Edward J. Piszek
"Some Good in the World: A Life of Purpose" (Hardcover)
by Edward J. Piszek with Jake Morgan
Hardcover: 235 pages
Publisher: University Press of Colorado (October 2001)
Edward Piszek, Obituaries
[Edward Piszek made significant contributions to Polish American Community and Poland. It should be noted that several prominent Polish Americans were in attendance at the funeral mass, including Baseball Hall-of-famer Stan Musial, Joseph Zazyczny, former Secretary of State Administration of Pennsylvania and current head of Polish American Politican Action Committee of Pensylvannia, and Zbigniew Adam Cymerman, CEO of Nato Expansion Engineering and Program Management Corporation.]
From Philadelphia Inquirer
Posted on Sun, Apr. 04, 2004
Personal words mark funeral for Mrs. Paul's mogul
Edward J. Piszek had messages for loved ones at a memorial Mass attended by hundreds.
By Christine Schiavo
Inquirer Staff Writer
Edward J. Piszek, cofounder of Mrs. Paul's Kitchens, didn't want "self-serving speeches" at his funeral. So in the weeks before his death, he prepared personal messages for those he loved.
Yesterday, his son Edward Piszek Jr. delivered them to about a dozen relatives and friends, thanking them for their love, guidance, loyalty and hard work.
Piszek, 87, a Fort Washington resident who died of bone cancer March 27, also told his son to "give God the credit. I was under his tutelage. I was his messenger. I was his Johnny Appleseed."
Two cardinals presided and a procession of priests participated in Piszek's Funeral Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, where hundreds came to pay their respects.
Among them were baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial, who teamed up with Piszek to bring Little League baseball to Poland, Piszek's ancestral home; and former Phillies pitcher Larry Christenson, whom he called "my best buddy."
Pope John Paul II, Piszek's friend for nearly 20 years, said in a note from the Vatican that he was "deeply saddened" by his death. "I am confident that his memory will inspire others to give of themselves freely and charitably," he added.
A self-made man, Piszek turned a mistake into a multimillion-dollar business when he made too many crabcakes during his shift at a Kensington bar in 1946, and decided to freeze some.
He launched Mrs. Paul's Kitchens with partner John Paul. In the 1950s, Piszek bought out his partner and ran the company for about 30 more years before selling it to Campbell Soup Co. in 1982.
Born in Chicago to Polish immigrant parents, Piszek moved with his family to a farm in Quakertown when he was a child, then to Philadelphia, where his parents ran a grocery store in the Nicetown section. He graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania after several years of night school.
In the 1960s, he set his sights on improving life in Poland, concentrating at first on the fast spread of tuberculosis.
"He literally stamped out tuberculosis starting with one ambulance," his longtime friend Harold B. Montgomery said at the celebration of life service that preceded Piszek's funeral.
He brought his love of baseball to Poland and his love of Poland to readers all over the world when he encouraged and helped market James A. Michener's book, Poland.
He also gave generously to the Roman Catholic Church - to which he converted - and to fostering art, history, science and education throughout the world.
His causes and accomplishments were too numerous to list. As Montgomery tried, he paused to note, "And this is all one guy."
Piszek wasn't interested in the boats, sports cars and other status symbols that typically accompany wealth, his son George said. He chose, instead, to use his money to help others.
"He leaves a wonderful legacy," said Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit, a longtime friend of Piszek's, who celebrated the Mass beside Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, retired head of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. "I pray that that's a legacy we can all imitate."
Piszek's daughter, Helen Nelson, echoed that sentiment, urging those whose lives her father touched to find a way to serve others. "He would have liked that," she said.
Fishcake King, friend to Pope, dies Edward J. Piszek, Mrs. Paul's founder, "touched a lot of people."
By Andy Wallace
For The Inquirer
Edward J. Piszek, 87, the son of an immigrant saloonkeeper who made a fortune founding Mrs. Paul's Kitchens Inc., a friend of presidents and Pope John Paul II, and a man with his very own copy of the Liberty Bell, died yesterday.
Bill Piszek said his father died of bone cancer about 3:55 p.m. as the music of Chopin played at Emlen House, his historic mansion in Fort Washington, where George Washington once lived.
"He touched a lot of people not just here in Philadelphia, but really all around the world whether in Poland or Italy," said Bill Piszek, 44, a Lower Gwynedd resident.
Mr. Piszek was the Fishcake King from Henry Avenue, a man blessed with showmanship, Polish ethnic sensibility and business smarts, who turned a food concession in a Kensington bar into a multimillion-dollar enterprise.
He once told a reporter he didn't mind being called "the Big Fishcake because of the fact it's true."
Television personality Larry Kane yesterday called Mr. Piszek a prominent Philadelphian who would be especially missed in the city's Polish community.
When Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa came to the United States, he stayed overnight at Mr. Piszek's estate.
And when Pope John Paul II, a native of Poland, broke away from his entourage on his Philadelphia visit in 1979 and plunged into the crowd to embrace someone, his arms went around Mr. Piszek.
Bill Piszek recalled meeting Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush in the company of his father.
Mr. Piszek was responsible for the establishment of the Kosciuszko House in Society Hill and the Copernicus Memorial on the Parkway, monuments that mark Polish contributions to American freedom and world culture.
In October 2001, Mr. Piszek published Some Good in the World: A Life of Purpose: A Memoir, which his son said told the story of starting the company and building it to national prominence.
Enormously energetic, Mr. Piszek once told a reporter he admired a certain picture of himself because "I look like a fountain of water. I just seem to be pouring out, whether you like it or not, here I come."
Mr. Piszek was born in Chicago. In 1918, the family came to Philadelphia, where Mr. Piszek's father operated a candy store in Nicetown and, later, a grocery store in Germantown.
In 1935, when he was 18, Mr. Piszek left his father's store and went to Campbell Soup Co. to work as a salesman.
Meanwhile, he attended evening classes at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, earning a degree in business administration.
His career took a fateful detour in 1946 when he was working for General Electric and the plant went on strike.
"I needed income, so I began dabbling in food preparation," he said in an interview. "I got a concession at a taproom in Kensington, at Third and Cambria. The customers went crazy over my crabs. I was in business. I never went back to GE."
One weekend he had an oversupply of crabcakes.
"We didn't know what else to do, so we froze them. Up till then, it just wasn't done," he said. "It was the most unscientific thing. Like they say, the largest diamond mine in the world was found by a fella in the twilight of his life digging holes in his own backyard."
In 1946, with $450 of his money and another $450 from a friend, John Paul, a Bond Bread salesman, he founded Mrs. Paul's Kitchens. They began selling his crabcakes all over the country. In 1951, he bought out his partner for $150,000.
Just 25 years later, 1,200 employees at four plants in three states were turning out 40 products worth $100 million a year. Two Piszek sons were vice presidents and a daughter headed research and development. They continued in those roles after Mr. Piszek sold out to Campbell's Soup Co. in 1982 for a reported $55 million.
By the early 1960s, Mr. Piszek had the money, the time and the energy for other interests - especially those related to his ancestry.
In 1963, he traveled to Poland and became aware of the high incidence of tuberculosis, a disease that he noted killed 3 percent of the population. Two of his cousins and the composer Frederic Chopin were victims.
To help put an end to the scourge, he contributed 11 mobile X-ray clinics, four mobile generating trailer units, 42 support vehicles, five micro-buses, five X-ray enlargers and other equipment to the country.
Early in the 1970s, he began the fight to make the name Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish engineer who built fortifications for George Washington during the Revolution, as familiar to Philadelphians and other Americans as, say, Gen. LaFayette.
He recognized the difficulty of that.
About 1937, he shortened his own name from Piszczek. About his hero, Kosciuszko (Ko-CHOOSE-ko), he said: "Most of the seemingly difficult Polish names are easy to pronounce if broken down into syllables. But people look at a names like Kosciuszko and right away they want to sneeze."
He began the effort by buying the three-story, brick rowhouse at 301 Pine St. where Kosciuszko had lived briefly after the Revolution and offered it to the National Park Service for a historic shrine.
The service's advisory committee turned him down. It was not Kosciuszko's home, committee members argued. It was a boarding house where he lived for a time after the war ended. No one even knew for sure which room he had stayed in.
But Mr. Piszek demanded that Congress overrule the Park Service, then led sizeable contingents of Polish people to Washington to lobby for the shrine.
Congress not only went along with him, it set aside nearly $600,000 to rehabilitate the house and the one next door. When the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Historic Site was dedicated in February 1976, it was Mr. Piszek's triumph.
In the early 1970s, he founded the Copernicus Society to perpetuate the memory of the Polish astronomer who put the sun - rather than the Earth - in the center of the universe. He also sponsored an exhibition and tour of Copernicus's scientific instruments and writings. He said: "I would compare these [instruments] with our Liberty Bell."
During the 1970s, he visited Poland and Ireland with his friend Cardinal John Krol, financed movies of Poland and of the life of Copernicus, and made friends with Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, who became Pope Paul II in 1978.
The coming of the Bicentennial in 1976 inspired him and he bubbled with ideas about how to celebrate the nation's 200th birthday.
He even had his own copy of the Liberty Bell made at the foundry at Whitechapel, England, that made the cracked bell. He had intended to give it to Independence National Park for the celebration, but park officials didn't want it. He was also rebuffed in an effort to place it atop the Bourse.
Mr. Piszek's bell did not go untolled.
It played the starring role in the nationwide ceremony marking the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution at 4 p.m. Sept. 17, 1987. In front of Independence Hall, it was rung by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.
While he was occupied with Poland and the Bicentennial, Mr. Piszek's business kept humming along the road to prosperity.
But the hum turned into sputter in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Mr. Piszek suffered severe defeats in his business and in his personal life.
In 1982, three employees of Mrs Paul's Kitchens pleaded guilty to charges of theft in a sewer-meter tampering scheme, in which they had been accused of diluting the contents of a sewage-sampling device at the company's Manayunk plant to avoid paying $250,000 in sewage fees.
The company agreed to pay the Philadelphia Water Department nearly $250,000 in fines and restitution.
In all, six employees were charged in the scheme, which had saved the company tens of thousands of dollars on water usage during the 1970s.
Mr. Piszek was not implicated. But the charges tarnished the company and made the founder's life difficult.
The most damaging blow to his business came, ironically, from Poland. His dependency on the Polish fishermen dramatically increased after 1979, when he bought the Arthur Treacher chain of fast-food seafood restaurants for $15 million.
In December 1981, Poland declared martial law and cut off Mr. Piszek's supply of fish and his losses quickly mounted. By mid-1982, he was forced to sell the company.
At the same time, he was in court battling the holders of Arthur Treacher's franchises.
Mr. Piszek survived the blows with much of his personal fortune intact, however.
Piszek called himself "the Polish Ben Franklin," and in an article in 1974, he said Franklin was the person he would most like to be. "He was a well balanced human being who made tremendous contributions to his own country and posterity."
In addition to his son Bill, Mr. Piszek was survived by two sons, Edward and George; one daughter, Helen P. Nelson; and 12 grandchildren. A second daughter, Ann L. Reitenbaugh, died last year. Funeral arrangements were pending.