When Hieronim Derdowski assumed the editorship of Wiarus in 1887, Winona became a major center of Polish-American intellectual life. At the end of the nineteenth century, two fraternal organizations competed for influence in American Polonia: the more traditional "Polish Roman Catholic Union of America" and the more liberal "Polish National Alliance. Wiarus may have changed it affiliation back and forth from one to the other, but the force of Derdowski's impassioned rhetoric never faltered. And whether or not one appreciated the sound of Derdowski's voice, it was always heard: in Minnesota, in Chicago, on the East Coast, and even in the Old Country itself.
Nie ma Kaszëb bez Polonii, a bez Kaszëb Polśczi (No Kaszubia without Poland, no Poland without Kaszubia) was aimed both at the Old Country and the United States. Derdowski supported the use of the Kaszubian language and the retention of Kaszubian customs at home. But he also saw that as part of American Polonia (that is, the Polish community in the United States), Winona's Kaszubians would also require a command of "good" literary Polish. Ultimately, the Kaszubian language would more than hold its own in Winona well into the twentieth century but the Polish identity prevailed almost immediately.
By the time of Derdowski's arrival, Kaszubians were already playing an increasingly large role in Winona's political life. The Fourth Ward was already quite a Democratic bastion; John Balthasar Bambenek had been elected to the Winona County Commission in 1886 and would serve as member and chair for the next decade. Wiarus encouraged good citizenship and followed the practice of endorsing candidates for elective office, but Derdowski focused his personal efforts more on public causes, such as obtaining better working conditions in Winona's sawmills or raising bond money for the Winona and Southwestern Railroad. Of course, he still enjoyed public mudslinging matches with other members of the Polish community, as in this 1893 bout with one Klemens Brelinski of Chicago.
Derdowski also involved himself - perhaps too much so - in the affairs of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish. As always, his opinions were rapidly and powerfully expressed. After Father Byzewski left in 1890, a series of pastors and assistant pastors served Saint Stanislaus, some of whom met with Derdowski's approval and some not. Tensions often rose, especially during the parish's rapid growth in the early 1890s and the buildup to the construction of Saint Stanislaus Basilica. When Father Konstantin Domagalski was run out of the parish or when the School Sisters of Notre Dame Convent was besieged, or when the Parish Council rebelled... Derdowski was in the thick of things, fanning the flames. With the 1894 arrival of Father James W.J. Pacholski as pastor, Saint Stanislaus returned to an even keel and Derdowski became a more settled (if not perfectly so, as this excerpt from January 1896 demonstrates) participant in the life of Winona's Kaszubian Polish community.
Sadly, Derdowski did not have long to live. He had never fully recovered from a 1902 stroke, and providing for Joanna and their two daughters, Harriet and Helen, was always a strain. He was able to eke out a living with Wiarus and by running a printing business on the side. . Sadly, his death in 1902 was scarcely even noticed by the Republican-Herald. Joanna Derdowska kept up the good fight, running Wiarus until 1915, when she sold the newspaper and moved with her daughters to Saint Paul. Paradoxically, Pani Derdowska's death in 1929 was marked by a much greater expression of the debt Winona owed to her and her larger than life husband.