Polish Women’s Group Preserves Basilica and City’s Heritage

Susan Mikoś and Edith Melson, both past presidents of Polanki, the Polish Women’s Cultural Club of Milwaukee, recently joined 14 additional members of the organization on a special and fascinating guided tour of the renowned Conrad Schmitt Studios in New Berlin, WI.

The entire group was captivated, understandably, as they interacted with the artisans and craftsmen responsible for restoring the splendor of stained glass windows from churches around the world and were witness to the workmanship and attention to detail required of them.

Moreover, they all shared a vested interest in being there, after all, as they wanted to see how their generous $50,000 donation to the St. Josaphat Basilica Foundation was being spent to replenish and repair windows of our own Basilica.

The women of Polanki, Milwaukee’s Polish Women’s Cultural Group toured Conrad Schmitt Studios to see the stained glass restoration process. Polanki contributed $50,000 to the restoration of the west bell tower window. Their generosity in helping to preserve the Basilica’s beautiful interior helps make it one of the top things to do in Milwaukee for visitors.

“Polanki is a dynamic organization with more than 100 dedicated members interested in showcasing Polish culture,” Mikoś said. “Our great strength is that we’ve been able to evolve with the changing times. We want Polish culture to be presented in a true way, accurately, and have tried to maintain certain standards and maintain a positive image.”

Indeed, the recent gift particularly earmarked for the window restoration project is just the latest benevolent gesture by Polanki, a group that has maintained a longtime commitment of supporting the Basilica and its efforts to showcase its Polish roots. Polanki has been active now for more than 65 years and has been promoting Polish traditions and preserving Polish heritage in a great number of ways in addition to its support of the Basilica.

The group sponsors many cultural programs and concerts throughout the year, hosts a Pierogi Dinner in the spring, their Soup Festival in the fall, participates in Polish Fest in June and the annual November Holiday Folk Fair.  The club awards more than $10,000 a year in college scholarship funds and was a driving force behind the successful effort to restore the General Tadeusz (Thaddeus) Kosciuszko monument in the park named in his honor across from the Basilica.

Kosciuszko was born in Poland in 1746, the Polanki club would want you to know, and came to America intent on using his expertise as a military engineer to help the colonies gain independence from Great Britain. Kosciuszko designed fortifications that helped the Revolutionary Army win critical victories, including the fortress at West Point, which later became the premier US military academy, his crowning achievement.

This important bit of narrative is of course no surprise to one Susan Gibson Mikoś, recipient of a Master of Anthropology and Historical Archeology from Brown University, since she authored a book in 2012 published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press titled, “Poles in Wisconsin”. And conveniently enough, if you have an interest in Susan’s book or a vast collection of other materials about Poland, the public is welcome to visit the Polanki Library located at the Polish Center of Wisconsin, in Franklin.

Polanki contributed funds to underwrite the construction of the library, established in the year 2000, and today it includes resources dealing with history, culture, language, heraldry, literature, folklore, music, geography, arts and the burgeoning subject of genealogy. The Polanki Library’s regular hours are Tuesdays 12 to 2pm, Wednesdays from 6 to 8pm, or by appointment.

Melson, 83, the other former president of the club, is now an advisor on the Polanki Board of Directors and has had an alliance with the group since 1972.

“I have an interest in seeing the group do well. Once you’re a Polanka you’re a member for a long time,” she said. “I think it’s an organization that because of the commitment our members bring to our endeavors, I think it will continue beyond our lifetimes.”

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