Poles in San Diego
History as well as social and religious life of the community
by Pawel Pia

1981 - AID FOR POLAND COMMITTEE and Ignacy Jan Paderewski Society
"The The old established organizations represent the familiar social routine. But during the critical days of December 1981 none of them could single-handedly lead the local Polonia in a quick, decisive effort to render effective help to our Mother Country.
Seven days after the declaration of martial law in Poland all civic leaders were called by the Franciscan priest, Rev. Frederick Gorka, to form an Ad Hoc Committee, which chose the name AID FOR POLAND COMMITTEE. Father Gorka modestly withdrew. Professor Jozef Patyk was elected chairman. The officers were Mr. Ray Winkowski, Ms. Mary Claypool, Mrs. Jolanta Lewak, Mr. C. J. "Pat" Paderewski and Mr. Adam Saling. Nine members gave active support: Mrs. Jean Choban, Commander Stephen Drabek, USN, Mr. J. T. Filip, the Rev. Frederick Gorka, Mr. Stanley Lisowski, Mr. Tomasz Ostrowski, Mr. George Pruski, Mrs. Krystyna W. Saling and Mr. Joseph Wojtowski.

The fund-raising began. The local media helped tremendously by covering the events. The first was a candlelight procession through Balboa Park. In the darkness of the evening on December 23, 1981, the organizers drove with pounding hearts to Balboa Park, expecting to find only a few souls. They found hundreds of supporters with signs, candles and flags. They marched in solemn silence past the reflecting pools, toward the Polish Cottage in the heart of the Park. They carried baskets of blessed bread wafers, the traditional Wigilia Oplatki. Due to time difference, it was already Christmas Eve in Poland. The Poles proceeded to share the Oplatek with the multitude, reminding them during this solemn occasion of the fate of the Polish miners revolting deep inside the Silesian coal mines, the shipyard workers in Gdansk, all the political prisoners, and all the suffering countrymen in the towns and hamlets of Poland. They shared the blessed bread with the TV camera man who followed every move and mood, with the reporters taking notes and with the bystanders who were visibly moved. The Royal Eagle flew high in San Diego on this darkest night in Poland's recent history.

The Aid for Poland Committee collected funds, organized distribution in Poland through the American Red Cross and the Bishops' Conference, wrote letters of appeal and expressions of gratitude. A collection of rummage was converted at a swap meet into cash, which in turn was invested in the rental of the large Immaculata Auditorium at the University of San Diego. With the help of Providence and the talents of Matthew Szandor, a Hungarian pianist, and Elzbieta Szczygielska, mezzo-soprano, a concert of music by Chopin, Moniuszko and Szymanowski provided hundreds of children in Poland with medical supplies and multi-vitamins. The committee workers derived profound satisfaction from their work. One member, the late Zofia Gamber collected almost one thousand dollars in donations from city bus passengers! She was eighty years old at the time, but how persuasive! Some wished to continue working for the Polish cause, even after martial law was lifted.

The Ignacy Jan Paderewski Society emerged out of this desire. The Society goals are educational and charitable. It has to its credit concerts, lectures, social work among the refugees, legal aid and many articles on Polish issues in the American press. Its co-founder and president, Adam Saling, also helped to form, and became the first chairman of the Polish American Community Council, an Ad Hoc group representing the seven Polish non-profit organizations of San Diego County. Their cooperation on various projects, for example the Polish Veterans Day, has been exemplary.

House of Poland in Balboa Park
Probably the most visible of all organizations is the House of Poland, located in Balboa Park. Open every Sunday afternoon it is THE club, an information center for newcomers, and a focus of interest for all. Even Poles organized in distant Escondido in the Polish American Social Club of North San Diego County, take turn hosting in the House of Poland.
To serve there is a privilege. The ambience is charming, the scenery delightful, and the new faces always interesting: from the matron trying to decipher her Polish grandfather's birth certificate to the hungry denizens of the park who appear in the door to receive food and hot coffee. The reputation of hospitality is maintained: this is a truly Polish house.