The Observer

WNY Polonia Salutes Olympian 'Pole' Vaulter

She may not be a hockey player, but Fredonia's Olympian pole vaulter has completed a hat trick when it comes to instilling pride - be it national, community or ethnic.

Representing the USA in the Olympics as one of the country's best prospects to bring back the gold, Jenn Stuczynski continues to reap coast-to-coast accolades. The outpouring of love and support from her hometown community also serves as a tremendous incentive for her to soar to new heights. But the ethnic pride that lives in the hearts of those Americans who share Jenn's predominantly Polish roots may be one of her greatest accomplishments to date.

Not that Poland hasn't had its fair share of movers and shakers in the past: Copernicus, Chopin, Pulaski, Kosciuszko, Walesa and Pope John Paul II, to name a few. But the 26-year-old Fredonia High School alumna with a smile that could light up the world is certain to capture the attention of young people everywhere. With her squeaky clean lifestyle and strong work ethic that knows no limits, Jenn is destined to serve as an exemplary ethnic role model for decades to come.

And this sense of Polish pride extends not only to Jenn's extraordinary high-profile athletic achievements, but also to her ingrained ability to handle her newfound success and fame with humility and graciousness. In this regard, a bit of her paternal grandfather's humble personality may have rubbed off on her.

"She didn't get it from me!" Richard Stuczynski of Sheridan insisted, when asked about Jenn's natural athletic prowess. Bill Parks, a Fredonia resident who grew up with him, disagrees. "I reminded Dick that he was a good catcher for our many sandlot baseball games. He also plays golf."

While obviously elated about his granddaughter's quest for the gold, Mr. Stuczynski comes across as very folksy, down to earth and proud of his Polish heritage - traits of an ethnic upbringing that were apparent in a conversation I had with him during National Night Out. Asked if Jenn had a penchant for Polish food and if given the green light by her coach would she indulge, he replied, "Yes. Especially golabki." Mark Stuczynski, father of Fredonia's superstar, commented that the kielbasa would most likely have to be put on hold until after Jenn's retirement (from sports).

How refreshing that the "It's all about ME!" attitude of today's celebrities is totally lacking in Jenn's vivacious and giving personality. She not only volunteered to appear at Fredonia's National Night Out as a way of giving back to the community for all their support, but in doing so she arrived early and stayed late. This act of kindness by Jenn was appreciated by the large crowd who wanted to greet her individually. This is the opposite of the rule of the celebrity culture i.e. to arrive late and leave early.

Scheduled to meet and greet for exactly one hour, Jenn arrived 20 minutes early and stayed one hour and 15 minutes later than planned. It took that long to accommodate all the people who waited in line and she would not let anyone go away disappointed.

I marveled at her stamina. Although she must have signed hundreds of autographs, she made each one look as if it were her first. A genuine crowd pleaser, she seemed totally at ease with all who approached her - young and old - and made her fans feel at ease too. Jenn plans on being a child psychologist, but a career as a U.S. diplomat or ambassador shouldn't be ruled out.

The Polish discipline of putting one's priorities in order is demonstrated not only by Jenn, but also by her younger brother, Matt. When asked if he was going to Beijing, he replied in a matter-of-fact manner that he would not be making the trip as he was in the process of scheduling his courses at Fredonia State University. "And I gotta watch the dogs for them (his parents)," he added with a smile. Questioned as to whether he felt his sister had remained humble in spite of all the attention she has received, his response was, "Oh definitely. We'll probably go home tonight and I'll play her some video games and I'll beat her, hopefully. That's one thing I got on her."

On the topic of Polish heritage and pride, Matt beamed, "I was actually going to wear my 'Made in Poland' shirt today." He explained he had ordered it from a Web site specializing in Polish merchandise. Asked if he was "into his roots," he replied, "Oh by far. I've been trying to talk my parents into letting me get the Polish falcon tattooed right here (on his left shoulder)." He then referred to an Internet site where he was able to view his great-grandfather's fishing boat in Poland.

All things considered, it is Jenn's exceptionally strong work ethic that best personifies her Polish ethnicity. Whether it was the grueling work of coal mines, steel mills and farms, or skilled labor such as carpentry and masonry, the conscientious Polish immigrants invariably gave it their all. And their descendants continue to do so. Mr. Parks said it best with this analogy: "If you give a Pole an axe, ask him to cut down a tree and then leave him on his own, he will cut down the whole forest."

Over the top? Yes. And that's exactly where Jenn needs to be.

Dziekuje bardzo, Jenn. Whether or not you bring home the gold, you have made Polonia extremely proud. And because of your grit, determination and faith-filled lifestyle, you have given your fellow Polish-Americans a phenomenal role model for their children and their children's children.

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We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.