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IPS Fall/Winter, 1996/97

Stolot! Polish-American Police Association
Builds Ethnic, Civic Pride


Ron Topper Topczewski, a retired Chicago Police veteran of 33-years who serves as President of the Polish- American Police Association likes to say that the real reward of leading this 32-year-old organization boils down to one plain and simple fact.

"The reward is, we are still here. We had our concerns - serious concerns for the future, he says. Let's face it, it is hard to interest younger people these days in joining fraternal and civic associations, let alone come out for a membership meeting after work or on their day off."

Past President Bruce Pankiewicz who retired as Chief or Patrol after concluding a 28-year tour of duty in the Chicago Police Department agrees with his friend. P.A.P.A. (As it is commonly known) would have gone by the wayside, he adds. "There was a period of no interest. Our membership base was declining. We even had to put our own personal money into financing our annual picnic. The choice Topper and I faced was dipping into our scholarship fund as we just wouldn't do that."

It was largely through the hard work and dedication of these two street-savvy retired officers that P.A.P.A. has been taken off the endangered list of fraternal organizations threatened with extinction. Currently there are about 400 active members from law enforcement and private enterprise who belong to the organization. Ron Jasinski Herbert, for example, is a civilian or associate member who published the widely circulated newspaper Polonia Today, and is frequently seen on ethnic television in the Chicago area. Jasinski Herbert is a delegate to the Board of Directors.

In its heyday, P.A.P.A.'s roster swelled to 1,200, but Topper blames the Fraternal Order of Police for the membership drain that imperiled their existence in the early 1980s. When the F.O.P. came in 1980 as the collective bargaining agent for the Chicago Police Department, many of the existing P.A.P.A. members simply decided against paying dues to what they perceived as two parallel organizations.

"All of the organizations suffered the same fate at that time," Pankiewicz adds. "But we keep going and maintain the same goals, and that is ethnic pride. It's interesting because we have members from multi- ethnic backgrounds who belong to both our organization and others, like the German-American Police Association."

The scholarship fund was established by the late Paul Jankowski, the founding father of P.A.P.A., who rose from patrol officer to assistant deputy superintendent in his storied 36-year law enforcement career. Jankowski was a part of that venerable but disappearing breed of police officer who lived the job 24- hours a day. He and his partner narrowly escaped a brush with death after stopping a wanted felon on routine traffic stop. Jankowski and his partner were kidnaped but fortunately neither was harmed by the assistant. The partner left police work to open a string of fast food restaurants - McDonalds.

Jankowski might have become a millionaire several times over if he had gone in with his partner and invested in the franchise, but he remained true to his police calling up until his death in September 1995.

In 1979, Commander Jankowski was names P.A.P.A.'s Man of the Year for his years of promoting the aims of the organization and the pride he felt in his heritage. At the time he received his award, Jankowski was in charge of the 14th District - Shakespeare. Ron Topcziewski served as his top aide for three years, before moving on to the Area 5 Youth Division where he handled police-related matters in 30 different public schools until he pulled the pin in 1995. "It was through Paul that this organization got off the ground," Topper states. "We were really the Polish and Slavic Police Association in the country. Now there are at least six others including chapters in Cleveland, Ohio; Yonkers, and Nassau County, New York; and Philadelphia. They drafted their by-laws on what we had already put in place."

Topczewski has been a member since 1964 - when it all began. Bruce Pankiewicz joined a year later.

Police work came naturally to Topper who was a classmate of Superintendent Matt Rodriquez at Holy Trinity High School. Despite a Hispanic surname, Rodriquez is half-Polish and was a recipient of P.A.P.A.'s prestigious Man of the Year Award in 1994.

Topper grew up around Division and Ashland - a stone's throw from the heart of Chicago's original throw from the heart of Chicago's original Polonia settlement located near Milwaukee and Division. In the early part of this century thousands upon thousands of immigrants seeking their piece of the American dream poured into the ethnic enclave then known as the Polish Downtown.

Since the Solidarity movement took root in Poland in the late 1970s and early 1980s a second wave of immigration commenced, and it has continued at a furious, unabated pace for nearly two decades.

In an effort to assist the new arrivals as they negotiate their way toward acclamation and an eventual full U. S. citizenship, the Polish-American Police Association co-sponsors as immigrant registration drive in conjunction with the Polish American Congress and Congressman Luis Gutierrez. Topper, Pandiewicz, and other members of the organization volunteered their time demonstrating finger-printing technique and assisting Polish immigrants. Four registration drives are scheduled each year and about 800 immigrants avail themselves to this service, according to Topper.

Normally, it would cost $600 - $1,000 in legal fees for a new arrival to go through a long-drawn process, but P.A.P.A. has helped make it possible for these people to pay only $105 to become full American citizens in less than nine months.

The Polish-American Police Association meets the first Tuesday of the month at Janina's Lounge, 3459 Milwaukee Avenue. During the year the organization sponsors numerous events including an annual get acquainted picnic at Lyons Woods in August for family and friends. There is a Night at the Races event at Sportsman's Park in September, and the Awards Banquet in May which coincides with the annual Polish Constitution Day celebration and parade downtown. Members of P.A.P.A. march proudly behind their float down Dearborn Street in a fashion similar to the Irish society on St. Patrick's Day.

The Award's Banquet is held at the House of the White Eagle Banquets, and is the headlining event of the calendar year for the Association. A civilian and Police Officer Man of the Year Award are presented each year. Past civilian recipients include former 41st Ward Alderman Roman Pucinski, his daughter, Cook County Clerk Aurelia Pucinski, former School Superintendent Richard Martwick, and former 35th Ward Alderman and State Rep. Joseph Kotlarz. Police honorees include Chief of Detectives Ed Wodnicki, John Jemoil, formerly a Deputy Superintendent, and currently serving as legal counsel to the association, and Deputy Chief of the Area 1 Patrol Division, Ronald C. Jablon, who was honored in 1996 along with Mary Ann G. McMorrow, the first woman to be elected to the Supreme Court of Illinois.

The annual banquet at the White Eagle offers up a sumptuous gourmet feast of Polish home cooking served family style. It is an entertaining evening of good food, fellowship, and comradery in a restaurant setting that has hosted Pope John Paul and several past U. S. Presidents. The turnover of Business, civic, and police leaders from across the city each May affirms the vitality and resurgence of the organization in the 1990s.

Still, both Bruce and Topper agree there are lingering concerns for the future of the police fraternal societies in Chicago. "This is a different generation that we encounter today, Bruce Pankiewicz believes. The younger guys who come on the job have an attitude that boils down to "hey, what are you going to do for me? I think we can all agree that we're American citizens born and raised. But it's also important to keep the traditions alive - the religious customs, the ethnic foods; our history. I sure hope that the future generations do not forget to remember where they came from."

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IPSN  1997-2006 All Rights reserved. Not for republication on the internet without permission. 
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