Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thanks Mom!!

On my last trip to the Northland, Mother and I went for a little drive around the country. Our last destination of the day was Florian. I of course wanted to see if the last marker was in place. As we headed South, Mother remarked how the last time she remembers being at Florian was when Dad played softball. Guess that would be a mere 70 or so years ago by my calculation.

Upon arriving at the Florian cemetery, we saw the marker for Antonia was placed and the extra etching on the "front" side was completed. So, for all intents and purposes we have finally accomplished what we set out to do about 15 years ago.

FYI, the final bill for the 2 markers came to $6,217.81. I did receive about $150 extra from various cousins as a result of the flowers for Aunt Ella's funeral. And, most recently (last week), I received a contribution from Mother in the amount of $500. I also believe a portion of the reunion fund will go toward reimbursement of these costs. But, that is up to the current holders of the funds, Peggy and Joey.

Any interest in trying to do something similar for Frank's brother Peter and his wife who are buried in Kroze. Or something a little more elaborate for Grandma Mary Wilebski? Let me know, and of course open the checkbook.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Having spent several hours placing Franczek's marker with the help of Joey and Peggy, I pleaded with them to accompany me to Florian. Since I had never been to that cemetery and only vaguely knew what to expect via cousin Kathy (Wilebski) Schafer, I was pretty nervous. As always, Joey and Peggy agreed to follow us down there.

Upon finding the cemetery, I looked around trying to find the existing grave marker. I at once saw a cross that looked identical in shape to the one that was on "Frank's" grave at Kroze. And, since I saw it in amongst other relatives such as the Kuznias and Kazmierzcaks, I was 90% certain I had found it. But, I told our placement guy, I wanted to be sure.

Kathy had indicated that Mike Kuznia, who lived nearby, would be there to meet us. Alas, no one was around, so I ended up going to the rectory where I met the deacon. I explained my plight and he provided a map of all the graves. This was a good thing since upon finding Antonia's name, it was on the opposite side of the cemetary.....Thank you lord Jesus!

When I finally located the site, Joey and Peggy were pulling up in their Sunday go to meeting sedan and joined us. I also went back to the deacon to see if we couldn't have a local "expert" tell us if we were doing things correctly according to their rules. The deacon called Mike Kuznia and he promptly showed up with his son in law in tow. Mike was a great guy, and of course knew about us and our family since Tom Wilebski was married to his aunt. He explained that before uncle Tom left for St. Paul and the railroad job, he was a carpenter in the Florian area and also was responsible for many of the early cement grave markers in the area. Who would have known?

O.K. so far so good. But again we were faced with the dilema of the original cross. When we tried to jiggle this one loose, it would not budge. Darren shoved his shovel down a couple feet behind the cross and hit cement. His and our thoughts were they have poured a huge slab of concrete and that we would never be able to budge this baby. The prospects that were available to us then were not all that great, since we would be forced to put the new marker on the other end of the grave. And that meant it would be almost out of view and under a row of spruce trees. Realizing the goo that oozes from spruce trees unabated over the months and years, gloom descended upon our small group.

Thankfully, Peggy kept insisting that we move the existing monument, or at least try to see just how much trouble it would be. I have to say knowing Mrs. Peggy for as long as I have, I have come to appreciate her mild mannered insistence. I'm sure the Stennes guy rolled his eyes, but we listened to Peggy and it was a good thing. As we came to find out later, the cement that Darren hit was the outline of the grave. And here's the funny part, or unusual at least. Since there were some very dramatic sand storms in this area during the depression in the late 20's and early 30's, the graves had accummulated an additional foot and a half of dirt since Antonia was buried. Amazing!

Upon digging out the original cross, we found additional inscriptions. Joey was quick to get a bucket of water and clean it off so that after we placed it, it could be read. I've included a couple of pics of the before and after.

The only other issue that arose was in connection with the placement of the new marker. Since the majority of the "fronts" of the markers faced East, that would mean to comply our marker would be viewed primarily by the spruce trees and would not be viewable to someone entering the cemetary. So, the dilema was how could we circumvent this implied rule without offending the locals. The Stennes guy came up with a solution. He said that for a few hundred more U.S. dollars, he could bring the stone back to the shop and put some limited wording on the back side to comply, while still retaining all of the good stuff and the picture on the side most people would see....our "front" side.

Executive decision made amongst the cousins and the stone was heading back to the shop for the additional lettering. While the stone did not get placed on Monday, we are led to believe it should be done in the not too distant future.

Should any of you ever have the opportunity to make it to this graveyard, you will probably notice there are more of our relatives buried here than at Kroze. Although other than Antonia and Paul, there are no others with the last name of Wilebski. But, you will see a ton of Kuznias, Kazmierzaks, Prices, etc.

FYI, Peter Wilebski's son Paul buried not too far away from Antonia.

Hope you enjoy the pictures and the story of the end of this 15 year quest to honor our great grandparents. And yes, we can use any donations you can spare to reimburse the family member that fronted this endeavor.

Kroze Marker Placement accomplished!!

After almost 15 years, the deed is finally done. I was beginning to think just this month that is was not to be with all the fits and starts this project has had. In fact we had 2 different placement dates, and if it wouldn't have happened this Monday, well who knows if it would have gotten done this year.

First off, I want to thank everyone that has provided input on this project. I truly appreciate all of the proof reading and comments. Your support, whether monetary or morale was appreciated more than you may realize.

So how did it finally go on Monday? Well, Joey and Mrs. Peggy agreed to meet me at the Kroze cemetery early Monday morning. It was a cold and blustery day for the middle of August. Our point man Darren Nelson of Stennes Granite arrived about 9am with his son Tanner riding shotgun. After a brief consultation, Darren pointed out the marker was fairly heavy, something on the order of 800 pounds. And, that getting it to the gravesite of Francszek would be a somewhat "monumental" (pun intended) task if he could not manuever the truck with overhead crane closer. In effect, we would have to get it there by hand cart. Neither Joey or I were too enthused about that prospect. The problem as we saw it was that to get the truck closer to the gravesite required us to find a path across existing graves. And many of those were from around the turn of the last century, before those cement enclosures were being used. In other words we were concerned that the weight of the pickup and several ton of granite could possibly cave in an existing grave. Since the majority of the Wilebski clan is not exactly in good graces with the Kroze congregation, we were somewhat concerned about the prospects.

After much discussion, the decision was made to try get the truck closer to the site and take the chance it would not fall into any existing grave. It worked, perhaps due to some unknown force. But again, we didn't damage any graves in the process.

Upon looking at the grave with the original cross, we reiterated our desire to salvage the original marker. This cement cross was constructed by Frank's son Tom, who we found out made quite a few of these monuments prior to his leaving the area to become a carpenter for a railroad in St. Paul.

Darren from Stennes was more than happy to move the existing marker, but was concerned that it would break if we tried to do so. Again, Joey and I agreed to take responsibility if it broke. But we were somewhat nervous. As with everything this day that went right, we were able to free the existing original marker with ease and place it at the back of the gravesite while we installed the new memorial.

All of this went quite well. Throughout the process Peggy was our final word in the placement and alignment of both the new memorial and the replacement of the original cement cross marker. Mega thanks to her and Joey for being there, as I am not sure it would have turned out as well if I were there on my own.

I have attached a few of the pictures of the process for your viewing pleasure.

Oh, almost forgot to tell you that decades ago when our family was still a part of that congregation and our family worked to raise money and clean up the cemetery, a map of the graves was obtained. Suprisingly, Frank's brother Peter Wilebski is buried beside him, but there is no grave marker. For those of you wondering about Peter, he was perhaps the most instrumental person in terms of establishing the Polish community up in Kroze, or Richardville Township. He was the one who enticed Poles, many of which were originally from the Posnan area in Poland, to move farther North. This he did with letters to Polish language newspapers in the Chicago area, and of course via word of mouth to those who had already moved from Chicago to the Wilno/Ivanhoe (Minnesota) area. It's a shame this pioneer of the community lies in an unmarked grave.

FYI, this is also the father of our grandfather Joe's second partner, Antonia. We also believe that Peter's wife is buried not too far away in yet another unmarked grave which is labeled Mrs. Wilebski on the handwritten chart. Perhaps once we finish paying for these 2 stones for the great grandparents, we may want to think of some way of identifying these individuals too. Just a thought.

The next blog entry will relate to our Florian experience.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Praha and home

Our last full day of Eastern Europe was again spent in Prague, or Praha as the say it over there. We were able to connect with Nancy Hugg once again for pivo near the Charles Bridge and got to meet a couple of her friends from Minneapolis who were visiting. Nancy was in the process of packing stuff and giving away things she had acquired during the last year. She was scheduled to take a couple of weeks of travel and then back to Minneapolis on the 15th.

As we strolled around this last day, it was with a little less enthusiam. Perhaps the most came from Susan and Joan when they realized they could still do a little more shopping. I have one picture here of Sue as she posed in front of a statue dedicated to failed ballerinas everywhere. Although many of you know the story, for those of you that don't, Susan was an aspiring ballerina in her youth. Unfortunately that all ended when her brother dropped a six pack on her ankle. And now you know the rest of the story.

Although I was just too tired to take any more pictures, I regret not taking one of a 5 person construction crew in Old Town. We watched as 2 people on the 3rd floor with a hoist and wench attempted to bring up a single bag of cement on a wooded pallet. The other part of the story is there were an additional 3 men on the ground supervising the loading of the one bag and watching it as it inched skyward. Both the patriarch and I looked longingly at the situation and dreamed of being the paid union steward for this local organization.

We got back to the hotel fairly early and spent the rest of the day improving the Pivo economics at the hotel. We continued imbibing and playing pinochle. The only incident of the day was when Susan erected a beer glass barricade which I very appropriately crashed into. Dinner was sumptuous as usual.

Saint Joan has a bit of a phobia about being on time for our flights, so we were out the door on the hotel shuttle bus that took us a whole 2 blocks a few minutes after 7am for our 9:35am flight. In retrospect, it was a good thing we did go early. We stood in line for close to 45 minutes where only 2 agents were working. Mind you there were only 6 other people in front of us. Finally another agent opened up and "helped" us. First she gave us hell for using their web site to try and get our reservations confirmed. Then we were scolded for trying to get seat assignments via the same method. After about 15 minutes she checked our bags, somewhat grudgingly and gave us our boarding passes. As we left her station, she abruptly left. This left the orginal 2 agents with what was now a line of about 80 passengers waiting to check in.

And it gets worse. As we looked at the boarding passes, she issued 2 to me and none to Joan. Guess this was retribution for Joan trying to be so damn nice to this chicklet. I sensed a little anger in Saint Joan's eyes as we looked on in disbelief. Armed with what could have been unmentionable 4 letter words in her arsenal, Joan proceeded back to the counter to one of the 2 agents and promptly got our correct boarding passes. Hey, the look in her eyes would have been enough to scare me. As it turned out, the temporary agent had the last laugh. She issued 3 of the baggage claims to me and none to Joan and Frank who each had 2 bags. At MSP, it was determined that 2 of Joan and Frank's bags did not make it.

In a nutshell, I think much of the Czech economy still operates in union mode with a small dash of the old days of communism thrown in for good measure.

Prior to boarding the plane we did a little more shopping to get rid of those Czech Klotchies. A few reasonably priced $40 airport t-shirts and we were ready to roll once again.

Shopping was again at the top of the list for Susan when we reached Schipol international in Amsterdam. Frank and I went to the gate and waited. We were a little amazed to see the lines to get on the flight. After waiting for a short period, the Patriarch instructed me to go find the shoppers and hurry them up. I did and we were able to make our plane. A couple of things of note were that Northwest had apparently cancelled some flights and people were waiting to get home on standby. And, for some reason security and the interview process you go through in Amsterdam seemed a little more tight than usual. Perhaps it had something to do with the recent Glasgow event, but we will probably never know.

And such ends the cousin's trip to the Czech Republic and Poland. As I may have said before, it was a once in a lifetime trip and very enjoyable by all measures. And, regardless of my comments in these blogs, all members of our crew were great to travel with. I'd do it again, but I can't imagine every getting another invitation after all of these shots.

If anyone wants a CD of all the pictures, just let me know and I'll ship you one.

Posnan - Berlin - Prague

Monday the 25th was another travel day for us. We were greeted early by another knock on our door from Maria wanting to see us off. All 5 of us walked to the train station with bags in tow. Since Dominic was not with us, the conversation between us was tough at best. Maria however had a dictionary and tried her best. We just looked dumb and smiled a lot.

As we waited for the train to arrive, Maria looked at our tickets and tried to tell us something. It was in vein, but we did find out after the fact. Basically we had reserved seats and a compartment, but we jumped on the wrong car. Eventually we found out otherwise and walked the 3 cars back to find our seats. Maria kept pointing in that direction and smiling, but alas we were clueless. I wonder what she must think of her American visitors?

Our train ride this day back to Prague took us through Germany, Berlin being our first destination. If I didn't mention it before, the Berlin train station was something out of Futurama. It had a minimum of 5 levels and shopping galore. Very modern and functional. Much like the Germans themself. "This train VILL be on Time!

While the girls shopped a little more, Frank and I waited for the train. He must look like a local because this little old 90 year old lady came right up to him with a problem about where her train was going to depart from. Frank took it in stride and helped the lady out. I think these acts come from living with Saint Joan a little too long. Nevertheless I have a picture of the Patriach and "Eva".

On our last train ride of the trip, we got on a bullet train and this time our tickets were pretty much of the first come first served nature. We ended up standing for the first few minutes until things settled down. Eventually we found this nice young German kid that invited us into his cube. His cubemate wasn't exactly all that excited about the idea of us 4 joining them, but then again we didn't speak the language, body or otherwise so we barged in. As we tried to converse with these 2, it was obvious they were from Dresden. What wasn't so obvious was which one was most interested in Sue. I've attached the pictures and perhaps you can make the determination.

As the younger man was getting out at Dresden, he told us to watch for some nice scenery just as we pulled out of the station. I've included a picture of that city from the train. In addition, I snapped one more picture of Susan at the station as she tried to hide behind a bottle of pivo. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but let's face it, it's going to have to be a little bigger bottle.

The last few hours were pretty uneventful as we rolled along the Volta river valley into Prague. Other than me tipping the garbage can where someone had poured part of a beer. It was a mess, but Saint Joan cleaned it up and we stealthfully moved to the cubicle next door.

We arrived a little after 8pm as I recall and navigated the Metro back to our stop at Devijka, then on the 119 bus to our airport hotel. Another fabulous meal and our travelling days were short in number.

Another Sunday day trip in the country

Well, Sunday arrived and as we groggily chomped down our breakfast buffet, the knock on the door signaled the arrival of Maria and our translator for the day, our cousin Dominic. We pulled ourselves together and headed downstairs to the awaiting red van, complete with driver.

Our mission this day was to find the home town of Antonia Januzik in Kosztowo, then on to towns nearby and Szubin where the Wilebskis may have been from, and a few towns at the end of the loop where the Soberiaski (Frank's ancestors)family was known to be from.

After about an hour, perhaps an hour and a half of twisting and winding roads in the country, we arrived at Kosztowo. We pulled right up to the church where it was time for 10am mass to begin. There were 2 gentlemen in the parking lot, probably in their 60's who were smoking their last cigarette. It reminded me of Kroze from my youth. Through the help of Dominic, we had a conversation with them. They pointed out the cemetary was a couple of meters down the road. We also learned that one of the men's wife's family was Januzik. So, we knew we were at the right place.

We decided to go to the cemetary first and then back to the church after the last mass that dismissed at noon. FYI, great grandma's hometown looks like it had a population of less than 500, maybe even less. It was surrounded by farmland and rolling hills with a little river flowing through it.

We hit the jackpot at the cemetary. There were 6 Januzik gravestones. The oldest one I have attached. And based on everything we know, this person could have been a sister or other close relative of great grandma. We also saw another Januzik relative name of Budnik, in addtion to Michalecs, Jaszczaks and Urbaniaks. Funny how these familys seemed to move together when they migrated.

We spent quite a bit of time here and as we approached the van again, Maria had packed yet another picnic lunch for us. She kept feeding us all the time, even though we didn't see her eat that much. I wonder if they have been reading about how overweight us Americans are and wanted to play into the reality? Who knows, we chomped down more goodies and unknown protein balls with bread. At this point, the passport pictures were starting to look good.

Since the ladies needed a rest stop and we still had almost an hour to kill before the church would be vacant, our driver headed toward a town with a "nice" bathroom with paper. We ended up at a BP station out in the country. It was kind of ironic, but as we drove to this rest stop, I saw a sign post that said Glesno. That triggered something and I mentioned to Frank that we should probably stop there on the way back since it was only 4 kilometers off the main road.

Upon arrival at Glesno, we stopped at the church. But, it too was closed up, so we proceeded to the cemetary nearby. Although we were looking for Januzik, we did stumble across another name from that side of the family, Budnik. So, it was worthwhile to make this short sidetrip. It is also here where I got a shot of Maria with her pink purse she picked up when she was in the U.S. several years ago. It is the "Mrs. Timberlake" item I mentioned in previous posts.

Since it was now noon plus, we headed back down the road a few miles back to see the Kosztowo church. It was abandoned by now, at least as far as people and priests were concerned, so we had our run of the place. I have included a couple of those pictures so you can see where great grandma and her family in all likelihood liveed and worshipped in the 1800's.

From Kosztowo, we headed toward Szubin. This is a relatively large city, so we were fortunate to find the community cemetary on the edge of town as we approached. It was huge and with 6 of us looking for ancestral names, we still came up with a blank. However, we did see headstones of Jaszczak, Masloski, and Gorski.

We now headed for a town that was the baptismal village/church of Frank's Sobieraski ancestor. Even though we had one of those LARGE maps of Poland, this village was not on the map. Our guide and Dominic however figured it out and before long we were at the church and its cemetary. Unfortunately, we came up empty in terms of that name. We went to the neighboring town, whose name I forget at this time and walked through another huge cemetary which was even larger than that of Szubin. Again, a blank. But, we did stop for a bottle of wine and some flowers for our next stop along the way.....Maria's daughter's place.

Based on how small Maria's place was in the city, we didn't know exactly what to expect out in the country. We were pleasantly surprised to pull up to a large 3 story house which was gated and had a huge yard. We were greeted by Maria's daughter's husband and ushered to the second level of this very large modern house. Apparently the husband's parents live on half of the lower level, while Christine (Maria's daughter) and her family live on the next 2 levels. It was quite nice to say the least and now I know why she kept insisting we go out here to see her daughter. I think it was more for us to see just how well she was doing. Whether they have money, the husband's parents are supporting them, or they are up to their eyeballs in debt we don't really know. But, they certainly have a decent place.

We again were served another 15 courses on different china, followed by a choice of 6 different deserts in the loft area. We swapped stories as best we could and found out their son whose name I fail to recall is in line to compete in the upcoming olympics in Vancouver. He has a bunch of huskies (?) outside in a pen which are part of the olympic sport of skiing and something else. So, we promised to watch him in Vancouver if that turns out to be the case. I will have to get the last name from Saint Joan the next time I see her so we can post this little tidbit of Wilebski family success stories. Well, we can hope can't we?

I'm posting a couple of pictures of the family so you can tell me if there is any resemblence to any of us.

Since we were heading back to Prague early in the morning, we bid goodbye to our relatives and headed back to Posnan. At the hotel, Maria followed us in and gave us more gifts and we gave them a couple of thank you notes. Well, it was the thought. I hope we hear from them again, since they were absolutely the most gracious people. Perhaps we can talk them into visiting us on this side of the pond in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Touring Posnan

Saturday we awoke to a huge breakfast at the pink chalet. It was massive and under no circumstances could it be confused with a healthy diet. It was at this point when we reached for the warm sausages wrapped in bacon that we thought we may be starting to look like our passport pictures. Oh well, I guess it makes sense given the heavy Slavic food we always have on our tables at family reunions.

We had not finished the last of our sausages, tomatoes, assorted meats and cheeses, and breads when Maria arrived with Dominic and Marta in tow. They were ready to go and wanted us to get moving so we could really appreciate the city. Our translator Natalia arranged to meet us at the old square.

We again walked through the park just across from our hotel as we made our way to the downtown area and eventually the tram. As we were walking through the park, we notice a large monument honoring Woodrow Wilson. I don't know if it was coincidental or not, but we also saw one in the main train station in Prague. For those of you history buffs out there, we need some further insight into the relevance of this American president in Poland and the Czech Republic. I've included a photo of us marvelling at it. And that of the newer part of Posnan close to the train station.

We were taken to an older part of the town where it was apparent if you were a tourist, this is where you were directed. It was a large square surrounded by restaurants, much as you would find in any European city. On this day they were having some sort of regional displays and there was a huge stage set up for bands. We positioned ourself in front of a clock which chimed and had 2 goats butting heads at noon. It was a big deal to most, but I concentrated on drinking my beer while the rest of the group watched the display. I'm sorry I don't have a picture, but you can imagine a couple of sorry looking wooden goats almost butting heads as the clock tower chimed.

Incidentally, from what I have been told by everyone, Posnan was pretty much leveled during WWII. So, what we did see was reconstructed. I hate to use the old adage, "chamber of commerce 1952", but that is really what the majority of the town was all about. But, if you didn't know any better, you'd think some of the structures and churches had been there for centuries.

We saw several churches and the Posnan cathedral. I have a few shots of the interior of one and of course the cathedral. You'll notice near the base there is yet another statue of Pope John Paul II. But then again they are everywhere. We were warned by "Clavin" that the poles take him very seriously and we should not make any jokes. It seems to make sense in that 80-85% of Poles consider themselves practicing Catholics. Need I say more?

Eventually we made our way through this older part of town and on to a very swanky shopping mall. According to our translator, the guy that put the deal together bought this old brewery for a couple of Klotchies and now given how successful it is, there are people demanding a "do over". The shops are very upscale and according to our translator, the hottest shopping mall in all of Poland. Well, it may be Polish pride, but it certainly does rival MOA, albeit on a smaller size.

After the mall we had another person called "Dorothy" join our group. She was intent on showing us many of the historic sites. All of which was translated via Natalia. Dorothy also informed us that an uncle(?) or friend of hers has a film about WWII that he produced, and asked if any of our group wanted to see it. I and Susan begged off and headed back to the hotel, while Frank and Joan went on yet another excursion out to the suburbs of Posnan. You will have to get their take on that sidetrip. As for Susan and I, we rounded up some Pivo and we started using the bird call I picked up in Krakow. We sure had the locals looking for a crazy bird up and down the lane. The patriarch and Saint Joan arrived at dusk exhausted. But, they told us we were on for the trip to the country side the next morning and we had hired a driver and a van so we could all go, including Maria and her grandson Dominic.

So ended another day of power travelling.