Monday, April 29, 2013

Monica Barbara Kowalewska 1887-1954

Monica Barbara Kowalewska was born on August 5, 1887 in Winona. She was the first of nine children born to Jozef (1860-1930) and Anastasia nee Fortunska (1865-1938) Kowalewski. Like her slightly older classmate and (briefly) colleague, Franciszka Milanowska, Monica Kowalewska, better known by her married name of Monica Krawczyk, selected and pursued a rather different career track than most of Winona's young Kashubian Polish women. As a teacher, social worker, writer and activist, Monica Krawczyk's life and works illustrate and exemplify the transition of America's Kashubian Polish community.

Monica was a child prodigy, and her mother somehow found the time and energy to assist her talented daughter's education by teaching herself English. She attended Saint Stanislaus Kostka parish school and Winona High; as best I can tell she became in 1909 the second Kashubian Pole, after Frances Milanowska, to graduate from the Winona Normal School. After a short time teaching high school near the Canadian border in Tower, Minnesota she returned home to teach at Washington-Kosciuszko. Monica was very active in the church community and the Kashubian Polish community at large, founding the Outreach Club for her young countrywomen and directing a number of plays. But she was eager for new challenges, which led her to study social work at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

As a young social worker, Monica achieved literally spectacular success, going undercover to expose the exploitation of young Polish women in the Twin Cities. After marrying Mieczyslaw "Mitchell" Krawczyk of Minneapolis in 1916, she returned to a more traditional career as wife, schoolteacher and (eventually) mother. But deeply as she loved her Kashubian Polish traditions, her social outlook remained modern and American. The Winona Republican-Herald reported that she gave the dollars normally piled on a plate at a Polish wedding reception, to assist the young couple in buying a house, to a charity.

By the middle 1920s the Krawczyk family had grown to five with the addition of two sons and a daughter. Monica and Mitchell were able to hire a maid to take care of the housekeeping, which freed Monica to teach at Sheridan School and to write on the side. She was an extremely prolific contributor to a number of popular magazines and newspapers, which undoubtedly brought in additional money. She also began work on her own short stories, which focus on the challenges faced by Polish-American families, and which are collected in the anthology "When The Bough Breaks" or something like that. Also in the 1920s, she helped found the Polanie Club, which united young Polish-American women from the Twin Cities area in various social and cultural pursuits, and which still thrives to this day.

Monica was at work on a novel "Not By Bread Alone" when she died at the age of 67 in Minneapolis. Surely the manuscript must exist somewhere; it would be depressing indeed to think that the crowning work of such an educated, thoughtful, and socially active Kashubian Pole's literary career could just vanish into thin air. On the other hand, depressingly little of her work survives to this day, so maybe it is par for the course.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jozef von Bronk

Jozef von Bronk (1810 Wiele - 1863 Winona)
Franciszka Grabska (1811 Gostomie - 1874 Winona)

Traditionally, the family of Jozef and Franciszka von Bronk was the first Kashubian Polish family to settle in Winona, in 1855. According to Ron Galewski on page 207 of Marshland and Whistler's Pass on Trail #35 (by the way, both of Ron's excellent books can be purchased at the Polish Museum Store), the von Bronks traveled to Winona from Gostomie, Polish Prussia by way of Quebec. This is true. They arrived in Quebec aboard the sailing ship ELBE, which left Hamburg on May 14, 1859; another passenger was Ron's own ancestor, Martin Galewski.

Paul Libera's celebrated article Polish Settlers in Winona, Minnesota states that "Mrs. Bronk, wife of one of the first two Polish settlers, died during the early days of Winona and was buried on the prairie outside the Polish settlement. When the City was plotted out shortly afterward a street was laid out directly over her grave." In fact, Franciszka Bronk is listed as a widow in the 1870 US Census, living in the house of her oldest son John. Sadly, the name of the actual decedent is lost to time; this is another example of why Libera's account desperately needs updating. Nor do we know anything more about Jozef and Franciszka. A little more is known about their five sons.

Jan "John" Bronk (1835-1898?) married Antonina Lukowicz (1846-1931) in 1873. They were arrested in 1880 for beating their children - quite an achievement in those times of "spare the rod, spoil the child." The children seem to have forgiven though, as the entire family moved out to Seattle, Washington just before the turn of the century. Antonia is listed in the 1899 Seattle city directory as the widow of John Bronk; whether John died in Winona or Seattle I do not yet know. I do know that he was not the John Bronk who died in Winona in 1931. In the Seattle directories from 1899 to 1907, the Bronk sons (Alexander, Lawrence, and Michael) are listed as employed in various segments of the lumbering industry and Frances Bronk is listed as a housekeeper.

Ignacy "Ignatius" Bronk (1839-1896) had three children with his first wife Maria (?-1873) and another six with his second wife Weronika Borszyzkowska (1850-1885). After Weronika died (perhaps in childbirth), he purchased a farm in Buffalo County, across the Trempealeau River from Dodge Township; he married his third wife Paulina Kubicki in Pine Creek. His eldest daughter, Katarzyna "Kate" Bronk (1873-1893) died in Winona under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

Wincenty "Vincent" Bronk (1842-1877) never married. Ron Galewski gives Wincenty's date of death as 1887, but there is no reference to him in the 1880 US Census. Wawrzyniec "William" or "Lawrence" Bronk (1848-1889) married Rozalia Kukowska (1852-1932); three of their seven children survived to adulthood. The youngest of these, Thomas J. Bronk (1888-1875) and his wife Helen Zielinski, were the parents of twelve children, all of whom survived to adulthood.

The youngest son, Jakub "Jacob" Bronk (1852-1919) was married three times and widowed twice. By his first wife Franciszka (1854-1880) he had six children, one of whom survived to adulthood. In 1882 he married Katarzyna Bambenek Czapiewska (1861-1888); this marriage produced two children, both of whom survived to adulthood. In 1889 he married Mary Mudra Kadlec (1860-1925) a Bohemian immigrant, with whom he had one child.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Walenty von Radowski 1836-1919

One of the first articles I stumbled upon after picking up the wheelbarrow last year was Sister M. Teresa OSF's 1948 work "Polish Settlements in Minnesota 1860-1900." It's been largely eclipsed over the years but still a fascinating read. In support of her point that most of Minnesota's Polish immigrants had originally intended to return to the Old Country someday, she cited an 1864 letter from "Walenty von Radowski" of Winona to the "Polish paper Echo z Polski" requesting back issues. I didn't stop to think about the newspaper or its contents, though I have since come to see them as fascinating. Instead, I was struck at once by the writer's use of "von." Why would the presumably patriotic Pole, Pan Walenty Radowski, use a title of German nobility in the United States? To a Polish paper, no less: didn't all good Poles despise Germans? And why would a nobleman emigrate to Winona anyway? Wouldn't his chances of enhancing the von Radowski family fortunes be better back in the Old Country?

I pretty quickly found the man in question. "Val. Radowski" arrived in New York on August 4, 1860 aboard the sailing ship Elise Rabike. Also aboard the Elise Rabike was another future Winonan, Jos. Milanowski. On January 9, 1865, "Valentin Radomski" and "Anna Kawalewska" were married in Winona. The switch from Radowski to Radomski is no big deal: even the Poles themselves are challenged by Polish names. The bride had in fact been baptized Antonina Kowalska, daughter of Szymon Kowalewski and Jozefina Styncel (Sztyncel, Stencel, Stencil, etc). Mr. and Mrs. Radomski relocated to a farm in Pine Creek shortly afterward, retiring to Winona at some point between the 1905 Wisconsin Census and the 1910 US Census.

Tragically, the cemetery records from Sacred Heart-Saint Wenceslaus Parish disclose that the Radomskis buried five children there between 1869 and the cholera outbreak of 1877. The available census information is confusing. It discloses a daughter Paulina (born 1886) and a son Leon (born 1889), along with a grandson or two. The 1919 obituary with its headline PIONEER WINONAN CALLED BY DEATH does not reference Leon, who was called by death on June 26, 1916. Paulina is the Mrs. Hildebrandt mentioned; she died without issue in 1929. I am still trying to identify Mrs. R. Smith of St. Paul, and to find Antonina Kowalewska Radomski's date of death. I would dearly love to find surviving descendants of Walenty and Antonina nee Kowalewska Radomski somewhere on this planet. Wish me luck. The "von" still remains a mystery to me, though.

I have no problem believing Walenty Radowski was an highly intelligent and educated man; his younger brother Wawrzyniec (1838-1915) was a longtime schoolteacher in Prussian Poland before emigrating to Winona with his family in 1887. If, in fact, he intended to return to the Old Country someday, his interest in Polish affairs was understandable. But Echo z Polski turns out to have been a New York publication, founded in 1863 by supporters of the January 1863 insurrection against the Russians. Its purpose, according to James S. Pula, was to reprint European articles concerning the insurrection and to build support within the nascent American Polonia. When the insurrection failed, so did Echo z Polski. Still the question remains: was Walenty interested in returning to Poland and joining the fight? If so, this would indicate that Walenty already identified to some extent as a Pole in addition to (or even instead of) a Kashubian Catholic boy from the region of Koscierzyna. I myself tend to think that most of Winona's Kashubian Poles came to consider themselves as Polacy only after they had settled down in the United States. More likely, Walenty was an unusually well educated young Kashubian Pole. It would be interesting to know why he and Antonina decided to farm across the river in Pine Creek when he could have stayed in Winona and pursued a political career like his old traveling buddy Jozef Milanowski. Perhaps his inner Kashubian got the better of his inner Pole?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pawel Libera

Pawel Libera (1834 Wiele - 1916 Winona)
Antonia Dolna (1846 Lubnia - 1920 Winona)

This article is based primarily on information published by Larry Reski at Poland to Pine Creek.

Pawel Libera and Antonia Dolny were married on 6 June 1857 in Brusy, and emigrated to the United States shortly afterward. The 1860 US census finds "Paul and Caroline Lebence" living in Winona with their one-year-old son Albert, born that year in Winona. All subsequent census data gives Mrs. Libera's name as Antonia, so "Caroline" can be attributed to enumerator error. All extant sources list the Liberas among the Pine Creek, Wisconsin community's first settlers; their eldest daughter Marianna Libera Platta was born there in 1862. In 1864 the Liberas formally deeded to Sacred Heart-Saint Wenceslaus Parish the land upon which the church and cemetery are located.

By the time of the 1880 US census "Paul and Antonia Lubby" had returned to Winona, where they would spend the rest of their lives. The two youngest children, Josephine (age 5) and Joseph (age 1) are listed as born in Wisconsin , implying that the move was recent. Their youngest child, Emma, was born in Winona in 1881. When he was not working, Paul found time to participate in the Polish Dramatic Society, which elected him as its librarian in 1884. So much for the sterotype of illiterate immigrant Polacks, right?

Seven of the Liberas' ten children survived to adulthood. Albert Paul Libera (1860-1920), Mary Libera Platta (1862-1930?), Michael Libera Sr. (1865-1934), Walerya Libera Literski (1866-1917), Mamert Libera (1867-1955), Joseph Libera (1875-1960), and Emma Libera (1881-1962).

In 1905, Michael Libera Sr. founded the Libera and Sons Grocery at 616 (later 682-686_ West Fifth Street, a long-time landmark on Winona's West End. He was also a prominent Republican, somewhat unusual in a city where Kashubian Pole almost always equaled "Democrat."

Emma Libera joined the School Sisters of Saint Francis Assisi, and as Sister Mary Apollonia, taught for many years in local parochial schools, including the one at Sacred Heart-Saint Wenceslaus.

Paul K. Libera (1917-1999), a grandson of Michael Libera Sr., published several works on the early history of Winona's Kashubian Polish community.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Seventh and Mankato

"Seventh and Mankato."So it said on the back of one of the photos I scanned at the Polish Museum last month. Right below this inscription was a note saying the building - whatever it was had been razed to make way for Washington-Kosciuszko Elementary School. An typical brick building in East End Winona, with some typical looking East End Kashubian Poles standing in front of it. No indication of what sort of building it was, or when the picture was taken. Probably sometime around the turn of the century. But even "typical" scenes are precious to me, so I marked this one for further inquiry. Typing the search string "Seventh and Mankato" into the Winona Newspaper Project's search tool quickly yielded the answer I was looking for.

This building was a combination of saloon and grocery store established in 1884 at 351-353 Mankato Avenue by Teofil Jakob Sikorski (1840-1913), an immigrant from Bytow. He features prominently in Winona newspapers of the time as "Teefel," "Jacob," "Theodore," or just plain "T.J." Sikorski; his obituary is at right. Getting back to the picture,  351 Mankato (the door at right) is clearly the grocery and 353 Mankato is the saloon. On either side of the saloon door are signs advertising Bub's Beer, a famous Winona product.  I should mention that the combination of saloon and grocery was not particularly odd on Winona's East End, although the grocery seems to have been closed down when Sikorski sold the tavern to Erick Lubinski in 1898.

The Winona Newspaper Project also pointed out a connection between this building and the Hot Fish Shop. As everyone who is over thirty and able to locate Winona on a map could tell you, the Hot Fish Shop was a landmark on Winona's outskirts at the intersection of Highway 61 and Mankato Avenue. Its founder, a former professional fisherman named Henry Kowalewski,  publicized it by giving his customers free postage-paid postcards of Sugar Loaf looming over his restaurant, like the one at left. The idea was that the customers would write to their friends about what a great time they had in Winona - especially while eating at the Hot Fish Shop.

But the Hot Fish Shop had not always operated in the shadow of Sugar Loaf. The original Hot Fish Shop opened its doors in the former Sikorski saloon either on Christmas Day or on New Year's Eve 1931. When the time came to build the new Washington-Kosciuszko School in 1934, the Hot Fish Shop was one of a number of buildings condemned to make room. It closed on August 4, 1934 and reopened in its brand new facility on December 26th of that year. The picture at right is pretty much how I remembered it. When I was a kid, passing the Hot Fish Shop meant that we had finally, finally, made it to Winona. Actually eating at the Hot Fish Shop was something Mom and Dad and our aunts and uncles did, on special occasions. I'll never forget how impressed I was when I finally, finally, got to eat there. Or how depressed I was when it closed for good in 1999. There is a Dairy Queen on the site now. Progress.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Jozef Milanowski

Jozef Milanowski (1840 Wiele - 1885 Winona)
Anna Katarzyna Govin (1846 Osława Dąbrowa - 1925 Winona)

Jozef Milanowski was born circa 1840 to Hipolit and Franciszka nee Zabinska Milanowski. He arrived in New York on 4 August 1860 aboard the sailing ship "Elise Rabike" but does not seem to have been traveling with his father, who emigrated at about the same time, remarried in Winona, and ultimately moved to Portage County.  Anna Katarzyna Govin (alternative spellings abound) was born on 10 November 1846 to Antoni and Wiktoria nee Breza Govin.

No record exists of Jozef and Anna's marriage exists, but their first child, Mary Barbara, was born in Winona on 29 December 1861. The new mother herself had just turned fifteen. Eight of their nine children survived until adulthood: Mary Barbara Bambenek (1861-1932); Aleksander "Alex" Milanowski (1867-1897); William Milanowski (1874-1903); Roman Milanowski (1876-1903); Hieronim "Jerome" Milanowski (1878-1940); Leonard Milanowski (1880-1945); Franciszka Joanna Milanowski (1883-1964); Joseph Milanowski, Jr. (1885-1912).

The Milanowski family operated a grocery store at 557 East Second Street until Jerome Milanowski's death in 1940. Jozef was very involved in the Democratic Party, not just at the ward level but the city level, and he served two terms as Fourth Ward alderman. He was seeking a third term at the time of his sudden and unexpected death on 4 April 1885. As the two clippings from the Winona Daily Republican show, Jozef Milanowski enjoyed a status in Winona's public life which belies the all too familiar "dumb Polack" stereotype. Indeed, even the pastor from the Luxemburgian-American town of Rollingstone preached a sermon at Jozef's funeral: in German, no less.

Alex Milanowski seems to have taken up his father's place both in the family business and in politics. He was elected Fourth Ward school director in 1888 at the age of just twenty-one. He remained politically involved until his premature death on 30 December 1897.

Frances Milanowski graduated from Winona Normal School, and was a long-time elementary school teacher and benefactress of Saint Stanislaus Kostka church. There is much more information about her at the Smiles in Boxes blog.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Wawrzyniec Dywan

The Dywan family came to Winona in the 1870s, perhaps at the encouragement of Malgorzata Dywan’s older brother, Marcin Bambenek. The family tree that Uncle Jim Bambenek and Aunt Frances Rettkowski drafted 25 years ago listed one Margareta Dywan as a sister of my great-grandfather Charles Bambenek. The awesome Winona Newspaper Project shows no obituary for Wawrzyniec Dywan, but does record the deaths of Joseph (13 September 1893), Margaret (3 February 1922), John (6 December 1948), and Peter (18 June 1953) Dywan.

The grave of Wawrzyniec Dywan is easy to find in Saint Mary's Cemetery. This monument is close to the northern end of the Old Polish Section, and can be seen from the cemetery road.  The inscription is Tu spoczywa Wawrzeniec DYWAN, Umarl 17 Pazdziernika 1890 Stari 56 Lat: "Here lies Wawrzeniec (sic) DYWAN, died 17 October 1890, 56 years old."  From the misspelling of his first name and of the Polish adjective "stary," I am not sure that the stone was carved by a Polish speaker.

On the other hand, the headstone has held up extremely well over the last 120 years. The carvings are intact and the inscription is completely legible. It must have cost the bereaved family a fair amount of money, at a financial sacrifice which is hard to calculate: would the benefits from St. Casimir's or Saint Stanislaus's Society (provided Wawrzyniec was a member) have covered such a substantial monument? When her oldest son Joseph died in September 1893, Malgorzata spent the night by his open grave, "close up to the dense foliage of the bluffside," refusing to believe that he was in fact dead.

At right is the concrete headstone of Malgorzata Bambenek Dywan, which I found, completely by happenstance, on May 31, 2013 at Saint Mary's. This monument is "close up to the dense foliage of the bluffside" in the cemetery's far southeast corner, and overlooks pretty much everything to its north. The horizontal inscription, scratched into the wet concrete, is MALGORZATA DYWAN, and the vertical inscription is UMARLA 3 LUTEGO 1922 LAT 96: "Died February 3, 1922 aged 96." By this time her surviving sons, Peter and John, were both over fifty and still single. According to the census data, Peter was employed on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad as a bridge carpenter, and John was a house painter. No fancy stone this time around; homemade cement monuments are not rare in the Old Polish Section, and this is one of the better made ones. The inscriptions are pretty well faded/eroded, but otherwise the monument is remarkably intact.

Jozef Bambenek

Jozef (1827 Trzebun -1883 Winona) and Marianna née Pelowska (1836 Rotembark -1913 Winona) Bambenek seem to have emigrated to Winona after 1875. Jozef was a third cousin to Martin Bambenek, who emigrated to Winona in 1867 or 1868. He was employed on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. On January 2, 1883 he was working on a gravel train which was filling in cuts and trestles in the Stockton area, when a gravel car rolled over his right arm and right leg. He was taken not to a hospital, but to his home. Although the Winona Daily Republican reported he was "as comfortable as could be expected," he died not long afterward.

Three of Jozef and Marianna’s four children lived to adulthood: Michael Sr. (1862-1935); Teofil John (1870-1917); Antoinetta Cichosz (1872-1952)Michael Bambenek, Sr. was a longtime policeman in Winona and served for a while as night captain.

Michael Bambenek's son, Michael Bambenek, Jr. (1902-1982) served first as athletic director at Alliance College (the college of the Polish National Alliance) and then as Winona’s Director of Recreation from 1940 to 1968. After his retirement, Mike Bambenek Field was named in his honor.

Teofil Bambenek's widow, Leokadia née Cichanowska Bambenek, owned and operated a millinery shop in Aberdeen, South Dakota after his death.

Marcin Bambenek

Marcin Szymon Bambenek (1821 Kashuba - 1878 Winona)
Magdalena Stoltman (1826 Lesno -1883 Winona)

The Bambenek family (listed in the 1870 US Census as "Bine") emigrated from Widno via Quebec in 1867 or 1868. Marcin started a general merchandise business at 271-273 East Second Street (a garage of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company now stands there). After Marcin’s death, the Bambeneks’ second son Jan Baltasar took over the store until 1886, when the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy’s railroad track was built along Second Street, thereby driving most of the retail establishments away.

Eight of the Bambeneks’ eleven children lived to adulthood:
Wojciech “Albert”
Bambenek (1849-1929);
Marianna Bambenek Wicka (1852-1934); Jan Baltasar “John B.”  Bambenek(1854-1938); Walenty “William” Bambenek(1856-1888);
Veronica Bambenek Ramczykowski (1859-1925);
Katarzyna "Kate" Bambenek Czapiewski Bronk (1861-1887); Karol “Charles” Bambenek (1864-1937); Paul Bambenek (1869-1942).

The picture at right was discovered on; I have tried to contact the original poster to convey my thanks and ask for permission to share it. The original poster suggests a date of around 1869 and identifies those pictured as (left to right) Marcin, Walenty, Marianna, Jan Baltasar, Wojciech, and Magdalena. I'm not quite so sure myself, but on the other hand I don't have any better guesses either.

Joseph (1889-1977), Dominic (1887-1969), and Alfred (1900-1988) Bambenek, the sons of Jan Baltasar and Mary née Milanowski Bambenek, founded the Peerless Chain Company after the First World War.

John Charles Bambenek (1891-1966), son of Charles and Franciszka née Negowska Bambenek, served as Winona County Treasurer from 1920 to 1947.

So we go inside, and gravely read the stones

As far back as I can recall, I have been mesmerized by cemeteries. St. Mary's Cemetery in Winona, Minnesota has always been my favorite. The mortal remains of my beloved kitten wife, Lisa Gray Hughes, now lie buried here. Someday my remains will lie beside my Moopy's, alongside those of my parents and of my maternal grandparents, John C. and Laura Pellowski Bambenek. So far from depressing me, this thought gives me an unbelievable comfort. As does the idea that the little boy I was back then was not just visiting his ancestors, but his future neighbors. But then, I have always been a seriously weird dude.

The purpose of this blog is to collect data on the Kashubian American families of Winona. Of course no mere rock with names and dates engraved upon it can capture the loves, and hates, and passions of the separate lives Moopy and I lived, or of the twenty-one joyous years God gave us to spend together. Multiply this glaring discrepancy by the number of those buried at St. Mary's Cemetery and the result is a universe - a virtual Spoon River of lives to sample and explore as best we can. And now, in the autumn of my life, they have summoned me to share their stories as best I can. If by some chance you have actually read this far, please consider yourself summoned too. I would welcome your contributions and (even more) your company.