Polish Scholarship Fund & Syracuse Polish Fest
Pole of the Year 2004

Outstanding Pole 2004 Award


Helga Kolek, of Lakeland, a retired staff member of the Onondaga County Americanization League who helped hundreds of Polish immigrants settle in Central New York, was honored as Outstanding Pole of the Year at the 50th Anniversary Polish Festival.

Kolek is a native of Niewierz, Poland. She spent her early childhood in the slave labor camps of Germany during World War II, moving to refugee camps after the war before emigrating to the United States in 1956.

Fluent in Polish, German, Russian and Ukrainian, Kolek mastered her English and became a nationality worker for the Americanization League in 1973, where she helped thousands of immigrants from Europe and around the world become U.S. citizens for 22 years.

Although she helped people from many countries, she has remained close to Polish expatriates in Central New York, especially those who sought political asylum here during the Solidarity uprisings about 20 years ago.

“After Poland was free, these people also brought their families, whoever they could under the law,” she said.

Kolek said she was often upset when immigrants couldn’t bring family members because of immigration regulations.

“It was a very rewarding job,” she said, “sometimes very sad.”

In 1985 the Central New York Daughters of the American Revolution named her the Outstanding New Citizen, and Onondaga County Executive Nicholas Pirro proclaimed March 13 Helga Kolek Day in 1995, when she retired.


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