BEDNAREK, STANLEY M. (April 7, 1904 -- April 19, 1995)

Community leader. The story of Stanley M. Bednarek is a unique one. He followed in the footsteps of his father and devoted his entire life to serving the Polish families of Philadelphia. In the beginning, however, while living in a boarding house in the southwestern section of the city until he was married, the progenitor of the family, Michael Bednarek, who came from Poznan, in the German partition of Poland, where he was born August 13, 1879, was a day laborer. It brought him into contact with different bosses and places of employment. After receiving his citizenship papers, he began to take an interest in other Polish immigrants, including Helen Strzelecki whom he married, and realized the impact he can have on them by helping them to gain the right to vote, run errands, find a place to live, and anything else that Philadelphia wanted immigrants to do.

He got married at a time when hundreds of Polish families were buying homes in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, essentially in the 45th Ward along the Delaware River, and creating the fifth Polish parish in the City of Brotherly Love. On November 25, 1904, the Archbishop of Philadelphia sent the Rev. Miecislaus Monkiewicz, whom he had ordained November 7, 1901, to form St. Adalbert's parish between St. John Cantius in Bridesburg and St. Laurentius in Kensington. No sooner had he completed a beautiful church and a large school than the Sisters of Nazareth were invited to teach hundreds of boys and girls. Father Monkiewicz, who remained in Port Richmond until he died June 6, 1946, and built the largest Polish parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, established a life-long friendship with the Bednarek family.

Since there weren't any Polish real estate agents in the 45th Ward, Michael Bednarek moved from the 25th Ward, where he entered the real estate business after his first marriage, to a three story house at 2607 East Allegheny Avenue, on the same street as St. Adalbert's church, and opened an office to serve the needs of the new settlement. Most of the houses in Port Richmond had to be mortgaged and insured. As a result Michael Bednarek helped the first Polish families in Port Richmond to obtain loans on their homes, insurance, and satisfy other needs of the buyers and sellers of real estate. His family occupied the back of the office and the upper floors.

Meanwhile, Stanley attended St. Adalbert's grammar school and graduated from Roman Catholic High School in 1923. He learned to type when he was eleven years old. Then, in the heyday of Unity Frankford Stores, from 1926 to 1946, he took orders from small, individually owned grocery stores scattered in and around Philadelphia and shipped the goods from the chain's stockpiles in Frankford. He took over the real estate business when his father died.

No person in Philadelphia remained very long in business without taking an interest in politics. Michael Bednarek, who was the first Polish constable in Philadelphia, was the Republican leader of the 45th Ward, and one of the founders of the Polish American Citizens League of Pennsylvania in 1908. Stanley joined the political club in 1930, and after a lapse of time after his father's death, followed him as Republican leader of the predominately Polish ward. After John S. Fine, the Republican leader of Luzerne County, was elected governor of Pennsylvania, he appointed Stanley M. Bednarek to fill a judiciary post, thereby making him the first Polish magistrate in Philadelphia. Governor Fine also encouraged Edward J. Bonin, mayor of Hazleton, to run for the U. S. House of Representatives in 1952 on the Republican ticket. Bonin defeated Daniel Flood, the incumbent, but lost to him in 1954. Nevetheless, Bonin was the first Polish congressman in the history of Pennsylvania. In his bid to serve longer in magistrate's court, Bednarek lost by 399 votes.

The rise of the Democratic Party in Philadelphia dramatically changed his life. If he wanted anything more, it would be to devote more time with his wife, Lucy (Bielawski), with whom he had one child, fishing, and attend to his position with Kazimierz Wielki Savings and Loan Association in Port Richmond, now Washington Mutual Association with branches in various neighborhoods. Not exactly certain of the years, he was treasurer of the Polish bank longer than any other person in its history.

But that wasn't all. In 1951, he organized the Lions Club in Port Richmond, and with his heart, time and wallet, he made life better for poor families with food baskets at Christmas, purchased wheelchairs for his church, and eye glasses for children in need of them. He won his fight to keep out slaughter houses but was unsuccessful to stop Interstate 95 from running through Port Richmond. Whatever he was for, whether historic preservation and economic development, or against crime, drugs, and blight, it was to improve people's lives.

In his lifetime, three Polish language newspapers went out of business in Philadelphia. Patryota (Patriot), always in favor of Polish political candidates, folded March 4, 1955. On May 30, 1963, Bernard S. Pluta, who favored the Democratic side, suspended Jednosc (Unity), the official organ of the Polish Beneficial Association. There wasn't a time when you walked into Stanley Bednarek's office without finding copies of Gwiazda (The Star) on his desk. It was the Polish voice of the Republicans in Philadelphia and due to her age Gertrude Nowaczyk, whose father created Gwiazda in 1902, shut it down in 1985 and retired. When he was editor of Gwiazda, Charles Wachtel gave Polish lessons in his home at night to Gertrude Nowaczyk and Stanley Kubacki, Bednarek's stepbrother, who later became a prominent judge in Philadelphia. In addition to pictures of houses for sale, Stanley Bednarek decorated the walls of his office with photographs of prominent politicians he met and a 776-pound fish he caught in the waters of Nova Scotia.

When the Philadelphia weeklies were gone, he liked the idea of his pastor, Father Francis Palecki, also a Republican, who followed Monkiewicz in Port Richmond, who wanted to publish a newspaper in Polish and English. There were many of us, already soiled with printer's ink, ready to follow Father Palecki's leadership. Then, in 1971, without warning, he joined Boleslaw Wierzbianski, who came to the United States in 1956, and launched Nowy Dziennik, a Polish daily newspaper in New York. The Philadelphia project fell apart.

The Bednarek name is as good as gold in Philadelphia. Stanley M. Bednarek is buried at Oakland Cemetery. His 56-year-old nephew, Martin G. Bednarek, a Democrat, who has been with Washington Savings since 1984, received the endorsement of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Michael A. Nutter, mayor of Philadelphia, in the race to replace Joan Krajewski in City Council upon her retirement in January of 2012. She has served eight four-year terms. The banker who would be a Philadelphia city councilman is in the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame for coaching young people in basketball and other sports for at least 35 years.

Author: Edward Pinkowski (2011)

View the Wierzbianski "Who's Who in Polish America" entry for Stanley Bednarek [Arrow Picture]