Polish Room: Keeps heritage, tradition alive


The Polish Room, a room unknown to many on the Wilkes campus, contains a wide vriety of artifcts donated from Poland that carry special meaning.

Alyssa Stencavage, L&A&E Editor

Hidden in a far corner on the second floor of the library is a room devoted to keeping Polish traditions going strong.
Created in 1950 when the university we know today was still “Wilkes College,” this room is dedicated to the memory of all those from Poland who came to settle in the Wyoming Valley.
It was relocated to Farley Library from Parish Hall Guard Building, after Dr. Eugene Farley made a visit to the University of Pittsburgh and was impressed by Nationality Rooms there. As a way to allow individuals to express cultural heritage, he then encouraged the making of a room here on campus.
So began the Polish Room, with its many ethnic objects like Polish books, paintings, sculptures, maps, weavings and traditional clothing as well as colored pisanki eggs, backed by the present day Polish Committee which had its beginning in 1937. The idea was to mimic the style of Zakopane in Poland’s Tatra Mountains.
One of the world’s leading block engravers, Stefan Mrozewski, is credited with the room’s design, and the birch furniture featured in the room was handmade by Stefan Hellersperk of Dallas.
One look at the Polish Room would show the seemingly overwhelming array of artifacts scattered throughout. Quilted tapestries and oil paintings line the walls, portraying famous Poles and American Revolutionary war heroes significant to the country.
At the top of the fireplace mantle sits a wooden eagle, whose presence greets guests as they enter the room. Representing pride, patriotism and power, this white eagle is a national symbol of Poland. Wooden dolls and figurines dressed in traditional Polish attire sit beside the eagle, closely accompanied by a display of colorful and detailed Polish garments.
An object likely to draw anyone’s attention is a handmade mask of Jesus, donated by the Polish Committee’s founder and first president Mrs. Marie Kocyan. Considering the size of the room, just outside the room larger displays can be seen. Common to Polish/American families and passed down through the age are a variety of handmade Christmas tree ornaments, which can be viewed under glass.
All of the objects in this room are donated and imported from Poland.
In addition to the rich history the Polish Room holds, monthly meetings are conducted by committee members to discuss ideas and plans.
“We were very active at one time,” Bernadine Tarasek, president of the Polish Room Committee, said. “It’s slowing down, but we still do what we have to do.”
The committee’s biggest efforts go to planning the annual Kosciuszko Ball, where guests come dressed up and enjoy special music, a slow-dance band and dinner, among other things.
This ball is also where the annual Polish Room committee scholarship winners are introduced, accompanied by a parent or significant other. These scholarships began at $500, but have been increased to $1,000 and $3,000 over the years. These scholarships are available to freshmen and up, and the number of applicants varies from year to year.
However, to be eligible for the scholarships, students must be Luzerne County residents and have some kind of Polish heritage, even if that means only one person in the family has a Polish background. Students submit an essay regarding their Polish heritage, each of which goes through four people on the committee. The essays are numbered rather than by name, and in the end the two students most in need are deemed the winners.
“That’s the fairest way to do it,” Tarasek said. “The essays they write are beautiful; they really tell it nice.”
Invitations for the ball are sent out as well as sponsor letters to certain people, including past guests. Donations are made, which go toward the scholarship money for students. At the ball, students and whoever accompanies them are given an opportunity to say a few words about receiving the scholarship, or they can choose to read their essays.
Usually every year the color theme and centerpiece displays for the ball change.
“It’s really beautiful, a really nice change,” Tarasek said. “It’s a long time going on – I’d hate to see it stop. It’s the only Polish tradition left; we’d like to keep it going. Everything in this world is changing, we’ve been lucky.”
Another Polish Committee event coming up is the Christmas Eve Wigilia dinner for Polish families, which will be held on Dec. 10 in the Ballroom. Perogies, cabbage and fish are just some of the food options for the dinner, and those who feel like singing can join in the Polish songs.
Yet another Polish gathering is the food tasting, another project of the Polish Committee, the next of which will be in the spring. People can come sit, look around and visit and, again, delight in the variety of Polish foods that are donated. This all happens right outside the Polish room – and better yet, it’s free.
Cookbooks are also sold to help with funds.
Beyond the many activities and artifacts that stand in honor of the Polish Room, the Polish Committee has also sponsored Polish artists and their works, such as recitals by Polish virtuosos, performances by dance groups, lectures, folk art displays, dramatic presentations and two conventions.
Especially considering all that the room represents, some on campus see a true importance of a place that deserves attention.
“The Polish Room is dedicated to the Polish immigrants who came to this area in hopes of a better life, the same as every other person or ethnic group who came to America,” Head of Technical Services at Farley Library Helenmary Selecky said. “It contains folk art, books, costumes and all types of artifacts common to Eastern Europe in general, and Poland in particular.
The Polish Room has been a part of the Farley Library since the “new” library opened its doors in 1968. Farley, Wilkes’ first president, offered space in the library to various local ethnic and civic groups to help promote their cause, and a group of Polish-American women took him up on his offer.
The Polish Room is unique in this area. I don’t know of any other permanent exhibit of this type in all of Northeastern Pennsylvania.”
Capturing the essence of Polish history, this room really serves to keep anything pertaining to Polish Heritage going, and it gives people with this heritage the chance to come and feel at home again in Poland.
Despite all that the Polish Room has to offer, its existence doesn’t seem to be well known.
“Many people don’t know about it until the tasting, or unless we bring them in from outside and tell them to come in,” Tarasek said.
Tarasek, who only found out about the room about 20 years ago when she started bringing some older women for visits, encourages people to “come and see all the Polish tradition.”
“Learn about the customs and see the different things they probably don’t even know about,” she said. “Everything has history.”
Even if you’re not of Polish background, the Polish Room might be a place to consider visiting. For those who are, the room can be a nice reflection on that heritage. Simply notify Selecky or Tarasek of your interest. There will be a book to sign and someone will walk around with you as you explore.
For more information, visit www.wilkes.edu/polishroom or contact Tarasek at 570- 824-8323 or Selecky at [email protected].