT: Than there was in western Europe?
JT: Umm hmm.
GS: Because, you'll find if you go through the history of the Polish people, the women were just as well educated as a man. And no discrimination.
JT: How about property rights? Did they inherit?
GS: Yes. I believe they... Well, property actually...property was not something that you inherited. History will prove to you that the Polish women were, just like in England, a female could sit on the throne. She was just as much a boss as the male was. And if she's got the brains she can do it. And you will find every Polish woman. If there is a woman there or a girl, she has the right to seek an education and to be a princess in her own house.
JT: I agree with you. I believe it's true.
GS: It's true. It is true because you know many of these people. Well oldtimers used to feel that a woman was nothing or that she couldn't think. We're born with the same kind of a brain as a man is. In fact, I think maybe we have more cells there.
JT: Well, I think women in Scandinavia, my name is Norwegian, and eastern Europe or Poland, Russia, there was more equality for women going back many centuries.
GS: Yes, because like I said, if you read the history, like I said many times. In fact I have one of the men who cares for Poland. I met with him Thursday and Mr. John Vedrov. He gave me a small booklet about some of the history that they are going to write now. That will be coming out of Pennsylvania, from Oil City, Pennsylvania. And, I'm calling him on it because he gave me... submitted a list of some of the great Poles. He gave me 35 males and only three females.
GS: Oh, he didn't put Jadviga even there, no. He has Marie Curie Sklodowska, Mrs. Atchuski and one of the physicians. I forget her name.
JT: Did you say Marie Curie?
GS: Yes, Sklodowska. She was Polish. Naturally, we have to take credit for that one. She had an education before many of the people here even knew how to read and write. Now we go back over to Jamestown, the Poles were there. The first strike was called by Poles.
JT: Can you tell me more about that?
GS: Well, I've got the history, but I don't have it here in front of me. But the first strike was called by the Poles for equality. Because they always felt equal to all the other people surrounding them. This is one of our... I don't know if it's a good thing or not but Polish people always feel that we're just as equal or just as good as the next man. And we are.
JT: And women are equal too?
GS: Absolutely, you better believe it. Women are just as equal because we have the same education. Like I said, I keep on going back to it... a woman will work harder at it than a man.
JT: And often does, yes.
GS: Not only does she put in long hours in work like even in Poland, you'll find these women work, they take care of the house, take care of the children. And you have little grandmas that can't work any longer. They are too old, they take care of the children throughout the day they are the babysitters. Because I've been out there. I've seen them. They have a little grandma sitting out there with a little kiddie car watching a child out there in the field or in a garden. She takes care of that child until the parents come home.
JT: Have we covered the Alliance of Poles?
GS: Well, I suppose. It's ninety years of business. Ninety years of caring and sharing. That's what the Alliance is all about. I'm very proud to be part of it. I was exposed to it when I was just sixteen. You know when you join these youth groups. We had like to this day we have sports groups. We have people now... Soccer is one of the newest sports. We have beautiful boys about ten or eleven years old. They've got their teams. We got some of the young males that came in the last four years, twenty-one, twenty-two years old. They have a second team. They're working. And they come in and they take care of the old and, young ones take care of the old ones and the old ones each the young ones so nothing happens to them. We've got these groups. We have dances for them. They raise their own funds for the uniforms and what have you. In April we're having our golfers... no bowlers. The bowlers are in April. In August are the golfers; we have sports committees. We have sports activity. We cover anything, like I said from womb to tomb. You get older, now our new plan quote unquote is something that is still just so in the infant stages. We are looking for land for our senior citizens, so we can take care of them there. We don't want them to be going into any group that might be foreign to them. They'll have their own food that's more known to them. And the approach will be by a Polish person that they can speak the language. As you will find, as they get older they revert back to the childhood. This is what my great concern is now for the senior citizens.
JT: Very good. You don't have a home for senior citizens?
GS: Not yet, but we will pretty soon.
GS: It's already in the making. We already started a senior citizens group here which was objected to all these years. When I became president we opened up... we have some new citizens. In fact, we're meeting Wednesday. It'll be a traditional Easter meal with the egg, the ham and the breaking of the egg, the sharing of the greetings, and what have you. That's what life is all about.
JT: I wish you very good luck with your senior citizens group.
GS: Oh yes, they are a beautiful group of people. No matter what we have, what we need, we can tap that because those rich resources are there. The knowledge is there. Only maybe the strength isn't there. Why should we abuse that? Why should we neglect it? These people come up to me with all kinds of ideas. We use these ideas.
GS: Like I said, I'm very concerned about that. I love my child because I believe in the child about the growth and education of that child. But, in the meantime we have to care for the juveniles as they come along. Because we have to train them into the right, and educate them so they can make a living for themselves. In the meantime, the senior citizen, they are there and that's who we want to take care of too. Like I told you, from the womb to the tomb. This is constantly, whatever we do it's always that.
JT: Do you belong to any other Polish organizations?
GS: Yes, I belong to all the other organizations that are Polish.
JT: The American Polish Women's Club?
GS: No. That's a social group. No, I don't belong to that. My mother did. My mother was very active in it. I didn't go for that because at that time I was home with the children. But, I do belong to National Alliance, the Roman Catholic Union. I belong to, of course, to St. Stans., to Parent Teachers Union at the time when my children were in school. Now I belong to the Senior Citizens. Like I said, we always take care of those little...
JT: Umm hmm. Any other women's organizations?
GS: Brentwood Hospital Guild. That's another one of my babies. It's been my baby for thirty years. I'm the first president of the first group of volunteers.
JT: That's interesting.
GS: Yes, I mean while many of my friends were building homes in the suburbs. We had a lot too there. We had a place in Independence. But, our doctor needed help and it was up to me to say. I asked my husband. He left it to me to tell me that we have the money. What you do with it will be your decision. When help was needed, when I was having a baby he was there. Now today, he needs help. What do I do? Well the responsibility is to him. Fine, and that's the way it stayed. And to this day I've never felt sorry. Because you make a decision, stick by it and abide by it.
JT: So you never thought you were going to stay in the Warzawa neighborhood the rest of your life?
GS: Well, I think I did. In the back of my mind I felt that that's where I belonged. To me, I never find any problems. I walk out of my yard, I turn right I've got neighbors I've known for the last forty-fifty years. I turn left, it's the same thing. I grew up across the street. These are people who lived all their lives there just like I did. And if there's any help needed all I do is put on the front porch light and someone will be down and take care of it.
JT: It's a convenient neighborhood too.
GS: It is. I mean, now I've got these people coming from Poland... Okay now, where will they go? They come here. They go on Fleet Avenue. They do all their shopping there. They come on Broadway, they can come here to Cooks. They walk up to 55th. There's no problem there. They manage for themselves and I don't have to worry because I don't drive. I have all the transportation I need right here in front of my office. The doctors are here. The trade is here. The banks are here. How much more do you need? The food store is on Fleet and my church is right around the corner. Now that's important. Anytime you need anything, you call the pastor and somebody's bound to come and help.
JT: Where did you meet your husband?
GS: My husband, I met him when I had the store right on Broadway, my hosiery shop. Going to the movie house and what have you. He stood... he used to stand right around the candy store. Years ago that's where the boys hung out. I met him then. And he went to the service. He was in the service. He came back when World War II... He came back in November for Thanksgiving. And we were married on April 27th on the Saturday after Easter.
JT: I assume he's Polish?
JT: Was he born in this neighborhood?
GS: He was born in this neighborhood. His mother and father came from Poland. And...
JT: He speaks Polish then?
GS: He spoke Polish, yes. They all did. My children do too. Now, of course with the woman that's with me, Nadja, she's been teaching the children Polish. When they went to Europe last year they had no problem. They communicated. In fact, they surprised me because the fact was, I said well now we're going here or there. And Andrea would say â€œMother no problem, I'll ask for this, I'll ask for that.â€ And she goes out there speaking the language and I'm listening. She didn't do too bad and I'm proud of the fact that the children do understand.
JT: What's your husband's first name?
GS: My husband's name was Victor John Sandej. Victor John. Victor J.
JT: Did you ever think seriously about marrying a man outside the Polish community?
GS: Yes. I was engaged to one, but it just didn't work out. You know you stop and you think. Maybe I was dumb or what. But, the thing was I always had a head on my shoulders to remember and to think twice what the consequence could be. And I felt that staying truly Polish is what my life was all about. And to this day I've never been ashamed of it and I've never had any reason to doubt my decisions.
JT: Good. And what was your husband's occupation?
GS: He worked for Pneumo Corporation. Pneumatic Tool at that time. Then it became Pneumo Corporation. He built landing gears for the planes. He was very active in the Credit Union of Pneumatic Tool. He was always busy getting involved. With sports, my husband started the golf tournaments here at the Alliance. He brought some fellas from Pneumatic Tool and we got people interested from Alliance. That's where our tournaments came out from.
JT: So, he was active in the Alliance of Poles too?
JT: Umm hmm. Is he the one who got you interested in it?
GS: No, no, no, no. I was interested in it when I was still single. Because, like I said, sixteen and I didn't get married til I was thirty-two.
JT: And then you continued your shop after you were married
GS: Yes, for six years. And then I got pregnant and I just closed shop and that's it. I raised my babies.
JT: How many babies?
GS: Two. I have two children. I have a son, Victor Gerard, and Andrea Justine. Now, Victor Gerard is named after his father and St. Gerard Vagella because I didn't think I was ever going to have children. When you're thirty-six you don't have babies. I did. And then my daughter was named Andrea after my father's brother and Justine after my mother's mother.
JT: Very nice names.
GS: These are... You know you try to continue with some of the family traditions.
JT: I'm sure they continued at St. Stanislaus.
GS: Yes. And you know they are looking forward already to Easter Sunday.
JT: They live in the neighborhood?
GS: No, they don't. They live in Sagamore which is quite a distance from here. But for Christmas and Easter, Christmas Eve is home with mama. Christmas Day is the same. Now, Easter Sunday, they don't even think of going to church without us. We go together to church. We come back from church, we have our breaking of the Blessed Egg. Because naturally, we take a basket with us on Holy Saturday to church. Then bring the basket home, put it away, Easter Sunday... we break the egg. Share the egg together and the food of the basket. This is part of what...
JT: So, your son and daughter continue that tradition?
GS: Yes. Oh yes, they look forward to it. They don't want to forget.
GS: They brag about it. In fact they brag to everybody else. The young ones... Like where Andrea works. She works at Brentwood Hospital. She tells it to these women she's working with. And, some of them call me to know, â€œWhat do we do? How do we go about it?â€ That's good.
JT: Are they married?
GS: Yes. My daughter's divorced and my son is divorced now too. So, all these things...
JT: Do you have grandchildren?
GS: None, no, thank goodness. Because life would be really hard with the grandchildren.
JT: When your children were small did you speak Polish at home?
GS: Yes. We tried teaching them but not too well because my parents spoke. The grandma and grandpa spoke English, father and mother spoke English. Naturally, they were exposed mostly to English. But they understood it. Of course, occasionally we speak the language.
JT: And you continued the holidays and the cooking and so on?
GS: Yes. My daughter knows all the Polish cooking, all the tricks what to do for the traditional meals.
JT: Good. Fine.
GS: In fact, she even knows how to make pierogies. Why not? You teach that to them. You teach the things that are done.
JT: Umm hmm. I should have asked this way back. But, have there been any dramatics in Polish in connection with your family or the Alliance of Poles?
GS: What do you mean?
JT: Do you put on any plays in Polish?
GS: No, not really. We don't in the Alliance of Poles... we do have people that come in to do it. There are people, in fact right now on June 1st there will be a group of Polish children coming in in our auditorium that are taught by other teachers from other organizations but the children are coming here. And, the... its a fundraiser. And that's for the blind children of Vlaski in Poland. There is an organization of blind in Poland. Of young children. Years ago, the blind were like the lost race. They were hidden from the view because nobody wanted anybody else to know. But now these children are brought when they're two or three years old. They're brought to this compound and they are taken care of until they go on their own and until they become independent. And all the training is done there. In fact, Helen Keller was there. She was very amazed to know that, what advances Poland made with the blind. Yeah, every year we go I stop in there. I stop in there because we do raise funds. Like I said, there's always about $1,000 to $1,500 every year given to them in July. And now, this fund will be raised again because one man, one of our members, had a wife that was blind. Now, she died and in her memory he built a home there, a new school. And this school is being funded by the donations from here just to upkeep it. Because at Christmas time we do raise funds also and they... these monies are sent to Poland for the blind children, for their candy and to be used by the blind for camping. So they can be taken out into the world to see some of the highlights. Up until now, about four years ago, the children were never sent out of the compound. And now, they are sent out of the compound. Because they have to know the hills and snow and everything else. They were never exposed to it and now they are. So this is part of what my life is all about.
JT: Well, you give the impression that there is a considerable American charity that goes for the benefit of Poland.
GS: You better believe it. And there will continue to be. In fact, that's why I say now to the Americares for Poland. This is another group that comes from Pennsylvania.
JT: That's A-M-E-R-I-C-A-R-E-S, Americares?
GS: Yes, Americares. We got tons of food and goodies sent to Poland. Now, Polish American Congress also has been sending clothing and monies to take care of it. Americares takes care of the medications. In fact, this one Mr. Woydro, he goes there twice a year to make sure that this medication...
GS: Yeah, John Woydro. To make sure that the medication is given into the right hands. Because we are not about to be sending anything that's contrary to what we are thinking of, you know. We at Americares is one group. Polish American Congress is another group that we have been sending through these two organizations help each year.
JT: Is the aid welcomed by the Polish government?
GS: Oh, absolutely. We don't know. We don't question that. When I come in with monies, nobody questions me.
JT: You mean you take it there in person?
GS: In person, yes. And I'd leave it there. Whether it's for the blind or some other churches, because that's what these people need. And then they go with the American dollar they can go on the market and buy whatever they need. Whether it's food, whether it's materials, whether it's lumber, whether it's nails or a hammer. If that's what they need, they buy it. Like the blind of Poland, Mrs. Sophie... I forget her name right now. Sophie Nurowski.
JT: Would you spell that?
GS: N-U-R-O-W-S-K-I. She takes care of the financial aspects of this. She needs like on the building, or they might need brick, she'll get it. Or they might need a stove or refrigerator. With the American dollar they can buy it.
JT: This is all news to me. I didn't, really didn't know this. We hear about American charity to Israel and underdeveloped countries, but I didn't know about this.
GS: Poland is being supported by the Polish people of the States from the States. We've been doing a lot of charity work. But, naturally, we don't have the publicity on it.
JT: You just said a Polish charity in Europe doesn't get the publicity that charity for some other countries. How do you account for that?
GS: Well, I feel because the other countries are more pushy. Poland is too proud to ask for help. We as Poles, know the needs they have and we will, we issue it to them. And we don't get the publicity because we do not run from radio station to radio station. We don't run from TV station to TV station. We will not run for that. If our Polish people need it, if we hear about it from any of our priests that come here, it is done more or less under wraps.
JT: But you hear about it chiefly through the church
GS: Through the church. The Catholic Church lets us know and we do support them.
JT: Well, I've learned something. You've been to Poland several times?
GS: About seven or eight times already.
JT: And you enjoyed it?
GS: I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed Poland. I enjoyed the people there.
JT: Do you have relatives there?
GS: A lot of friends. Everywhere you go you meet an extra person and you sort of adopt him or her under your wings. Now, we have people going to Europe. Some of them are returning to Europe for good. Others are going just for vacation. If I hear of anything from my travel agent, envelopes are given him with greetings. Every greeting has monies. Now, there are few women there that are widows. They have no... The Social Security checks they get, I don't think it amounts to more than two or three dollars a month. How could she live on that. I send her ten or twenty dollars that's what she would have gotten for the whole year from the government. So, I send to some of these widows a few dollars. About ten or twenty dollars every month if somebody's going there. She is independent. The poor woman can go out there and buy herself whatever she needs. She doesn't have to worry about standing in line and not getting anything. She can go to where the American dollar is exchanged and she can get her food or her medication. My concern is medication. If an aspirin or whatever kind of arthritic pain pills. A lot of that I get every year from our doctors, from Brentwood Hospital, the samples. I take those. Nobody questions me at the border. I carry suitcases full. Of course, I don't carry any prescription drugs because that I will not take. I will not take any kind of, let us say, that would be forbidden. But, things that are for colds for children, arthritis or anything else, that you can take and that is accepted. They need that, but like with the blind of Poland with Valoski, I'll take myself a big suitcase full of suckers or candy, which the teachers enjoy giving to the children. They are limited to one sucker a month. There is no sugar. So, if a teacher has a bag full, she could pass it around. At Christmas time, like I said, the money goes there so they buy whatever they need for the children's vacation. These are little things that keep going, you're never finished.
JT: Oh, so I gather, when you go to Poland, you visit some of these organizations, with blind children and so on?
GS: Yes, I see the blind, then go to the Institute for the American Traveler if there is one there. And I go to the churches. When I was on a Polish ship, the Bathude, I think it was about five years ago, it was for a 39-day cruise, I met a lot of people. So you go, you see these people and let them know, then they meet you in Warsaw and you were their guest for a couple of days. You go from one house to another. And you get to the cross section or cross thinking of what goes on.
JT: So, you speak Polish fluently when you go to Poland?
GS: Absolutely? Why not? That's what life is all about. Because, like I say, when you go there you have to at least understand the language and communicate with the people.
JT: How do you feel about things in Poland? Politics and so on?
GS: I don't. I don't bother with politics.
JT: How do you feel about the living standard?
GS: It's very bad. I mean, I feel sorry for these people. They work hard. Then they stand in line all evening or all night to get a loaf of bread or get a piece of meat. And it's thrown at you and I don't agree with that. Those people deserve more. These people are hard working people. And they are an honest people. And to be treated so, I just don't agree with the government. But I will not put my nose in the government because I want to go back again and I want to talk to them.
JT: What do you think about the United States' policy toward Poland? Do you think our government does the right thing?
GS: Yes, by giving them asylum. Absolutely. But, I feel the government should have gone a lot further. Because if it wasn't for the Polish people, if it wasn't for Poland, how do we know that we wouldn't be overrun by communists right now. Because it was Poland that stopped Hitler in his tracks at the time. I mean Germany went through how many countries before they got to Poland? And in Poland there was no ammunition. The people armed... were never a... They are a fighting people but to the extent they fight for their rights. But, they had no ammunition, nothing. But they gave...
JT: But as the story goes, they were fighting with horses against machine guns.
GS: Machine guns, right. And how could you do that? How could you win? And then this was the only country where Hitler met his match more than anything. And if it wasn't for that, like I said, Poland if it wasn't for Poland, Europe would have been run, overrun by the Germans at that time. They wouldn't have had that... Even France, big country as it is, great as it was and with all the ammunition. They couldn't hold him back. Why not? Like I say, it takes a determination. And the people here did stop that. And then Roosevelt sold us on the Yalta agreement I think it was wrong.
JT: Do you think anything could or should be done about it now?
GS: Absolutely, they still can make it right.
JT: What could they do?
GS: What can we do? What can we do? We as a nation, right now, I don't know because politics as they are today how do I know? I mean they tell us one thing and what's happening in the country is another. How do we know we get the truth. Even from our government we don't.
JT: I think your attitude is very good. I understand many American Poles have gone back to Poland to retire. Do you know any of them?
GS: Yes, we know... I forget her name. They've been living in Warsaw. And when we go there, we are always welcome at that home. And there are others but I don't know too many because I never look them up. Probably if I went to our computer now I could tell you. You know our newspaper goes to Poland.
JT: I assume that you read a great deal on Poland. And you read, you have your own newspaper, which is in Polish. That's the Alliancer?
GS: The Alliancer is in Polish and English. Bilingual
JT: Do you read any other magazines or paper in Polish?
GS: Yes, I read... The library's full of our magazines. All Polish newspapers come here. They're upstairs for the Polish people to come in to read. We have a lot of Polish people coming in. The ones that come here from Europe now in the last five years or six, they are welcomed to the library. The librarian is Polish. In fact, she'll be getting married on April 27th. She stays there for two days, two evenings out of the week. She has a full library of Polish books, Polish newspapers. And they are the latest ones. Whatever comes in, pro and for, anti-government.
JT: Good. A library should be that way.
GS: Yes, because that's what it's all about.
JT: Umm hmm. How about, would you read Polish fiction for entertainment?
GS: No, not in Polish. I could read it but it would take me too long, I wouldn't enjoy it.
JT: You would read it in English?
GS: In English, yes.
JT: Do you read any Polish writers? Fiction writers in English?
GS: Yes, we do that. Because this is what... I like to be on top of things. And I like a book to put me to sleep.
JT: And do you think they have some good writers these days?
GS: Well not... The underground writers, yes. The ones that are endorsed by the government, no. Naturally, they are slanted to another way of thinking. And that's not my way of thinking.
JT: So, you think the best ones are in the underground?
GS: In the underground, yes.
JT: Umm hmm. What do they call private publication in Poland? Is it Samizdat? No, that's Russian.
GS: Russian, no. I don't... I can't tell right now.
JT: Maybe it doesn't have a name. I don't know.
GS: I should know it, but...
JT: How about... do you listen to Polish music?
GS: On the radio.
JT: What do you listen to?
GS: Usually, on a Sunday you strive for Father Justin's Rosary Hour, which is the Mass and what have you. Then, we go to Mrs. Stolarczyk, which is a Polish program. Then we listen to Mr. Szulecki.
JT: How do you spell that?
GS: Which one?
JT: The Szulecki.
GS: S-Z-U-L-E-C-K-I, Szulecki. Joseph Szulecki. He's one of our very active Alliancers. In fact, he just brought one of the women from Poland, now that is here to sign up some of the children for the camps... for summer camps. Would you believe that the government gives them... will take a child for $100. All we have to do is send the child to Warsaw, to fly them in and fly them back out. And they have it from July 4th until July 28th.
JT: That's wonderful.
GS: Yes, and all entertainment, all camping, all food and education, Polish language, Polish culture and Polish song and dance.
JT: Do very many children from Cleveland go?
GS: Yes, last year I know, my neighbor's two children went. They had, I think, forty children. And this year the lady came in too late. So now we are going to work on it from September on. That by next July they'll be ready. We'll know how many children are going. So as an organization we can sponsor some children.
JT: I should think that would be a very popular program. And overall it's not expensive.
GS: Listen, from ten to seventeen. They're ten years old to seventeen. That's the right time to send a child there.
JT: Some teenagers think they're beyond that.
GS: I know well. I don't think so. Because I tell you, they told me another thing I know. We had a ladies guild that has sponsored some scholarships. They raised some funds that they have had one organization locked in just for Cuyahoga County. And the ladies wanted to know who the child was that was getting it and what have you. Nothing could be done until I became president. At the convention before... after I took my oath, the first thing was... I... of my salary, $3,000 was set aside. One thousand for each state. I opened up the scholarships for all three states. And that's the way it is working now. For deserving children, members of the Alliance. I'm still talking about education, if you educate a child... you'll have a good citizen. You forget about a child and they roam the streets, and we can't permit that.
JT: Has the Alliance of Poles always been quite European oriented?
GS: Yes... Well, up until our last president, those were all European born men. And most of the officers were European born, and now since... after Mr. Mihowski came in we became more Americanized. But, of course, naturally now we became more feminine.
JT: Yes, that's a good move.
GS: These are things, I mean equality all the way down.
JT: Your daughter and your son, are they interested in Polish music?
GS: Yes. They've gone to all these Polish concerts and orchestras and what have you. We have this one piano recital from Europe. He came in from Laski.
JT: From where?
GS: From Laski. From the Polish blind. The organization for the blind of Poland. We had a beautiful pianist, but that was about five or six years ago. Now, we don't know whether anyone else will be coming in.
JT: I just wanted to ask more about your son and daughter. How interested they are in things Polish and what traditions do they keep?
GS: Really, I never stop to think about it because this is home. Home is where all the traditions are. They have observed all the traditions. Whether it's Christmas. Like I said, Christmas or Easter. For May 3rd they don't go in the parade but, they'll stand with me here in front of the building. They've done everything else. When you do these things, you don't stop to think whether it's a tradition or not. It's a thing that's being done.
JT: I know.
GS: Maybe other people don't do it, but we've done it so many years at home and that's it.
JT: Well, I think that I've asked most of my questions. And, we thank you very much for the interview.
GS: Thank you very much.