By Jim Kaminecki –
Like many Americans, my family came to Chicago from somewhere else. The one detailed story passed down through the years comes from my father’s side. My great grandmother, Catherine, immigrated to Chicago in 1907 from a small village outside of Krakow, Poland. Something was unknown to her at the time of her departure; Frank, a young man in her town was in love with her. She was completely unaware of this fact, as he had been too shy to speak to her. After she moved away, family and friends told him that she wouldn’t return to Poland. To meet her, he would have to follow her. He decided to take a chance on a journey of 4000 miles over land and sea, and left all that he knew behind him. A different culture, an unknown language, and many other challenges waited when he arrived in Chicago. They were introduced to each other through mutual friends who had made the same journey. Frank and Catherine were married within a year, and eventually had five children together. Wanda, the middle child, is my grandmother.
Unfortunately, Frank was never able to listen to any of the 20 songs his eldest daughter would go on to record, see her perform in the opera, or hear her local weekly radio show. He didn’t have the opportunity to see any of his five children grow up. Fifteen years after he was married, he passed away at the young age of 34, when he was severely burned after a hot oil-pipe valve burst inside the factory where he worked. This was during the Depression. With jobs scarce at that time, there were even rumblings that the accident was planned, in an attempt to create jobs for friends or to keep their own. Wanda was 13 years old at this time. The family pulled together, and all of the children attempted to find employment. The entire family supported each other. Catherine used her sewing machine to mend garments for anyone in the neighborhood, including the local pastor.
At the end of World War II, Wanda married John when he left the Air Force, and they raised three children. Eventually, with the children growing up, my grandmother went back to work in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She used public transportation every day to get to work. She wasn’t able to finish school after her father passed away, and she never got a driver’s license. She worked for a Chicago-based retail company called Sears, Roebuck and Co. The company completed building a new headquarters in 1974. Once finished, they let employees write their names on the final I-beam placed at the very top of the building.
You’ll find many similar stories in this country. You can change the names, the city, and the circumstances, but the storyline follows a similar path, winding its way through times good and bad. It doesn’t take a holiday to remind us of these important moments, yet here we are in 2017, about to celebrate the 241st anniversary of this young country’s independence. Speaking of independence, for the first time since 1776 the United States will have a solar eclipse that runs coast to coast. On August 21st, it begins in Oregon and travels across the country until finally passing through South Carolina. This is also the first time a solar eclipse will be seen exclusively in the USA since 1257.
Family – The foundation from which all communities and nations are built. In many cases, the relationship is based on blood, birth, and marriage; others include friends that you choose to welcome into your life, wherever they’re located.
Freedom – To have choices, make informed decisions, and be able to take action once a goal has been set.
Opportunity – To discover, choose, and chase after your dreams.
Any endeavor is almost a microcosm of the independence we celebrate on July 4th in the USA. You are presented with numerous, almost unlimited opportunities every day, and are always looking to do your best, and never stop improving your skills. You have the freedom to make informed choices, and to take proactive actions, step away from a precarious situation, or wait for a new opportunity. I have had a family here to support me along the way, including Pat Garrison, CCM publisher Kasia Szumal, Al Wolf, John and Karyn Kaminecki (my parents), Rose Wolf, Joe Harris, Paul and Patricia Novotny, Lee Carroll, Jim Pendelbury (J.P.), Jodi and Steve Welsh, Derek Ching, Wanda Lasseter-Lundy, Frank Difino, Deb and Chuck Hunt, Nancy and Greg Billinghurst and my close confidante, the late Walter Perschke, CCM’s former publisher.
We all have hopes and dreams that are waiting to be accomplished. For the first time in over four decades, I no longer call Illinois home and have begun a new adventure. Take that chance. Follow your heart. Make an informed decision, and dedicate yourself to following through. Keep your eyes set firmly on the goals you wish to accomplish, instead of any difficulty you might be experiencing along the way. Know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and if you persevere, you will reach that goal you seek or you will come out stronger than before.
Do not be afraid of failure. Mistakes are guaranteed to be made. Aren’t the most important lessons in life learned after you have stumbled? You just need to pick yourself up and try again with new information or extra effort.
Wanda Kaminecki passed away in March 2008, and Walter Perschke transitioned in 2016. They’re no longer with us, yet we’re better off because of them and what they accomplished.
On this journey, you never know how many people’s lives you will impact or just how high you might reach. The Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower) in Chicago ascends 110 stories, higher than any building on this continent. Wanda’s name and the other names that were engraved on that I-beam remain on top of a building that scrapes the sky.
Jim Kaminecki is a holistic health and wellness advocate; a lifelong learner; a sand volleyball, swimming, and skiing enthusiast; an amateur photographer; a career, investment, and business consultant; a music aficionado; a Shaolin Kung Fu, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi practitioner, and occasional instructor.