More than 600 people flocked to Fort Wayne’s Foellinger Outdoor Theater to see Polish history unfold in the pageantry of dance.
Guests took the opportunity to donate over $2,850 to a fund for Ukrainian refugees through the Fort Wayne Sister Cities program.
“I was thrown out of my seat. Are you kidding me?” said Steve Kuckarski, president of the Plock, Poland chapter of Fort Wayne Sister Cities International Inc. “People are so generous.
“That’s not why we did the gig, but that’s why we mentioned it,” Kucharski said. Ukrainian citizens who have fled to Poland are supported and welcomed as neighbors in Poland. “We avoided calling them refugees,” he said. “Unfortunately Ukraine is going to need our help for years to come.”
Kucharski said Sister Cities continues to channel donations to Ukrainian aid at no cost in Fort Wayne or Poland.
Fort Wayne and Plock have been sister cities for 32 years.
Kucharski said he was part of a 15-person delegation from Fort Wayne to visit Plock — pronounced “pwosk” — this spring. Two Plock delegations visited Fort Wayne this summer, with those visits overlapping and including the Three Rivers Festival Parade on July 9. Visitors also toured the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and saw a TinCaps game.
Announcing the visit, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry said, “We are honored to be a sister city with Plock. I am so grateful for the Sister Cities partnership. The emphasis on learning and citizen diplomacy is to be welcomed.
The Wisła (pronounced Viswa) Folk Song and Dance Ensemble performed at the Foellinger on 14 July.
“People like pageantry,” Kucharski said of the dance. The program highlighted costumes and dance styles specific to the regions of Poland. The young dancers also interacted and shared the spotlight with members of the Fort Wayne Ballet. During the last of four standing ovations, the audience watched as two dancers exchanged small Polish and American flags as the visiting choir sang and swayed to “Back Home Again in Indiana.”
Fort Wayne Sister Cities President Mary Encabo Bischoff helped greet the dancers. Bischoff said Fort Wayne Sister Cities has a long history of fostering friendships through trade and the arts. “It’s been very encouraging to see how these lifelong friendships have paid off,” she said. She said Wisla sharing the stage with the Fort Wayne Ballet provides “a wonderful example of how our friendship has blossomed over the years.”
Kucharski also introduced Fort Wayne physician Iwona Podzielinski, who was born in Plock, first visited Fort Wayne as a member of the folk dance group Wisla and moved to Fort Wayne in 1996. Podzielinski, who participated dance program presentations, will participate in Dancing With the Fort Wayne Stars on October 6 at the Grand Wayne Center. The charity event benefits The Carriage House. Visit tinyurl.com/5n8pctmw for details.
“Over the past few months, our Sister City collaboration has taken on new meaning,” Podzielinski said. “The war in Ukraine may have challenged our faith in humanity, but we have also witnessed an incredible display of acts of kindness. Through the generosity of Fort Wayne residents, leaders and sponsors, more than $130,000 has been provided for the humanitarian effort in Ukraine.
Also featured was Ewelina Connolly, a 20-year Fort Wayne resident and executive director of Amani Family Services, who shared sponsorship of the dance program.
Fort Wayne Sister Cities has relationships with Takaoka, Japan; Plock, Poland; Gera, Germany; Taizhou, China; and Mawlamyine, Burma.