Posted 6/7/22

WOODWORKING BY DAVE WOOD What melting pot? America is God’s crucible, the great melting pot where all the races of America are melting together and reforming. ~ Israel Zangwell, 1903 The point …

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What melting pot?

America is God’s crucible, the great melting pot where all the races of America are melting together and reforming. ~ Israel Zangwell, 1903

The point about the melting pot is — that it did not happen. ~ Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1973.

When Zangwell said it, I’m certain he said it hopefully; when Moynihan said it, he uttered it from a more realistic point of view.

Melting pot, melting pot. How many times have we heard it—in civics class, in sociological tracts, even in Boy Scouts! I frankly think it’s not, after all, the best thing since sliced bread. Wouldn’t all of us former Eu- ropeans be better ou we didn't jump full tilt into that pot, melt down and become one homogeneous blob? A case in point is my friend from home, Vitus Kampa, a Polish American lad who grew up in Independence, Wis., known for its Polish citizenry. Kampa became our county’s treasurer, settled down in Whitehall, known for its lutefisk, and married a Whitehall girl. Vitus keeps making the news. It all began when Vitus and his relatives discovered that most of his Polish neighbors were immigrants from a small city called Popelo, in the Silesian area of Poland. As in most of Poland, Silesia was overrun by Bohemia, Austria, Prussia, and then Germany. And later of course, Russia. So, it must have been a relief to get the hell out and head for Independence in the mid-19th century.

But Vitus, finally free of balancing the county's books, had a diuerent plan. He speaks fluent Polish and figured he might try his own version of a U.S.-Poland travel agency. After all, he had a small but dependable customer base right in his home town. So, lo and behold, he contacted his neighbors from Independence, asked if any would care to take a group trip to the land of their forefathers. Many said “yeah, sure, yew betcha,” having learned how to speak Norwegian from neighbors five miles away in Whitehall. Encouraged, Vitus contacted Popelo and its ovcials said the same. And so it was that a planeload of Indees headed for Popelo, a town that postponed its annual celebrations so the arriving Americans could also enjoy the land of the white eagle, also.

Folks from Independence brought gifts for their hosts, bedded down with Popeloians, met relatives who had opted to stay in Poland, and celebrated a high mass with the bishop. The success prompted Vitus to create a Facebook page titled “Silesians of Trempealeau County.” This year, Vitus is back in the news. According to a recent issue of The Trempealeau County Times, Vitus noticed on the Popelo website that it had opened a bank account for donations to help raise funds to send to Popelo, because the town is now playing host to 200 Ukrainian refugees from the horrendous brutality wreaked upon them by Vladimir the Vicious or Putin the Pestilent or whatever.

The Trempealeau County Silesians have 2,000 members all over the U.S., South America and Europe. Vitus got on the horn (well, the computer) and asked for donations to help Popelo in its program to provide food, furniture, medicine, health and beauty products, even bicycles. They’ve also provided English and Polish language teachers and have found jobs for many of their new citizens.

And more than 100 American Silesians within three weeks have donated $16,000, all of which was sent through the Independence State Bank by its CEO, Tom Jensen, who sounds like a Scandinavian to me. Maybe the melting pot has begun to bubble.

As for my friend Vitus Kampa, well, you’ve heard of “the Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Wisconsin has “Vitus Kampa, the Unmeltable Polish Travel Agent.”

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.