Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Derdowski w Winonie (II)

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.

Derdowski held his countrymen and countrywomen in Winona even closer to the heart. He shared Father Byzewski's vision of Wiarus as the defender of Winona's Kaszubian community. But he also used Wiarus to guide them in balancing their multiple identities as Kaszubians, Poles, Americans, and Catholics. His famous statement 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.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Derdowski w Winonie (I)

Saint Mary's Cemetery sits nestled among the bluffs which mark the south-eastern edge of Winona, Minnesota. The south-eastern corner of St. Mary's rises steeply to a bluff-side mausoleum complex which marks the cemetery's southern boundary. This is the old Polish section, where a wild array of monuments, many home-made, mark the resting places of Winona's first- and second-generation Polish immigrants. Close to the road at the foot of the old Polish section is a simple granite headstone, more substantial than most of the humble markers surrounding it, but certainly not garish or even ornate. Beneath this stone, all but forgotten in his adoptive home town, lies the Kaszubian Polish culture hero Hieronym Derdowski.

Hieronym Derdowski was born on March 9, 1852 in the southeast Kaszubian village of Wiele, and emigrated to the United States in 1885, at the age of 33. By this time, Derdowski had already studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood in Rome, fought against the Prussians as a soldier in the French army, been a five-time visitor to German jails, and (for the last five years) a prominent newspaper editor in the city of Torun. However, Derdowski was far better known for his poetry. He was equally at home writing in the "good" Polish of the literary elite as he was in the Kaszubian vernacular he had grown up speaking. Indeed, his 1880 poem O Panu Czorlińscim co do Pucka po sece jachoł (Mister Czorlinski Goes to Puck for Fishnets) is commonly regarded as the start of Kaszubian literature.

Derdowski was not, at the time that he emigrated, under threat of arrest. He was broke, but he always had been broke and he always would be broke. His precise reasons for emigration are still the subject of much speculation, but it seems to me that he felt he had exhausted his possibilities in German Poland. America offered a growing Polish diaspora along with financial opportunities and other freedoms he would never know in his homeland. In America he could start again, make a fortune, win new fame... and start a family. He had already identified his future bride, Joanna Lubowieczka of Gostomie. Once he had established himself in the new land Joanna would come over to become his wife. In the spring of 1885 Derdowski mortgaged his share of his inheritance for 300 crowns and took the big step.

In America, Derdowski moved from city to city, from newspaper to newspaper. He found new causes, started new quarrels, and quickly made himself a name. But he had not started to make a home. His Kaszubian friend, Father Jan Romuald Byzewski, had become the pastor of Winona's Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church in 1875. The Polish newspaper he and some parishioners had recently started, Wiarus (Faithful Defender), needed an experienced editor. Would Derdowski consider a move to Winona? In the middle 1880s Winona was still a thriving, blossoming town with a bright future. It also contained one of the nation's largest concentration of Kaszubian Polish immigrants. The culmination of his dreams was almost completely within reach.

The missing part of Derdowski's happiness soon appeared in the person of his beloved Joanna, who arrived from Poland in October 1887. On October 29 of that year Father Byzewski united them in marriage  in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Mr. and Mrs. Hieronym Derdowski took the train to Winona, where they were met at the Milwaukee Road station and conducted to their new living quarters over the Wiarus offices at Second and Carimona. And there I will leave them for the time being. But I have a modern side note to pass along.

I gleaned most of this information from articles in a book I found, quite by chance, and purchased at The Book Shelf in downtown Winona this spring. I could not wait to get out to the corner of Second and Carimona to visit the site of the Derdowskis' first home. But there was no two-story building within a block of that intersection. Could the author, Dr. Leo Ochrymowycz, have confused something? Doubtful. But I could not doubt the evidence of my eyes, either. Further research turned up a Wiarus office with upstairs living quarters at 329 East Third Street. But 329 East Third Street is not on the corner of anything, and Dr. Ochrymowycz had definitely said "corner." Then, a picture from The Kaszubian Community of Southeast Minnesota caught my eye. A publication from the Wiarus press clearly stating that it had been published "Second and Carimona."

I started searching again. This time I started looking through Winona city directories, and found that there had been a pharmacy at 579 East Second Street in 1906. It was later the Marouschek grocery. Searching for "579 East Second" at the Winona Newspaper Project turned up an an article dated September 6, 1887 stating that the city had granted "Mr. Frank Drowskowski" (that is, Frank Drazkowski, president of the Wiarus) to move his business to that location.

Dr. Ochrymowycz had been right all along - but what had happened to the two-story building on the corner of Second and Carimona? It turns out that the Marouschek grocery had been leveled by a gas main explosion in January 1919.