At its 76th Annual Meeting at the Hilton Chicago, held from January 3-6, 2019, the Polish American Historical Association (PAHA) announced the recipients of its Annual Awards for 2018. The meeting also included many scholarly presentations in nine sessions on diverse aspects of Polonia’s culture, presented from historical, sociological, critical, and literary perspectives with a focus on immigration issues and the theme of “loyalties and communities.” The meeting was held in conjunction with the 131st annual Meeting of the American Historical Association. Dr. Anna Muller of the University of Michigan, Dearborn, PAHA’s new President (for 2019-2020) presented the Awards at the Chopin Theatre, a Chicago landmark that celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Among the many recipients, the following musicians and music promotors were recognized.
PAHA Creative Arts Prize
The Creative Arts Prize recognizes contributions in the field of creative arts by individuals or groups who have promoted an awareness of the Polish experience in the Americas. The 2018 Prize was presented to Ken Peplowski who, in the words of Russell Davies, is “arguably the greatest living jazz clarinetist.” Born to the Polish parents in Cleveland, Ken grew up to the tunes of Polish music. In a 2013 interview, Ken Peplowski said: “When you grow up in Cleveland, Ohio, playing in a Polish polka band, you learn to think fast on your feet.”
PAHA Skalny Civic Achievement Awards
The Skalny Civic Achievement Awards honor individuals or groups who advance PAHA’s goals of promoting research and awareness of the Polish-American experience and/or have made significant contributions to Polish or Polish-American community and culture. The 2018 Skalny Awards recognize five outstanding individuals, including the following leaders of the Polish-American artistic community:
Edward Rajtar has been the Artistic Director, choreographer and dancer for the Dolina Polish Folk Dancers in the Twin Cities area, Minnesota, for the past 22 years; he also established dance groups for children and teenagers. He served on the board of directors of the the Polish Folk Dance Association of the Americas. In the 1980s and 90s, Rajtar served as president of the Polish American Cultural Institute of Minnesota (PACIM). Under his direction, PACIM represented the Polish community at the annual Festival of Nations in the Twin Cities and established a Polish Library. Since 2008, Edward Rajtar became one of the founding members of a tremendously popular Twin Cities Polish Festival, which for a few days in August gathers audiences of several thousand people from Minnesota and elsewhere in the Midwest to celebrate the Polish culture. Rajtar served as both co-chair and chair of the Festival, which is now in its tenth year.
Mary Lou Wyrobek received the Award for her role in advancing knowledge and appreciation of Polish history and culture in the United States. There is not enough space to mention all the initiatives she has been involved in, Mary Lou Wyrobek arranged many concerts by local and internationally recognized Polish artists, coordinated movie festivals and exhibits, as well as various scholarly events. Since 2007, she has also served as the President of the Central Administration of the Polish Singers Alliance of America.