The Polish Center of Wisconsin
Rising from deep roots in the 1800s, Milwaukee's Polish community grew to become one of the nation's largest - nearly 200,000 strong by 1980. Generations of pride finally found expansion in Polish Fest, a celebration of culture and cuisine first held on Milwaukee's lakefront in 1982. The success of Polish Fest helped the community pursue an even larger dream: a permanent center for the promotion and preservation of all things Polish.
The dream took more tangible shape in 1987, when Polish Festivals, Inc purchased a parcel of land in suburban Franklin. The property's crowning glory was a small spring fed lake with water quality typical of northern Wisconsin. The high ground above the lake was dominated by red oaks and white oaks - with some trunks up to three feet in diameter. It was on this exceptional piece of land that the community hoped to build its center.
In 1996, 26 representatives from more than 15 Polish organizations convened to lay the groundwork for today's Polish Center. In a series of spirited planning sessions, this group addressed the why, what, and where of a community center, and their deliberations helped build consensus for the journey ahead.
In 1998, Polish Fest president Michael Skwierawski recruited a Blue Ribbon Committee to raise funds for the Polish Center. A team of community leaders stepped forward and went to work. Lincoln State Bank, an institution with deep roots in the Polish community, agreed to provide the financing. A campaign cabinet chaired by Casey Janiszewski and Thomas Krukowski raised more than $2,000,000 to commence construction.
The firm of Uihlein-Wilson Architects, together with Professor Thomas Hubka, was selected to design the future Polish Center in the style of a Polish manor house - a fitting symbol of Poland's national heritage and tradition of gracious hospitality. Beyer Construction Co. translated the architect's plans into reality. Less than a year after ground was broken, the building was ready for occupancy.
On June 13, 1999, the long awaited groundbreaking ceremonies took place. Representatives of Polish Festivals, Inc. and the campaign cabinet participated, along with public officials and members of the Polish community.
The Polish Center of Wisconsin opened its doors on August 26, 2000. The grand opening was a festive event that drew more than 700 people and extensive coverage in the local media.
Today, the Polish Center of Wisconsin celebrates Poland's proud heritage through a wide variety of events and programs. It provides meeting space for Polish Community groups and serves as a cultural center where people learn about Polish history, language, literature, arts, traditions, and contemporary affairs.
A library opened by Polanki, the Polish Women's Cultural Club of Milwaukee, offers a wealth of books and audio-visual materials relating to Poland, in both English and Polish.
Polish community organizations hold meetings, banquets, and other events at the Polish Center. The center's gracious interior also makes it a popular venue for weddings and social occasions.
One of the community's most cherished dreams had always been to preserve the lake and the land around it for future generations to enjoy. In 2003, the Polish Heritage Alliance (formerly Polish Festivals, Inc.) launched a collaboration with the Reiman Center for Cancer Care, the Polish Center's neighbor to the southwest. They formed the Conservancy for Healing and Heritage, a separate non-profit organization that purchased 36 acres of the original Polish Center property in 2005. It will preserve the land in perpetuity. The Conservancy plans to develop a healing garden for cancer patients and a system of pathways and overlooks that will allow this jewel to shine for the entire Milwaukee community.
The Polish Center is a vibrant piece in Wisconsin's ethnic mosaic. By celebrating Polish heritage and culture, it pays tribute to all the immigrants who have brought a colorful array of customs and traditions to our shore, and it enriches the entire community.
© 2007 The Polish Center of Wisconsin
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