Speech by Joseph Wilk, 13 January 2001
Residence of Diane and Michael Burch, La Canada, California
Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am Joseph Wilk, grandnephew of Wanda Wilk. We are here for one reason and one reason only. Today is My Aunt Wanda's 80th birthday. Of course, looking at her one would not know. Truly, she has aged with internal and external beauty that most people hope to have. 80 is not such a large number when a person dwells upon it, and in Wanda Wilk's case truly deceiving. For, if I had not known, a good 39 years old would be my best guess. Wanda Wilk's life however, has been packed with such extensive work, and so many contributions and great deeds, that I will be 80 years old before I finish listing them all. Mrs. Wanda Wilk has every right to be proud of her accomplishments, and I had no idea of all she had done until I did research in books and on the Internet. Aunt Wanda, you are a very modest person. You never told me that you created a Wilk prize for research in Polish music, or were director of the Polish Music Reference center for 11 years. Of course, when one is around Wanda Wilk, she doesn't need to talk about her accomplishments for one to know that she has done great deeds, when I am around her I feel as if I was in the presence of a venerable philosopher, or profound musician, and at times a stupendous chef. The thing with Wanda Wilk is, she is so capable at so many different things, that whatever she happens to put her mind to she excels in. When there is a family problem, or issue, or when input is needed, the first person consulted is Aunt Wanda, due to the fact that she never judges anything by its appearance, and is particularly patient.
Let us start from the beginning though, and find exactly why we are hear to celebrate Wanda Wilk's birthday, and why we should be proud and honored to do so. Wanda Harasimowicz was born in 1921 in Hamtramck, Michigan of Polish parents. She graduated from Wayne University in Detroit with a Bachelor of Music degree, from which we can infer that her love of music had been with her since she was a young woman. She taught for 5 ½ years in public schools in Detroit. It takes a great deal of time and effort to be a teacher, to be a mentor for young minds, and shape them for the future. She enrolled in a masters degree program at the University of Southern California, but interrupted her studies to become a critic teacher at Emerson Junior High School in conjunction with the UCLA teacher's education program. During this time she performed many charity functions as a pianist.
Later on she met the love of her life, Dr. Stefan Wilk, and were married in 1952. Five years later she retired her teaching position, because her skills were needed at home. Before her daughter, Diane Wilk, whose lovely home we are in today, graduated from USC with a degree in architecture, Wanda Wilk returned to USC in 1974 to finish her masters degree. She chose as her thesis the compilation of a bibliography of Polish music. However she discovered lack of materials at USC and at other libraries throughout the United States, so she enrolled in a summer session at the Jagellonian University in Krakow in search of appropriate information. She graduated from USC in 1976 with a master of music degree. In support of her husband Dr. Stefan Wilk's medical career, she became the president elect of the Queen of Angels Hospital Auxiliary. A year later saw her elected as program chairperson of the International Committee of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which she held for three years. She received the mayor's certificate of appreciation for her participation in the Polish cultural exhibit at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles, for which she organized the music section of the exhibit, and presented seventeen musical programs. In 1981 she secured the USC's School of Music sponsorship for a Szymanowski Centennial. The Friends of Polish Music was established there by her and she organized a two week series of symphonic concerts, recitals, lectures, discussions, a banquet and an outdoor festival, with the participation of expert artists, musicologists, and students from England, Poland, and various parts of the United States. Between 1983 and 1984, Wanda Wilk prepared a traveling exhibit on Szymanowski which was shown in 24 university libraries throughout the US and Canada, in 1983 she received the Perspectives Award from Perspectives Magazine in Washington D.C. and also the Directors Award from the USC School of Music in Los Angeles.
If all this wasn't enough, she went on to what I would consider her greatest accomplishment. You must be wondering what could be left for her to accomplish but becoming president of the United States, but she formed the Polish Music Reference Center at USC in 1985 with a joint endowment gift from her husband and herself. Mrs. Wilk was appointed director of the PMRC by the Dean of the School of Music and in this capacity was invited to give lectures at the Music Center, local universities and music organizations, and to Polish-American organizations of the American Council of Polish Cultural Clubs. In 1988 she was awarded the Polonia Award from the Southern California Chapter of the Polish American Congress, and a Gold Medal from the ZPK (Polish Composers Union). She received in 1992 the Torchbearer's Award from the University of Southern California. In 1992, with her husband, she established a new foundation Ars Musica Polonia. She also produced a compact disc entitled Riches and Rags, which features Polish women composers as performed by pianist Nancy Fierro. I am proud to be related to such a magnificent woman. Aunt Wanda, you have more awards and medals than most Olympic athletes. If that wasn't enough for a lifetime, Wanda Wilk also continually writes papers on Polish music, which she publishes on the Internet, and is continually a part of the Polish Music Center at USC. I never truly realized the importance of the Polish Music Center because when I was younger I could not comprehend the scope of it. I did not realize that my aunt was a pioneer. At the time of its creation in 1985, nothing existed that was like the Polish Music Reference Center at USC; it was the first of its kind.
As a Polish-American, I can tell you, Aunt Wanda, that I for one am truly grateful that such a place exists for people to research and know of Poland's great musicians and music. Before this institution, many Americans and people living in other English speaking countries were in the dark about Poland's musical accomplishments. Due to this center, the music and musicians of Poland will now not be overlooked with other European composers and music. I, myself, am grateful Aunt Wanda, and your work is worth it. The younger generation of people around the world will make great use of it, and your name will forever exist as long as music does. Wanda Wilk also helps publish a monthly newsletter on the USC Polish music website, and there is information there about Polish musicians, scholars, journalists, and concerts, everything a Polish Music Lover needs.
They say behind every great man there stands a great woman, I can think of no case that is more applicable than that of Stefan and Wanda Wilk. Dr. Wilk, you should be proud and bursting with joy because you truly found the kind of woman that only comes around once in a lifetime. Aunt Wanda I am proud to be here with you, to celebrate you, to honor you, and can only hope I marry someone with such intelligence and beauty as you. I love you Aunt Wanda, and Happy Birthday.
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Copyright 2001 by Joseph Wilk
Formatting by Maja Trochimczyk, January 2001.