Past Deeds, Future Dreams

Travel writer Olgierd Budrewicz took a trip to Pennsylvania for a walk down memory lane with his old friend Ed Piszek, founder of the Copernicus Foundation and the World of English.

After many years (how time flies!), I again found my way to lovely Emlen House just outside Philadelphia. In front of the car gate still hangs the same plaque informing visitors that George Washington once spent some time there. Ed Piszek, the owner and host, welcomes his guests at the doorstep as always. He is an American of Polish heritage so, as the Polish saying goes, "A guest in the house - God in the house."

Has anything really changed? Well, in one way no, but in another way much has changed. Firstly, the work of Edward Piszek himself, who is in a completely different phase of his social activities since I first visited. Back then he was very irritated by the popularity of degrading Polish jokes, and was completely absorbed in how he could counteract their effect.

And then I saw the noble results of that irritation: full-page advertisements about world-famous Poles and their achievements were printed in the largest American daily papers. These were always portraits of a Polish person with a short biography underlining his or her accomplishments, plus their contribution to spreading Polish culture. On "Piszek's List" were found several hundred people, from Copernicus, Kosciuszko and Chopin to Joseph Conrad and Maria Sk³odowska-Curie, as well as Polish winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. It was a private war waged by the millionaire from Philadelphia and was christened with the name "Project Pole". It was incredibly successful and helped cause Polish jokes to slowly but systematically fade away.

This marked the first step in educating Americans about Polish achievements and culture. But Ed Piszek had sacks more full of ideas. The next one was his financing a series of films about Poland, its history, arts and historical monuments. Then came the film Poland's Will to Be, narrated by the famous writer James A. Michener, which was shown on many TV channels in America. Piszek then sponsored the modern translation of Henryk Sienkiewicz's Trilogy and had it bound in luxurious fashion for the American market. He reminded Americans of the hero of both nations, Tadeusz Kosciusko (who helped Americans beat the British to win independence), by renovating his old house in the center of Philadelphia.

Eventually Piszek came to the conclusion that this was enough education for Americans but instead time to expand the education of Poles. This did not happen overnight, of course, although thousands of English language books had been flowing from Philadelphia to Poland over the previous few years. Now was the time for some great action that would popularize the English language and realize his dream that English should become the second language of Poles. This he saw as the road to entering the world, so he engaged time, effort and money and sent the Peace Corps to Poland. He also began the publication of the magazine you are now reading. Thanks to the involvement of the man from Philadelphia, many young Poles have mastered the language of Shakespeare and Hemingway, while others are making great strides in that direction.

We stroll through the old park surrounding Emlen House, while I listen to the colorful and often humorous tales of my host, and I admire his temperament. Nothing came easily and without pain, though. You can be thrown down seven times but the eighth time you cannot allow it to happen, says Piszek. He has had his own large and small catastrophes, which he managed to overcome. His greatest successes were brought about by his friendship with the novelist Michener. They traveled together to Poland and the Vatican where they met Pope John Paul II numerous times. Piszek convinced Michener to write a book about Poland. Entitled simply Poland, it was the next chapter in Piszek's campaign to increase America's knowledge about Poland. Over 3 million copies were printed and it became a bestseller in America.

So what next with the education of Poles? Piszek still has many plans, besides the priority of teaching English. The dissemination of baseball - and sport in general - is perhaps the most important. "It's now high time to appreciate the values that build the character through sport, and not only for professional players." In the backwaters and small towns across Poland there is a lack of baseball fields, sports equipment and the like. It was from here that the idea came to build the Little League Baseball Center in Kutno in the very center of Poland. This includes equipping the young players, erecting dormitories for
300 beds, and organizing baseball competitions on countrywide and international levels.

This wealthy American of Polish heritage feels that even in a country where soccer is king, it is possible to inject the spirit of baseball. I don't have the nerve to tell him that I am skeptical this time, as so many dreams of Edward Piszek have already come true. We stroll under old chestnut and maple trees and I recall the words of John Paul II, who when he was still cardinal in Cracow remarked, "If we had one hundred Piszeks in America, we could really achieve such a lot."